Software Worth Knowing About: OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle

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

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.

OmniGraffle

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‘.

Coda

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.

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.

On Creative Fulfillment

One of the most important days in challenging how I think about work was in graduate school when I visited an adjunct professor at his consulting office on K St. in Washington, DC. He asked me what I did for work, and I told him that I was working at night as an Assistant Editor. His immediate response was, “Wow, I imagine that the level of frustration in your field is very high, because the jobs that are interesting probably don’t pay the bills, and the jobs that pay the bills probably aren’t very interesting.”

At this moment in time I’m very fortunate to have a job that’s engaging, interesting; and pays the bills! But this hasn’t been the norm for large portions of my career. And I don’t think I’m alone. One of the most common complaints I hear when I work with people on their resumes is how dissatisfied they are on their current show.

I believe that some of these frustrations are just an innate part of the entertainment industry. But perhaps there are ways we can learn to think about our jobs to help restore a sense of balance and value in our work.

The Business

The website FilmToolKit recently posted an infographic: Simple Ways to be the Best PA on Set. Number three is crushing:

Despite how much I hate this advice with every cell in my body I know that it is absolutely true. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to has seen someone less intelligent or less hardworking get ahead of them because of luck, and who they know. Hollywood is the place that invented the term ‘failing up’ afterall.

The fact of the matter is that Hollywood utilizes very little data in its decision-making process. Sure we track box office receipts or nightly viewers, but we don’t actually know why one show succeeds while another fails. I believe that this lack of data on the production process itself creates an environment where irrational decision-making is the only decision-making available, therefore people defer to their ‘gut’ and are lead by perception. This is all another way of saying the old adage:

“In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”

William Goldman

I think there is also an element of self selection at play. Research has started to suggest that people who need consistency; where it is clear how promotion occurs and when the next paycheck will arrive, tend to gravitate towards stable fields such as civil service. While people who work in the cultural industries have a different set criteria for measuring job satisfaction and may even thrive due to the volatility a life in the arts is certain to entail.

“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”

Hunter S. Thompson

Repose

Having a good sense of humor is probably the best way to thrive in the business. But failing wit, a more meditative approach might have more to offer the rest of us. The School of Life has written an assortment of articles about work. I highly recommend starting with this one on: The Creative Itch. Learning to identify which aspects of my job bring me the most joy has helped guide me towards new opportunities. It’s also given me insight into what I should steer clear of too!

You can also check out the The Sorrows of Work. This extended essay on the subject of work reminds us that our struggles are not unique, but a plight shared by the entire working class. There are no perfect jobs, because we work within an imperfect system.

Breaking Down Offline Editorial: Gantt Chart View (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series I describe the process of using a Gantt chart as project management tool for unscripted television post production. In this post I will zoom in on one specific part of the editorial process: offline editing. And meditate deeply on how we think about editing as an activity in the project management scene of the word.

In project management terminology:

An activity is a component of work performed during the course of a project. Activities take time and consume resources; you describe them by using action verbs. Examples of activities are design report and conduct survey.

This is tricky, because your activity is someone else’s project. For example: Change Car’s Oil might be an activity to you; drop car off at the mechanic and pick it up 30 minutes later. But from your mechanic’s point-of-view Change Car’s Oil is a series of small activities that require unique resources and multiple stopping points.

There are some flaws with Car Oil example, but you can also think about something like renovating a house. As a homeowner you might see macro activities like: renovate bathroom, rennovate kitchen. But your General Contractor sees hundreds of smaller activities that need to be planned in coordination with each other. As a homeowner you hire a GC so you don’t have to worry about “the details,” but knowing the details will help you understand the cause of delays when they eventually crop up.

The Post Supervisor faces a similar dilemma

One way of looking at the post schedule is macro: “The team has six weeks from start to rough cut.” Therefore, you’d see this component of offline editorial as one distinct activity. If you are a Post Supervisor you probably see your schedule this way.

An editor sees something entirely different. They see hundreds of smaller activities. Even something like “cut act one” is broken down into much smaller activities: cut scene 1, cut scene 2, cut scene 3, cut transitional segment between scene 1 & 2, cut transitional segment between scenes 2 & 3, cut bump out, etc etc etc…

This difference of perspective isn’t a problem, until you have to understand and explain why a cut is late.

If you only see the macro picture, you can know that a cut is late. But you won’t have the information you need to troubleshoot the cause. Even if you breakdown your activities into something more ganular, like acts, you still won’t have the information you need for a diagnosis.

How Changing a Car’s Oil is Different from Editing

At this point it might be logical to think that the answer is breaking down offline editorial into more distinct activities; the “cut scene 3, cut transitional segment between scene 1 & 2” from above. This is how a general contractor and mechanic does it. But editing is different for two reasons.

Firstly, the order of activities is usually not important. An Editor can work on a scene in Act 3, then score Act 2, and finish the day assembling a transitional montage. Without critical dependencies, a Post Supervisor can go mad trying to track all of the editor’s activities each day.

Second, more importantly, the creative process is messy by its nature. Perhaps you’ve seen this inspirational meme around:

Creativity doesn’t happen in a strict linear fashion. It requires exploration and false starts. The truth is that every creative endeavor, even network television, will never be finished, only abandoned. More often than not, post production is an exercise of accomplishing as much as possible in the allotted time.

The point of applying project management techniques to television production is to maximize the amount of time your team is doing the fun creative work instead of waiting for resources to become available. It’s not to limit creativity, but to unleash it!

PostSchedule.io THE PROBLEM DEFINED

Post Producers/Post Supervisors & the Post Schedule

Post Supervisors are Producers who specialize in the post production process. Part chief of staff, part office manager, part coach; this dynamic role influences a show in numerous ways. But their most important responsibility is creating and maintaining the Post Schedule.

All of these TV characters would make great Post Supervisors!

The Post Schedule is the primary tool used to keep a show’s stakeholders appraised of its progress through the post production process. A good post schedule includes the following information:

  • Edit Start: when each episode is expected to start, and who is working on each episode.
  • Episode Due Dates at each stage: (Rough Cut, Fine Cut, etc…).
  • Notes Due: this is when stakeholders giving notes are supposed to deliver them to the production before overages occur.
  • Total Days Late: if your production company wants to recover “breakage” from the network, this is often a good place to start. Wasted editorial days waiting for notes can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Final Delivery Date: always begin with the end in mind!

Post Schedules come in a variety of formats. This is my “Dashboard” version:


Creative Executives often like the post schedule to be presented as a traditional calendar:


Bond companies, Studios, and Networks have their own formats too:


The crux of the Post Producer/Supervisor’s problem is that a change to one schedule, necessitates manually changing every other version. This is time consuming and error prone work. Here are some results from a recent survey about scheduling answered by 76 Post Producers/Supervisors:



The final problem with current Post Scheduling techniques is that a manually maintained Post Schedule limits the ability to collect and analyze data.


This Sankey diagram from the Netflix Technology blog is a little vague on details describing these production “blocks”. What do they represent? And how can the information be trusted if it’s gathered from such an error prone process?

PostSchedule.io is a web application that aims to modernize the post scheduling process; and these Medium posts are a journal of my process through user research, landing page creation, and bootstrapping its way into existence. I hope you enjoy the journey. And if this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in, feel free to contact me on twitter: lowbudgetfun.