One of the advantages Netflix will enjoy in the future is that they are willing to rethink the entire production process. One look at their recent job postings will demonstrate that they are looking for opportunities to minimize waste and increase efficiency:
Netflix is seeking a versatile data science practitioner who is ready to tackle data analysis and modeling challenges in a refreshingly new problem space – Studio Production Science and Analytics.
This researcher will be responsible for uncovering candidates not already known to us, no small task in a business that can be especially insular.
Create blogs, documentation and other support resources to educate creative partners and vendors about our requirements and initiatives.
I believe Netflix could do more (notice that the content team is noticeably absent from their tech blog) but I’d like to see Hollywood’s old guard embrace Silicon Valley’s attitude of experimentation at the production level. Therefore, in the spirit of lean production, I offer the following two experiments to the Bravo-style docu-soap.
Why the Bravo docu-soap?
Firstly, unscripted programing (from documentary through all of reality TV’s sub-genres) are edited together from footage that is easily categorized. Vérité, b-roll, time lapse, confessional interviews, car cameras, cast cameras; all of these shots are easy to identify, and more importantly, the relationship between unscripted shots is easier to understand and quantify than scripted. Therefore, it is possible to analyze the final episodes and draw useful conclusions without image analysis.
Second, the Bravo franchises in particular present a unique opportunity. Although much pop culture criticism has been written about the differences between each of the Real Housewives series, generally speaking they are all the produced similarly. Each series is composed of the same stylistic elements, which make it easier to compare production variations within the franchise, as well as with other unscripted programing.
Experiment 1: Delay interview recording
By delaying the interview recording until the very end of post production, when the story producers (and network executives) know which questions to ask, the show’s production could eliminate unnecessary expenses and improve creative consistency.
Anecdotal Interview Statistics:
The Bravo style docu-soap records cast “confessional” interviews multiple times throughout the production. Usually 4 or 5 days of interviews for each month of shooting. In addition, productions will record an additional 2 or 3 rounds of week-long “pickup” interviews after production has wrapped. In addition to the location expenses (studio rental), each interview day requires a minimum: Camera, Audio, Hair & Makeup, Story Producer, and Line Producer. Interview footage probably has the highest ratio of footage recorded vs used, which makes it an extremely wasteful and highly open to optimization.
In addition, as the series progresses, the distance between when a scene’s vérité was recorded and its corresponding interview recorded grows. In my sample sequences episode 2 act 2 interviews were recorded 28, 68, and 72 days later; while episode 12 act 5 interviews were recorded 97 and 117 days later.
I believe this happens because later interviews are addressing specific notes from the network. Since the field producers know what questions they’re asking the cast, the answers are often more concise.
By consolidating interviews until the very end of post, it is possible to imagine that each cast member could be interviewed over 2 days, instead of the usual 5 – 7 days over the course of a season. If you consider a cast of six, consolidating the interviews until the end of post could save up to 30 shooting days.
My goal in posting these experiments is to prompt Producers to start thinking about how their shows are made at the production-level. Our tools are not making it easy. But it’s only when we start to breakdown each episode into its components that we can start to create a Hollywood version of the LEAN production model. In Part-2 I’ll offer another experiment.