What’s Your Specialty? Career Advice to Keep You Earning

Earlier this week I got an email with the subject line: “The Personal Business of Being A Colorist”

I immediately knew this email was about career advice. It’s a email from a 20-year veteran. He expresses the concern of many working professionals in our field of post-production.

My reply is the only about the only career advice I have. And I decided to share the exchange with all of you – in the hopes that someone else can learn from it as well:

Hi Patrick

When I started as an editor after graduating from NYU  in 1991 I was making $100 per hour and in the last few years I have seen that decline to zero.–and no jobs on top of that.

Entry level systems in 1992 were about $45k and because of fcp and cheap macs- and dramatically increasing processing power- entry level went down to ..$6,000. Simple economics.

Davinci systems were what, $200,000 eight  years ago and are now $10,000 for a basic set up and this brings up a serious question of hireability and hourly rate. I only see one maybe two colorist positions posted on Mandy.com-

Where do you think the jobs are?

I love being an artist and would learn and grow for that pleasure – however there is a larger world that’s pressing.  I need  to earn.


It’s called: The democratization of the Colorist.

Colorists were the final post-production hold-out.

VFX. Editor. Audio. Graphics: Over the past 20 years each and every of those disciplines have lurched radically into a realm where access to hardware is not the single most important factor to career success.

And now Colorists join those ranks.

The Tao is, frankly, a part of that process.

There are jobs. You mention Mandy.com. I’m seeing a tons of post-production jobs on Mandy. Many are staff positions. And some of those jobs have opportunities for someone who has color grading as a secondary skill set (though they may not mention it in the ad).

But that aside… The key is to put ourselves in a position to not need Mandy.com to find our next gig. Otherwise we’re mostly competing against low-wage, inexperienced university graduates just happy to be doing what they went to school to learn. They have low overhead, a simple standard of living, and are splitting expenses with 4 other roommates – $30 / hour is a HUGE step up from their last 5 years of summer jobs.

Our next gig often lies within our professional network of friends, colleagues, and businesses we’ve done work with over the past 20 years. That’s where we have to mine for gigs. Gigs where our experience is a mark-up clients are willing to pay for. Very few of those gigs get advertised on Mandy.

We need to be able to tell people the kind of gigs we specialize in… specifically.

Not: I’ll edit or grade anything.

Rather: You need a story about the work you’re looking for and why you’re uniquely qualified for that work.

Seriously – after 20 years we should know the work we despise and be actively avoiding it. Instead we need to know our ideal gigs where we shine, our ideal clients who allow us to shine, and build specifically around that.

And then we need to communicate that message. Relentlessly.

In the process we need to be careful to NOT be the person who:

  • Only calls their contacts when begging for work
  • Never refers work to others
  • Never remembers where those introductions came from and cuts out those who made the introduction

And we need to keep growing.

Don’t have a website showcasing your talents? Then you need to build one. The Google is the new classifieds. If you’re not in it you’re not going to be found.

Facebook or Twitter?

Pick one, then link up with like-minded professionals and build new relationships by sharing insights, tips, and generally supporting each other – without being that person who only ever bitches. And seriously, drop the politics. If you’re using Facebook or Twitter professionally then keep the discussions professional or create a second identity for your friends and family.

What’s your specialty?

Why should anyone hire you? What’s your ‘add-on’ talent? Sure – you might be a great colorist or great editor… but what else do you have to offer? What sets you apart from every other applicant (many of whom are also very good at the job)?

Maybe you’re a great colorist that also knows how to edit and can make editorial decisions post-grading. Or an editor who can stay on the gig an extra week to handle the color grading? Or a colorist who’s learned to integrate roto and advanced tracking via Mocha? Or an editor who’s learned Motion inside-out?

Or one of 10 editors on this planet that can help broadcast clients work professionally in FCPx? (I’m sure it’s possible. Painful, maybe, but possible.)

Learn or Earn?

The choice between learning or earning is a straw man. You and I need to be doing both, simultaneously. We have no choice.

One of my favorite quotes (from basketball coach John Wooden): “Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.”

I add: “And the software you’ve learned.”

In other words – Over the next 5 years: If not for the new people I’ve met, the new books I’ve read (Jackie Collins doesn’t count), and the new software I’ve learned… I’ll be exactly where I am today. Or where I was 5 years ago.

It’s the constant learning and meeting that allows me to keep earning. Learning is essential to consistently earning.

I can say that my business looks nothing like it did 10 years ago. And if I wasn’t constantly learning, adopting and adapting I’d be a Financial Planner for those professionals that do learn, adopt and adapt.

Create Your Niche

In my view it comes down to this: If after 20 years you haven’t found your niche. Then you need to create one – pronto. And then mega-phone that niche. Clients pay extra for experts.

And if you need to: Create your niche out of thin air and be the expert in that newly discovered niche.

After 20 years you’re an expert at something. Find it. Build on it.

Or – if you have to – Create it and then grow / learn into it.

I hope this helps. It’s what’s worked for me and is the only advice I can offer.

For me, it’s advice that defines the purpose of the Tao of Color Grading.

Good luck and happy trails!





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