Why I joined a full-service production company and not an editorial house.

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Brian Sandford, Versus

In the last two years, I’ve had countless conversations with other editors regarding the evolution of edit houses and how I came to work at Versus. Most talented editors are either looking for a new studio to call home or figuring out the complications and opportunities available for film editors in 2023.

I wanted to share some of my conversations and talk about what is possible for editors today. I’m going to keep financials and company names out of this piece and focus on the culture/fit of different companies, which is ultimately what determined my choice to join a full-service production company. 

Let’s examine the options for editors and think about this content as a moment in time in mid 2023. 

The Family: Working at a Small Shop

Prior to Versus, I worked at high-end boutique editorial companies in New York. These are amazing places to learn and I was lucky to be there at the early stages of my career when apprenticeship was still taken more seriously. 

Now, when an editor approaches me for advice on working in those boutique shops I ask them a few questions. First, do you have a rock-solid client base that you can call on Day 1 to bring you significant work in the first year? If you can, then these kinds of situations could be great for you. You more or less run your own business out of the company and the synergies you have with the team can foster growth and success for everyone. However, if you are not 100% confident you can pull that kind of work quickly, I would stay far away from this path. Smaller companies often means tighter margins and more of the overhead is allocated to you, which will bring sales pressure down quickly from the partners. 

One of the biggest benefits of working for a small shop is they really have to believe in you and have your creative development in their interest. Your reel getting stronger and having the shot at award-winning work is very much how these places succeed. Although, before jumping at the opportunity, you will have to assess if the infrastructure can really make it happen. 

Boutiques may use the word ‘family’ a lot–that’s a red flag for me. Let’s be honest, you should want a concrete business relationship with people you can trust and maybe grab a drink with now and again after a long project wrap. Not a ‘family’... This culture, although often well-intentioned, can become toxic when business obstacles present themselves because codependency is at the core of families, but you really need accountability.

The Factory: Life at a Big Shop

The term ‘factory’ is often used in a derogatory way to describe editorial companies with a big staff (10+ senior editors). It portends that the work is “cookie cutter” and there is no sense of community in the studio. Big does not necessarily mean bad, but there are certainly some great opportunities for a good fit if you ask the right questions at the start.

If you are an editor with a small following but also want to get access to some overflow boards and work to stay busy, a larger studio could be a great fit. These studios often have a stronger infrastructure you can use to grow your personal brand. They will be the companies throwing the parties and going to events that will open up opportunities to meet more people, perhaps making you look more established than if you are at a smaller studio. 

The caution here is that you can become a cog in the factory. So, be sure to talk about the kind of overflow work you will be getting and think about if that will be creatively rewarding or be reel-worthy work. It’s far too easy for these companies to just do the math on you as an employee and just use your talent to hit their numbers without really thinking about your career or creative development.

The Freelancer: Work for Hire 

While I was freelancing for three years, I spent some time working for in-house agencies and brand studios. When you work in-house, there is absolutely a trade-off. You get access to a lot of work and good rates, but you rarely get to touch the prestige projects and if you are dedicated to a single brand, your reel can get stale fast.

So, what’s the allure of in-house work? To me, it's an ‘everything in moderation’ approach. If you have 5-10 in-house contacts that will bring you projects then you can keep your work looking and feeling diverse, likely finding some creatively inspiring projects to keep your reel fresh. Just don’t fall into that comfortable trap of working in one studio, on one brand for too long! It will undeniably affect your future as you dig out from a few years of homogeneous work.

Lastly, the reality of in-house work is that some of those editors are looked at as ‘less prestigious’ than the ones coming from the private shops. There are remarkably talented in-house editors, but the industry has its way of judging talent…

Remember, these studios are all profit drivers–they are about the bottom line in the end.

The Floating Roster: The New 4th Wall

The model in which I field the most questions is the ‘floating roster’, which is what we have instituted for editors at Versus. The goal with this roster is to find a mutually beneficial relationship where editors know they have the backing of a studio, but also can take on freelance work to fill time between projects. This model enables Versus to have a strong roster of dedicated talent ready to take on huge projects at a moment's notice, while allowing editors the freedom to be ambitious. 

This is the future of the industry. 

At Versus, we have huge plans to support more artists who are looking for the best way to maximize earnings for their hard work and creativity, while also being part of the culture of a studio. The artists can pitch for agency work that will be more lucrative than their freelance contracts while leveraging our sales team to bring them opportunities they would not otherwise have been put up for.

But, throwing your name on a roster won't just get you your next big project. I always tell every single editor “YOU ARE YOUR BEST SALESPERSON.” So, you still need to grind to bring in the jobs you want, but if you find the right studio to collaborate with, it can feel like you still work with a team that has your back. 

So, Which Is the Best?

I came to the conclusion that editorial companies have a hard time expanding into other creative vertices effectively. All the edit shops had a ‘GFX Person’, who was almost always immensely talented but was always under or improperly utilized. With Versus’ established and excellent design and animation studio as a base, I thought to invert that old-school thinking and bring the edit into the design studio.

By joining Versus I was able to satisfy all my goals. I took on the role of Director of Post Production in 2020 right as the pandemic hit which took the wind out of my sails. However, it forced me to look at the studio in a more collaborative and unified way. In the end, the result is a much more integrated creative studio where production, editorial, and GFX all work together in a truly unified and supportive way unlike I have ever experienced in my career. I have a studio that is on a solid creative and financial footing with partners who share my passions to build a company that is respected as a creative force and as a group that cares deeply for the success and happiness of its artists.

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