Editing Tips: A Guide for Directors and Producers
A lot of directors and producers have approached me about the sensitive subject of appropriate tipping. On numerous occasions while working as a post supervisor I have been pulled aside and discreetly asked, "After spending weeks in an editing bay with someone who has worked diligently to realize my vision, how much should I tip?" The answer is not so straightforward as a simple 15 to 20 percent. For one the question arises, percent of what?
Industry professionals are familiar with how Steven Spielberg raised the bar on tipping when he gave his longtime editor Michael Kahn, A.C.E. a lovely wrought iron patio set for his work on Schindler’s List. Mr. Spielberg understands that a happy well-tipped editor directly translates into better pace and more dramatic tension on the screen. And that translates into huge box office receipts.
Anyone who has had to sit through a slow paced Michelangelo Antonioni film can see that he did not tip his editors well. His films suffered horribly at the box office because of this penny-pinching attitude. Being a great “artist” does not mean you have to be cheap.
Obviously tipping should be determined by the importance of the project. One can’t compare the contribution of a distinguished editor like Zach Staenberg, A.C.E. of Matrix fame to that of a button pushing lacky such as myself destined to cut low-rated sitcoms. After all, a waiter at a four star restaurant deserves the required 20% tips, how can his service be compared to some pimple face adolescent who clearly hears you say Diet Coke not Mountain Dew? What a moron.
I am reminded of the story of Orson Wells when he was working with Robert Wise on Citizen Kane (1941). Mr. Wells was never afraid to tip cash if he liked a particularly good edit. For example on a nice dissolve he would tip a quarter, on a flip he was known to toss a shiny silver dollar into the jar next to Bob’s Moviola. When Mr. Wells saw a mismatch he was known to grumble some obscenities with his deep voice and reach into the kitty and retrieve a few coins. No doubt it was these simple actions that made Citizen Kane the classic it is today.
Times have changed. Gone are the days of buttsplicers, trim bins and rewinds and so has the days of the tip jar. Today’s producers and directors calculate tips based on a sophisticated formula. Take the amount of edits in the show divide by the length of camera original and multiply the result by 15% (for TV) or 20% (theatrical features). Of course many savvy producers will go the patio table route in the name of simplicity.
Clearly tipping editors has evolved into an institution as important to the filmmaking process as craft services or wrap parties. Most important is to guard the reputation of directors and producers as being too cheap or plain despicable. Don’t pretend to be naïve; we all know which producers and directors we’re talking about here.