It’s obvious (at least to you) that videomaking stardom is your destiny. You have all the technical and
creative know-how any videomaker could ever want. So what’s holding you back?
Money. Specifically, money for the most important (and expensive) part of the video trade:
What’s a poor videomaker to do? If you don’t own TBCs, SEGs, or multiple VCRs yourself
or know someone who does, how will you ever realize your brilliant video visions?
The answer: rent yourself an edit suite.
Low Budget Nirvana
"Send them my way," says Eric Seils of XPress Video in Akron, Ohio. Seils runs what is known as an
editing bureau. Much like service bureaus for color printing, computer work and music mixing, XPress
Video caters to the postproduction needs of lowbudget video producers.
The concept is simple. For a price, you can use a bureau’s editing gear. If you’re technically
capable, you can go it alone. If not, or if you’d just like some advice, you can hire someone to operate the
"We’re here to help those people who don’t have the money to buy the editing equipment
themselves," says Seils. "And those people who are able to buy the stuff usually don’t have enough cash to
get all the special effects units and such."
Doityourself editing bureaus range far and wide in costs and services provided. From first
timers to industrial level and commercial videographers, there’s a service out there to fill everyone’s
The Video Workshop’s Vince Carr echoes this sentiment. "We offer everything from doit-
yourself and operator-assisted editing in a VHS cutsonly suite to a 3/4" professional room with A/B roll.
We try to be flexible. In this business, everyone has a different need. There are hardly two jobs alike."
Steve LemieuxJordan agrees. His Plaster Dog Productions in Illinois has serviced the full
spectrum of video post desires. "One week, I’ll have a couple of novice wedding shooters that want to
impress their first client. They have a decent camera, but lack editing gear. And they don’t want to give the
customer an unedited raw tape. The next week may bring in an industrial client who wants to mesh video
with stills and graphics. After that, I may be doing a music video for a local band. It really changes all the
time. There is no one typical client."
By now, all the camcorderonly owners out there have probably dropped this magazine, replacing
it with the phone directory. Hold your horses! Before you jump into a doityourself frenzy, there are
some things to consider before investing your meager funds.
The location of the bureau may be a concern. "Once in a while, I’ll get a job from out of state or far
out of town," relates Seils. "The raw footage, a script and a tape log are usually enough to get me through
the edit. If I have any questions, I call."
For those of you with full faith in the postal service, location doesn’t prove a stumbling block, as
the above example proves. Pop your first-generation masters in an envelope, and off they go. In a
couple of days, a complete master edit arrives at your doorstep.
"When working on an unsupervised edit, I make sure the client includes a good, clear explanation
of what is to be done." Bob Schaffner of The Video Center of New Jersey is adamant about these
guidelines. "Without the proper instructions, it’s impossible for the editors to complete the job. This only
ends up costing the client more money. It also wastes a lot of time. Customers working through the mail
must also be sure to include all materials, graphic elements as well as tapes. Also, they should label
everything properly. Again, searching through tape after tape to find a specific yet unlabeled scene is a
terrific waste of time."
Do not forget about insurance if longdistance editing is your method of choice. Remember,
inside that box or envelope rests the accumulation of days, months or even years of work. Most of the
footage is probably impossible to reshoot. Insure the contents for what you deem would be worth the
heartache if all is lost or damaged. Closely examine each carriers’ insurance disclaimers and repayment
rules. You want some restitution if the worst case scenario becomes a reality.
Lastly, make dubs of the masters. Sure, if you have to do it all over, you’ll lose a generation. But
something is better than nothing.
Closer To Home
Maybe an editing bureau is near enough for a personal visit. Super! Not only do you lose the "tapes
inthemail" jitters, you also get to sit in on the cutting–possibly even doing it yourself.
Meeting facetoface with the editor allows better communication of your ideas for the project.
Personal interaction always produces better results. And your "stamp" on the video will be more visible if
you actually participate in the post-production process.
Schaffner advises setting up a meeting with editors before the actual session. "It’s beneficial to
both the client and us if everyone understands exactly what is to take place. Other than just reserving the
time for editing, I encourage customers to talk with the people here and describe their ideas for the video.
Often, the editors can make good suggestions that are ultimately helpful to the project."
Carr manages his business in much the same manner. "We try to solve problems, and that starts
with the initial meeting. If we wait until we’re in the editing room, what could have been solved off the
clock is now costing the client money."
The reliability of a business is easier to gauge if you can walk in their doors. What may appear to be a
stateofthe art facility through the mail might end up more like little Johnny renting out Grandma’s
Don’t believe everything you read and see. Sophisticated computer programs make it very easy to
produce an aweinspiring brochure for something that is little more than a mess of old VCRs and cables.
You have heard of stock photography, haven’t you?
One of the best methods for checking on the trustworthiness of any venture is to chat with past
clients. Finding old customers of an edit bureau close to your home shouldn’t prove too difficult. Just ask
around in the videomaking community.
If that doesn’t produce any leads, ask the business for a client list. This method works with mail
order operations as well. Red flags immediately go up if anyone balks when asked for a client list.
Shielding former customers usually means one thing–shoddy service.
In my own operation, I include a client listing with every solicitation for new contracts. I know
my customers are happy. They’ll pass on complimentary remarks to prospective buyers.
When talking with a videomaker that has used the service you are considering, the following
questions will provide you with a good idea of their style of operation:
- Was the final price of the job reasonably close to the initial estimate? Many posthouses give you an
attractive quote only to jack it up later. It’s hard to pull your project out once you’ve begun. The less
reputable edit bureaus know this only too well. It’s a costly derivation of the retail bait-and-switch
- Is the staff friendly and easy to work with?
Perhaps even more important is the atmosphere of the shop. You want to be able to communicate freely
with the editors. They are there to please you. You don’t want to deal with attitudes and condescending
- Did the service function in a timely manner?
You don’t want to wait three months for a simple, fiveminute, cutsonly production. Often, an edit bureau
will book too many jobs for their employees. Yours may get put on the back burner.
- Were your materials handled carefully?
When you get your tapes back, are they still in the immaculate condition you left them in? If you’re
working through the mail, are packages sufficiently secure?
- Can the service do what you ask?
This question conveniently leads us into the next major consideration in choosing a specific edit bureau:
Find Your Format
As stated earlier, service bureaus vary widely. Some have all the bells and whistles of a network. Some
offer two VHS VCRs and a controller. When investigating your options, determine what you need, and
what you can afford.
Format isn’t usually a problem as most of the midrange edit bureaus offer a choice of all the
consumer options. "We can work with VHS, S-VHS, 8mm, Hi8 and 3/4," says Carr. "Sometimes clients
will have a mix of source material. We can work with that. Again, it’s just something that’s good to know
before we start."
All the editing services agree it’s best to try and keep all of your source footage on one format. It
makes for more efficient editing. And when you’re doing effects, this practice really helps.
"It’s one thing to inter-format on a cutsonly project," relates Seils. "But when you have two or
three source formats and the client wants to build an effect using two of these, it really becomes a mess.
Sometimes dubbing is the only answer. I hate to lose a generation, but often it’s impossible to do it any
Another feature to consider is the addition of an editor in the suite. Many bureaus employ onstaff
editors just for this purpose; they include an operator as part of the cost of renting the equipment. This is a
great way to economize the project if you’re not technically up to snuff. As Carr puts it: "If a client doesn’t
completely understand the process, it’s crazy for them not to hire an editor. We offer training for the
equipment. It’s sort of an interactive, learn-as-you-go technique. But if they’re not prepared, they’ll just
waste money on their video."
Check out an edit bureau’s demo tapes to determine the level of effects your project demands.
Each place will be different. Just remember: the better the quality of effects, the higher the price.
Why You Don’t Own
"We do VHS, cutsonly editing for fifteen bucks an hour," Carr tells me. That’s pretty reasonable. And he
throws in the use of a Panasonic MX12 video mixer at that rate! I don’t know if you’ve checked prices
lately, but you could do a lot of editing before you’d get anywhere near the purchase cost of this setup.
Fifteen bucks is definitely on the low end of edit service pricing. Most bureaus surveyed worked
for an average of $30 an hour, which is not a bad price, either. One caution: be sure the quoted
price includes all the gear you need. You don’t want to find out that character generator you only used
briefly cost you an extra $50 an hour.
Doit-yourself editing seems to be the video service industry of the future. For a low price, you
can get your hands on all those goodies you’ve only read about. The bureaus allow independent
videomakers the chance to flex their creative muscles.
Sure, the downside is that you don’t own the equipment. However, if your paying jobs don’t pay
well enough for you to buy your own editing gear, this really is the way to go. And with technology’s rapid
changes, you’ll never get stuck with outdated gear. If you’re smart, you’ll put the money you might have
spent on editing equipment into your productions and marketing. Your clients will still enjoy a low-cost
finished product, only now your videos will sport all the effects the big boys offer. How can you