“The biggest epiphany I’ve had this year is that what really matters is the machine that builds the machine – the factory.” — Elon Musk, on the Gigafactory.
Netflix is starting to think about the television production factory. Others should take note because the ability to reduce waste and improve efficiency are useful skills that deliver significant advantages over time.
In order to develop a LEAN production model for television production, we need to break down our products into components and analyze how we’re putting each piece together. I’m using the Bravo-style docu-soap as a frame work because their franchise offers experimental opportunities not commonly found in television. In part 1 of this series I wrote about the confessional interview. In this part I’ll propose some thoughts about the notes process.
Experiment 2: consolidating notes
Consolidating the cut delivery and notes turnaround into ‘blocks’ can reduce wasted editor time and increase the quality of attention given to review cuts.
Notes from the Network
Within the unscripted production community just whispering “Bravo notes” is enough to conjure dread in the hearts of even the most seasoned story producer. In addition to the quantity of notes received with each cut, Bravo is notorious for asking for additional cuts beyond what’s formally agreed upon, i.e., the notorious Rough Cut 5 or the Fine Cut 7.
As my colleague FarFromReality jokes: “For those of us in the trenches – particularly in Post production – saying you are about to work on a Bravo show is to say, ‘I am going to be continuously abused for the foreseeable future and my production company is probably about to go into a deficit.’” But the truth is that nobody really likes notes from any network.
As I’ve previously illustrated, network notes turnaround is the area where production companies are likely to accumulate overages. Making matters worse is that the easiest option for the production company to minimize overages has a negative outcomes for the staff: telling story producers and editors to go on unpaid hiatus until the notes come back.
On the network’s side, I suspect executive satisfaction is low among those inundated with multiple cuts from disparate series. Multiple studies have clearly demonstrated the advantages of paying deep attention and not multitasking. The cognitive load of switching between series and chronology (watching episode 6’s rough cut before episode 4’s fine cut) must certainly take its toll on the quality of notes given.
Therefore it is only logical to look for ways to simultaneously reduce the chance for overages and improve the quality of the collaboration between the network and their producing partner.
Linear Weeks Grid
Right now most shows are edited on a staggered schedule. (Episode 2 starts editing a week after episode 1. Episode 3 starts editing one week after episode 2 and two weeks after episode 1.) While this seems like it would be efficient at first glance, when you look at how this plays out in the post schedule, staggered scheduling creates weeks in which disparate cuts are delivered with no regard to a human’s ability to retain information or switch contexts.
What I propose is experimenting with the block scheduling of cuts and the notes process. For example: Production company delivers episode 1 – 4 rough cuts all at once. Then the network executive reviews all of the cuts together and gives notes all at once.
The goal is to reduce notes turnaround and improve the quality of notes as well as strengthening the network-production company relationship, by giving showrunners the full attention of the network.
I don’t know how either of these experiments would end up. But the point is to try and discover opportunities to reduce waste and improve efficiency. I believe Bravo is in a unique position because their franchise shows are ripe for experimentation. But LEAN thinking is available to all of the networks and production companies. The question is which parties are going capitalize on these opportunities first?