The Gantt chart is a tool used by project managers to illustrate a project’s schedule. It features a list of activities vertically along the lefthand-side. The horizontal axis is time: bars represent the amount of time to complete an activity, and the total timeline is the amount of time required to complete the project. Most importantly, a Gantt chart shows dependencies, which are critical to understanding the order of operations for a project’s activities to reach completion. I used the excellent tool OmniPlan and built a Gantt chart of one episode of an unscripted show’s post production workflow. (You can see the chart in all its 5798 x 1018 glory here.)
We’re not building a 747, but an unscripted television show is still a complex project with a disconcerting number of procedural requirements (i.e. Network Notes) that can delay a project indefinitely. And multiple hard logic processes that require the work of a skilled technician. Let’s look at each of them.
These green dots indicate a milestone, in our case, when a ‘cut’ is handed off to the network. At these points the work to be completed transitions from the production company to the network. Procedural requirements are activities that are required to happen in a certain order and can’t be skipped; for example you can’t work towards a fine cut until you’ve received rough cut notes from the network.
While waiting for network notes the production company has two choices; reallocate their resources to other work (example: have your editor work on another episode) or, put their resources on hold until the network sends their notes. Neither of these options is ideal.
Having an editor jump onto an unfamiliar episode is a violation of Brook’s Law and may actually cause more problems such as stylistic inconsistencies. Some production companies take this one step further and have their editors work on an entirely different show while waiting for the network to turnaround notes. Editors typically dislike this practice. And not every production company has enough work to move editors between projects.
On the other hand, putting your resources on hold may not be possible either. Many post houses won’t discount an edit suite rental if it goes dark for 2 or 3 days. And most editors aren’t ok with having 3 random days off without pay. So often the production company is left with no choice but to pay their editors for not working.
Finally, while the production company waits for network notes, they have no power to do anything besides wait. Therefore each of those looong orange lines represents an opportunity to cause significant overages. Having a plan in place beforehand can save money and personnel problems when dealing with network notes turnaround.
Hard Logic Processes
Before a cut can be sent to the network, certain work needs to be performed. For this show an Assistant Editor needs to replace Visual Effect and Graphic elements (such as interview back plates) and insert scratch Voice Over. Afterwards the work needs to be compiled into a sequence according to network specifications and exported to file for Network review.
In this instance I was asked to plan for one A.E. to replace Vfx while another A.E. replaced the voice over. This is a luxury most production companies don’t have. From a project management point of view the trouble is that if one of these activities requires more than the budgeted 3 hours, the entire process is delayed. Exports often have problems and require re-exporting. These are all opportunities to further delay the project.
Keep in mind that all of this occurs immediately before the more troubling network notes procedural requirements. The high cost of a bad output is the primary reason I created the Show Exporting checklist.
Monte Carlo Simulations
One of OmniPlan’s most intriguing features is its ability run simulations which estimate the likelihood that certain milestones will be completed by deadline. In order to utilize this feature, you have to estimate the amount of effort required for each activity. This is just a fancy way of saying that you’ll need to estimate how quickly an activity will happen in the best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios. For example: inserting VO usually takes 3 hours. If there is very little VO to replace and the process happens smoothly, perhaps it could take 1 hour. However, if the VO needs to be replaced for an entire episode it might take 5 hours. These numbers 3 hours, 1 hour, and 5 hours would be the Expected, Minimum, and Maximum effort.
Using data I’ve accumulated over the years. I estimated activity effort and run my first simulation. The results weren’t promising, but not surprising:
OmniPlan has 0% confidence that the show would complete on time, but expected us to be done within 8 days. When I saw this result I went through all of my effort estimates and reduced my worst case scenario numbers. The result was the same. Overall editing an episode has too many points of delay that even when many things happen on time, there are too many opportunities to lose time. In addition, editing is one of those things that always goes up to deadline, and often over, but never under. Rhetorically: how often has a producer been given five days to address notes and they come back and to say they only need four?
Using Omni Plan to map out an unscripted show’s post production workflow illuminates three valuable lessons.
First, waiting for Network Notes is probably the activity with the most waste generating potential. Production Companies would do well to spend an appropriate amount of time planning how they are going to manage their resources (equipment and editors) while they wait for network notes.
Second, Assistant Editors are responsible for activities that can cause considerable delays (nevertheless embarrassment) if problems come up. Therefore taking the time to find and hire knowledgeable A.E.’s should be the goal of every production company.
Finally, an unscripted show’s post production workflow has complexities that haven’t generated the thought worthy of it. In my next post I will dig into how I generated the activity lists and effort estimations.