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The Secrets of Collaboration

How to Get Along in a Collaborative Environment By Charlie White
Are you someone who likes to work on a team, or would you rather go it alone? Do you see yourself as an auteur, possessing singular vision for your video editing projects, and don't like it when someone tries to mess with that? Or are you more in your element when you're brainstorming with a team of equally (or more) talented professionals, where the whole turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts?

Whether you're a loner or a team player, there will be times when you're called upon to be the editor, while someone else calls the shots. What's the best way to deal with this eventuality? Allow me to share my experiences in this vein, and see if they apply to your situation.

There was a time in my career when I was a pure producer, working in a union shop where I wasn't allowed to touch any of the equipment, under penalty of grievance from the local union. This union was astonishingly powerful, so much so that it could make any transgression stick to you so bad, you'd wish you'd kept your hands to yourself. Many of you may be familiar with this concept, where it makes the world seem like it has hundreds of invisible boundaries -- lines drawn in the sand where you dare not cross. It was in this setting where I learned what customer service really means. I learned what true teamwork is really like, too.

In this environment, editors were picked from a pool of engineers, and some fared much better than others. Left by the wayside were many who were the know-it-all type, who would scold producers for making what they thought were the "wrong" decisions, bullying them until they gave in, or shaking their heads in disgust while they executed an edit that they were sure wouldn't work. As the years went by, I saw many of these headstrong types come and go. Nobody wanted to work with them.

Then there was a different breed of editor. These guys were expert team players. One in particular was a paragon of cooperation, idea sharing and deference. He was the one who taught me how to collaborate.

How did he do it? First of all, he was a great listener. At the beginning of each edit session, we would make it a point to have a one-on-one talk, where I would lay out exactly what I'd like to accomplish in the session. Even better, on some complicated projects, I'd communicate with him long before I shot anything and even invite him to the shoot for consultation. The result of these pre-post-production collaborations was that both of us would know exactly what the goal of a production was. We'd both have our eyes on the ball, the same ball, and would aim for the same goal line.

Once the actual editing was underway, he would have a way of presenting his ideas to me when I made an edit decision that he didn't like, that would make me want to hear his point of view. Even though I would reject his suggestions from time to time, often his idea would make me think about the editing more, and would frequently help me come up with an idea that took his proposal one step further. Then, he would add another suggestion to that and suddenly, we had arrived at a place that neither of us could have envisioned had we been doing this separately. It's called serendipity, and with certain people, it's easier to come by than with others.

Helping this process along was his lightning speed and encyclopedic familiarity with the editing hardware and software. This way, it was a simple matter to quickly preview what his suggestion would look like. Yes, it is important to have serious editing chops, even (especially) when you're collaborating with someone else.

I would say to this guy, "Man, how do you do it? Why are you so easy to work with?" He would answer that he was more than just an editor. He placed himself smack dab in the middle of the customer service business. He thought that making his customer happy was even more important than his exceptional editing technique. I agreed with his philosophy so much that I would insist that he be called a Producer/Editor in the credits.

Adding to the efficiency of this process was the common knowledge between us that sometimes, when time was running out, it was a good idea to stop suggesting things and just get the job done as quickly as possible. In a crunch situation, someone had to make decisions, quickly, and the producer in the suite was usually the one who would do that. Even though this ace editor would sometimes give me a funny look during these pressure-packed moments when he thought I had made a bad call, he would just go ahead and do whatever I asked anyway, because he trusted me. But sometimes I would be fresh out of ideas, and I would have to trust him. He could somehow sense that I was running on empty, and he would look over at me and say "trust me." I knew that whenever he said this, he had a good idea, and that the problem would soon be solved.

So, even though you may prefer to work alone, and may be better when you're a solo act, sometime you'll probably be called upon to collaborate. When that time comes, keep in mind: Listen. Trust. Be diplomatic. Know the goal of the production. Go along with whoever has the best idea. And, know when to swallow your pride. And, if you're lucky, you might just get a ticket on that wonderful serendipity train. All aboard!

Charlie White, your humble storytellerCharlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past seven years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director with 26 years broadcast experience. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at [email protected].

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Related Keywords:Digital Video Editing, Digital Media Net, Editorial, Commentary, Charlie White, collaboration, collaborate, team player, calls the shots, auteur, professionals, Henry Reed

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