The Freelance Film Editor’s Toolkit
- Essential Film Editing Gear for Location Editing
- Small things that make a big difference
- Time Saving Tools and Services for Film Editors
As a freelance film editor I often find myself working in some random places that aren’t necessarily the ideal set up for film editing, but edit I must.
Over the years I’ve built up a bag of essential gear, software, tools, and nick-knacks, that I try to keep with me on all occasions.
This is the bag I have had since the beginning of my freelance editing career (Eastpak Hutson Laptop Bag) and it easily fits a 17″ Macbook Pro and all the other stuff I’m about to mention!
Essential Editing Equipment
Over the years I’ve researched, curated and reviewed quite a few bits of post production related gear here on the blog (check out the full list here) but here are a few things, I always keep with me for location editing.
Beyerdynamic DT770 Headphones – Over Ear Headphones that will help you focus on your work (due to their noise cancelling effect) and deliver reliably accurate sound at the same time. As a backup I also keep a pair of Sennheiser CX300 II in-ear headphones on me too.
A long phone charging cable is also a really helpful piece of kit to keep on you. Yes, you could just use the short one that comes with the phone (e.g. the always-too-short Apple iPhone cable) but having a much longer one, like this Anker Powerline+ 6ft cable means you can reach a power outlet much further away. Once you get one, you’ll see what a difference it makes.
Speaking of phones, my iPhone battery is getting pretty old and very unreliable. So I try to keep this Anker 6-charge USB battery in my bag so that the phone doesn’t die at a crucial moment. It’s nice and compact and not too heavy. Get this one, or one like it if that happens to you too.
Having been an editor for a long time, I long ago gave up using a mouse for film editing (although if I did I would use this Razer Naga Chroma) and use a large Wacom tablet at home and a smaller portable one in my bag at all times.
Getting the drivers set up can be a bit of a pain depending on how flexible the edit suite’s IT team might be, but if I’m cutting on my own laptop, that’s not a problem. But any more than an hour with a mouse gives me a fresh bout of RSI tingles.
Here is a post on Why I Love to Edit with a Wacom Tablet.
Small but important things for a freelance editor’s toolkit
Having a USB stick pre-loaded with all of your best tools, plugin install files, keyboard shortcut files, go-to sound effects, light leaks and film grain files is an essential component of any editor’s arsenal.
If you’re after some free light leaks, film grains, LUTS and other knick-knacks to keep to hand, check out the freebies section of the blog here.
One of THE most useful things to preload onto that stick are some simple After Effects templates for lower thirds and title graphics. Stock assets like these can be quickly adapted but will save you countless hours starting them all from scratch.
These days 128GB of memory is small enough to stick into the side of your laptop and not worry about removing, although if you might want to buy a chunkier one if you’re going to be passing it around, otherwise it’s just going to get lost!
Another essential item is a decent lens cloth for keeping your screen clean and scratch free. If it’s really been a while since you cleaned your screen you might want to keep a couple of these liquid screen wipes handy too.
Other important things:
- Pain killers
- Emergency chocolate bar (usually a Snickers)
- Small pad of paper and a pen (always Uni-ball UM170)
Editing Software Toolkit
As a freelance editor who most often works from home there are a few useful services that I rely on to get the job done.
I use Dropbox for backing up Premiere Pro project files, although you could use the new auto-save to the cloud feature, and when collaborating in with other creatives on the same project. If, for some reason, you’re after an encrypted version of Dropbox you should check out SpiderOak.
If you’re not already signed up to the free version of Dropbox then use this link and we’ll both get an extra half a GB free!
Another use I have for Dropbox is to have access to a folder of sample tracks from different composers I work with, so I can try out different things without having to bother them.
If there’s not budget for a composed track then I’ll look to one of my four favourite Royalty Free Production Music sites, check out an in-depth post on working with those sites, here.
I’ve recently been working with tracks from Art-list.io, which the client loved and I have plenty of great options to choose from. Also, because I wasn’t paying per track, I actually ended up using more tracks than I would when working with a budget conscious client.
The site is about to launch out of beta and is well worth a look for the $199/year subscription fee that gives you total access to their entire catalogue and permission to keep using the tracks you’ve downloaded even after your subscription lapses!
When it comes to client video review you can check out this in-depth comparison of many of the major players including Wipster, Frame io, Vimeo Pro and more.
Lately, I’ve been using a combination of unlisted YouTube links or WeTransfer links – old habits die hard!
I also want to try to curtail the amount and granularity of the client feedback I receive! Sometimes a download link and a phone call are a more efficient way to get their thoughts on the current cut, otherwise if you give them an inch they might take a mile.
If you want an alternative to sending files that won’t fit into the free 2GB limit on WeTransfer and you want logs of all the files you’ve sent (and a lot more) then you might want to look into a new ‘pay-as-you-go’ service aimed at the film industry called Rush from MASV.io.
You can sign up for a 50GB free trial and give it a whirl for yourself. There is no upper file size limit and the pricing structure is $0.15/GB (x the number of recipients). So 5 GB to 5 people costs $3.75. The links also last twice as long as WeTransfer’s free 5 day duration and there is no subscription fee, unlike WeTransfer Plus ($12/month).
Having given it a try, one thing I liked was the fact that during the upload it was giving a real-time transfer speed and that there is a fee calculator on the site, so once you burn through those first free 50GBs, you can check how much it’s going to cost before you send.
Depending on the size of the files you’re sending, to how many people and how often, a subscription to WeTransfer Plus may work out cheaper, although that service essentially has a 100GB storage cap. (As in you can only have 100GB going through the system at any one time).
Either way you may as well grab the free 50GB trial and use it next time you want to send a file bigger than 2GB!
When it comes to actual editing software I happen to own them all (Premiere Pro, FCPX, DaVinci Resolve, Avid Media Composer…) but other tools that I also find handy are things like:
- ShotPut Pro or Hedge for Mac, which allow for easy and reliable hard drive back up
- FilmConvert’s colour grading plugin can be handy for an easy grade in a pinch
- PluralEyes can save massive amounts of time when automatically syncing sound to video
- Renamer is the my batch file renaming tool of choice.
- RipIt is ideal for those good ol’ DVD rips you might still need to do!
- OmniSweeper is great and free tool for cleaning out old junk on your system drive
- Mpeg StreamClip is a trusty fall back for random file conversions
- Screenflow – for recording websites or apps for corporate cutaways, although you can also (not as effectively) do this in QuickTime for free.
I recently put together a post covering Tips on Switching NLE, which will help you give another system a try, or help refresh your muscle memory on it.
Extra Tools and Resources
As a freelancer you’re effectively running two jobs. You’re delivering your professional creative skills to the best of your ability, but you’re also running a business.
Handling both the creative and entrepreneurial sides of your work can be a challenge, but hopefully some of these resources will help in that regard.
As a not so shameless plug for my own ebook, How To Be a Freelance Creative, I’d say it’s worth getting because it’s basically everything I know about freelancing in 100 pages. After 10 years I’m still here, and still loving being freelance, so I must be doing a few things right.
Save yourself the headaches I endured and pick up a copy today.
If you only read one chapter though, read the chapter on managing your money. If you don’t want to have to personally deal with the nitty gritty of UK Tax law then sign up with my accountant Trevor. He’s excellent, and just say I sent you!
If you’re not in the UK, finding and signing up with a good accountant should save you more money than they will ever cost you, plus their fees are usually a tax deductible business expense.
My ‘schtick’ with them is to have a raft of different colours printed up, allowing the person I’m connecting with to choose their own preferred colour choice. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s never not prompted an interested reaction.
Having something you can keep in your wallet and hand out at any opportunity makes networking easy. Keep some on you at all times, otherwise you’ll never have them when you really need them.
Essential Books for Freelance Creatives
Here are four books that I think make for pretty essential reading for freelancers in any creative profession. Three of these I’ve previously reviewed on the blog and the fourth is a fresh book for this post. Use the links below to jump to the detailed reviews.
- Making Ideas Happen
- How To Win Friends and Influence People
- Getting To Yes: Negotiating to Agreement without Giving In
- What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20
These books will give you a good foundation on creativity and turning your ideas into completed projects (Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky), learning to work happily and effectively with others and develop your people skills (How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnagie).
Getting to Yes: Negotiating to Agreement without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury is a classic read on the art of negotiation and helps to you to foster creative ways of thinking about creating win-win situations for everyone involved.
What I Wish I Knew When I was 20 by Tina Seelig brings in a wealth of ideas about thinking entrepreneurially and building your business and better serving your clients, most of which can be readily applied to creative industries.
If you like the look of these books and want to check out more of the books I’ve previously reviewed, check out this post which lists every book reviewed on the blog or check out the books category.
What I Wish I knew When I was 20 By Tina Seelig
What would you do to earn money if all you had was five dollars and two hours.
That’s the opening line of Tina Seelig’s excellent book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 – A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World. That line and the following story about thinking outside of your given constraints had me hooked on this gem of a book from the start.
Essentially it started out as the best pieces of advice Tina Seelig, who has a Ph.D in neuroscience and is the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, would give to her 20 year old son, but soon grew into the things she had learned teaching students entrepreneurial skills and advising boardrooms of executives over the years.
Where ever you sit in that spectrum, from student to billionaire, the book is an incredibly easy read and packed to the brim with practical examples and success stories, that will help you re-think your current business or creative problems.
You might not think that being a freelance creative comes with that many business problems, but figuring out how to increase you rates with your clients or deciding which skills to learn next to help develop new career opportunities or re-think the way things have ‘always been done’ to put yourself a head of the curve are real problems that we all need to discover solutions too.
Why should you read this book?
Tina sums up it up pretty well with these words…
The concepts presented in this book turn many well-worn ideas on their heads. My hope is to challenge you to see yourself and the world in a fresh light.
The ideas are straightforward, but not necessarily intuitive. As an educator focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship, I have seen firsthand that these ideas are relevant to those working in dynamic environments, where situations change rapidly, requiring those involved to know how to identify opportunities, balance priorities and learn from failure.
Additionally, these concepts are valuable to anyone who wants to squeeze the most juice out of life.