A Day in the Life of Post Production on a Live Reality TV Show

By in Avid Customer Association, Video Editing

A day in the life of an online editor on a live show is a day of balancing. Do I take the time to do this “the right way,” or is “good enough” going to have to suffice in order to make air? It’s a day of calculating; a typical two- to four-minute package takes a certain amount of time to color, polish and prep. It’s a day of assessing: What’s the likelihood of things happening within the timeframes needed, and what do I do when those timeframes are compromised? I must have backup plans in place.

I use a variety of technology with Media Composer as the hub, including Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Mocha Pro, Baselight, Resolve, Sapphire, Boris, Neat and Magic Bullet. These are all important tools that I cannot live without. But the center of my universe has to be Media Composer. The timeframes of the projects I typically work on require the speed, collaboration and reliability that, at this point, only Media Composer delivers.

A typical day might go something like this for me:

7 a.m.: I turn on my computer. My show airs live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST, 5 p.m. my time. I’ve got 12 packages airing in tonight’s show, and I only finished four last night because that was all that was prepared for online, due to the ever-changing demands of the producers.  All but one should be ready for me now to online (color, title, create visual effects where necessary, remove cameramen, boom microphones, etc. — online is where shows get cleaned up, polished and refined for air; it’s the last step to make things right or at least as good as they can be in the time allotted). After the executive producer signs off, I’ll send the finished files (what used to be video tape) to the truck for air.

I check my emails. Damn — two of the packages won’t be finished in offline for “a couple more hours.” One won’t be finished shooting until sometime in the “early afternoon.” Or so they say. And the truck wants all of them by 2:30 p.m. for rehearsals. That ain’t gonna happen! Let me “Reply All.”

And so it begins. Package No. 1. Pretty straightforward, nothing too fancy. Wait — the email from the sales department says I have to blur/paint out how many logos? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why don’t Sales and Legal ever talk to the field producers before they shoot? My 45-minute online just ballooned to three hours if I paint them (potentially a frame-by-frame process). Maybe I can get away with cropping or blurring instead. Yes, I’ll do that first. It won’t look quite as good, but that’ll add only 45 minutes. I’ll upgrade them if I have time later.

9:15 a.m.: Packages two, three and four are simple. Yes! The day is looking better.

11:00 a.m.: Now I get the Super Tease. Wow, that’s impressive. This offline editor is so damned creative. Hmm … I’m still missing the final graphics. Let me fire off another email. What’s up with these green screen keys? Perfectly acceptable for offline, sure, where crafting the story is more important, but now it’s time to clean them up and really sell them. Why don’t they shoot with a back light? And would it kill them to use a better codec? Anyway, this is going to take a little time (tick, tick, tick …).

2 p.m.: I’ve got all my packages “good enough for air” except for the Super Tease graphics and the still-to-be-shot interview clips for the final package. Let me get that package uprezzed even though it’s not complete so I can at least color it.  (“Uprezzing” is the term for digitizing media onto fast, expensive storage at full resolution, as opposed to the very-compressed, low-resolution files used to save space while in the creative offline editing process. The sheer volume of footage often makes it impractical to digitize or import every single piece of media in its highest-quality form, when the vast majority of it will ultimately not be used.)  But first: I have to get everything to the truck. It’s almost rehearsal time. Even if it’s temporary, they can still rehearse with it.

3:15 p.m.: Super Tease graphics just came in. Beautiful, except for one. Weird render issue. Is there time for them to fix it? What’s my solution if they don’t?

3:45 p.m.: Got it! I was able to fix the graphic. Almost perfect. No one will ever know. Sending that package now to the truck, with a whole hour to spare. I think I have time now to upgrade those blurs — wait, never mind, we need to revise a bunch of graphic loops playing in screens on the set. Those blurs will have to wait …

5 p.m.: The show is on the air. All the Avid bays are recording the live East Coast feed except mine and the offline editor who is working on that last package. Still. Thank God it’s not airing until Act 5.

5:15 p.m.: Finally, they’ve locked and uprezzed. I start doing my work on it. I’ve got maybe 30 minutes until it airs. Curve ball: Continuity is a bit off on this. No time to go back to offline. What’s my fix? I come up with three options. I like option No. 2. Not ideal, but it’ll work — or am I just cajoling myself into that mindset because the clock is ticking? No, I think it’s fine. I show the executive producer and yes, we have consensus. Option No. 2 it is.

5:42 p.m.: I send the last package, six minutes before it airs live. I can finally relax.  For now …

6:05 p.m.: There was a hiccup in the live feed to the East Coast. A graphic didn’t play properly on set. I’ve got to digitize in some of the ISOs to cut around it for the West Coast feed.

7:10 p.m.: The director comes in to see my fix for the graphic issue in Act 6. We play around with several options before settling on what I had done before he walked in. Validation is awesome.

7:30 p.m.: I feed Act 6 back to the truck so they can play it out to the West Coast when it’s time. My day, at last, is done. Can’t wait to do it again next week.

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