The Freelancer Twitch

Can I kill my phone for five days in August? The fact is that working in tv is 24/7. I mean, I had a music pass for a show episode dropped on me around 1030 on Saturday night. That’s just how it is. At least DC keep regular business hours. And I was going to try and bug out of town towards the end of this week, but I just had a recording session scheduled to wrap out two of my actors on Friday. I’ve been on call for… a few years now? And I still have the Freelancer Twitch, of needing to be hyper-present and hyper-alert and hyper-aware at all times. If you started out poor and precarious, and did not in fact zoom straight into the golden stratosphere but stayed precarious for a long time and had major work/money crises deep into the duration of your career… it doesn’t go away. You can’t train it out. It’s a hardwired reflex.

From Warren Ellis’s weekly newsletter orbitaloperations.com

Blog Retrospective!

TL;DR – For the immediate future, my online efforts are going to be focused on writing for Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp. In the meantime I look back at the last two years of blogging.


Three Important Posts

The post that really got me started wasn’t even published on this blog, but Reality and Streaming television written for my friend’s blog Far From Reality is one of my favorites. I think time demonstrates that it has been surprisingly accurate in its predictions.

Unscripted television continues to vex streaming services. In many respects the “how do you create a successful scripted television” has been solved; in the sense that the list of well known scripted shows on every streaming platform is legion: Handmaid’s, Transparent, Stranger Things, etc. But the most successful unscripted shows (debatablely the Queer Eye reboot and Nailed it!) haven’t really been the talk of the town either.

Hollywood vs Silicon Valley is hands down the most important post I’ve written. I think this post helps organize the discussion around what these new streaming giants mean to the entertainment industry. If anything, time has only proved that Netflix is playing 4th dimensional chess here because their job postings (Link, Link) show that they are putting in place the systems that will allow us to understand how their shows are made. Towards a ‘lean’ television production model Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. Builds on this idea of applying Silicon Valley ideals to Hollywood productions.

Scheduling, Workflow, and Project Management

Most of these posts were excerpts from my work journals and is my attempt at codifying my process. My series on Scheduling (1,2,3,4); Workflow (1,2,3,4); and Project Management (1,2,3) were also born out of thinking about post production from a Product Manager POV.

Motion Picture Production is logistically as complex as waging a small war and yet software that’s up to the task of managing a motion picture doesn’t exists. At least 70% of this is Avid’s fault. The closed nature of Media Composer isolates the NLE data into a silo that can’t be leveraged.

Biography

My most read posts are the biographical ones (Mexico, Detroit, Food Star). Another category of blogs that came from my work journal. I wish I enjoyed writing them as much as you all enjoyed reading them. But if I ever have five or six months in a hut without internet I’d probably edit my journals and write a best seller based on the stats (hehehe).

REVIEWS

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My reviews are the one area where I consistently fall short of my goals. Writing a good review is damn hard. Especially if set a high bar.

Netflix & Avid

The tags (Netflix & Avid) alone show that I’m obsessed with these two companies. Netflix because of how forward looking they are. Avid because of how backwards looking. I have Trello cards for blog posts in development titled: “Netflix the cultural contradiction” & “The End of Avid: The case for a Microsoft Buyout”. It’s probably for the better that neither of these make it to drafted, edited, or published lists. Maybe one day I’ll share the draft notes.

Resources

I’ve shared a few resources that I’ve created over the years. (Post Dashboard, Exporting Checklist, A.E. Curriculum)  Sadly, I’ve never received any feedback about them. I like to consider these living documents; meaning, that the evolve over time as needs change. I would love to hear if anyone is using them, and if any modifications have been made.

Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp

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AE Bootcamp presentation

I was invited to give a presentation on resume writing and job searching by Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp. The presentations sold out and I received outstanding feedback from both classes:

“Thank you for such a thorough review of my resume! Your recommendations are very helpful. You made me see my resume in a whole new light.”

“Hi Dustyn, thank you so much for reviewing my resume and my website. I don’t think I ever had a thorough analysis on me before so I really appreciate it!”

“Thank you so so much for your thorough and thoughtful review.I am definitely going to use your suggestions as I rewrite my resumes this week.”

The founders of Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp have asked me to manage their Social Media Strategy as they expand their community online and in real life. Their online presence is about so much more than assistant editing. Our future plans include profiles of industry peers, special deals on your other favorite software, Media Composer tips & tricks, and more. Since the focus of my writing energy is going to be with the Bootcamp I’d be delighted if you would click the following link and sign up to learn more.

Netflix gets into the reality game

Business Insider (via Hollywood Reporter) is reporting that Netflix is getting into the Reality game with a slate of 20 upcoming shows. As I previously spectualated, Reality is an easier way for Netflix to build its catalog at a lower cost per hour. Although it remains to be seen how a Sly Stallone American Ninja Warrior competition show is received worldwide. This is an exciting development for sure.

Netflix angst

A whole lot of Netflix angst in the comments of these two recent articles about Netflix:

The gist of the Hollywood Reporter article is that Hollywood fears Netflix because Netflix is inserting its Silicon Valley ethos into the notoriously opulent Hollywood culture:

While it remains an open question whether Netflix will become the Google of Hollywood, there’s ample evidence that it already presents a tough corporate tech culture that doesn’t cater to sensitive showrunners and others who are used to being handled with more care.

With exceptions at the uppermost levels, sources say many Netflix execs don’t have assistants. They run their own phone sheets, which may explain why many calls go unreturned. That doesn’t sit well with those who sit at the top of the Hollywood pyramid.

This should come as no surprise to anyone because Silicon Valley firms are notorious for innovating new markets simplying by doing things differently. So hide your assistants because Netflix is coming to take them away!

The Ars Technica article intrigues because Netflix has two options if it wants fifty percent of their content to be original programing: it can let its current licensing deals expire, shrinking their catalogue, which makes the current slate of original programming represent a larger portion of the catalogue. Or they can produce more original content.

Organically growing its catalogue one $4 million dollar episode of television at a time will get expensive very quickly. My bet is that Netflix’s next big move is to cut out the studio middlemen altogether and start producing their own shows from stem to stern.

Now if only there were a genre of television that was cheaper to produce and less regulated…

Manhattan real estate and the average edit suite

As a New York based postproduction supervisor I spend a lot of time looking at budgets, quotes, and invoices. So recently I started to wonder how the cost of real estate in Manhattan compares to Los Angeles. And longterm, does the rising cost of real estate, combined with the inflexible space requirements of postproduction, threaten the traditional Manhattan post house? For background research I spoke with a commercial real estate agent, and then I visited a few post houses.

Real Estate

My first real estate lesson was that New York City and Los Angeles are divided in submarkets, or neighborhoods. The variation between submarkets can be large, especially in certain industries such as entertainment which clusters together in areas like Hudson Square or Burbank. I’ve chosen the Midtown South and West LA submarkets for my calculations because they are the most representative submarkets in both cities.1

  • As of July 2012 the average asking rent in Midtown South is $51.73 per square foot per year.
  • As of May 2012 the average asking rent in West LA is $39.96 per square foot per year.
  • The $11.77 difference between Manhattan and Los Angeles is misleading because Manhattan’s vacancy rate is 4.8% and dropping (less availability, rents likely to increase), while LA’s vacancy rate is 15.6% and rising (more availability, rents likely to decrease).
  • It’s 29.45% more expensive to lease in Manhattan as opposed to Los Angeles. I wonder if New York’s recently 30% Postproduction Tax Credit is related to real estate expenses.

The Average Edit Suite

With these numbers in mind I set out to find the real estate cost of the average edit suite. But after visiting a few post houses it quickly became clear that there is no such thing as the average edit suite. The variations are endless.

After some consideration I realized that many suites had common aspects that struck at the essence of my questions. For example; I don’t want to consider an editor working on a laptop in a cubicle because this setup would hinder proper monitoring. This setup would also hinder producer screenings because the noise of the producer/editor collaboration would interrupt coworkers in adjacent cubicles. Therefore I will define the average edit suite using the following criteria:

  • The edit suite must be completely enclosed.
  • The edit suite must have room for a separate preview monitor and speakers.
  • The edit suite must have room for a producer to comfortably screen, but not necessarily work in for extended periods of time.

Based on these criteria I saw a lot of similarities. At each post house the small suites usually stayed within nine to thirteen feet in length and width. 10’ x 11’ and 9’ x 13’ were common dimensions. Therefore, I feel comfortable saying that the average edit suite is 10’ x 12’. But we need to consider the loss factor.

Agents talk a lot about “the loss factor” when negotiating a lease. The loss factor is the amount of space you’re paying for versus the amount of space that you can actually use. For example; that two by two concrete support pillar is four square feet of space that you’re renting but can’t use. The same is true of walls between offices.

To account for loss factor I’ve increased the dimensions of the average edit suite to 11’ x 13’ or 143 square feet. Based on these dimensions:

  • The Manhattan edit suite will cost: $7,397.39 per year.
  • The Los Angeles edit suite will cost: $5,714.28 per year.
  • The $1,683.11 difference is only $32.37 per week.

Brooklyn

As a proud Brooklyn resident I feel the need to bring up the fact that the average asking rent in downtown Brooklyn is around $29 per square foot per year. However, I am aware of the fact that Brooklyn poses some geographic challenges. A New Jersey-to-Brooklyn or Upstate New York-to-Brooklyn commute is a schlep for many employees. The cost benefits of relocating to Brooklyn (or New Jersey) need to be weighed against the potential loss of talent.

Conclusion

The cost difference between Manhattan and Los Angeles surprised me because it was smaller than I expected. In fact, by comparing different submarkets it is possible to reduce the difference even further; the Financial District to Burbank for example.

That said, my research is far from comprehensive. Post houses need a lot of space for the business of post but unusable for the actual work, like a nice lobby and administrative offices. Considering the total space requirements would change my results.

Another important factor that I haven’t considered: labor! The cost of labor is the number one expense for any business in entertainment. Comparing New York and Los Angeles editor rates would probably be a more effective way of comparing the cost of doing business.

Finally, I don’t know what type of margins post houses operate within. But as the cost of real estate rises and the rate of postproduction services declines, it’s hard to imagine that Manhattan will remain a viable option in longterm. Thoughts?


  1. The “average asking rent” and “vacancy rate” of Midtown South and West LA are representative of their respective cities. A more comprehensive comparison is beyond the scope of this entry.