Always Renting

1 02 2013

Just the other day, I got word that my wife and I will have to be moving again from our house. We’re renters (something I’ve stupidly held on to since my days in New York — where it seems everybody rents) and when we moved into our new house two years ago, we settled on a two year lease. We knew our landlord could raise the rent big time (not a good thing for a teacher), or sell the house.

In short, we’ve known every day that we’ve been in our house that we might have to move — sooner rather than later.

As I thought about this it occurred to me that this sense of never getting comfortable in this place was very familiar to me. It’s the world that most of us live in, as freelancers. And, to a larger degree, it is the feeling that all of us should have before we get comfortable with any technology or workflow. We are simply renting here, and the chances are great that our jobs are going to end and the technology will evolve before we are really prepared for it.

In that way, the best thing that we can do in our business is to get used to the idea that things will be constantly changing.

I can say this because I spent my entire life, before coming to USC’s film school, as a freelancer. My average job ran about nine or ten months (HAIR and THE COTTON CLUB went on for 18 months, but those were real rarities). When I took a job, I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew that my life was going to be made up of simultaneously working and looking for work. On top of that, early on I knew that the skills I was learning as an assistant editor would be only slightly helpful when I moved up to being an editor.

You not only have to get used to that, you have to embrace that.

Today, of course, it’s even more prevalent. My wife, who is a career advisor and counselor and has helped many people who are in transition or crisis, told me 15 years ago that the typical worker in the 21st century would not only change jobs frequently, but change careers several times in his or her lifetime.

I thought about this the other day as I was doing an interview regarding the software that we use in our editing curriculum at USC. Who knows if Avid or Final Cut or Premiere is even going to be with us in five years? The only thing I know is that, if they are and if we are still using them, they will be doing different things and look and work differently than they do now. Otherwise, they surely Will Be Gone. A mere two years ago, the concept of a DIT must have seemed weird and alien to most on-set personnel. Now those job are evolving every month and the phrase “The DIT is asking for an umbrella” no longer elicits odd looks on set.

In a webinar that I did for Moviola, I said that one of the jobs of most people in our industry is R&D – research and personal development – and that we’ll have to spend around 1/4 of our weekly time unpaid teaching us new equipment, new workflows, new technology, new thought processes, etc. Those who won’t do that, and those who won’t do it until someone pays us to do it, are going to have the unfortunate job title of “Unemployed.”

Needless to say, this was not a popular statement, but it’s true. Sure, I can hide behind the fact that I can tell stories really well, but on the project I’m working on now, I’m creating an opening that requires that I know a set of plug-ins, and ways to manipulate images in new ways in order to get my storytelling ideas across. Those quick flashes to white are so 1980.

In that way, we are always renting our space on jobs and our currency. There are no editors today who can only know film. There are certainly no assistants who can get by without knowing sophisticated image manipulation techniques, server technology, codecs and compression details, etc. etc. etc. This is not a world where we can buy a plot of land, erect a house and never repair the boiler.

We are always renting, and I mean that in a good way.



2 responses to “Always Renting”

3 02 2013
Sex Mahoney (21:21:49) :

In a truly competitive job market, there is no industry so secure that it’s workforce shouldn’t maintain regular professional development education. Failure to recognize that reality was one of the biggest contributing factors to our current unemployment crisis.

12 02 2013
Norman (16:29:48) :

Absolutely true. In the 21st century, we are going to be switching careers, not just jobs. That requires knowledge in addition to history.

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