Viewfinder: Pushing Against Perfectionism

Many makers of media are hard-wired to be detail oriented. After all, to make great media, you need to notice small details that others might not see. Some editors geek out over finding and fixing flash-frame errors and adjusting edit points with painstaking precision. This sort of hyper-attentiveness to minute details can be a good thing in one sense. By noticing fine details, editors can hone cuts to create sequences that flow flawlessly and effectively engage viewers. At an extreme, however, overly critical cutters can fall into the dangerous pit of perfectionism. Consider this installment of Viewfinder a warning sign along the road; intended to direct you away from a snare that can so easily entrap unsuspecting producers.

Despite what some might want you to think, perfectionism is not a desirable characteristic for psychologically healthy persons. Too much focus on perfection can put you on the road to other more serious issues. Psychology Today refers to perfectionism as, “…a fast and enduring track to unhappiness” that is “often accompanied by depression. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation.”

Perfectionism often manifests as an unhealthy obsession with not making mistakes or revealing flaws. Most who make video can identify with the desire to make just one more edit, one more improvement and spend just one more hour massaging a masterpiece. Sometimes these little tweaks can add hours to an otherwise-finished edit — often at the expense of sleep. For those paid by the project, these kinds of extended edits can greatly decrease the profitability of a production. I know I’ve been there. Perhaps you have, too.

For those paid by the project, these kinds of extended edits can greatly decrease the profitability of a production.

Hear me clearly: I am not suggesting that you compromise a commitment to creating excellent content. However, there is a distinction that we must make between a positive pursuit of excellence and a dysfunctional tendency towards perfectionism.

Those who struggle with perfectionistic tendencies can benefit by injecting a few simple safety measures into their production processes. First, set a time limit for an initial edit and a specific predetermined amount of time for each round of revisions. By working within established time limitations, editors can protect themselves from never-ending perfection-driven marathon sessions. Second, enlist a respected and trusted colleague to review your initial edit with you. Have them call out a list of changes to be made. Then, after you solicit their feedback, share any additional edit ideas with them and assess the value of those additional adjustments together.

The problem with perfectionism is that it is a media-maker’s mirage. Although the perfect final cut seems to be just over the next ridge, it is an ever-elusive destination that can never be reached. There is always another change that could be made. The secret is to know when to say when. We must hold in high regard the meritorious value of excellence without giving in to the compulsion to relentlessly chase the unrealistic goal of the so-called “perfect.”

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

Chuck Peters
Chuck Peters
Chuck Peters is a three-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer. He is currently director of operations for LifeWay Kids in Nashville, TN.

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