Without a doubt, one of the toughest parts of being an editor is learning how to deal with client feedback.
Nothing is more infuriating than pouring countless hours into your masterpiece... only to have a “few thoughts” (aka list of 37 soul crushing critiques) sent back that very same day. But over the years of working as a professional editor myself, I’ve learned a few habits that have saved me hours and gotten me out of the endless revision cycle.
So I thought it may be helpful to share with you here...
GET OUT OF CREATOR MODE
Forget the pitch deck. Forget the day you spent on set. Forget the 4 hours you spent trying to capture that one perfect shot.
None of your audience members are going to know about all that. So you have to forget about it too.
You have to do whatever it takes to become YOU as an audience member. And I mean the most A.D.H.D, film critic, normal guy version of yourself you’re able to be.
Sounds easy enough in theory... but it's surprisingly difficult to actually snap back into this mindset. The only way to do this, I've found, is to get out of my timeline entirely. And most of the time I try to even get out of my editing room entirely.
I export the most recent version of my edit, upload to my favorite reviewing platform like Vimeo or Frame.io and watch it on my phone or iPad - away from all the clip markers and time codes and tools. Because at the end of the day, this is most likely how your client and your audience is going to consume the video you’re working on. So putting yourself in their shoes just helps you understand more quickly what you could do to improve.
Chances are, at this point you’ll actually have a ton of of notes for YOURSELF. And that’s exactly the point of this step. Before you ever send off your video, you have to get all the obvious stuff out of the way. This way your client is getting the very best product possible at the start, which helps instill trust in your opinion throughout the process.
Which leads me to point #2...
CUT THE ROUGH DRAFTS
This tip is majorly undiscussed and severely underestimated.
Videos by nature are full of sound and color. Consumed in a linear beginning to ending format. There’s nothing left to the imagination. It's is actually a very passively consumed form of media. You’re not reading a book filled words and filling in the pictures in your head. You’re not listening to music by itself and imagining the colors. Your brain is actually pretty much on auto-pilot.
And our brains are conditioned to see final products - with Hollywood level polish as our baseline standard.
So if you’re missing massive chunks of b roll...
or your color still looks like LOG footage....
or the music is way too quiet to be emotionally impacting...
or you haven't even attempted to add intro titles...
then your client is going to feel that.
And even with all the disclaimers in the world, chances are they still may not understand why it’s not working (even if they're your most creative clients).
SO... I do everything I can to deliver as close to a final product as possible.
One of my favorite directors Salomon Ligthelm says “it’s that last 5% that takes something from good to great.” So in order to get my videos as close to that final 100% mark as possible, I don't send until I've tested a playback with my wife or a trusted friend... and until I've gone through about 7 rounds of edits myself first.
At the end of the day, this helps establish more trust between my client and me. Rather than THEM having to do all the heavy lifting giving notes on the obvious, I make sure there's as little left to the imagination as possible.
TAKE IT AND RUN
(AKA LEARN FROM THE FEEDBACK)
This final step is a hard pill to swallow. I’m not going to lie. I still find myself getting defensive when notes come in. When I’ve done everything I can to nail it and someone still has a different perspective than me, it can be hard to know how to respond.
But at the end of the day, some of my greatest editing lessons have come not from being frustrated with the feedback but learning how to hack the outside perspective for my next project.
The more I become an audience member when the notes come and learn to say “I can see why that makes sense...” the less notes I may have next time.
Someone recently asked me what the best piece of feedback I've ever received was...
And I knew immediately it was the day my wife watched an edit for a passion project film I'd been working on and said,
"It's pretty. But I don't feel anything."
GUT PUNCH. But that was the moment when I knew I had to put 100% of my effort into becoming a better editor. Because it's the final stop for my videos - whether it's for a client or for me.
Another example... One of my first big budget music videos, the label said they wanted to send the project to someone for skin retouching. At first I thought it was unethical. It was wrong. It was a waste of money. But I sat with the feedback for a couple hours and realized that if it would help the artist feel more confident, why not give it a shot myself? And so I learned a new skill that I’ve applied on videos ever since. And now before I’m even asked, I give it a shot when I notice something that could be fixed.
Clients love me for it. Plus I get a new line on an invoice :)
So rather than getting offended by notes, now I take it and run. And I get much better as I go.
As an editor, you’ve got to have thick skin. But a soft heart.
I'm definitely still learning as I go - Always a student of this process. Never a master.
But I hope these tips have been helpful, and I'd love to hear from your experience as well.
Until next time... Happy Editing!