Pro Bono Editing – Good Business, Good Cause
They caught me on a good day.
I was reading the SF Cutters Final Cut Pro editors listserv when a post appeared seeking editors for a pro-bono editing project. Great music, great cause, no pay.
I was feeling rather sorry for myself that day. This first quarter was typically slow…folks tend to start projects at the beginning of the year, and my business is finishing projects. It usually takes until March for my business to ramp up. But in spite of 20+ years of seeing this pattern in my freelance business, it still saddens me to see nothing on the calendar. “Not booked for the rest of my life,” I joked with other freelancer friends, laughing while trying to push down the worry over my ever shrinking bank balance. “I’ve always worked and somehow always paid my bills,” is my mantra. You can’t be a freelancer for twenty years without being able to surf the waves of lots of income followed by no income. However, on this day, the worry was winning, and I was feeling low. I needed to work.
So I emailed my interest in the project, and over email and phone I met Joe Baker, the director of a project whom I have yet to meet in person, in spite of the fact that we made a rather nice music video together. Joe is making a CD/DVD compilation of African and American music, with collaborations by accomplished African and American musicians. It’s “Playing for Change” meets contemporary African music, where by the magic of editing, musicians in different cities and on different continents play a song together. Proceeds of the project go towards building a school for village children in Ghana, through a non-profit run by Joe’s brother. You can learn all about it by “liking” The Africa Project on their Facebook page. Anyways, Joe was agreeable to working with me long distance, with him reviewing cuts over the web in the Bay Area and me editing at home in Hawaii.
So for a week, I threw myself into editing African music and images. The project had its challenges. Joe is a first-time filmmaker, and some of the footage reflected that. But the recording was rock-solid and he and the project have enormous heart. You could tell that it was recorded and filmed with a lot of love, if not expertise.
I found myself with footage of 10 musicians, each filmed in a different location and I needed to sync them all so that they appeared to be playing together. I created a poor-man’s multi-cam by just syncing all musicians and their individual music stems, plus the final recording, in one big sequence. Then I cut for performance until I got the very best moments of each musician, looking always for opportunities to show musicians playing “together” through split screens. Once the performance was edited, I turned to the b-roll material looking for a character and a story. The piece became a road trip through Ghana, with the driver as main character, which lined up nicely with lyrics about the beauty of Africa and its people. It was a great stretch for me craft-wise…I found myself using my FCP software in ways I haven’t used it before, and the effects I chose required a lot of precision. This turned out to be much harder than I originally planned. I loved being challenged.
But the best part is this. The instant I started working on it, the phone began to ring. I don’t know why this happens, but it’s always been true: work begets work. If I’m sitting around doing nothing, I get a whole lot more nothing. But if I’m busy working, even working for free, suddenly I’m in the mix, interacting with folks, and inevitably I get a call for paying work. It happens every time.
So I made a deposit in the karma bank and was immediately rewarded with a paying job. But even better, I have a credit on a nice little music video, and I met a whole new group of folks that I never would have met otherwise. Hopefully we’ll all get to work together again in the future. And most importantly, the kids will get their school, which is the cherry on top.