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Back to School Pep Talk

Helpful hints to start your digi-vid year right By Charlie White
It's that time of year when many of you are heading back to school, saying goodbye to the laid-back rhythms of summer and returning to academic pursuits. It reminds me of the time when I first headed off to college, and with my nose pressed against the glass of the airplane window (yes, they did have aircraft back then -- circa 1974), I wondered if this pursuit was even worth it. I wondered what would become of me. At the time, I wished there was some way I could receive a message from myself decades in my future, packed with helpful hints that would steer me in the right direction. What would I need to do to prepare myself to be a better video editor, and a better video production person in general? Since there is indeed no way to receive such a letter from the future, dear reader, the next best thing is for me to offer a few tips for you budding digital video editors now, noses pressed up against airplane (or bus, car or train) windows, wondering what will become of you. So if you're venturing forth into the world of digital content creation, here are a few helpful hints.

First of all, there are two big editing packages that have found themselves in the enviable position of being the industry standard, and you must learn them as soon as you can. They are Final Cut Pro and any flavor of the Avid interface. These are the two most widely-used nonlinear editing products, and if you learn these inside and out (and have talent as an editor) you'll have a much better chance of getting a job somewhere. Working in your favor is the fact that the two companies making these programs, Apple (Final Cut Pro) and Avid (Media Composer, Xpress DV, Symphony, etc.) are practically giving them away in crippled, but still usable and learnable versions. In fact, Avid is set to release its free version of its famed user interface any day now, maybe even by the time you read this. Check the Avid site for details. By the way, I really like the Final Cut Pro user interface, better than the Avid one. But if you have to choose between the two, pick the one that's most heavily used in production facilities, newsrooms and film editing houses around the world: Avid. It's really not the best user interface, in my opinion, but it's the number one editing software, so you need to know everything there is to know about it if you plan to work in the top echelons of this business for real money. Now that's not to say you can't venture out on your own with any old software -- you can. Heck, you can cut an Oscar-winning motion picture on iMovie if you have the talent, writing, footage, schmoozing powers and distribution infrastructure in place. As an aside, you also might want to take a long look at the upcoming Adobe Premiere Pro, which I think has the best learning-curve-to-power ratio you can get. That is, it's not too hard to learn and it's packed with great and powerful features. And, don't forget the excellent Vegas 4, available as a free demo, which is bit more difficult to learn than Premiere Pro but every bit as powerful. Overall, to me it's a toss-up between Vegas, Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro for top dog status in the NLE (nonlinear editing) field. See which one you like best, but be sure to have Final Cut Pro and Avid skills under your belt regardless.

Another thing to know: To make it in the TV or movie biz, you're going to have to be good not only at your chosen discipline, but you must be a super-salesman/woman, too -- and your biggest product will be yourself. Become an expert at updating your resume, telling prospective employers about all your unique talents without sounding too stuck-up, and put all your heart and soul into the most important production you'll ever edit: Your resume reel. This will be an ongoing process. Early in my career, when someone would ask me if I was looking for a job, I would reply that I was always looking for a job. And I was. And keep in mind, all it takes is one job, and then you're in. Don't give up. Never, never give up.

Here's another skill you might not have thought was crucial, but I've found it valuable: Knowledge of typography. You'd be surprised at how important this is, especially in the video field. As I made my way into the comfort zone in my first TV gig, I was surprised at how the whole shooting match at the TV station revolved around the character generator (CG). I learned everything I could about that old Chyron. At first I doubted how important that now-ancient character generator was, but then one day the thing crashed and I suddenly realized how hard it was to edit a car commercial without a CG. I also saw how silly weather and sports reports were without any text or numbers. As the years passed, personal computers began to insinuate themselves into the festivities, and I spent a lot of time learning about typefaces, which ones were which, which ones looked good on TV and which ones didn't, and so forth. That was time well-spent.

Another skill that is well worth your time to learn is how to create 2D graphics (over-the-shoulder boxes), because the ability to fill up a frame with easy-to-read, colorful and interesting imagery is a skill that blends in well with many other disciplines. Whether you're working on the Web, at a TV station, or even creating family videos, your final results will be tremendously improved if your graphics are well-composed, easy to read and professional.

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