Sunday, April 19, 2009

Editing by the Numbers

I've been grading papers by my students this week, and as usual there are many references to how editing has changed in the digital era. It makes sense: while the basic concepts are the same, editing on a computer can be significantly faster and allows a lot of room for quick experimentation.

I think they miss the bigger, more significant point, however.

Compare the same editor working in 1979 and 2009 and of course you'll see the power of computer-assisted editing. On some tasks, the digital editor will be amazingly faster, and will likely have less need of multiple assistants to sort the material.

On other tasks, though, they may in fact work at about the same pace. A decent film editor on a working pre-digital system is not inherently slow, and a digital system includes no magic wand.

The significance of digital technology is not found in comparing one editor (1979 version) to one editor (2009 version). The real change is this: the number of people with training in editing and a reasonable amount of practice is way, way up. The shift to computer-based editing has given the individual editor potentially more speed and power -- but it has also made it a more competitive field, with a much larger talent pool. How many 19-year-olds had edited a short film in 1979, compared to the number today?

The real effect, then, is that in our one-to-one comparison that 2009 editor would probably be better. Not because of the function of the tools, but because of the amount of practice and competition allowed by the tools.

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