Strange Things Are Happening Again - in Primetime.
The name J.J. Abrams is enough to elicit high expectations for any new series. The inventive creator behind the hugely successful Lost and Alias has a knack for leaving audiences confused, riveted, and - above all - addicted. This fall he is at it again. His latest series, Fringe, involves government operatives, crazed scientific geniuses, an engagingly indecipherable plot, and a little humor for good measure. The show, which stars Australian actress Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), and Mark Valley (Boston Legal), airs Tuesday nights on Fox.
Editor Scott Vickrey, A.C.E., describes the show this way: “It’s a little like The X-Files and a little like CSI. Mysterious things are happening all of the time, and every episode is different, but related in some way. No one knows where all of these bizarre [occurrences] are coming from -something is going on behind the scenes that an average person just doesn’t understand.”
Keeping pace with the one-hour show’s high-speed action, sophisticated visual effects, and rapid-fire technical dialogue requires a fair amount of horsepower behind the scenes. Three editors (Vickery, Tanya Swerling, and Jon Dudkowski) and three assistants (Luyen Vu, Chad Rubel, and Lisa De Moraes) use six Avid Media Composer systems connected to an Avid Unity MediaNetwork, all provided by Los Angeles-based Digital Vortechs. The 7.5 terabytes of shared storage enable the entire editing team to simultaneously access and flexibly share media and projects on the fly to streamline the editing process.
It’s a little like The X-Files and a little like CSI. Mysterious things are happening all of the time.
Finding Time to Carve Out the Mystery
Time savings are essential for creating each episode, which runs a longer-than-usual 50 minutes each week (most hour-long shows average 43 minutes in actual program time). So squeaking out all the time possible for creative decision-making requires that the editing workflow be fast and full featured. The latest Media Composer version 3.0.1 software, which the team is currently pairing with Avid Adrenaline hardware, provides speedy processing and rendering times, along with a sophisticated set of editing, visual effects, and audio tools that can handle all of the show’s editorial requirements. The real-time multicam viewing is particularly useful. “We take advantage of anything that can speed up the show,” says Vickrey, who also relies on the Media Composer software’s 24-track audio capabilities to handle the show’s temp sound effects and music to create a director’s cut that is as complete as possible for review.
Vickrey is enjoying working with the latest Media Composer software. “It’s just like being on older software. It’s very stable and very fast. I’m really happy with it. I am also picking up more and more of the latest visual effects tools that are offered,” he says.
He has yet to get hands-on experience with all of the software’s newest features, such as real-time multi-window timecode burn-in and enhanced subtitling. Right now, he is trying the ScriptSync feature for the first time. The script-based editing tool uses phonetic speech indexing technology to automatically sync the lines of dialogue from the script with associated takes in the media. Vickrey believes that the ScriptSync feature can be a powerful creative tool, especially for tight turnaround projects. He explains, “There are times when someone might say, ’Is there a softer reading of that line?’, but we may be so short on time that we let it go and do not take the time to find another reading. With ScriptSync, I can get to that line a lot quicker. Seeing alternate lines can really help us [with character development], especially during this first season when we are asking a lot of questions … how evil should this character be? Or how quirky should this character be?”
Establishing the personalities of the main characters has been a large part of the creative editorial challenge so far on Fringe. “Because it is a mystery - in some ways you don’t know a lot about these characters. Every week you learn a little bit more,” says Vickrey. “We do things like cut to reaction shots and stay in them a little longer. And we definitely want to stay on their eyes for certain lines. We want the audience to pick up on certain cues. With the first few shows, we are really focused on [the deepening mystery of the plot] and setting up the recurring characters.”
We take advantage of anything that can speed up the show.
An efficient post workflow enables the editorial team to stay focused on the artistic aspects of the show’s development. Each episode is shot on 35mm film in New York where it is processed at Company 3. The media is then shipped to Los Angeles-based Level 3 Post and delivered to the editors on hard drives complete with Avid media and bins for quick ingest. Dailies are also telecined to D5 HD tape for online editing and mastering and to DVCAM for backup in the editing suites.
After the cut is locked, Level 3 Post handles the online editing, using an Avid DS system. Avid bins are e-mailed from the offline editors to Level 3 Post, where the D5 HD dailies are used for the conform, transferring every edit and visual effect from the locked cut done on the Media Composer system. The finishing process is also enhanced by the easy exchange of digital files with the audio team, which uses Digidesign Pro Tools digital audio workstations for various audio processes.
Vickrey, who has edited numerous movies of the week, is relatively new to series television and has been enjoying the work. “It’s an interesting new challenge. With a brand new show, you really try to figure it out as you go along,” he says.
Particularly on Fringe, where the weekly episodes are designed to be entertaining yet puzzling. “It’s one of those shows that you really want to stick with and listen to carefully,” says Vickrey. “These are very interesting, very different stories that are really fascinating.”
The editors are hooked just working on each program. “What’s exciting about working on this show is looking forward to the next show and what is going to happen,” says Vickrey. “It is not clear cut. Who is good? Who is bad? How can I explain that? Working with J.J. Abrams, he’s such a smart storyteller. This show is really fun.”
Credits:©2008 Fox Broadcasting Co.
Edit a new one-hour show using a fast and full-featured editing setup that can streamline the production of each longer-than-usual, 50-minute program.
Use six Avid Media Composer systems connected to an Avid Unity MediaNetwork so three editors and a team of assistants can share projects and media simultaneously.
Use the Media Composer version 3.0.1 software to take advantage of the latest real-time multicam and visual effects tools, plus ScriptSync script-based editing.
Offline: 14:1 SD
Online: 1:1 HD