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Producers on Producing Post Production – Part 1

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.

Gobler

So why don’t you just talk a little about your background, how you got into the business in the first place.

Danylevich

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!”

Gobler

Could you elaborate a little bit on the transition going from editing into producing? What were some of the draws, or the differences?

Danylevich

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.

Gobler 

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? 

Danylevich 

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.

Gobler

I know that you just got back from from Fiji. You were there for how long? 

Stevenson 

I was in Fiji for six weeks as the Post Supervisor on Love Island

Gobler 

Wow. And do you want to tell us a little bit about what you were doing there and your role as Post Supervisor?

Stevenson 

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.

Gobler 

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.

Stevenson  

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.

Gobler 

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?

Stevenson 

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.

Holt

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.

Gobler 

Wait, wait, wait. In two years you went from PA to Post Supervisor!?

Holt

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.

Gobler

Well, sometimes it’s good to have those opportunities where you are able to take on more and learn more. 

Holt

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. 

Phelps 

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.

Gobler 

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”?

Phelps 

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.

Gobler 

And you never looked back. Can you tell us a little about your day to day responsibilities at Shed?

Phelps 

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.

Categories
Fiction People

The Timeline (fiction)

The timeline is a space beyond the world. We can go forward and backward. We can witness every option. We can audition every word and every action. The sound waves remind me of when I spent my summers surfing in Baja. The timeline is infinite with endless space before and after. The only limit is your attention. You slowly sculpt and refine the timeline. Collecting your experiences, your influences; notes are just another method of helping you uncover your style. Consistent refinement and smoothing out. Until the Show ends and you move on.

And yet there is a discipline to it; a technical, logical component that must be respected. Without intelligent organization, you will fall into Chaos. Without understanding how the system works, you will be dependent on someone else. There are long late nights alone. The hum of the machines and your thoughts in the darkness of an abandoned office. And there will be times of great collaboration. You and your peers gathered around a conference room table, feeling like you are building the great cathedral in Köln. The Show is life because life is a show. There is nothing else. Before or afterward. So you close the door, hunch a little forward, and focus on the timeline. One cut after another. On and on forever.

In memory of Dave Walker.

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People

Know Your Intentions

“We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”

— Walt Disney

#MondayMotivation

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People

Chapter 12 – Biographical

My path in the business began in high school. In my junior year my days were filled with electronics and computer programing classes and I had some uninspired notion about studying engineering in college. The work suited my logical side, but I distinctly remember feeling ambivalent because some creative spark was missing. As a child I loved to play with Legos, and in middle school my friends were big into role-playing games (Cyberpunk 2020, not D&D, if you must know). These were group activities that blended a rigid systems-type thinking with the more unpredictable nature of creativity.

Everything changed one afternoon when a friend invited me to help him tape his public access show after school. Eric’s show was called Pinhead Nation and he booked local rock bands to perform in his backyard on the deck of his parents’ house. Then he’d interview them afterwards. All I remember from that afternoon is running around to clear off the deck and lay audio cables with intense purpose. There was a feeling of camaraderie that is familiar to anyone who’s worked on a set. It was so exciting to be part of a crew. This collaborative approach to creativity is exactly what had been missing. The feeling electrified me and I was ‘hooked’. By the following year I transferred into my high school’s the television production class.

When Joey Ramone sends The Independents to perform on your public access show.

My high school’s video production program had a small studio with two pedestal cameras, an ENG camera, a control room with A/B switch, and an S-VHS linear editing system. In retrospect, I was lucky to have access to a high school program with so much equipment. At the time (1998-1999) that analogue gear probably cost our school district a small fortune.

The class had a variety of projects, but my favorite was a newscast I wrote set during Roman times. It was a multi-step project. First, I had to write the script in the A/V format (original hand written script). Then I had to tape and edit an ENG package that would be ‘rolled-in’ into the main newscast. From here it was a natural progression to go on to major in video production in college.

If you recognize someone in this video; yeah I once directed an Emmy winner 🙂

In college I gravitated towards documentary production. Looking back now, I think I realized that it was easier to create high quality documentary productions than scripted narratives, because narrative is SO resource intensive. A scripted production requires costumes and sets, in addition to lighting and sound; while documentary, especially *cinéma vérté*, requires so much less. Also, I enjoy learning and a good documentary teaches you something new about the world. It can be creative and emotional while also feeding the logical part of the mind.

Maybe Hidden Brain can remake this into a podcast? Just sayin’.

In college I also started the FDU Film Guild. A campus club that purchased extra equipment and props to encourage fellow students to get out there and make films. It served the purpose of building a community of people who help each other by contributing their unique skills. One of our primary fundraising activities was filming campus events, creating DVD’s, and selling those DVD’s to the organizations. Event videography, but lucrative nevertheless.

“But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked…”

I also spent two years working at a company in New York City called iNextv. It was like Youtube, just 5 years too early, since almost nobody had fast broadband internet at the time. My first assignment on the job was to assist the studio engineer with soldering the remaining cables to their bnc connectors. During my two years on the job I had opportunities to run studio cameras, assist the Avid Media Composer editors, and learn Final Cut Pro. It was a sad day when I came into work and learned that the company had became the latest victim of the first dot com bubble.

The year after graduating college I moved to Washington, DC and landed my first job as an Assistant Editor. But that’s a story for another post…

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People

Producers on Stress

I recently read a great article in Filmmaker Magazine about Producing and Coping with Stress. The entire article resonated with me. The struggle to maintain balance between work and family life is something I feel acutely. It’s good to hear that I’m not alone. If you have fifteen minutes you should check it out. You should also check out my post On Creative Fulfillment too.

Article quotes of note:

  • Producing is about support — being everyone’s advocate, from the director to the actor to the crew. … Producing is the effort in the cracks and corners, the tossing in the mornings and nights. Producing is sweating in the dark and smiling in the light.
  • “The happier you are and the more healthy you are,” Robinson says, “the harder it is to sustain the dysfunction of film.”
  • “There’s this inherent narcissism of ‘serving the movie,’” Reardon says. “It’s like the movie is the patriarch.” Various forms of abusive behavior can be justified because there’s the sense that sacrifices must be made for the sake of the film.