Management People Pipeline

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!


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? 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.


Post Scheduling: The Stakeholder’s View

The network, the studio, the bond company; there is always someone paying the bills, and one of the ways for them to evaluate how their money is being spent is to see that your show is hitting its milestones. These stakeholders will often have their own format for a Post Schedule and your job as the Post Supervisor is to keep the stakeholders informed of changes, in their format. I know this will seem unfair, creating yet another document with the exact same information as the linear weeks grid or the dashboard, but this is the Post Super’s plight.

Stakeholder view
One network’s hot sheet, update required weekly.

One of the challenges you will face here is deciding how often you need to update your stakeholder’s schedule. There will be times when changes come so fast and furiously that your dashboard will change several times a week. Keeping your stakeholders informed of every little change is a disservice to everyone. Firstly it creates the sensation of instability when a hectic week of shuffling the scheduling is actually proactive because you are utilizing your editors to address immediate concerns. Therefore I usually like to settle into a weekly cadence of sending the stakeholder’s an update on Fridays. This weekly update is usually good enough for the primary stakeholders but it is important to grasp this quickly and find out what are the show’s expectations.

Post Schedule Hot Sheet Sample xlsx
Another network’s hot sheet, updates also required weekly.

The biggest scheduling challenge you’ll have as a Post Supervisor is keeping the various versions of your post schedule in-sync.

The next challenge will be cascading changes, i.e., if your rough cut pushes 3 days then the fine cut and picture locks will have to push as well. But sometime you’ll be asked if an episode can make up the time, in this case the rough cut pushes 3 days, but the fine cut only pushes 2 days and the picture lock pushes 1. In this scenario the editor loses a day to address the rough cut notes, and you will hear it! The human component of Post Supervision becomes most apparent at times like these.

Getting “into” the Post Schedule

A few years ago I established a new work habit. If I worked with a coordinator for two seasons, and if they demonstrated a desire to learn about scheduling, I would give them the opportunity to build the initial cut schedule. The most interesting aspect of this was when I reviewed their work. I noticed that it took time, often several hours, to get “into” the cut schedule. What I mean by this is that every Post Supervisor should develop a hyper-keen knowledge of the cut schedule. Almost like seeing the milestones and bottlenecks in your mind.

However, when I received a new copy of the cut schedule for the first time, it was a wall of numbers. It took careful reading through the schedule with a calendar nearby to spot trouble areas. This experience lead me empathize with Executives who receive the Post Schedule for the first time and are expected to make decisions from it right away. So how can we make cut schedules more useful for stakeholders? Eliminating unnecessary information is a start.

It is important for the Post Supervisor to think about:

  1. What information are you presenting?
  2. Who are you presenting to?

While the Post Super may want to know the average number of days the notes are late, this information might be superfluous to a bond company, a downright antagonistic to the note givers at the network. It’s also important to remain empathic. The Post Schedule is an esoteric document. It might be second nature to someone who spends hours looking at one each week. But it’s a wall of numbers to most people.


Post Scheduling: The Linear Weeks Grid

The Linear weeks grid is usually a spread sheet made in Microsoft Excel. Often it is given to the Post Supervisor by the EIC or VP of Production. Sometimes the process is reversed and the Post Supervisor will create the Linear Weeks Grid based on constraints by the EIC and then get their grid approved.

Most linear week grids are oriented vertically, with the progression of time going downward. Typically the horizontal axis is made up of the show’s activities (Production, Post, Air date, etc) or Producer/Editor teams. Sometimes an EIC’s or Prodco’s will switch the horizontal and vertical axes (known in Excel as “Switch Plot”) in which time proceeds horizontally from left to right. Either is valid. Over time you’ll develop your own preference or adapt to the production company’s house style.

When you look at the example grid you will see column headings such as “Production Week” or “Post Week” which simply count the number of weeks the show has been in production or post respectively. In the middle is the real ‘meat’ of the linear weeks grid: the producer & editor teams. In the example schedule you can see that this show has 12 production weeks, 2 rounds of pickups, the first episode (101) has 12 weeks of editing and the remaining 7 episodes have 8 edit weeks. It is typical for the premiere episode to receive one or two additional edit weeks.

Linear Weeks Grid
Eight episodes, eight editors; as straight forward as it gets.

What is presented here is a “best case scenario” where everything goes according to plan. Over the course of a season any multitude of things can happen that will cause this simple grid to balloon in complexity. But the overall goal of the linear weeks grid is to facilitate budgeting by creating a schedule that allows financial stakeholders to easily tally up the total number of weeks for editors, equipment, and office space.

The primary problem with the Linear Weeks Grid is the lack of granularity. On the grid, an editor is either all on one episode or another. However, in real life, editors often shift between episodes while they wait for network notes. The Linear Week Grid has no way to account for this activity fluidity.

Editor Tracker vs Linear Weeks Grid

“Doubling Up” & Finishing editors

The Linear Weeks Grid is best thought of as a tool for strategic planing. Its macro nature enable experimenting with big picture ideas, such as editor deployment. Two examples of this are: “Doubling up” editors to work on two episodes, and having a Finishing editor deliver all of your show’s final episodes.

In the earlier example of the Linear Weeks Grid, the 8 episode season is edited by 8 different editors. This is straightforward, but the downside is that you’ll have to find eight editors who are all available within your show’s time frame. However, if the final deliverable deadlines allow it, doubling up on episodes reduces the number of editors (and story producers) you need to hire. As you can see in the example below, after completing their work on episode 101, the editor rolls on to episode 105. The 102 editor on to 106, etc etc. This creates a longer overall edit schedule, but a better environment.

Linear Weeks Doubling
Each editor works on two episodes; which is a much calmer environment if you can swing it.

Another option that I’ve seen become more popular these days is having one editor finish every episode. This is done to ensure that the show’s season has a consistency that’s not possible when eight separate editors work on eight separate episodes. What usually happens in these instances, is that the Finishing Editor will pick up each episode after the last round of network notes are given, and bring the episode to Picture Lock.

Linear Weeks Finishing
After finishing their episode, the Finishing Editor locks every episode of the season.

When used as a strategic tool, the Linear Weeks Grid enables you to easily quantify totals: total editor weeks, total equipment weeks, amount of office space needed. The big picture nature of the grid, also enables easy experimentation with different team configurations. What’s been presented here is merely scratching the surface of Grids that I’ve seen colleagues use on their shows.


Post Scheduling: The Dashboard

My favorite way of looking at a show’s progress is by looking at the Post Schedule’s dashboard view. The dashboard is my personalized way of looking at: when episodes are scheduled for network review, when the network’s notes are due back, and all of the metadata between those dates. By metadata I mean the additional information, such as: when a team was expected to deliver a cut vs when they actually did (i.e., the number of days late), or the cumulative number of days late across the entire season.

Dashboard view
The Post Supervisor’s “Dashboard”

The Dashboard is created by the Post Supervisor for the Post Supervisor. It is first and foremost, your tool for keeping track of every episode’s status. Over the years I’ve tweaked the dashboard for every show, but recently settled into a sheet that minimally contains 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 of post (Rough Cut, Fine Cut, etc…).
  • Note Due Dates: this is when stakeholders giving notes are supposed to deliver them to the production company 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.
  • Color & Mix: usually given as “week of” this allows you to hold time with you finishing facilities.
  • Delivery Date: always begin with the end in mind!
  • Air Date: This is you ultimate back-against-the-wall deadline.

From my experience, the biggest problem with the Dashboard is also its greatest strength: the data density. What’s useful to the Post Supervisor (to demonstrate domain mastery by being able to quickly answer any obscure question about the Post Schedule), is going to be information overload to a creative executive or financial stakeholder. “What am I looking at here?” is often heard from an executive producer upon being handed a dashboard schedule for the first or fiftieth time. But then again, keeping stakeholders appraised is the probably every Post Supervisor’s biggest challenge!