I’m Worried About The Future of Editing

Posted on by Larry

This morning, I watched an ad on TV for a new Master Vintner at a winery – IBM Watson, a super-computer – which will replace the people that make the wine now. Two days ago, Elon Musk was talking to a conference of US Governors about the dangers of unregulated Artificial Intelligence; which is more commonly called “Machine Learning.”

These made me realize that a new world of automated audio and video editing will soon be upon us. In fact, I’ve seen a variety of tests over the past 18 months that leads me to believe automated editing will be a common reality in two years or less.

Naturally, this new technology – like all technology – will be pitched as a “time-saving device” for today’s overworked editors. And, while that’s true, the Law of Unintended Consequences also says that this new automated editing technology will put lots of us out of work. Probably lots and lots of us. And that’s scary.

The Law of Unintended Consequences says that this new
automated editing technology will put lots of us out of work.

Because much of the editing that most of us do isn’t high-end story-telling requiring a high-degree of craft. It’s illustrating a talking head, creating a text video for social media, or editing highlights of a sporting event. And these tasks are easier to automate than story-telling.

Developers are rushing to create these new automated tools because this new technology is exciting and truly promises to revolutionize editing; and, like the rest of us, developers need to eat. But, as editors, we are on the other side of the coin. If we are not careful, we’ll find ourselves on the outside looking in.

Now, I’m not suggesting we rail against technology and burn our computers. First, because it’s pointless; complaining about technological change is as old as humanity and tech hasn’t slowed down yet. Second, because complaining misses the bigger point: if we know this tectonic shift is coming, then we need to start preparing for it today. The worst time to plan ahead is when you are out of work with a mortgage looming.

In the past, I’ve written that we need to improve our story-telling skills. But, I realized this morning that story-telling is not sufficient, because many of the videos we create are not, strictly-speaking, stories. Instead, they are illustrations. As I thought further about this, I realized that there are five things we can do to guard against becoming obsolete.

The worst time to plan ahead is when you are
out of work with a mortgage looming.

First, it is said that people skills are 50% of the skill set of an editor. That has never been more true that today. What will preserve our jobs going forward is not our story-telling, but our humanity. The one thing people will always do better than machines is build relationships. This means that we need to put a renewed focus on finding, keeping and growing our clients.

Second, take a close look at the finance side of your business. What’s profitable, what’s not profitable? What’s growing, what’s falling into disuse? Everyone is different, but if you don’t know, deep down, where your money is coming from, now is precisely the right time to figure this out. Lean days are coming – start thinking today about what you need to keep and what you need to let go.

Third, stay on top of technology – and not just the professional video space. The software that threatens us is coming from consumer software and mobile devices. Consumers want faster ways to edit their iPhone videos. At a certain level, video is video. If it works on a mobile device, it will fairly soon migrate up into the professional level. We only need to look back to 1999 – 2000 and track what the introduction of DV video did to our industry to see the impact of a “consumer” format on the “professional” industry.

Fourth, don’t be content with your current products and services. Talk with your clients and customers to discover what new products, new services, or new approaches they want. There is nothing scarier than asking a client: “What do you need that I’m not currently providing?” or “What can I do better?” But, out of that conversation will come ideas that you may not have thought about before. Our industry is in a constant state of re-invention. Have the courage to apply some of that reinvention to ourselves.

Fifth, when Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X to howls of dismay from many, the problem wasn’t simply how different FCP X was from FCP 7. The bigger problem was that we, as editors, were defining ourselves by the tools we use, not the results we created. We proudly walked around saying: “I’m an Avid editor,” or “I’m a Final Cut editor.” As those tools evolved, as they must, our view of who we are became threatened.

We can’t do this to ourselves again. Don’t define yourself by your tools. Don’t define yourself by your workflow. Define yourself by your results and the benefits you deliver for your clients. Tools change. Workflows change. We need to create the flexibility in our mind and our skills to change with them, without redefining who we are in the process.

Don’t define yourself by your tools. Don’t define yourself by your workflow. Define yourself by your results and the benefits you deliver for your clients.

I’m not saying the sky is falling. And I’m certainly not saying we are doomed. But I am saying we are about to undergo massive changes in what is already a complex and challenging industry. Consider yourself warned and start to become prepared:

The last fifteen years have been exciting, scary, challenging and fast-paced. The next five years will be worse. Don’t spend your time looking at your feet as you move forward. Look up and make sure the road you are on is the right one.

This is an important discussion, and, if you agree, please share it with your friends. And, as always, I’m interested in your opinions.

19 Responses to I’m Worried About The Future of Editing

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  1. Dirk Baumann says:

    History is repeating itself. The Graphic design field went and is still going
    through the automation. If you have a skill and update your skills according
    to the changes that you see, you will be the most desirable person out there.
    As far as I am concerned the Do it Yourself automated world will never replace
    the skilled person. Look at the cellphone wold and 99% of films are garbage.
    I believe the demand for skilled film producers and editors will go up in a major way.
    The best is yet to come! The future talent will see no obstacles.


    • Ron says:

      Unfortunately, 99% of the videos made may be garbage, but time is a constant; there is only so much of it in a day, a week, a year. When viewers spend 1 minute or 5 minutes or a half-hour watching a garbage video, that’s time they didn’t spend watching a great video. And statistically speaking, to the analyst checking what got watched to determine who gets hired, that’s Garbage Videomaker: 1, Great Videomaker: 0.

  2. Tom Daniels says:

    Larry this is really a very insightful editorial about technology and creativity.
    I am a still creating senior and have gone through so many updates in our tools for creating and assembling. Recently the smart phone seems to be over powering acquisition of high quality video. And editing is being done on dumbed down software. Also being a last 5 years editor of my own productions and a producer for many years I do use the easy tools built in to FCPX to edit. I think the changes in automation and that so many people are obsessed with their iPhones will change everything. I took a short cruise trip with my granddaughter and the selfies and the recording of everything, everywhere was awful.
    I was watching the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and as the Popemobile slowly cruised down the street most almost everyone was smart phone filming the Pope who was a few feet from them. What the future brings is different then any other we have experienced. Hold on to your seat.

  3. Oren Boiman says:

    Hi Larry,
    I’m the CEO of Magisto, the leader in A.I. powered video creation, and I was very glad to read your post. I think that editors should not be worried about the future of editing, but your call for editors to be adaptive to new products and technologies is spot on.

    It should be treated as a huge opportunity rather than a threat, this is why:
    (1) Online Video production is really just beginning, a $30B market that will quadruple in the next 4 years to $120B, in the US alone.
    (2) New technologies, like Magisto are coming from below, to provide a combination of quality-cost-time that simply cannot be matched by manual video editing, no matter how fast you can work. It mainly adds new use cases, not replace existing use cases.
    (3) Demand for video is skyrocketing, there are simply not enough working hands to fill that need, the need for manually edited video grows really fast as well, so I believe that in the coming years there will be more work per editor, not less.
    (4) The economics of video changes fast, the traditional cost and time of video production doesn’t work for many of the new use cases. If you need a quick content marketing video to share in social media, it doesn’t make sense to start a complicated, time-consuming and pricy video project.

    Yet for all budget intensive efforts, traditional video production projects make a lot of sense.

    How would email look like today, if all emails needed to pass a copywriter? Still for important (e.g., mass marketing) emails, it is wise to use a copywriter. The same is happening for video, that is moving to become a mass medium rather than communication medium for the few.

    Video is becoming more important than it ever was, it is the best time to be a video expert.

    (5) Last but not least – a video editor is more than an Avid or FCP user, he or she is first and foremost a video storytelling expert. As such, video editors should be *early adopters* to video creation A.I technology, not laggers.

    Some of our best users are video editors that use their knowledge of video storytelling to produce with Magisto jaw dropping videos in minutes (that would otherwise take days). Video editors know best how to maximize the power of our A.I. and generate super-human video editing productivity.

    You’re judged by the quality of your video productions, not the tool that you use.
    So why not make 10x more videos and increase your revenues? Or enable entire organizations, by teaching them how to ‘speak video’ with A.I., or via API and boost your revenue 100x beyond a single video project?

    There are many more fruits to using A.I. technology for industrializing the production of video: massive creative variation, performance testing, insight generations etc.
    That is not some far future vision, it is happening right now for tens of thousands of businesses, SMBs to enterprises.

    I think video editors should lead that industrial revolution, they know video the best.
    Our team of creative engineers ( former professional TV producers, video editors, post production experts etc.) love to work with them as they push the envelope of possibilities with A.I. powered video creation.

    • Carlos Ziadeh says:

      Thanks for your wonderful post !
      I am both a Video Editor and Motion Designer

    • Thorsten Knatz says:

      I think you made your point. I’d love to see your software in action on a feature or how it performs when it comes to VFX Editing.

  4. BenB says:

    I’ve been editing since 1973 and there is one constant that has never changed. If you go a year and don’t learn a new tool, you’re falling behind. Learning new tools has always been a demand of our industry, this process is nothing new. All that’s new are the new tools, which have ALWAYS been new tools that need to be learned constantly. I think we’re making mountains out of mole hills, honestly.

  5. Robert S Levy says:

    I just came across this article, a year late but better late than never. It warms my heart seeing the optimism in the video editing Community. I wish I could share it. I was one of the first Avid Editors in New York. I remember the very first users group meeting. What a game changer but it was still a professional tool for professional people to produce quality video. But now what I see is a move from quality to volume and from professional story tellers to operators. 90% of my clients no longer need my services because they have a young Jack of all trades in the office who can cut their video much cheaper than I can. The quality suffers but when you need a 3 minute talking head for your facebook page, they don’t care. It’s good enough. With Products like Davinci Resolve being given away for free, my service business model looses to cheap every time.

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