Home Editing Don’t Hold Out for Perfect

Don’t Hold Out for Perfect

by alexis
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It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be right.

Whether they’re aware of it or not, this attitude is something that I think distinguishes the more seasoned producers, directors, and cinematographers I’ve worked with from those at the beginning of their careers, and it’s something that every artist ought to think about during the course of a project.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to get the artist you’re working with to find the perfect solution to a creative problem. The perfect grade. The perfect cut.  The perfect draft. The perfect font. In a quest for perfection, you might try solution after solution, discarding one after the other because of the vague sense that no matter how good what you’ve got is, there must be something better.

This is a fantastic way to spend shedloads of money, consuming inordinate amounts of time creating lots of versions, many of which probably work extremely well to solve whatever creative issues need resolving. But you don’t need five different solutions, you just need one good one. Veteran clients know this.

I contend there’s a better way of framing the quest for creative excellence, which is to focus on finding the right solution to the creative problem at hand. While there can only be one perfect solution (attainable only after a Xeno’s paradox worth of cash-burning variations), there could be many right solutions, and you need only try the first one or two to finish the scene well and move on.

This is not the same as settling for less, or only doing “good enough.” A solution that’s truly right may not be easy, it may yet require a few versions to discover. However, when found, the right solution will achieve the look, timing, theme, or design that forwards your project’s agenda and allows you to move on to the next task in the endless conga-line of things you need to finish. And acknowledging that you’ve found the right solution will spare you the fear, doubt, and uncertainty that “oh god there must be an even better solution out there if only we’re smart and creative and tenacious and RICH enough to find it.”

If you find the right solution, everything should fit together in a satisfying way. Might you come up with an even better solution tomorrow? Sure, but you don’t have to worry about that now, because if something better presents itself, then you can always revisit. And if not, than you probably found the best solution in the first place, and aren’t you glad you stopped worrying about it and moved on?

So that’s my note for the clients and artists of the world. Focus on finding a solution that’s right for your project, and move on.

On the other hand, a piece of corollary advice for the creative professional doing client service is this—a solution that’s right for you might not be right for the client. Many are the colorists/editors/writers/compositors/motion graphics artists/sound designers who’ve pulled their hair out over a client’s rejection of their brilliant solution to a creative problem.

When other folks are paying us to be creative for them, it’s incumbent upon us to reverse-engineer the aesthetic of the client in order to develop solutions that the client will find fulfilling. In an ideal world, those would dovetail with our own inclinations, and those are moments to be treasured. When it doesn’t, it’ll spare you a lot of heartache if you focus on figuring out what it is the client actually wants and why they want it, rather than trying to convince them that your way is better (unless the client is utterly undecided, in which case it’s entirely appropriate to make recommendations to break the log-jam).

Admittedly, this is easier said then done, depending on the personalities in the room.

And this is where I go back to giving one more piece of advice to the clients of the world. If you’ve done your homework, and you’ve hired a skilled artist whose reputation and/or showreel you trust to perform a job for you, keep in mind during moments of uncertainty that you hired them because they write/grade/edit/compose/design for a living, and they’re trying to do what’s best for your project. If you’ve been given a solution that you generally like, but you want to see another version just because you think there’s something better out there but you’re not honestly sure if that’s even true, it’s probably okay to trust the artist you’re working with and move on to the next task.

If you still feel that way tomorrow, you can always revisit, but if you watch that section again and realize that the solution is just right, you’ll feel pretty smart about nailing the project and saving a few hours while doing so.

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Christophe DELAUNAY April 28, 2014 - 12:59 pm

Nice post Alexis. And just to sum it up, I’d like to share an expression we use in France, saying “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”, which translates into “Better is the enemy of Good”. 😉

Jeremy Hughes May 4, 2014 - 8:59 am

Very good post Alexis. I like to talk about it as either telling the truth or feeding the baby. It keeps it separated from you personally in a way that perfection can ruin a project, which I think is an egocentric driven opinion. Truth is is simple, in our case, it’s not really fact, but it’s an honest, open opinion. Feeding the Baby is separating the project from yourself. It’s its own person. Sure you created it but it’s going to want to eat certain types of things at certain points in its life. Forcing ideas into something as large as a film is arrogant and destructive in the long run. That’s where right, not perfect make great sense.

Insights into the Craft of Color Grading | Premiumbeat.com August 25, 2014 - 3:47 pm

[…] colorist, author, trainer and filmmaker Alexis Van Hurkman shares what is a valuable insight on the level of perfection required when working in any creative field, but is especially relevant in the field of color […]


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