How To Become an Asset Manager
An Asset Manager works with the Post-production Supervisor to manage the distribution of media assets between the various departments of post-production. Often multiple departments will be working concurrently, passing assets back and forth, especially in animation. When importing media, the new or updated files need to be linked with the project file. If an asset has been lost or mislabeled the project won’t function properly.
Nathan Firn worked as an Asset Manager for Wondergrove, a company that handles multiple projects and specializes in those with animation. He explains, “You’re looking after every department and making sure that everything is where it needs to be. The structure needs to be consistent for every individual company and project so that even if a Produceror Post-production Supervisor doesn’t understand what stage a project is in they can do a search through the files and easily find any asset. They should be able to see all prior project files and assets listed without having to consult the Sound, Editing, Visual Effects or Animation Departments.” This allows the management team to be able to effectively supervise and if they need to let someone go, understand that no assets will be held hostage. Additionally, Asset Managers will interface with everyone to follow up on deliverables due to other departments. The Asset Manager works under the Post-production Supervisor to make sure all media is organized and in place.
“You come in as a Post PA, delivering hard drives from one post-production house to another,” explains Firn. “As Post Coordinators begin to trust you you’ll move into actual asset management.” While being an Asset Manager can be a very mundane job, they are directly working with all the media for a project. They touch all the raw materials of a project so they need to be vetted as trustworthy individuals. Their work makes it so large projects and television shows can operate flawlessly without losing days hunting for media.
Once someone demonstrates reliability as an Asset Manager they’ll be promoted to a Post-production Coordinator and then a Post Supervisor. Each step is important in the learning process because each of these managers needs to be fluent in all post-production programs to check deliverables they receive. While an Asset Manager is responsible for handling all the assets for one project, a Coordinator and Post Supervisor will handle multiple projects at once. That’s the big difference in their jobs. The amount of important media flowing through a Post Supervisor’s team is quite large and to advance within the career field, individuals need to demonstrate their responsibility.
Education & Training
“A film degree, post-production certificate, or general communication degree is a great foundation for becoming an Asset Manager,” Firn tells us. It’s crucial to have a general knowledge of editing, post sound, color, visual effects, and animation. The individual doesn’t need to know the shortcuts of every program but they need to be able to check assets within each of the programs and make sure the deliverables will import into the other desired programs. On top of that, they need to understand the pipeline of how post-production works.
Post-production is different for every project, but generally, it begins with the Film Editorcutting the footage from a shoot. They receive temporary assets from the Sound, Visual Effects, and Color Correction Departments. Once picture lock is reached or the production comes to a stage where the film will be screened for Producers, studio executives and audiences, all post-production departments will do a fast pass for polish. After notes, the Editor will go back to work. Meanwhile, other departments will be doing their individual work, preparing assets, so when the project is passed over to them, they can work faster. In the end, the Editor receives the project and all assets to compile and make the final export. The Asset Manager helps all these transitions.
Much of the job, due to the specificity of each project or workflow, will be learned while working as an Asset Manager. Therefore it’s important to have a general understanding of most post-production programs, how computers work, and where to go online to look up answers. This will help an Asset Manager problem solve faster and streamline their workflow.
Experience & Skills
The job of an Asset Manager is learned through a training period and modified for each individual project due. Firn says, “If you like systems and are a structured person who can effectively communicate then you’ll quickly get ahead. Sometimes it’s tough to talk to artists because they’re in their own bubbles.
You’ve got to develop good social skills so you’re not making them angry but can still get the assets labeled correctly. Occasionally, a collaborator won’t be able to label files for whatever personal reason so it’s up to the Asset Manager to identify that person and come up with a solution — for example, having them put everything in a bin, then going through and labeling all of their work for them.” The problem-solving Firn suggests is paramount to this position. If someone is organized and employs proactive strategies to keep projects structured, they’ve got the required skills to effectively manage assets.
The best Asset Managers have a hunger to dabble in each of the different post-production departments while also enjoying structure and effective communication. They need tough skin because artists can be eccentric. Firn explains, “It may not even be the Asset Manager’s fault but if a project gets behind because an asset won’t sync or is delivered late without notification, the Asset Manager will be the one to take the heat.”
Top post professionals are usually paid over a thousand dollars a day so if time is lost it can push a project over budget fast. Therefore, it’s important for Asset Managers to be able to communicate with each individual department and let the Post Coordinator know where they are at, without taking anything personally.
Generally, Asset Managers are hired on large projects that have a multi-million-dollar budget, with a work schedule that spans many months. As a result, their hours go from nine to six, Monday through Friday. However, Firn reminds us, “If there’s an upcoming deadline and the project is behind, the Asset Manager is going to work overtime. In certain cases, they’ll work ten to eleven-hour days. I’ve even had a couple times where I’ve had to work all night.”
Since the Asset Manager helps connect each of the departments, if it means paying overtime for them to speed up the process so another department can work more efficiently, the Producer or Post Supervisor will usually call for it. At the end of the day, the Asset Manager is someone who doesn’t get a lot of credit but keeps the entire post-production process in order.
The Asset Manager usually works with every post-production department. This will include the editing team, Character Animators, Visual Effects Artists, Storyboard Artists, Graphic Artists, sound team, and Colorists. They report to the Post Coordinator and Post Supervisor.
Firn recommends aspiring Asset Managers “look for visual effects houses and animation companies that have open positions. It’s probably best to start at those companies as a Post PA to learn how their system works in general. From there, an individual can meet Post Coordinators and Supervisors to get hired as an Asset Manager.”
This approach is great because it allows aspiring Asset Managers to witness some of the more complicated aspects of the post workflow before fully committing to the role. They will have practical experience on their resume when approaching Post Coordinators and Supervisors, as well.
With hard work, some people advance to becoming Post Coordinators and Supervisors themselves, however as an Asset Manager, individuals get experience in every aspect of post-production, so they can often go on to specialize in editing, visual effects, sound or color correction.
Unlike many careers in the film industry, those in asset management are generally salaried, as they work for post-production houses who take on big-budget products for months at a time. Those who work consistently on a more short-term basis can expect to earn around $500 to $1,000 per week.
Unions, Groups & Associations
The best organizations to approach about asset management are post-production companies. It isn’t too difficult to get in touch with an actual Asset Manager and ask them about their job. When it comes to learning the different software and how to problem solve, Firn recommends various online resources like “LinkedIn, YouTube, and Lynda.com. They teach the software basics and the different post-production steps like when visual effect compositing needs to happen.”
- Watch online tutorials.
- Learn how to use Adobe Premiere Pro and Media Composer’s AVID.
- Learn the basics of Adobe After Effects and Maya.
- If getting into animation, read up on how building a character works.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“An Asset Manager needs to not only be proactive in their job, but also in the pursuit of knowledge. There is a lot to learn. Mess around in After Effects and mimic tutorials on Lynda.com. This tactic can be applied to other programs, too.
If an Asset Manager can work multiple programs then they’ll become indispensable to Post Coordinators and Post Supervisors. Once a general knowledge of programs has been acquired it’s important to check back in every couple of months because new updates are constantly released. Being proactive will create job security and bring the opportunity to work on larger projects with more responsibility.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake Asset Managers make is taking things personally. It can be a very high-stress environment and many of the people working in it don’t excel socially. Many are workaholics without families or friends. So it’s up to the Asset Manager to help mitigate stress, isolate problems and move the project along.
If the Asset Manager isn’t proactive in their listening and communication but instead complain (even justifiably so) to their boss they’ll be out of a job. At the end of the day, an Asset Manager is a small fish in a big pond so while it might not be ideal it’s their job to take the short end of the stick and cooperate with difficult people for the greater good of the film.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Is it okay to change a system if an Asset Manager sees a better way of doing things?
Unfortunately, Asset Managers aren’t hired for their creativity. They are usually taught a system that has been vetted. If a problem continues to occur and there is a clear solution, an Asset Manager can take the idea to their boss. It’ll be the Post Coordinator or Post Supervisor who makes the change in the system. If an Asset Manager begins to change things it can lead to their immediate termination due to the potential danger to the post-production workflow.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“How can someone use their experience as an Asset Manager to further other filmmaking dreams?
An Asset Manager is working with every department on the post-production team. Usually, friendships are made and older artists are willing to teach tricks of the trade. This is a great way to become a jack-of-all-trades, learning the different software from working professionals. Oddly enough, it can be an even better learning experience than attending film school because most of the people working at these high levels are at the top of their field. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in an appropriate manner and use the time devoted to being an Asset Manager as a learning experience.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Nathan Firn graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Post-Production. He’s a multi-disciplinary creative storyteller who has edited nationally broadcast campaigns for Coca-Cola and American Express while also producing animation content for cause-driven initiatives such as Habits of Mind and Girl Scouts of America.
He worked at Wondergrove, a mission-driven company that produces engaging content for children at risk. He built and designed the animation production pipeline, asset management system, and post-production pipeline for kids’ animation content. His duties were to hire post-production staff and manage a team from concept through delivery of various projects.
In addition to the partnership with the Institute for Habits of Mind, Wondergrove has produced or is producing content for the Betty Ford Children’s Center, Girl Scouts USA, Teri, Inc, the Orange County Food Bank, the Festival of Children, the Wyland Foundation, the Dual Language Training Institute, n2y® and Signing Savvy.