No Time To Waste!
COW Library : What Computer Should I Buy? : Dylan Reeve : No Time To Waste!
Shortland Street is a show that's difficult to put into perspective for anyone outside of New Zealand. It airs five nights a week in prime time on the country's most watched channel, TV 2, and has an immense social influence: something like 95% of people over 14 have watched the show at some point, and it regularly achieves a 50 share. The show's reach is unmatched.
It's produced by South Pacific Pictures, best known internationally for Whale Rider, and who also produce many other shows and features -- but nothing else on the scale of five nights a week. At the beginning of 2011, we took all post in-house, where I serve as both Post Production Supervisor and finishing editor.
The show is shot in a 3-camera studio style, and we use an EditShare Geevs multi-channel recorder to capture the line cut and up to three iso channels, directly to Avid DNxHD 185. We make 250 episodes a year in 49 weeks, just over five episodes a week, every week.
Shooting Shortland Street
Shooting and post generally runs about eight weeks ahead of air, on a bit of a complicated schedule. Here's how one episode works over a two-week cycle. It begins with two days of location shooting, Monday and Wednesday in what we could call Week One. The studio shoot for that episode begins on Tuesday of Week Two. On the Monday of Week Two, we begin to edit location footage from Week One, and on Tuesdays we start cutting that day's studio footage. By Friday of Week Two, we are typically cutting footage shot the same morning.
In Week Three (the second edit week), the director does a cut on Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday is a screening with the producers. We do a producers' cut on Thursday, and we're done. We treat the episodes in blocks of five, creating, in essence, a feature film every week: 115 to 117 minutes of finished television, every week, 49 weeks a year.
A scene from Shortland Street: (L-R) Nurse Nicole Miller (Sally Martin), Dr. Chris Warner (Michael Galvin) and Dr. Gabrielle Jacobs (Virginie Le Brun).
We offline on Avid Media Composer, and always have, even when we were sending the show out for finishing. When Shortland Street started over 20 years ago, they worked tape-to-tape, but since going nonlinear, Avid has always been the answer. There was actually never any question about it. In New Zealand, there haven't been any strongly adopted alternatives in television drama.
Our broadcast deliverable is still HDCAM tape, but when we decided to bring the finishing in-house, we also decided not to get a tape deck. Instead, we deliver an Avid sequence to the same post house that does our audio mix. They marry the picture and sound onto a tape for us.
Shortland Street's control room.
I also archive a file-based copy of it all. The EditShare system includes Ark, their archival system. I make a DNxHD 185 mixdown of everything at the end of the process that gets its own workspace on the server, and which then gets backed up onto LTO tapes. We also archive a consolidated version of everything we make, and we archive every second of footage we shoot -- around two terabytes per week. We have a LOT of LTO tapes!
EDITING & FINISHING
We have two editors, and since the editing of each episode spans two weeks, they alternate: one is editing, and the other is working with the director to finalize the previous block. Both of them are working with HP Z400 workstations running Avid Media Composer 5, using the Matrox MXO2 Mini for monitoring.
We also have an assistant who manages assets, and because our location shooting is done on P2, imports it and transcodes it to DNxHD.
She also cuts the recaps that go at the beginning of every episode and picks up the editing slack as need be, running Media Composer 5 on a third Z400. The final step in her part of an episode is to prepare the sequences to pass to me for the Avid Symphony grade.
Shooting a locker room scene with TK Samuels (Ben Mitchell) for Shortland Street
In addition to my role as Post Production Supervisor, I also function as the finishing editor, running Symphony 6 on an HP Z800. I use Symphony to remove booms and shadows, minor VFX refinements, screen replacements, paint-outs and general fixes along with the grade itself.
Working with the line cut of the controlled studio environment isn't hard, but location footage can be challenging. I would very much struggle to complete this volume of work without Symphony color correction features like relational grading abilities and the direct in-timeline grading.
A file-based workflow has done a lot to help us manage post simply and with immediacy. We can get a call from the control room, "We've just shot something that we're worried about. Can you take a look?" And we look right then, because the files are available to us while the crew are still shooting.
THE FUTURE OF NLEs AND WORKSTATIONS
Earlier this year I also worked on a small, lower budget show for SPP, Golden, which I graded in DaVinci Resolve. (I have DaVinci Resolve on the same system with Symphony and the Avid Artist panel, but I haven't found a workflow using Resolve with Symphony yet that handles the volume of footage we shoot, in the time I have. I have a day -- a day and a half at most -- to grade a block of 5 episodes.)
When we started to use Resolve, we did briefly look at the Mac Pro, but it really wasn't a realistic option. I wasn't particularly impressed with the specs, and couldn't justify investing the money in a workstation platform that wasn't up to date. To be honest, I'm skeptical about the future of the Mac Pro in general, and I wouldn't invest in it until I know where it's going.
The approach I've taken to workstations instead is that I want to buy something that I know will work, that I don't have to worry about, and that I know that Avid recommends. That's why I have been using HP workstations almost exclusively. I'm even still getting value from our "retired" HP xw workstations.
When Apple neglected to upgrade the Mac Pro, for me the future of workstations became only HP. It's not that HP is the only company making workstations, but of the things I've used to do this job, Apple and HP provided the products. Apple doesn't seem to want to do that anymore, but HP does. I've been very happy with HP workstations, and they clearly want to continue making them for this market.
Title image from the must-see Shortland Street. TK Samuels (Ben Mitchell) carrying Hunter McKay (Lee Donoghue) from a car accident on a 90-minute Shortland Street special.