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They Can’t Cut Us Out

Sadly, some producers still dont understand an editor’s job. Editing is more creative then it gets credit for

Rajendra Surve,President, Association of Film & Video Editors
Vaibhav Desai, General Secretary, Association of Film & Video Editors

vaibhav-desaiOur association was founded in 1953. Earlier, there were eight associations, including ours, making up one federation. This was way back when a film editor’s work was still done in labs and he had to work with reels and film negatives.

Things were much more organised then. Members had to take an exam to prove that they had sufficient knowledge of the craft. Their qualifications were checked. Senior members would approve or reject applications, and if an applicant failed, he could take the exam again only after three months.

Since the switch to digital, there has been a lot of chaos. In the age of negatives, everything was processed out of actual labs. Now people can just download software on their laptops and edit from anywhere. Due to this we get complaints from producers that their editors have ditched them in the midst of a project.

This can again be traced back to the fact that non-professionals are being hired to do a professional’s job in order to save money. At the end of the day, the producer suffers. This happens most in the TV industry. Most of our complaints are from TV members and producers.

There are two types of workers in the industry – skilled and unskilled. Skilled workers include directors, cameramen and editors. For us, basic qualification is a must, because if you are working on a machine, you need to have the right training to operate it skillfully.

 Now, the problem is producers have started doing in-house editing, using basic software and sometimes even making do with office boys, instead of hiring professional editors. They can get away by paying an office boy, or even a non-professional, a pittance. Some are also employing operators in place of editors, to save on costs.

Till 2013 or 2014, we used to sign formal agreements. If an individual was contracted by a production house for a non-fiction show like Indian Idol or Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, that individual would set up a team of about 12 editors and together they would work on the project.

Contracts from production houses would accommodate us too, serving as proof of income in case we wanted to take a loan or shift house. Even that has stopped. Now, producers prefer to rope in a contractor who is not even related to the editing field – sometimes even a relative. They open their own company, hire 10 to 15 editors and take most of the profits. Our payments, meanwhile, are delayed. There is no paperwork; so in case of a dispute, that’s a problem too.

It’s the same story with films. Every week, there are two to three complaints that producers have not paid editors for their work, and non-professionals like spotboys are now editing the film.

This must stop if we want quality in our films. Producers have to support skilled technicians and not hand over projects to the non-skilled. The creativity of people trained in this field suffers as more non-qualified people are hired to do their job. People who were never trained are now calling themselves editors. Ultimately quality suffers and that is a problem for everyone.

If a member of our association fails to deliver, we can trace that person, as we have their details. But if producers hire a non-member who is not even a professional, we cannot help at all. It is risky to hire an untrained, unregistered person just to save some money. With digital technology, your entire movie is on those hard disks – everything you have invested on and your hard work is saved on a mere Rs.12,000 worth of hard disks. If it gets damaged, it’s game over. Ours is a very important job, but people take it lightly.

surveNo Formats Followed

Typically, an editor’s shift lasts eight hours.  Back in the day, it used to be six hours to maintain quality control but no one follows the eight-hour shift. There is no check out time at the studios. There are times when an editor works for 12 to 15 hours at a stretch, in shabby studios, so tiny that a technician cannot even stretch.

In fiction and television, editors report to work, carrying enough clothes for five days, because they don’t know when they will be able to go home. Such conditions are more prevalent in TV than in big-budget films. Smaller films with restricted budgets sometimes have similar conditions too.

Previously, producers would come in to oversee or finalise the edits. Now that technology has improved, we can send them the cuts on DVD or even via email. So they have nothing to do with the place of our operation and the conditions we are working in. The main person for whom we are working is rarely bothered about how and in what conditions we work.

Pre-production and production need different crafts and technicians, but when it comes to post-production, 99 per cent of the work must be done by the editor. They shoot and send it in on hard drives; we process it. It is a huge responsibility that we bear, but with time our importance is fading.

The problem in the film industry is that there is no guarantee that you will have work tomorrow. There is no financial security or job security. We have to fight regularly with producers for our members to be paid. We send notices and file complaints. This is very demoralising for editors.

The sad part is that even today some producers don’t really understand what an editor does. They feel, ‘Chalo, shooting khatam. Ab editor is mein se NG (not good) shots nikaal dega aur kaam khatam’. That’s not what editing is; it is much more creative than it gets credit for.

Film School Students

Since the good old days, graduates from FTII come to us to sign up as members. They know that they will be safe and will have someone to fight for their rights once they join. As non-members, they know we can’t help them.

In our office, we have also set up two editing tables for people who want to improve their skills. We also run an institute for children of members and outsiders who wish to learn. A film-editing course typically costs between Rs.3 lakh and Rs.6 lakh, but we teach the same course for Rs.75,000, and we provide internships to our students, teach them about the workings of the industry and offer them memberships, so they know the association will always look after their backs if need be.

The film industry works on the basis of relationships. For instance, filmmakers like David Dhawan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, have their own teams to work with. Once scripting is done and the director is appointed, the editor and other members of the technical department are appointed accordingly. So we get more complaints about problems from the TV industry than the film industry.

The authority of a technician has been lost. Earlier, even the director or producer would hesitate to step into their editor’s lab. There was a sense of trust and respect, and it was mutual. Now, with digitalisation, all that has changed. Editors are taken for granted.

Changing Dynamics

There was a time when the editor-producer association was very different. The editor was appreciated and valued. If an editor gave a requirement to the producer, it was taken seriously. Producers today have become very controlling.

More than films, it is the television industry that has ruined things for technicians. Small-time film producers mistreat editors too and we deal with them by standing up for our people.

The good thing is that reputed editors take care of their assistants and even fight producers for their rights. A sign of a good editor is when he stands up for his team and puts them before himself. The big editors, carrying their attitude with them, don’t even listen.

Producers say, ‘We are producing it and we are paying money for it, so we are your boss.’ In the film industry, nobody is anybody’s boss. If you are a technician, we are also technicians. Earlier, it used to be one big family environment. The producers would themselves carry food for the editors who were working late.

I remember, during the making of Pukar, Boney Kapoor called me because I had forgotten to pick up my last cheque. Nowadays, producers are not like this. With the corporatization of Bollywood, the wrong people have come in and have taken the heart out of the industry. They don’t even know enough about the industry. All that matters to them is cutting costs.

Rajendra Surve and Vaibhav Desai
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