Should We Call Ourselves “Storyline Editors?”

Posted on by Larry

Loren Miller made an interesting suggestion recently:

I’ve started a movement to change the appellation “offline editing” to “storyline editing.”

First, this largely technology-driven distinction has always felt like a putdown, as well as an excuse to pay talented editors less per hour. “I’m an online editor. I use heavy iron! There are more buttons and switches!” That was true in the 90’s and 00’s but it’s becoming obsolete. That old heavy iron from back then is available on eBay today.

At WGBH, PBS-Boston, back when I cut season 2 of “Antiques Roadshow” as a staff editor, the distinction was quite valid. Today, on shows like that, you’re expected to edit story and online using the same desktop. Contemporary tools like Premiere Pro, FCP X, Avid, and Resolve all fully support the new duality.

Second, most editors outside of a handful of “pro” shops accomplish “online” as well as “offline” tasks these days where the online component is largely adjusting color, noise reduction, image repair (basically: Image Engineering), episode packaging and/or digital intermediates, and other post-story tasks.

Third, most editing doesn’t happen in a sausage factory. “Team editing” of so-called reality shows require the two functions to be separated to stay on schedule. But that’s better described as teamwork between storyline editors and a supervising editor to assemble fragments of edited story.

Today, there’s very little separating the. two workflows, and most experienced editors easily do both.

What do you think?

I think it’s a very compelling idea.

All too often, editors resist the idea of editing using proxies because they feel that, somehow, this diminishes them as an editor. All proxy editing does, in fact, is decrease hardware costs, save storage capacity, speed rendering and simplify our focus on telling stories, rather than wondering why we keep getting dropped frames during an edit.

If you think about it, during the days of film, no editor in their right mind would think of building a rough-cut from film negative. We all worked from work prints; yet, no one felt that a work print prevented them from telling a compelling story. Most of the time, image quality is unimportant compared to telling the story until the final distribution master is being prepared.

I like the idea of “storyline editor.”

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the comments.

5 Responses to Should We Call Ourselves “Storyline Editors?”

  1. Gretta Wing Miller says:

    Whenever I had to say that I was an ‘offline editor’, I would also add, “I do the creative part”… but can’t say I didn’t enjoy sitting on the sofa sipping free coffee and having free lunch while directing the ‘online editor’!

  2. Jim McQuaid says:

    Working only in the Final Cut (3.0 on) era and primarily as an independent worker, I’ve never heard “off-line / online” as a key distinction. At the same time, I’ve evolved my sense of how the process works which aligns well with your suggestion.

    For me, editing has these stages. First, “administrative edit” which amounts to organizing all the video and audio assets in a logical structure. (This step is easy to overlook on ‘small’ personal projects, usually resulting in various moments of chaos). Second is “story edit” where the essential narrative, informational and emotional flow is created and adjusted. Third is “technical” edit. Obviously this includes things like fine audio mix, titling, perhaps broadcast readiness. Color correction as an emotional element fits in either the story edit or the technical edit, depending on the nature of the project and resources.

    But I try to never forget: it’s all about the story.

  3. Mark Suszko says:

    Maybe not “OFFine Edit” but “OUT-line editor”? You’re laying out the overall shape of the narrative, it’s basic structure. The rest is a progression of iterations with continued refinements.

  4. Peter Phillips says:

    In my career I’ve edited film for broadcast (often using a work-print which would eventually be sent to a negative cutter to match so that a print for transmission could be made, but sometimes on news and for regional programmes I was cutting the original reversal film). I’ve also edited many programmes on video tape (U-Matic and Betacam), and done non-linear editing on Avid and various flavours of Final Cut Pro.
    I think the idea of Storyline Editor / Editing is great!

  5. Clayton Moore says:

    This seems like a necessary evolution to me. It’s at the heart of what editing actually is.
    Also, I think that we are on the cusp of being able to do offline work using proxies with some version of FCPX written to run on a future generation of iPad Pro. Apple custom chip technologies are moving very fast and powerfully right now.

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