When is a Cut Late? – On the Nature of Lateness

Lateness is source of most wasted time, Post Production Managers would do well to spend an appropriate amount of time thinking about and planning for how they are going to manage their resources while they wait.

When you think about lateness, I’d bet you think about it in a very binary way, if you even think about it all. That Amazon package either arrives on the delivery date, or it doesn’t. Your 8:30 movie either starts on time or it doesn’t. But in the world of Post Production Management lateness is something much more difficult to pin down.

If the rough cut of my show is due on Wednesday, and we send it on Wednesday, we can safely say that our cut is on time. Alternative, if the rough cut is due Wednesday, but we send it on Thursday, then we should be able to agree that our cut is late. But let’s explore a few different scenarios:

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Scenario 1

The rough cut is due on Wednesday, but on Monday morning the creative team realizes that the amount of work to be completed is greater than can be completed by Wednesday, so all of the stakeholders agree to push the rough cut deadline to Friday? If the cut goes out on Friday, do we say that the cut is late even though everyone knew about the scheduling change in advance?

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Scenario 2

What if the rough cut is due Wednesday, but it is sent on Thursday. What do we say about the successive cuts (i.e. Fine Cut, Picture Lock)? If we push the fine cut delivery one day to accommodate the rough cut’s lateness, is the fine cut late too? On one hand “yes!” because when compared to the original schedule, the fine cut, and every successive cut, will be delivered at a point in time later then was set down in the original schedule. But on the other hand, “no!” because all of the stakeholders knew about the schedule change in advance. But the extra days are editing time, which costs money, so even if agreed upon, the lateness has monetary consequences that will need to be addressed.

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Planning for Lateness

Questioning the nature of lateness may seem academic, but waiting to receive notes is the activity with the most potential for wasted time and money. While the show waits for notes from the network, the production company has no power to do anything besides wait. Therefore, each of those looong orange lines represents an opportunity to cause additional overages.

In general, there are two choices, and neither of them is good, just less bad:

  1. reallocate resources to other activities. For example: have your editor work on another episode.
  2. put resources on hold until the notes are received.

Having an editor work on an unfamiliar episode is television’s version of violating Brook’s Law. Some production companies take this one step further and ask editors to work on an entirely different show while waiting for notes to be turned around. Editors typically dislike this practice. And not every production company has the volume of 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 only 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.

Since lateness has the potential to be the source of the most wasted time, Post Producers would do well to spend an appropriate amount of time thinking about and planning for how they are going to manage their resources (equipment and editors) while they wait.

3 replies on “When is a Cut Late? – On the Nature of Lateness”

Really good post. Schedules used to be pretty fixed but over the past ten years or so they have been more suggestions than a reflection of what will (or has to) happen. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) Execs often seem the least committed to meeting the schedule, noting late and thereby forcing a push. Most schedules, in my opinion, could be met if everyone worked efficiently.


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