Monday, December 5, 2011

What is an online editor?

Recently, I was invited to audit an online editing session for one of the shows I've worked on.  Online editing is one of the final steps before broadcast.  It takes place after picture lock and is a crucial time for the look and feel of a show.

It's important to understand that throughout the offline editing process, the footage that editors and story producers work from has been digitized into the editing system at a low resolution because that much high resolution footage would be prohibitive.  Once a show has gone through all its rounds of network notes, it's cut to time, and everybody is happy with it, the show is considered "picture locked."  This means just what it sounds like, that the picture will not be changing from here on out.  At this point, the footage is "up-rezed" (there's a million ways people spell that) which means that the source material is redigitized at full resolution, using only the clips that are in the sequence.  This means only exactly the footage that is actually in the show, usually with three-second "handles" on each end, just in case there are emergency issues during the online session.

During that process, an assitant editor will keep a video mixdown of the edit on one of the video layers to refer back to and make sure that all shots have remained the same as the editor intended.  This video mixdown track is also provided to the online editor to inform his work.

An online editing session is incredibly expensive, largely due to the skill of the online editor himself.  He is responsible for the look of the show, color timing and balancing, carefully executing blurs or resizing to address legal notes, formatting and sexifying graphics and fonts--basically anything visual about the show!  Usually the online editor takes a pass at the show on his own, adjusting color and contrast and using a set of timecoded notes to create blurs when necessary.  As you can see above, he is viewing the show in full  HD on a high rez flatscreen and often using a waveform monitor to assist in his decisions.  These careful adjustments can make a big difference in making a show feel sexier, warmer, colder, happier, sadder and on and on and on.  In this case, we were working on a show that is late in its second season, so the look and feel of this show is well known territory to our online editor.  Thus, his solo pass knocked out all the heavy lifting.

Once the online editor has made his pass, usually a producer from the show will watch with the online editor.  For my screening, I was joining the show's Supervising Editor, Line Producer and Post Supervisor.  They watch the show through, taking notes but not stopping.  This helps get a feel for the overall show for the first time in HD.  Then begins a very subjective notes process where individual shots are pored over and adjusted until everything is satisfactory to whoever is the highest-ranking individual in the room.

These changes are made and the show is prepped for final sound mix...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Young Adult at Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study

Last night I was fortunate enough to find myself at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study for a screening of Diablo Cody's new film, "Young Adult."  Several clips of reality television are used as a motif throughout the movie, including the first lines of dialogue in the film, which are delivered by Kendra Wilkinson.

Cody herself was there for a Q&A afterward, and this is what she had to say about the influence of reality television in the film.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  "I just loved seeing Kendra and the Kardashians.  How much E! do you watch when you're procrastinating?"

CODY:  "I watch a lot of E! and it's wierd; I've admitted to that and gotten these hushed, horrible reactions and I'm like, 'I'm sorry, I do.'  But it was really, really important to have that footage in this movie because in a way a secondary theme of this film is it's an indictment of the culture of fame and exposure."


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Conduct a Reality TV Interview PART 1

Sitting down to conduct your first interview for a show can be a nerve-racking experience.  An interview can make or break a day of shooting, so the pressure is on.  In the meantime, you'll probably be wearing a different earpiece on each side, one for crew and one for cast, and at the same time talking to the interview subject herself.  Needless to say, this can get overwhelming at times, so it's best to be prepared before you ever start.  In this series, I will present some basic tips to help you conduct an effective reality TV interview.


You set the tone for the interview.  The subject will be a mirror of whatever you are giving them, energy-wise.  Know this and use this to your advantage.  Generally, you want to be conversational and keep your energy up, up, up.  If you start showing how tired you are from running around the last 14 hours covering the action, your subject will start showing how tired she is too.  And then you're just two tired people wasting tape.  Likewise, if you are nervous, they will be nervous too and the quality of their answers will lower dramatically.

Your interview should feel like you are having a lively conversation that you are extremely interested in having.  Usually, you will have a few minutes while the crew sets up and lights the shot.  Do not ignore your subject, use this time to get some business out of the way and get the conversation ball rolling.


 When I sit down with a subject I start by introducing myself of course, then chatting a little about how they are feeling, make sure they are comfortable, etc.  Then, I quickly go over some interview technique, something like this...(Imagine that I am smiling and charming during this interaction)

ME: Ok, so you remember this from casting.  When this interview starts, remember that the audience is never going to hear my question.  So I need you to fold the question into your answer.  For example, if I say, "What's your favorite color?"  You say, "My favorite color is..."  Got it?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  Ok, what's your favorite color?

THEM:  Blue.

ME:  "My favorite color is..."

THEM:  Oh, yeah.  My favorite color is blue.

ME:  Great, so just remember to keep that up during the interview.  Also, I need you to use people's names as often as possible, instead of saying he or she.  So if I say, "How does Johnny react to your big news?" you would not say "He reacts to my news in such and such way," you would say "Johnny reacts to my news in such and such way."  Make sense?

THEM:  Yes.

ME:  Great.  The last thing is try to always use present tense, like you're telling a joke.  "Johnny walks into the bar and the bartender says..." like that.

THEM:  Ok...

ME:  Wonderful.  Now, don't think about this stuff too hard, just answer naturally and if I need you to say anything differently, I'll direct you, ok?

THEM:  Ok!

ME:  Great, remember it's just tape, we can relax and do this right.  Ok, tell me your name and what you do...

And your interview has begun!

Most people will forget to use present tense (that one is really hard for interview subjects) and also using names instead of pronouns.  A good way to keep this on track is to frame your questions as sentences for your subject to finish.

ME:  Finish this sentence, "When I first see Johnny, I'm thinking..."

That way, when your subject answers by repeating what you just said, they will already be using present tense and other characters' names instead of pronouns.  Usually they will stick with it long enough to give you a good bite.  But if they have a lot of trouble with the concept of present tense, just let it go.  Better to have bites in past tense than no bites at all.  This goes also for emotional interviews, don't get sidetracked by coaching them on language or you'll kill their emotions in the moment.

Never, ever ask yes or no questions.  Ideally, every answer your subject gives should convey some feelings about something, never just information or scene set-up.  Producers call this "point A to point B stuff," and usually they tell you never to bother with it.  But if you've ever worked in postproduction, you know you often need that point A to point B stuff to set up a scene.  The best thing to do is ask them a question that begins with set-up info and leads into their feelings.

ME:  Finish this sentence, "When I hear that I have to share a bedroom with Johnny, I have to go talk to him immediately because I'm thinking..."


Remember to keep your energy up if you want them to keep their energy up.  You can't ask them to keep throwing high energy at a wall if you're not giving it back.  And a lot of bites with great content will never get used because the subject has low energy, and that makes any content instantly boring.  Try to get into the character of your subject a little bit...if you're interviewing the ladies' man, it's good to have some swagger of your own.  Don't be afraid to suggest funny or poignant lines.

Especially don't be afraid to converse with your subject 'off the record.'  You can decide together how they should answer a question and then get the 'official' answer.  Many times in the editing bay, we will use a mixture of both because the subject acts more naturally when they don't think they're 'really answering.'

Sometimes you will be interviewing subjects about serious and horrifying topics.  In this case, you want to be serious as well.  Remember, you set the tone.  If you are talking about something sad, channel your own depression.  If you want your subject's sadness to come through, you can't be mollifying or comforting them no matter how much you want to.  They will feel less sad and you will ruin your interview.  At the same time, you can't press too hard too fast or they won't want to continue.  It's a fine line and you will hone it over time.  And you can always comfort them after the camera is done rolling.


Try to maintain eye contact during the interview, and let them know you are listening.  Don't make the mistake of overpreparing for the interview by writing too many specific questions and limiting yourself to the answer you're expecting or hoping for going into the interview.  Be open to where the conversation takes you in an interview and you will often stumble onto gold.  Also follow the emotions you sense from the subject, they can take you to unexpected places.  My advice is keep a small bullet list of topics that you know you need to cover in this interview.  Discuss with your superior what they are expecting from this interview and make sure you keep that in mind.  Without a long list of questions, you are forced to stay engaged and listen to the subject which will yield better results for you; at the same time, you have your bullet list of story points so you know you will not miss anything vital.  Best of both worlds.

I realize this post is rather stream of consciousness, but that's the way it is when I'm working hard and getting ready for the holidays.  Quick shout out to Donner Pass, the film whose special features I edited, was mentioned in Variety.  And don't forget to check out the next episode of Gigolos on Showtime, Thursday at 11pm.

Part 2 coming soon...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sorry for the absence, I've been working a lot lately but I'll have some more posts soon that I'm very excited about.  In the meantime, check out this very good article from CNN.

What does it take to make a good reality show?

What do you think?

Monday, October 3, 2011


“The Perfect Stringout”
A blog by Steven Friedland

So, what is a stringout?  Simply put, a stringout is a sequence of shots that a Story Producer assembles and gives to an Editor to serve two purposes; 1) to give the Editor a “head start” on getting through the raw material that has been shot, and, 2) to give the Editor a “road map” on what the story of a specific scene should be.  Very often, the raw material of a reality show is random and unfocused, and decisions need to be made early on as to what the focus of scene should be.  The Story Producer will look at all the material for an episode and, together with the Supervising Story Producer/Co-Executive Producer, create a story arc of the episode.  The Story Producer will then sort through the raw footage and start creating sequences from the raw material that reinforce the central story arc to the episode.

Just so you know, I am writing this blog from the point of view of an Editor talking to a Story Producer.  Every production company handles story and stringouts in different fashions.  Often, a Story Producer will have to submit their stringouts to a Supervising Story Producer and get notes on them before an Editor ever sees them.  Other production companies prefer the Editor to watch ALL the raw and it is the job of the Story Producer to only pull interview bites for the Editor.  There are no “hard and fast rules” to the stringout, so if you are called upon to create one, use your best judgement.  And know, a stringout should be treated as an expression of your creativity.

So, what goes into “the perfect stringout”?  Well, that can be a bit tricky.  As an Editor, I prefer my stringouts to include any, and all, footage that could possibly be included in the final sequence, but at the same time, I prefer only “the best of the best”.  That would include all the best moments of reality, the best b-roll, interview bites and insert shots.  But only “the best of the best” – meaning, use your taste and select the best takes of interview bites (especially if there are multiple takes), and the moments that best express the story in the MOST CONCISE WAY.  Be selective.  Analyze performance and nuance.  Look for reaction shots that are provocative and telling.  This is YOUR opportunity to express your storytelling skills, so be brave and assert yourself.  But also, you don’t want to overwhelm the editor with options, otherwise the editor could just look at the raw material on their own.  Your stringout DOES NOT need to be an edit.  It is simply a series of shots in a timeline.  Don’t feel you need to make it look like an edited sequence ready for television. And DON’T ADD MUSIC TO YOUR STRINGOUT - !!  it is a waste of your time.

On average, a “scene” in a typical show runs between 2-3 minutes in length.  The raw material for a scene could be 1-2 hours in length, possibly even longer.  So, I don’t think a stringout in the 15-25 minute range is outrageous.  Of course, it needs to be the right 15-25 minutes of material.    If a conversation goes off on multiple threads/tangents, select the most pertainent conversation/s to the story.  Include any conversation that you feel is pertinent to the story/theme of the episode, but  DO NOT INCLUDE every conversation.  Make choices.  Also, make sure you include ALL entrances and exits of major characters, and any greetings and goodbyes of major characters.  Though, it will ultimately be up to the editor on whether these will be included, it can be a chore to have to scour through the footage to find these moments.

But most importantly, a stringout is the foundation for a scene; the basis for what the story of the scene will ultimately be.  It will go through multiple renditions before it makes it way to the television screen or the cutting room floor.  It can be and should be used as a tool to start conversations on what is the story of a scene.  Above all, any stringout that is prepared with insight and consideration, I consider to be a perfect stringout.

 --Steven Friedland is an Avid/Final Cut Pro editor for television and feature films.  Some of his current credits include "Real Housewives of the OC," "Modern Marvels," "Life on a Wire," and the upcoming feature film "Donner Pass."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

This means WAR!

Above is an example of what's known as a Wide Area Release.  When shooting in a public place, theater, or anywhere there will be a large group of people, you will need to use a wide area release.  These should be made into posters that are about three feet tall, posted at every entrance to the location, and you'll need to have the camera crew get shots of all the signs, showing where they are posted.

For more info on wide area releases, I contacted a friend who works as legal consult to reality productions, and she had this to say:

In public places they cover people passing by in the background.  If people are focused on or lingering in the background they need to be individually released.  For audiences, they generally cover everybody although we still try to individually clear people we focus on for long periods of time and definitely for anybody with whom we interact.  For employees, or others that don't have a choice to leave the area, they in general need to be released.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stanford Film School

See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin' education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library! 
Over the past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend some time on the Campus of Stanford University, which recently began a film production program in addition to their traditional film theory classes.  On visiting the campus bookstore, I saw the textbooks they are using for their non-fiction film studies.

New Challenges for Documentary: Second Edition by Alan Rosenthal
Introduction to Documentary: Second Edition by Bill Nichols
Directing the Documentary: Fifth Edition by Michael Rabiger
Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen: Third Edition by Sheila Curran Bernard

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Shoot a Phone Conversation

Shooting a phone conversation for reality television is an art unto itself.  It's not enough to just point the camera, we need options in the editing bay.  More often than not, a phone call will last long enough to get plenty of different angles for us to play with, but even short calls will need to be edited down.  So, if you don't get enough time to grab different angles during the actual call, have your subject listen or pretend to still be on the call for a couple minutes afterward while you shoot different cutaway angles.  Here are some examples:

This is your basic master shot of a subject talking on the phone. This shot and maybe a little tighter medium close up are usually what you see in post from an average field producer.  A GREAT field producer will take the time to make sure we have other angles to cover this conversation, understanding that we will need to edit this phone call down and spice it up.

So, a helpful shot might be a super wide...
I'd probably begin and end a scene with this shot and use the closer shots for the more emotional parts of the call.  This is also not a bad shot for covering bites.  It can also be very effective if the overall feeling of the scene needs to convey a character's loneliness.  Ask your subject to answer and hang up the phone in this shot, if you're shooting it as a pickup.  Here's another:

This is an extremely helpful shot for editing a conversation.  Why?  Because I can't see his mouth.  I can cover any part of the conversation with this shot.  If you're shooting this as a pickup after the actual phone call, make sure to have your subject listen AND talk in this shot.  Even though I can't see his mouth move, I can still tell whether or not he's talking based on cheek and jaw movement.  

Here's a great cutaway:
This is what we call "talking hands."  It's a close up of your subject's free hand, gesturing as if he is talking.  Based on whatever the phone call was, you might have your subject make angry gestures, happy gestures, explainy gestures, etc.

Especially if the scene was emotional, you may get a super close pickup shot like this:

Just the eyes, again make sure to get a few different reactions.  And shoot them talking AND listening.

If your subject was talking on speakerphone instead of holding the phone up to his ear, make sure to get a cutaway of just the phone.  Like this:

These different shots and cutaways only take a few minutes and can make A HUGE DIFFERENCE between a boring, static phone conversation and an exciting piece of television magic.  It also gives the editor freedom to construct the most effective phone conversation to serve the story.

Monday, September 26, 2011

hello again

Sorry for my absence on this blog the last few weeks.  Besides for my day job, I have been spending nights cutting the DVD special features for the upcoming horror/thriller Donner Pass.  Look for it in January 2012!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


When interviewing, take a moment to really look at your framing as an audience member.  Even with good content, viewers may be distracted if, say, your subject appears to be nude.

Or blends into the background.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Standard Appearance Release

Bringing up the rear of this release parade is the most important of all, the appearance release.  This gives you permission to use a person's likeness and voice in your show and you should try to never shoot anyone who hasn't already signed one of these.  Anyone who's face appears onscreen must sign an appearance release or they will have to be blurred, including random people walking by in the background.  Also worth noting is that subjects MUST BE SOBER when signing the release for it to be valid, or else they can sue you even if you have the release.

Usually during a shoot on the street, PA's help wrangle folks away from the camera, or intercept the ones who already walked through a shot to get them to sign a release.  So, an average show has hundreds of appearance releases, especially if there are scenes that take place in public, at a club, etc.  They need to be kept track of for a clearance coordinator to watch the cut and make sure everyone is released.  Best thing to do is write a large bold number on the back of every release beforehand, starting with 001 and going up from there.  After each person signs their release, have them hold up the side that has the number on it and take a digital picture of them.  This way, the number can be matched to the release and thus the release can be matched to the person in the footage.  If you have an iPad, there is an app for this so people can sign on the screen and you can just take a picture with the iPad's camera.

Here is a standard appearance release:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Standard Materials Release

Much like locations, photos and visual elements you wish to use in your show must be released before airing.  This would include artwork in the background, maps, archival photos, album and magazine covers, etc.  And it especially goes for any photos you want to use full frame or things like Billboard music charts that you often see on shows.

If you don't have permission to use these images and you can't cut around them, you will have to blur them in post.  This can be a nightmare if, say, your characters are having an important conversation while standing in front of a decorative poster.  A good field producer will remove any troublesome decorations from a location before shooting there, and a great producer will even clear images through Getty or another image library and decorate locations with already cleared images.

In the case of any artwork, this must be signed by the creator or rights holder, regardless of who currently owns the physical piece.

Here is a standard materials release:
Click here to download Materials Release as a word doc

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day to all you workers out there, thanks for all you do!  And especially those non-union reality television employees who have to work today (like me).

Sunday, September 4, 2011


When interviewing a subject about multiple episodes, it's good to slate the different portions of the interview.  Hold up a sheet of paper with the episode number written on it in large, bold letters and hold it there for at least ten seconds.  This way, story producers can find the relevant portions of the interview simply by scrubbing through the footage.  This is especially helpful on pickup interviews with tight deadlines, when they can't wait for transcriptions or watching the entire tapes down.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Standard Location Release form

Many people don't realize that, like any scripted show, reality TV shows can't shoot just anywhere.  You need explicit legal permission before anything airs, which really means you shouldn't bother shooting anywhere you don't have that permission already.  Even if you just want to show the exterior and then match it to a different interior, you still must have permission.  Below is a standard location release form that can be used to obtain permission to shoot at a location and use its image, and it must be signed by the location's owner.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"In scripted television, it is easier to pick an angle, since they shoot coverage for everything.  But, in our case, we don't have cutaways.  If a contestant says something brilliant, but it takes two minutes and I have to cut that down, I don't have a cutaway.  I have to steal a cutaway by going over to a dancer, or something along those lines.  This type of work is hard to do because you have no coverage and no script.  So we are always making something from scratch."
--Pamela Malouf, Dancing With the Stars editor in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of Editors Guild Magazine

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Transcription formatting

For a couple of years around 2005, I made a pretty good living as an interview transcriber for reality shows.   A production assistant would drop of VHS tapes of raw footage at my apartment and pick them up when I was done.  I was paid $1 per minute of footage and at my peak I could get through 1800 minutes in a week.

Here is a transcript style guide I got from an Executive Producer that I carried through that time and introduced to many different companies.  This assumes you are using a word processing program and is most helpful if you are papercutting, but can be used for script synching in Avid as well.  This guide is written in the font you should be using, Courier.

Nice-looking transcripts and transcripts that are easy to work with are often two different things. I'll take the latter. We cut and paste name, tape, timecode information and bites directly from the transcript - so that's what this is geared toward. 

He's some things that would help me greatly:  
1) No Autoformatting. No tabs. Tabs remain after cutting and pasting and they're a pain to eliminate . Autoformatting is worse because it can change the format of the sections it's copied to.  
2) The easiest standard format for me to use when cutting and pasting any bite is as follows:  
(TAPE #, TIMECODE) Quote, in sentence case.  
(B1606, 01:23:34) Dan says that I could cut this thing straight into a script and make a few small adjustments when cutting in the partial sections etc and have this work pretty well. The advantage of having the timecode beneath the name is that we can easily reach an interim timecode, without having to cut and paste it above. 
3) Interim timecodes do help when there's a long quote. Again - simple formats are best. (B1606, 01:25:04) It's good to have a timecode at least every 30 seconds or so.  
4) Questions can be paraphrased. They matter very little, except to help me remember the context which is usually pretty obvious anyway.  
5) Ums, ahs, long pauses etc are good to see in the transcript. Just write the ums and ahhs and use ... for the pauses and (pause) for the long pauses.  
6) Generally - it's worth a second look or a third before the word (unintelligible) gets typed in. If it's that bad - fair enough, but I've known some transcribers with big companies who used this because they didn't understand an accent or really couldn't be bothered. Mumbles are mumbles, but please check to be sure. 
7) Spellcheck
8) Please do not delete any transcript files from your hard drive until requested. 

If you can master the copy and paste command keys, and the 12 button number keyboard, the repetitive tape and timecode notation goes much faster.

Also, I can definitely vouch for the last point as well, I always keep my own personal backups for transcripts and it has come in handy and even saved the day when files are lost between seasons or during moves.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

5th Annual Prime Cuts Panel

This weekend I went to the excellent 5th Annual Prime Cuts panel at the historic Aero Theatre in beautiful Santa Monica.  The esteemed panel was made up of this year's Emmy nominated editors, including several nonfiction editors, moderated by venerable Executive Producer Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield).  I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm and one question in particular which he posed to Mike Bolanowski.

SR:  "20 or 30 years ago, TV was looked down upon in relation to film.  And you know a lot of shows in the last ten, fifteen years have kind of changed that perception.  Now [the] reality [television genre] feels a little bit like the thing that gets looked down upon in comparison to some of the other genres, and yet it's extraordinarily popular as a genre.  As someone working on the inside of it, in your mind, does it deserve to be considered as an artistic form with some of these other genres on tv?  And do you see that perception hardening or changing?

MB:  "It's always been a perception that I don't understand.  To do a show like The Amazing Race or a show like Survivor, the higher-end reality shows I would call them, you have to have a tremendous tool set to do it well.  The problem with reality is there's so much of it and it's really sort of gone down the slant.  It's really about making money in a lot of senses and it's become throwaway or just so built on sensationalism that you've gotta pick and choose what you're gonna work on or you're gonna find yourself being miserable, at least in my opinion.

"Do I feel 'less than' as a reality editor?  Not at all.  I feel like I can cut anything, any day of the week.  And I feel reality--a show like The Amazing Race is probably the hardest show to cut on television.  Comparatively, I've worked on a lot of other shows; they're difficult but, you know, the thing about a show like ours is, yeah, it's a game and there's an elimination each week or there's whatever, there's parts of the game, but it's not in a studio, it's never shot the same way.  When you sit down to start an episode, you have no idea what you're getting, you don't know how it was shot, they don't know how--I mean, they plan it as they go.  So, it's a real challenge.  So I don't think that--to answer your question, some of the reality, yeah, it's pretty on the low end, I would call it, you know, but--

SR:  "I didn't mean to be prejorative, by the way!  I'm asking your opinion and you gave a great answer."

MB:  "No, no!"

SR:  "It sounds like you consider it to be a great training ground either to do more and better reality or to do some of these other genres."

MB:  "Yeah.  I mean, I've seen a lot of great scripted editors fail tremendously on a show like The Amazing Race, because it is a different sort of a thing, you know?  So to me, here's the thing about editing, I always think editing is editing.  If you can do it, like you get it, it's all storytelling.  It's really just what genre you end up doing.  When I moved out to LA it was like, 'Oh, you better pick what you want to do because if you're gonna be a drama editor, you can only cut drama and how dare you think that you can cut comedy?' or 'you have to do scripted or only reality.'  The lines, with technology, have blurred.  You still run into the whole idea of executives at networks or executives on different shows being like, 'Oh, that guy's never cut this or that, so he clearly couldn't do it,' but I think that's a big misnomer.  I think that many reality editors would make great scripted editors, and vice versa.  But I do think--I know a lot of scripted editors and feature editors, very, very successful ones, and they've said to me, 'That show, I wouldn't want any part of that because it just seems overwhelming at times.'  So, you know, that's sort of my answer on that."

SR: "That's a great answer."

I agree that was a great answer, I was happy that the subject was brought up because there is definitely an unfair stigma towards reality television as being somehow less valid than scripted.  Personally, I would actually take it further and say that reality television is definitely an editor's medium and we can go places creatively that scripted editors could never dream of.  Largely because we have a lot more control over the material.  And given the amount of footage we start with and the timetables we operate on, with no scripts to guide, often no logs or transcripts even, I believe that reality editors are faster, better critical and creative problem solvers than any other genre.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Score one for Red State

Last Sunday night, my lovely girlfriend Chelsea and I attended a screening of Kevin Smith's new flick, Red State.  After the screening, he spoke for about an hour about various aspects of making the horror movie, a departure from his normal comedy adventures.  Using no traditional act structure and skewering story tropes, Kevin calls this an experimental film, explaining, “Everything is designed to keep you off balance.  All the things that allow an audience member to sit there and be ahead of the movie, we just throw out.”

One thing Smith mentioned was the importance of score, or in the case, the lack thereof.  "I put some score into the scenes and I was like, 'this feels like fucking bullshit, like this just dropped and it just became a fuckin’ movie.'  Take the score out and like, 'shit this is real.'  it forces the audience to decide how they feel at any given moment.  I’m not telegraphing or telling you how to feel via the music.  I let you decide how to feel, and that’s difficult in this movie from time to time.”

In reality television, it's often necessary to tell the audience how to feel via music to quickly tell complex stories or add meaning to footage that was maybe a little soft to begin with.  On most shows we have wall-to-wall music, meaning there is almost never any significant time without music of some kind playing.  Usually a cue will last 30 seconds to a minute, so a one-hour show (about 43 minutes without commercials) will have around 75 music cues in it.

That being said, it can be very powerful to remove score at key moments to draw attention to drama.  If you're having a tough time deciding which cue to use during a sad, tense or even joyful moment, consider dropping out the score as your solution.  If you've properly set up the stakes and emotion in previous scenes, trust your audience to react accordingly.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Get in the habit of calling people sir or ma’am, regardless of their age or status.  This is a rough and tumble business in a rough and tumble town, and using this small sign of respect can sometimes instantly make you the most polite person in the room.  Sir and ma’am have often helped me make a great and memorable first impression, and never hurt.  No risk, all reward.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What is an OTF interview?

OTF stands for “on the fly,” and it’s a type of interview that is done on the spur of the moment with little or no planning.   They are generally emotion based, and you needn’t bother to ask for point-to-point setup information in an OTF situation.

When to OTF:
  • If something dramatic has just happened, but the dust has pretty much settled.  But don’t interrupt characters that are still talking to each other about a dramatic event, rather wait for them to finish when they are alone.  This is why you often see them done in cars, as the character is driving away after something dramatic.
  • If there are characters that only appear in this scene and you will never get a chance to really interview them.  For example, if a spoiled character has to get a job for this episode, make sure to OTF the boss at the job and fellow employees. 

  • Likewise, you should OTF the main cast if you are in a location that you will never visit again so you can have them on camera in that space.  So make sure to OTF the spoiled character while they’re in their embarrassing work uniform.
  • If the character is doing something and you want them to explain their actions while they are doing it, particularly if their routine is the subject of the program.  For example, if your show is about heroin addicts, have them explain to you what they are doing with each step of getting the drug ready, cooking it, shooting it, etc, while they are getting high.  Be careful not to overdue this method, make sure you have some footage of the character going through their routine silently.

The Holy Trinity

Directors, crew and even Executive Producers often have little patience for OTFs and ten minutes is considered a very long OTF.  If for some reason you have time to ask only three questions, they should be:

1.  How do you feel about what just happened?
2.  How did you feel before it happened?
3.  How did you feel while it was happening?

In the worst case scenario, any other information can be supplied in post.  Characters can be identified by lower thirds, scenes can be set up by narrators or title cards, but one thing we cannot create in post is how someone felt at the time.  If you can get nothing else out of an OTF, find out how the character feels.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is a Story Producer?

Defining job titles in the realm of reality television is often difficult if not impossible as the line between jobs can be blurry at best.  Also, there are hundreds of production companies out there, and they all have their own way of working, so your title doesn't always translate from company to company.  So, with that caveat, depending on where you work or the type of show, the duties of a story producer may include all or some of the following:

  • field logging
  • interviewing talent on camera
  • field producing scenes
  • writing hot sheets
  • tracking story through field and/or post 
  • beating out the episode, creating a story grid
  • finding and watching all of the raw footage
  • cutting stringouts/papercutting
  • managing editors and handling their requests for footage and interview bites
  • creating frankenbites
  • researching any science or statistics used in graphics or VO
  • writing VO
  • writing and conducting pick-up interviews
  • addressing notes (in-house and then from the network)
  • working with production coordinators to secure releases for subjects/ locations / artwork / photos / music / articles, etc
  • making sure the episode includes all advertising and graphics requirements, conforms to S&P, and is to time
  • Watching down outputs for QC
We will discuss many of these bullet points in detail in later posts.  But for now, you can see it's a lot to do and usually not a lot of time to do it in.  An average hour of reality television is in post production for about five to seven weeks before going to the network as a rough cut.

Your average story producer for a non-union show is paid by the week and therefore can be (and usually is) worked to the bone for as many hours per week as they can stay awake.  Ideally a story producer will be in the field during the shooting of his episode(s), conducting his own interviews, writing his own logs, etc.  But often story producers are not included until the post production process, starting a week or two before their editors begin cutting the show.  So, the trick is to keep "feeding the machine," that is, keep one step ahead of the editor with stringouts and everything they need so that story is already thought through and they can concentrate just on editing.  All the while, story producers must keep the full episode in mind, track story at all times, and make sure everything flows storywise.  The episode basically only exists in the story producer's head until there is a rough cut.

On a non-union show, the story producer will use an Avid editing system to make basic edits to the raw footage, cutting it down and streamlining it as much as possible before it goes to the editor, adding interview bites where needed.  On a union show, the story producer is not allowed to touch an Avid and must write his stringouts using tape numbers and time codes, and they are later assembled by an AE (this is called papercutting).  I personally cannot imagine a world without using my Avid for story, it just makes the whole process go so much faster, it's a much more immediate way to see if a scene is working, and it's just more fun.

Sometimes a story producer is lucky enough to have a story editor, which is basically an assistant to the story producer.  They share in the duties, but they are not held accountable if something goes wrong, and they generally handle the less important scenes or requests.  Ideally, the story editor and story producer are a team that work on several episodes together, but often due to budget constraints there are more story producers than story editors and they act as sort of a "story editor pool," where any editor or producer can make requests of them and those requests are prioritized by deadline.  

That's basically what a story producer does.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Edit Fest LA 2011

Thanks to my good friend Marika Ellis, I recently attended Edit Fest LA 2011, the first of its kind weekend seminar about the art of editing.  While there, I particularly enjoyed the closing panel, featuring some of Hollywood's hottest young television editors talking about their craft and tips for the mostly college-age crowd in attendance.

Among the panelists was Hunter M. Via, A.C.E., an editor for AMC's acclaimed series The Walking Dead, who gave some real world advice that I think applies to any job in this business of show.  "It's remarkable how quickly people can rise and fall," Hunter said of life in the industry.  "Don't burn bridges."  To back up his point, he went on to tell a story about a tweet gone wrong that required lawyers and scariness.  Panel moderator Steve Rasch, A.C.E. added that he decorates his desk with a piece of tape under the monitor which reads ABN, a secret reminder to himself to "Always Be Nice."

I think this is good advice especially for the reality television genre, as it is truly the wild west of Hollywood today.  Today's transcriber is tomorrow's supervising producer, all while I'm still an editor.  And today's fellow editor is tomorrow's Executive Producer (I've seen this happen literally overnight).  So be nice to everyone, because you really never know where they will end up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cold Open

No wait! I did come here to make friends…aww jeez.

Hello, my name is Dan. I am a reality television editor and I find my job incredibly rewarding, challenging and stimulating every day. Before becoming an editor, I have been a Story Producer, Story Editor, Story Assistant, Transcriber, Logger, Production Assistant, Secret Santa and Story Consultant.

I love what I do and I highly recommend reality television as a career choice. My goal with this blog is to give the complete newcomer some idea of what it’s really like to produce and deliver nonfiction entertainment today.

I hope you enjoy!