Although great video gear keeps getting cheaper and cheaper, it remains just beyond the budgets of many aspiring videogrtaphers. How can you justify spending what you might pay for a good used car on a system to help you edit great videos a few times a year?
In most cases, you can’t. Unless video production is your day job, financial prudence forces you to
settle for editing gear that’s not quite top-of-the-line, if you can afford it at all. Then you’re stuck trying to
create your own Citizen Kane on a system built for much smaller projects. As a result, your
projects and your morale may suffer.
So what’s an aspiring videographer like yourself, with big-budget creativity and limited cash flow,
supposed to do in this situation?
Start by checking out the video edit bureaus in your area. Instead of spending thousands on lots of fancy
editing equipment (which may be obsolete in just a few years), you can spend a few hundred dollars at an
edit bureau and come away with an even better project.
The next few pages have answers to some commonly asked questions about edit bureaus, along with
some suggestions on how they can help make your next video venture your best yet.
What Are Edit Bureaus?
Edit bureaus are special facilities with complete, functional video editing systems installed and ready
for you to rent. Sometimes they’re called editing houses or editing suites. You don’t need to buy edit
controllers, special effects generators or VCRs to use an editing bureau. They’ve already bought all of the
equipment for you.
You just need a stack of videotapes and some notes on how you want to edit them together into one
You also don’t need to know every detail about how the editing system works. Most edit bureaus have
trained video editors on staff to operate the equipment. All you do is tell the editor what edits to make; they
push all of the buttons, and your video magically appears before your eyes.
For those of you who enjoy operating editing systems, a few edit bureaus will let you push the buttons
yourself, and maybe save a little money in the process.
Why Would I Want to Use an Editing Bureau?
Typically, edit bureaus have more advanced equipment than videographers can afford to have at
home. They buy the best special effects generators, character generators and edit controllers so their
customers can create the highest-quality videos.
They also hire people who can help you get the most from the equipment, and hence make your video
the best it can be.
When you rent an editing suite, you only pay for the time you need to edit your video, not what it costs
to own the entire system.
Most shops bill on a per-hour or per-day basis. If you make only a few videos a year, it will probably
cost far less to edit in one of these pro or semi-pro edit suites than to buy your own editing system. Even
better, you’ll wind up with the best-looking video you can get for a fraction of what it would cost to own
the system yourself. What more could you want?
How Can Editing Bureaus Improve My Videos?
Since edit bureaus tend to have better equipment, they can add special effects to your video that you
probably couldn’t add with a lesser system.
Digital video effects, for example, where images can warp, zoom, spin and fly around the screen, are
pretty much standard fare at the better editing suites. Some may have interesting filters that make your
video look like it’s someone’s dream, with smearing colors and blurred images. Some shops can also make
video shot yesterday look like it was shot a hundred years ago, stuttering the motion and converting the
color images to a sepia-tinted black and white.
Other suites may have titlers or character generators that can move on-screen text in hundreds of
different ways to make your titles as eye-grabbing as possible.
Many edit bureaus also offer you much more than just video editing services and equipment.
Animated graphics are just one of these possible “extras.” Do you want to add a map to the video about
the places you visited on your vacation? Perhaps a video about repairing an automobile engine could use a
cross-section graphic of the cylinder head. Whatever your graphics or animation needs may be, you can
probably find an edit bureau with the tools to help you meet them.
Some shops offer audio enhancement, called “sweetening,” to give your soundtracks all the punch and
realism of a major motion picture. They may use music and sound effects from a library of compact discs,
or generate their own using electronic keyboards and sequencers.
Many video shops can even make copies of your video when you finish editing it all together.
How Do I Pick the Best Editing Bureau for My Project?
First, make sure the editing facility has VCRs that are the same format as your camcorder. All of the
bells and whistles in the world won’t do you much good if an editing suite doesn’t have a way to play your
Some facilities may want to transfer or “bump up” your footage to a format compatible with one of their
editing VCRs. This is generally a bad idea, unless they’re transferring to a much higher quality format, like
Betacam SP. If an editing suite wants to transfer your S-VHS to Hi8, or vice versa, politely tell them no
thanks and look elsewhere. You’ll lose more picture quality in the transfer than you’ll gain by using their
fancy editing tools.
Ask to see a demo tape, or samples of other projects the facility has edited. Ideally, you want to see a
video they’ve edited recently that’s similar to the one you’re about to produce.
When watching the demo or samples, pay attention to image and sound quality. Can you understand the
voices? Is the sound muffled or excessively “hissy?” Are the titles clean and legible? Are the skin tones
natural? If the demo looks good, chances are your video will, too.
Also ask about their history as a company, both in the industry and the community. If they have awards
or other tokens of recognition displayed in the lobby, that says good things about the company. If you have
to walk through stacks of old newspapers, boxes or magazines to get to the front desk, that’s not a good
Make sure they have enough time available to complete your project. You don’t want to schedule too
little time, and then find yourself rushed to finish the show before the next client arrives.
What Should I Expect to Pay?
Rates at editing shops vary widely depending on the amount of equipment and staff they have.
Typical prices range from $10/hour for basic cuts-only edit systems without any special effects or extras, to
$125/hour and up for the best broadcast-quality suites with all the goodies. The average seems to hover
around $40/hour for a good, well-equipped editing room.
What Should I Do Before I Take a Project to an Edit Bureau?
First, make sure the price they quote you includes all of the equipment you’ll need in your editing
Some facilities charge extra to use a character generator, a studio camera or other production tool. Make
sure you know exactly how much it will cost to get the equipment you need to finish your project.
Once you know the facility is within your budget, ask to meet the editor who will help you create your
video. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself and your project. Explain who the audience is, and how
you want them to respond to this program.
If the editor seems condescending or uninterested in your work, find another shop. You need to work
with someone who will take an interest in your project–someone to help bring out the best parts, and
improve the not-so-great parts. If you have to visit three, four or even 10 different shops to find the right
editor for you, it’s worth it.
Do I Need to Know Special Lingo to Use an Editing Bureau?
Time in an edit suite costs money. Sometimes big money. The more you know about the editing
process and its related technology, the less time you’ll spend asking the editor what something means. And
less time means a lower editing bill.
Don’t worry if you can’t operate the equipment, using the gear is the editor’s job. Just learn enough to
tell the editor what to do. If phrases like, “I want to put a dissolve here,” or “Cut to the wide shot when she
leaves the frame” don’t sound like a foreign language, then you probably know enough to work
comfortably and efficiently in an editing bureau.
If you don’t know much about how editing works, most editors will help explain things along the way.
Just be aware that you pay twice for every minute that an editor spends explaining something to you. You
pay them once to explain something to you, and then pay them again to actually edit your program.
It can be a great way to learn about the process, but it can also cost you big chunks of money.
How Can I Keep the Edit Bureau Bill as Low as Possible?
Although the hourly charges at an edit bureau may seem high, you can keep your bill under control by
just being prepared.
Make most, if not all, of your edit decisions before you walk into the edit suite. When you’re in the
suite, the meter’s running. It’s best to make every second of that time count toward actually editing the
show, not deciding which shot goes where.
Come to the editing session with a very detailed list of which shots you want to use in the video, and
where they are on each source tape. This is called the edit decision list, or EDL, and it can minimize the
time you spend shuttling tapes to find a specific shot.
Many videomakers save time and money by performing an “offline” edit using low-cost computer gear
to assemble their program, then outputting the EDL to a floppy disk in a standard format for use at the
editing suite. This use of the portable electronic EDL is one of the best ways to make efficient use of your
time in the edit facility. A number of low-cost hardware and software solutions exist to help you with this
task, including a few plug-ins for nonlinear editing systems that allow you to digitize your clips at a low
resolution, assemble your program on the nonlinear timeline, then output an EDL for use at an editing
If you have photographs or slides that you need to add to a video, shoot them all at one time, instead of
adding them “as needed” during the edit. This will save you the time it takes to set up the camera for each
Also, it’s helpful for both you and the editor to have some notes about the program. If you have a script
you’re working from, make an extra copy for the editor to review during the editing session.
You can save a few dollars by bringing your own blank tape to use as an edited master. Some edit shops
charge more than you need to pay for these tapes. If you buy your own master tape stock, don’t skimp on
quality. Get the best tape you can afford so your show looks its best.
Where Can I Go to Find Available Edit Bureaus in My Area?
Phone books are a great place to start. Look under “Video Production,” “Video Post Production,” or
“Video Editing” in the Yellow Pages.
You can also get Video Production Resource Guides from state or city governments in large
metropolitan areas. Your local Chamber of Commerce probably has a directory of member businesses, and
you might find an editing shop there as well.
You can ask local video store owners if they have suggestions. Other businesspeople who’ve used video
as a training or marketing tool may also have the name of a good facility.
Don’t treat an edit suite like a fast food restaurant: “Get in, get what I want and get out.” The people
who own editing bureaus usually have a vested interest in seeing people succeed in their video projects.
They want to help you make the most of the medium, and have fun in the process. That’s what makes you
come back next time.
Take the time to get to know the owners and the technicians you work with in an editing facility. They
can show you video tricks you never knew were possible. They might even show you short cuts to make
your projects easier and cheaper to produce.
Above all, make them a part of your production team. While there may be a few who simply want to
take your money and run, most want to make your show as good or better than you imagine it.
By approaching them, and the process, with an open mind, you’ll probably surprise yourself with the
great videos you can make at an edit bureau, and how much money it can save you.