How I Started as an Editor Making + $100K / yr

Hi, I’m Will. I am a promo writer, producer and pre-editor.

I am a big fan of all things comedy and anything that pushes the envelope (not ideal for getting approval).

I started in NYC, spent some time in Boston and moved out to LA about 2 years ago for what I considered a dream gig.

And it has turned out way better than I could have imagined.

I was very lucky. I interned at USA Network my senior year of college. Syfy (Sci Fi at the time) and USA were both a part of NBC Universal and on the same floor at 30 Rock in NYC.

So, they were essentially sister networks and knew a lot of the same people.

One summer my television professor called me and asked if I was looking for an internship. I had not been looking for one despite needing one.

Turns out a Rider alumni worked at USA Network in the on-air promo department and was looking to fill their internship position.

My professor knew I was majoring in television and minoring in advertising so he said he “had the perfect internship for me.”

Funnily, the Dean of the Communications department (not the same person) nearly failed me on day one when I broached the subject of missing a class a week to go to the internship.

Funny to think about. Honestly I was basically handed that interview opportunity but still had to impress during the interview.

After graduating I spent the summer (3 months or so) looking for TV jobs and don’t remember if I applied online or was contacted about a Syfy opportunity.

Either way they were referred to me because of my internship at USA Network.

It was in the marketing department. I graduated in May ‘08 and had my first job by September. Again, very lucky.

What inspired you to become an editor & producer?

In highschool I was always making videos for projects whenever possible and was that guy who went around with a handheld camcorder everywhere.

I always wanted to make commercials for some reason.

So I went to school for TV/Advertising and landed a job in promos. Sound inspires me a lot. 

I was told once “If it sounds good it looks good” which has been the backbone for any project.

”If it sounds good it looks good”


Good work inspires me. That and competition.

If I see a piece of work I was not impressed with that gets high praise it lights a fire underneath me. Also, creative feedback.

Even the hackiest of feedback is an opportunity.

At 35 I haven’t lost any of my drive for the job (though I wish it would simmer down), so I am constantly wanting to learn, listen and grow.

How was the process moving from Coordinator / assistant at Syfy & truTV to editor at Telescopic and then writer / producer?

Slow.

I was unemployed, got passed up for many promotions and took on freelance moonlighting in addition to my 9-5 corporate network job to try to build a reputation.

You could say I climbed the standard ladder, PA to AP, AP to Producer, Producer to Sr Producer.

I gave up a lot of nights learning editing and doing work that others getting promoted around me we’re not doing.

And when that happened or I was unhappy at a place I moved on.

Telescopic was a guy starting his own business so it was just a hold me over until something else came up.

But for the majority of my early career it was all who I knew and TONS of interviews.

I mean 1-2 a week for multiple years.

When I was a PA I was passed up for a job because I had too much experience for the AP position which was a step up ladder wise Stuck in promo limbo.

Did something trigger this change or were you just looking for new opportunities?

I was once told to always know what’s out there. So I do even when not looking for a new job.

But my first two jobs had a year limit since they were freelance. Once I hit that limit I had to move on.

Like I said I was doing a lot of extra work and had more experience and more time at the network than people being promoted around me.

My work was continually good & being approved and pitched to the top (especially for my entry level position) and all I kept hearing was “Keep doing what you’re doing.” 

So I looked for other jobs. I was over NYC at the time so I wasn’t held back by being stuck in a region.

If I’m unhappy at a place or feel my development is not where it should be I leave.

When I started to get my creative approval and support I was like “Whoa this is a thing?”

It went from PA by day, Pre-editor by night (yikes, add that to the no google list) to Pre-editor by day (don’t google that either). 

I always had a corporate network staff gig (for the most part) and freelanced at night. My freelancing started as a way to get a corporate gig somewhere else but the money was good and it kept coming for the most part.

I do much less (zero) of it now but it’s always been a side gig.

I feel much more comfortable being staff at some corporate network than going off on my own. Extra cash always helped despite giving up a lot of time.

I always said I’d do it while I was young and had the energy and 10 years later my energy is a little less but still raging annoyingly strong.

Again my first jobs out of college had a month cap so once I hit 9-12 months, I had to find another job. But freelance work started as a means to find a new permanent job and / or expand my network.

hrcurator.com

I listed my freelance work because my reel was composed mostly of my side gig work over my corporate gig producing / editing.

I did this to show experience. This is also why I listed it on resumes. Promos and campaigns look better than retags.

A reel/resume looked (to me) much stronger if I listed all the networks I have done work for. 

Especially when I was freelance pre-editing as a Production Assistant.

Production Assistant to editing producer is not a likely jump (though I have seen it once). But I had much more experience than my title said.

So, I listed them and put them on my reel. I was also doing much more advanced work freelancing than I was at my corporate gigs at the time.

How did you land your first client as a freelancer?

I was desperately looking for jobs after my first job. While at Syfy I became very tight with my coworkers. I reached out to them to see if they think there might be anything.

They were willing to help and one day, instead of an interview, a project manager I knew asked if I wanted a project.

I said yes of course.

As a Production Assistant the idea of this was insane to me especially when I saw the project rate.

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I had been pre-editing already but that was way beyond my corporate jobs responsibilities. 

Looking back I made many deliverable mistakes but the edit was decent and then more jobs came.

I am still proud of it 10 years later. 

Strange story, I had actually just broken my right wrist (destroyed it, needed surgery) right before that first project offer.

So, I cut the whole thing (and probably the next couple projects) one handed with my non-dominant hand.

What’s your editing & mixing process once you have the files?

Project organization is the single most important thing for me editing wise.

I have a core amount of bins and they are the first thing I create in any project.

So, when I get the content, screen content, markup content then off to the races.

This includes marking changes in music. I’ve realized there are a lot of producers who don’t screen enough or at all really.

So, I screen and markup the hell out of whatever the content is.

anniehaydesign

Then usually I will write 2-3 different scripts for a project, send for approval and move forward on the one they liked. When screening/writing I always have a “Word Vomit” document.

This is essentially a blank slate that I dump whatever my dumb brain is thinking at the time of screening.

It serves as a good way to get ideas down and refer back to when starting a script. So then I read scratch tracks, lay down the SOTs, Music & Voiceover, get it to time, add b-roll then sound design the F out of it.

After that I’ll send cuts for approval and tweak according to feedback until approved.

Delivery is different everywhere but if I need to version or handle all the technical stuff I do that too (online and offline.) And if not I send off stuff to the mixer or operations team and say thank you very much. 

Which platforms & tools do you use for editing and writing?

I can cut in Premiere, Media Composer and Final Cut. So it’s essentially just setting up my custom keyboard settings so the shortcuts are similar in each one.

I used to be responsible for GFX so I used to know After Effects OK for a producer/editor. Not even close to good but probably advanced compared to most strictly offline editors.

I have played around in Audition a fair amount to work on getting clean dialogue sometimes.

For scripts, it’s just Microsoft Word. If I’m pitching a shoot script, sometimes I’ll use Final Draft. But, that never seems to catch on in promo.

Which project are you most proud of?

My first freelance project is a big one.

It opened so many doors and gave me confidence. 

7-Time Boston / New England Regional Emmy Winner


Blah blah Emmys, keep in mind they were New England Emmys (minor league compared to LA/NYC). But I did win promo of the year my last year after I had left the network. That felt pretty sweet. 

The company I won it for treated their promo people like crap and (yet again) felt like I wasn’t getting the promotion I was doing the work of. So I left for my current gig. The night of the awards I was at a comedy class in LA.

I ended up winning a couple awards that night (nearly swept. The only 2 I didn’t win were categories I had won the 2 prior years) but then promo of the year came and bang!

My superiors accepted it on my behalf because I was long gone. That spot had a lot of me in it. I controlled a lot of the creative so it was kind of like a big “I told you so.” I also wrote a joke for a spot for Tim Allen once that the show actually shot.

Anytime the show shoots something you write it’s not only a miracle but really satisfying. There are so many layers to get through approval wise.

I grew up watching The Tool Man. There has been some recent stuff for Upfronts which has raised the bar for me as well but despite what this reads like I really typically end up hating all of my work. Which makes me angrier and drives me haha 🙂

How did you get into comedy writing?

Comedy was always my go to. In highschool and college I made videos for every project that allowed it and they were all comedy based.

I was always the kid walking around with a handheld camcorder. In the professional world I would always revert to comedy in spots. One network on my resume had some comedy shows that I did promos for so that started it. 

I did some stand up and am always writing jokes. Once I learned joke structure basics it hit me that this was always how my brain functioned.

“You’re telling me everyone doesn’t think of the economy of words and joke structure all the time?

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I’m eager to get back out to some open mics now that things are opening up. But to get my current gig I essentially took all my “funny” spots and put them on a reel to make it look like I knew comedy.

They bought it, and me somehow, but I have managed to be somewhat successful keeping spots funny.

What’s your advice to freelance editors / writers moving to NY / Boston for work?

Boston is advertising firms and local news / sports. That’s it. At least in my experience. 

And the local TV game, even if it involves a high profile sports team such as where I worked, is not the same league as the same job in NYC and especially LA.

It can be a good way to start but NY/LA is where you want to be. LA if you can.

Budget, understanding, pressure, applying skills you learn only scratch the surface in terms of real market experience.

If I had not built my reel with my freelance work I probably wouldn’t have gotten my current gig. I searched for jobs in Boston for multiple years. Got a few offers. They weren’t major league. There are of course exceptions.

Is there anything specific they should be aware of in terms of style, networking, starting in freelancing etc?

”Grind. Take the work. Trust your instinct. Listen to feedback.”

It’s a tough business. I always say it’s a lot like baseball, if you’re doing something right 1/3rd of the time (approval wise) you’re an allstar.

Young people, get your foot in the door. Whatever the job is. Mailroom, cleaning person, Production Assistant, whatever. Get in then make your opportunities. Not gonna go from college graduate to editor.

The first promo I produced was because the Creative Director who cut them was on vacation and they needed a same day turnaround for new creative.

As fast as I could I sent an e-mail to the VP/CD (who I was friendly with) that said “Look what I can do” and attached the script.  I’ve been cutting spots ever since.

Learn to do the crappy jobs and do them well. People don’t forget that. And it’ll eventually help you run laps around competition.

But, you’ll mostly not get recognized for it. Until you do… I’m not a good networker, but I am a passionate, hard worker who doesn’t give excuses. Hiring managers need good soldiers. Period.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Things are going well. My review is coming up and I think I had a good year developmentally in many areas so that’s all I really want.

No freelance work but I’m quite happy where I am so no need. Hopefully I will be nominated for my first Promax award this summer, but if not I’ll continue to be cranky with a chip on my shoulder until I do.

Has the virus affected your work a lot?

I have been working from home. Since I have a staff corporate network gig I have the luxury of an engineering department and technology infrastructure.

Cutting on virtual machines and Media Composer that didn’t exist pre Covid. Truly amazing how quickly they got the system up and running. I have been very fortunate.

If May 2020 you told me I would not have been laid off, furloughed or salary reduced I would have never believed you. I am very very very fortunate and looking forward to getting back to the office in September. 

Luckily my network had some shows on the shelf when production shut down, so we had original programming the summer of Covid.

”Learn to do the crappy jobs and do them well. People don’t forget that. And it’ll eventually help you run laps around competition.”

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