What Makes a Pro?

When we have discussions of editors, editing and post-production software we often get hung up on the word professional – this was especially the case during the arrival of FCP X where many commentators were criticised for writing off many working editors as not being professional by insisting that FCP X wasn’t suitable for professionals.

So who is a professional?

Ultimately we use shortcut terms like “professional” because otherwise we’d spend many words, and a lot of commas, qualifying every statement we make.

Instead of trying to qualify professionals based on who pays them, or what work they do, let’s try to consider the behavior of professionals… Obviously in a linguistic sense anyone who is paid for their work is a professional.

However the professional I’m talking about here doesn’t have any real bearing on what software we need or how we use it, it’s all about how we make a claim to the term for ourselves and how we demand respect as professionals.

In the end the distinction we make between professional and everyone else should really down to experience, knowledge, skill and value.

Regardless of whether we’re working for a large post house, or as freelancers, or for ourselves, or within a larger business – cutting movies, TV or wedding videos – it’s really about the a difference in what we know (and better still, what we know that we don’t know) and what we offer our clients.

A professional shouldn’t undersell themselves, so no taking jobs with a stupid rate or bad conditions. A professional should bring their knowledge and experience to the job – which means offering that to the client when asked or when needed. A professional shouldn’t be afraid to offer their advice when it’s necessary – to have an opinion. A professional should also understand the requirements of their job – which may mean understanding tech specs for TV delivery, or encoding limitations for online.

However as tools become more accessible (democratized is a popular term) people make the mistake of thinking the tool was the expensive and important part previously. That the tool makes the professional.

This has happened with desktop publishing, audio recording, video shooting, editing and so many other things. People assume that because the technology is now accessible that anyone can do it.

It’s not just the clients making that assumption either, it’s often users. Tech savvy people can get hold of “professional grade” editing tools and just assume that then they can edit. Just like so many people who started shooting video with a DSLR called themselves a Director of Photography.

People learn the folly of this thought process eventually, but usually they need to learn that on their own, and often as the result of a failure. Being told they are making a mistake just won’t do it. This means that over-confident users will learn the hard way when they bite of more than they can chew and fail to deliver. It means clients will learn when they pay a low wage for a self-declare editor who can’t deliver what’s required.

How can someone become a professional then? Well the short and accurate answer is “get paid to work” but the more nuanced answer is that, regardless of who’s paying you or what you’re doing, you need to strive to act like a professional. Learn your craft, be aware of what you don’t know and don’t undersell (or oversell) yourself.