Ellen Gets Serious with Avid’s Collaborative Capabilities
Ellen DeGeneres is... Quirky. Offbeat. Self-effacing. Real. A really cool dancer. And most of all, funny. Behind the scenes, though, that’s one thing she and her production crew are not.
For instance, in one episode, Ellen was intent on bringing George Clooney into the studio since his office is right across the street. To lure him in, they decided to use a backlog of prior attempts to provide a comedic framework. That meant going through 17-18 shows in which he was previously mentioned to assemble a clip list.
At other times, Ellen has gone out with Britney Spears and club-hopping with Paris Hilton. “There’s no scripted process,” comments Clark Burnett, Senior Editor, “she’s very impromptu. A lot of it is last-minute stuff where we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants.”
Working Better Together
The key is collaboration. To keep up with the show’s pace, multiple editors need to throw timelines at each other without linkage problems or bugs. This works easily in the Avid environment; with Avid Unity MediaNetwork sharing, no one ever has to worry about two editors collaborating on Media Composer. It’s like Ellen and her guests: they all invariably play well together.
Currently, the show utilizes a complement of 10 Media Composer editing systems, a Unity shared storage network, a Thunder graphics production server and Deko for graphics.
After going with Final Cut Pro last season, based in large part on costs, the show ended up coming back to Avid this season. Of particular concern was Final Cut Pro’s inability to deliver the collaboration Ellen’s show required while the Avid arrived with its collaborative capabilities baked in.
The results have been quick and unequivocal. From the way it stores media to how it locks down permissions on a bin, the need to chase down problems and bugs has virtually disappeared since the changeover.
On a smaller scale...it Final Cut Pro might be a fantastic system, but for us, we just kind of went past it.
Anchoring the Advantages
The Avid solutions package they are working with now provides the show with a laundry list of advantages. But one that anchors them all is the way it provides everyone in the production chain with simultaneous access as well as the ability to work on any piece of media content at any time during the creative process.
“I’ve never had to worry that having two editors collaborate on Media Composer with shared storage,” comments Jason Schroeder (engineer at Telepictures, production company for The Ellen DeGeneres Show) “one guy closes the sequence, the other guy opens it up, everything plays.”
Shot primarily in DVCPro HD format, with field pieces delivered in a variety of formats, from P2 to XDCAM HD and even cheap DV cameras, the show is recorded using an Omneon media server, from which content is transferred to an Avid Unity shared storage system.
Avid Unity is a key for the show, allowing a small production army to share an array of disparate editing components. Since Ellen dances all the time, a 15-minute pre-show segment of her warming up the audience is shot, then cut into a 90 second package that can be rolled onto the top of the show within 20 minutes of being taped.
The promotion department even uses a satellite Media Composer to tie into a slave unit at the studio. They can then access media from the studio servers so their editors can not only cut promos in their home offices, but redeliver the media back to the studio once they’re done with it.
The Show Must Go On -- Daily
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Getting The Ellen DeGeneres Show to air on a day-to-day basis is no simple task. Two package editors build montage and human interest pieces while a post production supervisor handles media on the Unity, from clean outputs to tape to burning DVDs.
A show editor and associate director get the show to conform to time and a tease editor digitizes the show off the cuff, building teasers while the show is running. Meanwhile, a graphic designer with access to all Media Composer and Avid Unity resources works with outside software in tandem with Thunder and Deko to build the graphic components.
With that much to do, turnaround time used to be 6-7 hours several seasons ago. Now, it’s less than half of that. This not only makes for a happier crew, but allows the backend staff additional time to prepare for their next show.
Of course, any TV production package is only as good as the service that supports it. When competitive issues surfaced last season, Avid demonstrated an uncompromising level of responsiveness and technical support. That was aided by the production team’s considerable experience in having worked with Avid in the past. The feeling on the part of many was that they were glad it was back and regretted having left it in the first place.
What Avid Means to the Team
That feeling is reflective of how Avid as a whole is perceived. “Avid went from a behemoth that could do no wrong and was a little on the pricey side to one in flux due to rising competition,” comments Schroeder. “Now, it’s back to ‘let’s just help customers make good television and make sure it’s spot on for what they need.’”
See how The Ellen DeGeneres Show system works
- Complete end-to-end DVCPro HD workflow
- 6 live HD cameras
- Omneon Server (converts HD signal to DVCPro100 1080i)
- Avid Unity MediaNetwork v5 – 64TB (8 x 8TB Media Engine)
- Deko and Thunder HD Graphics
- 10 Fibre-attached Media Composer Nitris DX systems
- 8 for creative editorial
- 2 for engineering