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.

Post Scheduling: The Schedule Keeper

Over the last few weeks, I’ve described the post production scheduling process in detail. In this concluding post, I’m going to explain why the Post Supervisor’s most important role is the show’s Schedule Keeper. And why the Post Supervisor’s method of communicating the schedule truly matters.

Editing takes time, and successful projects have realistic deadlines and realistic expectations for the amount of work that can be completed by each milestone. They also need everyone on the team to know these deadlines. Therefore, the Post Supervisor’s most important role is to be the show’s Schedule Keeper. As the keeper of the post schedule, a Post Supervisor’s job is to:

  1. Make sure everyone on the team knows all of the project’s milestones.
  2. Know what work is expected to be included at each of those milestones.

The Post Supervisor’s primary tool for keeping the team synchronized is the post schedule in all of it’s formats. At the start of every project I create a calendar that clearly presents when each of the project’s cuts are due, and what needs to be included in each cut. For example: on my broadcast shows, the network expects our Fine Cuts to include all graphical elements and to be within 1 minute of the final run time.

Producer Quick Glance
On their first day, every Producer & Editor gets one of these for their episode.

After the post schedule is distributed to everyone on the team, it is the Post Supervisor’s responsibility to make sure everyone buys in to these deadlines. I like to make sure that everyone on the team has reviewed and understands the dates. If anyone has any objections, I make sure to solicit their input and encourage constructive feedback. If someone on the team sees trouble in the post schedule, they should bring up their concerns and either 1) agree the project needs more time and have the Post Supervisor talk to the show’s stakeholders about getting more time, or 2) come to an agreement about what’s possible in the time allotted.

As your best collaborator, the Post Supervisor should ask questions like, “If I can’t get the deadline moved, how much could you accomplish in this time frame?” Or “How much time would you need to realize the stakeholder’s vision?” Sometimes the Post Supervisor will also prod by asking a producer if they’re really addressing the stakeholder’s vision or pursuing work for themselves. These questions aren’t meant to be offensive, but a subtle reminder that we’re all hired to execute the stakeholder’s vision, not our own.

If the tone of the conversation is adversarial, there is a problem. In general, by acting as a go-between, a good Post Supervisor mitigates any tension between the show stakeholders and the creative team; including the editors. As an advocate for the show, the Post Supervisor should remove emotion and keep all of the attention on the quality of the final product.

When I first became a Post Supervisor, scheduling was the most difficult responsibility for me to learn. The how-to do things in Excel was easy. Learning to roll with the punches and not take the changes personally was not. I used to internalize every “push”. But then I realized that in this area the Post Production Supervisor’s role most resembles a Project Manager’s role. Your job is to report the post schedule as fact.

These days I report on schedule changes per request, and don’t elaborate unless I’m asked to explain why a cut is late. In general [postponing] takes time; time equals money; and stakeholders tend to shoot the messenger. So be prepared to not take it personally.

Post production scheduling matters to me because I believe the Post Supervisor sets the tone; they establish the post department’s operating style. They establish how editors should be treated, the level of acceptable respect for the support staff, the importance of deadlines, and try to adhere to the budget and communicate when they can’t. Scheduling is not only about keeping all parties informed of the show’s progress. Scheduling is about creating a feeling of calm and control in the storm of the creative process.

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.

Airtable (TL;DR review)

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of being a tech savvy person working in the entertainment industry is all of the almost but not quite right software on the market. For example: you have Asana’s anti-freelancer friendly pricing. Misguided attempts at analytics. And shoehorning Trello into an indie documentary productivity tool.

Today’s entry into the almost but not quite right category is Airtable. I know this startup is hot right now. But sadly it misses the mark for me. My TL;DR review is this:

Airtable offers neither the design flexibility of a spreadsheet, nor the customized reporting of a full featured database.

Here is an example of the dashboard I use to manage my shows:

Dashboard view
The Post Supervisor’s “Dashboard“.

And here the best Airtable can do with its Record List “block“:

Airtable Dashboard Record List Block .png
Awful on so many levels.

I was hoping Airtable would make it easier for me to keep a Dashboard version of the schedule in-sync with a Calendar view. And it did show potential. Changes made in the calendar show up on the record list block. And changes made to an episode record, show up on the calendar. (See the embedded example “base” below) But without design tools to provide contrast and emphasis, Airtable can’t make the cut into useful. The per user pricing doesn’t help either.

https://airtable.com/embed/shrjp3ssjvpDhrFHl?backgroundColor=red&viewControls=on

I have a few more complaints about Airtable, as a company, as well:

  • They advertise Airtable as a spreadsheet alternative, but on their community forums repeatedly say that Airtable is not a spreadsheet when users ask for features that Airtable can not do.
  • Screenshot-2018-6-6 airtable block at DuckDuckGo
  • One much requested feature is a “record updated” trigger for Zapier. Despite an employee saying that this feature is “coming soon“, there is now just radio silence on this front. Just say that it’s not on the API roadmap anymore. Your silence is deafening.
  • Glacial response from the support team. Plus blocking a paid user for 1,000 years seems like an excessive and silly policy.
  • IMG_0827
    3018… I mean really?

I’m extra hard on Airtable because I’ve never wanted a service to work SO badly.Screenshot-2018-6-6 Post Production Scheduling Survey

 

The potential to save hours of work each week is sooo close, but too far. Perhaps if Airtable engaged with their customers as opposed to ignoring them, they’d create a product that would appeal to even more users.

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.