Robot’s Pet – In this short book of speculative poetry, the anonymous Lithuanian poet combines her childhood experience of living under authoritarian rule with our current anxieties surrounding job automation by imagining an ambiguously dystopian future where humans are kept as pets by robots. Removed from the drudgery of survival, humanity thrives under the new arrangement. When the nameless poet sings out, “What new worlds have I discovered now that I no longer worry about healthcare!” We want to be there too.
If editing is considered “the invisible art,” then the men and women who supervise a film or television show’s post production process are a part of something even more arcane and misunderstood.
Producers who specialize in post production can go by an assortment of titles: Post Producer, Post Production Supervisor, Co-Producer, or even Associate Producer. No matter the title, they all have one thing in common, they are vital to the smooth day-to-day operation of the post production process.
To give you an understanding of how versatile the job is I interviewed four Producers working in a variety of genres to hear in their own words how they think about their work. Over the next three months I’ll be sharing excerpts of our conversations.
What’s presented here is a compilation.
Part 2: People Management
Post Producers and Post Supervisors manage the Post Coordinators, the Post P.A.’s, and often the Assistant Editors (collectively known as the support staff). Speaking to my peers I discovered that many see themselves as a career coach for a show’s most junior members. They give their team the opportunity to try new things, and protect them from making career-ending mistakes.
Although the role isn’t generally considered a ‘creative’ one, the depth and breadth of a successful Post Producer’s responsibilities, and their ability to establish the show’s operating style, exerts influence in a multitude of ways.
Shifting gears to people management; who do you manage? What kind of team do normally have?
So on The Orville we had a core post production team that by the end of the second season is myself and then our amazing Post Supervisor, Sabina. Then we had a Coordinator and two PA’s just to handle the amount of stuff that came up so that we could delegate. Then, even though I didn’t directly manage all of the people in the visual effects department, I did have to work very closely with the Visual Effects Producer.
I guess on a typical day I would start out with checking in with everybody, because I saw a lot of my job as making sure I knew what was going on. I’ve always told people to CC me on everything. I’ll tell you to stop if it gets to be too much. Whether I was a coordinator, supervisor, P.A. whatever. But, particularly as the post producer I’m like “please loop me into everything.” Even if it’s a drive on for somebody, I don’t care, just tell me.
For me the management aspect of it…. I think that you know the aspirational pie in the sky is to empower everybody to do their best you know whatever that may be. And so I think for me what that means is going around and actually listening to people and trying to leave my ideas about the schedule or any sort of agenda at the door. And just checking in and being like, “hey like how are things going? Do you think we’ll hit this deadline? Talk to me. Tell me what you think is realistic or what do you see as a hurdle.”
How did you learn to be that kind of manager?
That’s a good question. I think it sort of was something that I developed from being managed myself. So I learned what styles of management worked for me and which didn’t. As far as like when someone was managing me what makes me want to bring my best? Or what makes me super resentful? I didn’t want to be the latter. I didn’t want to be someone who came in and just said: “well it has to be this way, so I don’t care.” That’s not the kind of conversation I ever want to have with somebody. So I think it’s like just the idea that there’s certain ways I’d been managed in my life, whatever job it was, that really worked for me and others that didn’t. That’s also to say that it’s not about making my employees the happiest employees in the world because that’s not my responsibility. At the end of the day it’s about the show and we just have to do what we have to do to get it done.
So what’s one thing that kind of inspired you as a manager? One kind of habit that a manager you worked for did that you were like “oh this is what I want to do.”
The thing that’s coming to mind is actually a manager who was the last manager I had at a restaurant job, the last restaurant job I held. I’d been unemployed for like eight months before hopping onto The Orville, but also had this restaurant job. And, I was waiting tables on the weekends and was getting totally burned out. And the manager recognized that. And he approached me and basically was like, “hey look like I understand that you’re doing what you need to do, but it’s having an impact on the people around you and the company as a whole. With how burned out you are, is this a good fit?” And I got super defensive at the time, but then went home thought about it and the next day I told him, “you know what you’re right. This isn’t good right now. This isn’t a good fit.” So, even though it was really scary and I felt like I really needed the income, I left the job because it wasn’t good for my health. And it was brought to my attention by this manager who I was pissed at, but at the same time I was like he was right, you know? And he didn’t make it personal. He was like, “look we’re running a business here. We have to make sure that we’re all in it together.
We could do the flip as well. What’s a bad experience that you had that you were like, “I never want to do that to someone.”
I mean I had a lot of those. There was a boss that I worked for that never raged at me specifically, but he would storm down the hallways raging, cursing up a storm and it’s like suddenly you’re walking on eggshells the whole time. And then there was another person, that I had worked for early on, that when I’d bring him concerns I had he would always brush them off even when they were very valid. And not only was it disrespectful but it also was kind of ignorant not to listen to people around you that may see things that you don’t.
So let’s talk about people management a little bit. How did you learn those skills? First off, describe a little bit about when the light bulb went off like, “oh there’s a people management component to this job that maybe I need to bulk up my skills on, or be more aware of.”
Some people are born innately as nurturers and then a lot of it comes from experience. I think every job I’ve ever had up until now is still a learning experience: what can I learn about this person? And the more personalities you work with, the more you get to learn. And then the longer you’re in this business, you know how you want to be treated yourself. You know what’s my path? What’s my career path? What bosses have I had that I like, don’t like, and for what reasons? Similar to parents. I think parenting is not too dissimilar. You learn from your parents what you like, and what you don’t like, and how you want to be treated. And you try to apply that to your kids. It’s very similar to working in the industry.
So would it be fair to say that you feel that your role as a supervisor is to understand the trajectory of people on your team and to help facilitate getting from where they are today to where they want to go, amongst other things?
Amongst other things. I say it depends on where you are. On the show level, yes but probably to a little lesser degree. If you’re managing someone on a show, it’s harder to do that because sometimes they’re freelance on that show and they might not be in that same company or realm forever. So if I have an AE on one show and I transition to another show, it might not be the same AE, so it’s a little bit more of a challenge to do that and try to look out for the big picture. When you know you’re going to be around people for a long period of time, that’s the number one challenge. When it’s on the short term, then what keeps me up at night is am I doing a good job communicating to them what the daily needs are, what the weekly needs are, what the monthly needs are, so that they’re not surprised. I’ve come to find everybody, because of those different personalities, will have a different reaction to different levels of stress and trying to mitigate surprises tends to help that tremendously.
What do you agonize most as a manager of people?
I would say if people feel happy and respected. I want to make sure that people, whether it’s the bottom or the top, feel like everyone is giving them the best that they can and I don’t want anyone to feel unheard.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What do you mean by feeling hurt?
So, I think everyone has ideas. And a lot of times, you know what’s possible not possible. But, instead of cutting somebody off, I want to hear them out. I want to say “well, why do you want to do that? How do you achieve that?” And then, oftentimes, based on budget, I have to say “well, that’s not doable because of X Y and Z,” but I want to make sure that we’re addressing concerns by everyone and explaining why something is achievable, and why some things are not, so that way everyone has an understanding. As opposed to just, “no, you can’t do that.”
For Post Supervisors or Post Coordinators, what are some of the more sticky conversations you have as a supervisor of those supervisors?
I think the link between production and post can be really challenging and I’m a big proponent that anyone who works in post should work production and anyone that works production should spend some time in post. Oftentimes if somebody, whether it’s a coordinator or post supervisor, hasn’t worked in production they may have a harder time wrapping their heads around why something happened and why this came back the way it did. And, instead of working through it with production — like calling them up and saying, “hey, so I know that you guys shot this like this, and you know we can’t have that because of X Y and Z so let’s try to work through why that happened and how to prevent it in the future.” I think that’s what needs to happen as opposed to: “you shot this wrong don’t do it again.” So I think a phone call. That’s one of the things that I deal with a lot is trying to create the relationship between production and post.
It’s like building a bridge as opposed to having an adversarial relationship. I experience that sometimes where, if something is back from the field, the first thing I like to do is to call the sound department, or the DP, and speak with them first, and then present it to the executives as a united front. Like, “this is what happened and just no finger pointing.” But it is hard.
It is very, very hard. I’ve been in a situation where it’s very hard to understand but I think setting up the show and basically telling production: “here’s my cell phone, I want you to call me literally day or night. I don’t care if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. I want to work through it with you right then, as opposed to after it’s all done. I feel like that really helps. And that goes a long way with production where they feel like, “OK post is on our side.”
What do you agonize over as a manager?
I think the biggest thing that is stressful to me is when you have someone that you’ve inherited as a worker whether it’s an assistant editor or a coordinator. Somebody that’s on the show before you, or you’ve had to hire them because of a nepotism hire, and that person doesn’t perform well. And I’ve had a situation with an assistant editor and also a PA where I couldn’t get them to do the job. I mean the PA was always on the phone. I couldn’t fire him because of the person that referred him. And I kept trying to coach him and this and that and he just was always, “huh? What?” And I tried to get him engaged. It was really hard.
The other thing I agonize over, I would say agonize, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but that’s frustrating, is sometimes we have a situation now with credits. Credits is always a big mess. I think credits should start in production and have all that stuff dealt with and get to post and then post finishes up the process but this is not the case — we keep getting all these notes that are coming in and that starts causing a problem. Other problems are with facilities getting the time you want if your show changes, like your schedule changes, then you can’t get the time you want, or you might lose your mixers.
I mean I feel like if you have a good team you can manage any challenge. So I don’t feel like…. Are there any other examples of things that maybe you’ve had challenges with or agonized over yourself that I could relate to maybe?
What you said very much resonates with me. I agonize over when I have assistants who don’t get it, or they don’t hustle as hard as they need to, and you try and you explain or whatever else. And when it doesn’t work out, sometimes when you have to let them go, it never feels good to me, because I always feel like, “well was there something more that I could have done?”
When I set out to talk to fellow producers, I wanted to hear whether their experiences were similar to my own. What I learned was that despite having different entrances into the business, we all shared similar traits, like a knack for problem solving and a passion for editing. In Part 3 of this series we talk about Resumes, Hiring and the future of post production.
Liz Lipschultz contributed to this interview.
Sam Mestman wrote a post at FCP.co that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Ostensibly it’s career advice for people just getting out of film school, but without meaning to do so Mestman touches on a profound question:
Small businesses have no idea how to market themselves through video, they all have small budgets for marketing that they waste on hideous content that doesn’t work, and there’s a big market in just about every town for someone who makes great, affordable web and social media video for businesses. [Emphasis mine]
If the demand for “great, affordable web and social media video” is so high, then why is that demand going unmet? Could it be that the difficulty of creating great video is orders of magnitude more than what’s affordable for small businesses.
Let’s consider three different methods of nonfiction storytelling: writing, podcasting, and documentary. When you consider the amount of time, effort, and skill required to make a great article, versus a great podcast, versus a great documentary; the difference is probably logarithmic.
Think about the standard sit down interview common to all forms of nonfiction storytelling. When a reporter talks to his subject, from the moment the interview starts until it ends, the reporter is able to use whatever they’ve observed.
When a podcaster conducts an interview they have to consider the overall sound quality and the temporal nature of audio recording itself. If the subject says something brilliant, but the recording wasn’t running in that moment, then it might as well not have happened. Ditto if the sound quality is poor. The podcaster has multiple dimensions of difficulty that the reporter can blissfully ignore.
The documentarian has all of the reporter’s and podcaster’s problems, in addition to all of the problems that come with adding image (camera equipment, lighting, composing, etc). Because there are so many considerations, the documentary often requires a crew of specialists, adding personnel management and financial components to the challenges.
We can consider each medium’s difficulties with the following table:
|Getting the Interview||– the Interview|
– Sound Quality
– Temporal Recording
– Sound Quality
– Temporal Recording
– Image Quality
– Image Composition
– Crew Coordination
To be clear: I’m not saying that someone like the documentarian Alex Gibney is more skilled than the writer Susan Orlean. What I am saying is that creating a documentary for HBO is cumulatively probably more difficult than writing an article for the New Yorker.
This isn’t meant to be scientific, but over the next few posts, let’s keep this idea in mind as we explore what makes video production unique.
If editing is consider “the invisible art,” then the people who supervise a film or television show’s post production process are a part of something even more arcane and misunderstood.
Producers who specialize in post production can go by an assortment of titles: Post Producer, Post Production Supervisor, Co-Producer, or even Associate Producer. No matter the title, they all have one thing in common, they are vital to the smooth day-to-day operation of a show’s post production process.
I decided to talk with fellow producers to hear whether their experiences were similar to my own. I interviewed four Producers working in a variety of genres to hear in their own words how they think about their work. Over the next three months I’ll be sharing excerpts of our conversations. What’s presented here is a compilation.
Part 1: Biographicals and Defining Post Producing
When I set out to talk to PGA members who specialize in Post, I wanted to talk to my colleagues and hear whether their experiences were similar to my own. So I started at the beginning and learn about how they got into ‘the business’ in the first place. Then I wanted to learn how they defined their role as a Producer on their shows.
I met Andre Danylevich at his light filled apartment near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He has supervised both episodic television (The Orville) and feature films (CBGB). I immediately related to Danylevich’s story because I too thought I’d become a computer programmer long ago.
So why don’t you just talk a little about your background, how you got into the business in the first place.
The bug bit me really early on, in high school. I was certain I was going to be a computer programmer for life. I was taking C++ and learning how to program, but then I got into theater. I randomly auditioned for a theatrical thing, and was kind of a natural at acting. And it was a lot of fun! For our senior English class, we had to do a five-minute short film and when it came to the editing I was like, “Oh this is awesome! It’s like the creativity of theater combined with the logic of programming, in front of a computer and I fucking love computers!”
Could you elaborate a little bit on the transition going from editing into producing? What were some of the draws, or the differences?
I think for me the draw of editing is how you basically have the opportunity to create a story from scratch. You’re given all this raw material and you can go make a story. If you don’t have a script, if you don’t have a director, that’s like, “This is my vision!” You can just go do whatever you want. It’s a very very creative endeavor. The draw of producing was sort of informed by my experience seeing how a production goes and realizing how every decision from development onward can really impact the end product. So whenever I approach a project it’s always from: Where are we going? What’s the goal? And how can we make decisions from the earliest stages to better inform that?
The reason I love producing so much is because I just love being so hands on with every aspect of a project. And the people management and project management, schedules and budgets, are all things that can be really fun. Sure, they can get tedious at times when you’re delivering a new schedule every single day, but at the end of the day I really love problem solving and that’s what filmmaking and TV shows are; a perpetual problem to solve.
Can you take a moment and step back and describe more specifically what your kind of producing is on a project in television and film?
So in television I would say my producing involves receiving a lot of information. There’s already a lot of wheels in motion, a lot of decisions have been made, and it’s taking all of that and figuring out the best way forward. You have to sometimes just take whatever is going on and make it work. The show The Orville got nominated for an Emmy for visual effects for one of our episodes — a super ambitious episode — and it’s kind of a miracle we accomplished that, because at the time we were split between New York and L.A.. So I had to step up and basically took care of setting up post in New York to mirror our set up in LA. And so I think that’s a really specific example of how things will happen and you just have to keep the show on the road to make your delivery dates.
I think with producing a feature film, even though you’re never going to control all of the variables — there’s always going to be something that’s going to throw a wrench in the plans — I think it’s a little bit more of the mindset of prep prep prep and then deal with the problems as they arise when you go into production. You prepare everything as much as you can and then you’re faced with the realities of actor availabilities and stuff like that, and then you have to reschedule everything.
When I met Lynn Stevenson she had just spent six weeks Post Supervising a live-to-tape reality television show in Fiji. But that genre was an outlier for her who focused on scripted television (BONES and GILMORE GIRLS). Like Danlevich, theater was Stevenson’s gateway into the business.
I know that you just got back from from Fiji. You were there for how long?
I was in Fiji for six weeks as the Post Supervisor on Love Island.
Wow. And do you want to tell us a little bit about what you were doing there and your role as Post Supervisor?
Yes. I’ve worked as both Post Producer and Post Supervisor. I have a wide range of experience with both scripted and unscripted. And this was a new type of job for me. I had worked with live television before, but going to a foreign country like Fiji, there’s a lot of challenges. So, basically my role was to coordinate and work with the network. We had people from CBS. We also had people from iTV America, the production company, and then we had our whole crew. We had about 400 people in production and post and that included people from eight countries.
Just in post we had 20 editors, six of whom were finishing editors. Part of my job was to manage their schedules. But we also had a post production company from Australia that provided all of the equipment. We were on networked Avids. So that was really helpful. We had a person handling all the satellite because we had to satellite to CBS and it was a five-day-a-week show. And even though the show itself was pre-produced, we were on a really tight 24 hour schedule.
You know, normally we start off talking about career background and I just realized that we didn’t even talk about how you got into the business in the first place.
So I started out when I was young I was really involved with theater, acting in plays, and I was also involved with writing. My mom did amateur theater and got me into theater and my best friend’s mom was a novelist and got me into writing. Then I started directing plays. I went to UCLA as a theater major. But then I got very involved in the radio station and in journalism and I got very excited about that. But our radio station only went to the dorms so I decided, “Well maybe I want to be a journalist.” So I switched to San Francisco State and got in the broadcasting department where our station went all over San Francisco.
Was there anything when you were in the journalism broadcasting realm that kind of attracted you to post production as opposed to just staying in production?
I love editing. So much in documentary and nonfiction is in the editing. I had jobs for documentaries where people would just hand me some transcripts, and they didn’t even have a plan, they’d just say, “Can you put this together?” And I loved that because it was like a big puzzle. So I really truly love editing, but then at the same time, I do like management a lot. I like being at the point where you’re working with the Showrunners and Directors. When they start knowing and trusting you, they will start asking your creative opinion, which I usually don’t volunteer unless I’m asked, because in post a lot of times we’re seen as management.
But yeah, the journalism thing, really the only reason I lost interest in it was, somebody attempted suicide, and I was the News Director of the radio station (San Francisco State) and I was torn because, on the one hand you’re supposed to go for the story, but then I realized I care more about the person that attempted suicide. I cared about what their family would think, and I was just finding myself going, “I don’t even want to assign this story.” So I realized news was not for me because of that.
Justin Holt is an affable guy with a hearty laugh who’s experienced post production from the production company, vendor, and studio sides. With experience as diverse as his it was interesting to learn that he originally didn’t plan on working in the business at all.
Full back story: I grew up in Western New York, in Rochester. I went to SUNY Albany for Political Science, realized that politics wasn’t my destined path, so I left school to try to make it in Hollywood. I moved out here in 2003 and I’ve been here ever since. Starting my career, I clawed and fought just to get a temp receptionist job. It was fascinating learning the business on that side right away, very different than what I thought it was gonna be. They had a partnership with a company called Weller Grossman. They saw that they needed a PA and I was like, “great!” So I joined as a PA, left the temp job because it was always going to be temp, and stayed at Weller Grossman from being a PA to being a post supervisor, growing with the company. When I started, we had three shows, and when I left we had 13 or 14 series running concurrently, three of which were daily episodics, 65 episode orders and I was the only post supervisor when I left.
Wait, wait, wait. In two years you went from PA to Post Supervisor!?
Yeah. It’s a very non-traditional path. At the time the company was a bit more scrappy, in the sense that you would have two or three jobs. The benefit of that is that if you wanted to grow and learn they were all for it.
Well, sometimes it’s good to have those opportunities where you are able to take on more and learn more.
Absolutely. My mentor, who is truly one of my mentors to this day, was my first Post Supervisor at that company when I was rising. I learned a lot from him. I learned how to take apart an Avid and I didn’t know that most post-sups didn’t do that, because he did it. But he left that company, and he started his own company. So that was just really great luck to have somebody that was that technical be a mentor. Everybody in that company was hugely technical, out of necessity, because we didn’t have technical support. There was nobody else to call. So when your Avid went down, you fixed it. I didn’t know that that was abnormal, in terms of the rest of the business.
I met Tiffany Phelps at my office during a busy midweek afternoon. She has a calming presence and spoke candidly about her role supervising Supervisors as the Executive Director of Post at Shed Media. Like so many of us, Phelps was lured into this industry after considering an alternative career first.
Yeah. So I wanted to be a doctor. And then I saw the movie Titanic and fell in love with the graphics of the movie and so I decided I wanted to go to school for TV instead of medicine. I went to college for television production at Cal State Northridge and basically right after that started working.
I started in production, and I thought I would never work in post and I fell into post after doing some production. The last thing I did for production was The Voice Season One and then I took a post coordinator job for a company called High Noon to do deliverables. That was supposed to just fill in between Season 1 and Season 2 of The Voice, and then I wound up post supervising the ALMA Awards for NBC after that and just sort of started post-suping and never went back.
When you say that you never thought you would go into post, did you have, when you got into the business, preconceived notions about what production was and what post production was — and you’re like “Oh, I’m never gonna like post”?
I think a little bit of both. I liked production. I liked being on set. I like being in the action. So I really really really enjoyed that part of it. As far as coordinating during my downtime in production I would do post deliverables and help out a post supervisor and I enjoyed the paperwork aspect of it, but I still really loved production. But after a while getting into post I realized I really enjoyed seeing everything come together and that’s kind of why I chose to stay. I liked color. I liked audio. I liked mixing. I liked figuring out camera codecs and so I wound up falling in love with that aspect of it.
And you never looked back. Can you tell us a little about your day to day responsibilities at Shed?
My day-to-day consists of overseeing Post Supervisors, overseeing all the calendars — our post-production and production calendars, because a lot of times when production shifts post shifts too. I work with DPs in terms of talking to them about the cameras that they want to shoot on. What works for our series. We come up with happy mediums sometimes depending on what codec they want to shoot and how much storage I can allow them to use on our servers. And then I work with our Post Supervisors to just help them with anything they need in terms of specs questions, scheduling questions, anything like that.
When I set out to talk to fellow producers, I wanted to hear whether their experiences were similar to my own. What I learned was that despite having different entrances into the business, we all shared similar traits, like a knack for problem solving and a passion for editing. In Part 2 of this series we discuss People Management and how Producers can exert influence while not being in a ‘creative’ role.
Liz Lipschultz contributed to this interview.
There are two powerful software applications that every Post Producer should know about: OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle. Both of these apps can help you communicate your ideas with more clarity and help you manage the creative process more effectively.
OmniOutliner is for writing with structure. What it brings to the table are a unique set of tools for organizing, visualizing, and styling your text with ease. Writing with structure is especially important when you are trying to communicate complex ideas that multiple parties need to ‘buy into’; like your show’s post production workflow.
Here is an example outline I created for a heritage XDCAM workflow:
What I like about outlining is that it imposes a structure on my writing. In my example above the process forced me to consider the entire workflow. In effect it influenced my thinking and made sure I was covering all aspects. The advantage of using OmniOutliner is that it enables the user to move things around quickly and create more readable documents.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then a good diagram is worth two or three thousand at least! OmniGraffle is a tool for creating diagrams.
One of a Post Producer’s most important responsibilities is communicating problems clearly. In my experience teams default to wordy emails too often. When things get challenging you’re often better served by turning to high bandwidth form of communication like in-person or phone calls. If you have to send an update via email, a good illustration can often explain things much more clearly then a dozen paragraphs.
Earlier in my career one of my shows had a dubbing problem. After uncovering the problem with the Posthouse’s Tech, I had to explain the cause of the problem to the EIC. I spent hours agonizing the best way to explain why the audio and video didn’t match on the DVD dubs. It seems obvious in retrospect, but explaining what specific wiring issue transpired proved to be challenging, until I remembered ‘the Graffle‘.
The creative process is messy by design. Creating something new isn’t a linear exercise. It’s filled with false starts and wasteful explorations. Managing the chaos is a Post Producer’s job and the best way to do that is through more effective communication.