SportsPost NY: As Edit Workflows Evolve, Storytellers Maintain Focus on What Matters Most

Telling the story, whether in a long-form feature or a 30-second tease, requires more than good equipment and technical knowledge. Yet, as the industry shifts toward file-based workflow, both are pivotal to getting content from the field to air. At SVG’s first-annual SportsPost:NY event, hosted by HBO, leading producer and postproduction professionals discussed their storytelling philosophies and how their positions have evolved since the days of tape.

“The biggest difference is we’re doing so much of it filed-based,” said Drew Gallagher, features manager, ESPN. “We’re still editing the same as we always were with all our same editors, all our same out-of-house facilities.” The key is managing the media differently. “What we want people to do is to string out a show that maybe we can take a pass [through], rather than just look at a paper script.”


ESPN’s Drew Gallager and YES Network’s Woody Freiman

Depending on the size of the project, ESPN has shifted for the most part towards storing media on 1-TB hard drives. Not only must producers treat this media differently than tape … they must find somewhere to put the drives.

“Therein is the problem we’re running into right now: how to archive this stuff,” said Gallagher. “Right now, I’ll be honest with you, we’re archiving in drawers of producers’ desks. That’s our challenge right now.”

In addition to deciding where to archive file-based materials, postproduction professionals must figure out how to archive media and for how long. Those capturing content in the field must develop a better sense of the workflow and greater attention to detail in order to handle the material correctly.

HBO has addressed this need by creating a media-manager position — someone who is responsible for the material at all points in the workflow, from gathering material in the field to ingesting it into HBO’s Avid ISIS system.

“There’s obviously a huge change from the days where we shot on tape reels, labeled them, put them in our bag, and walked home,” said Bill McCullough, creative director, HBO Sports. “With all the efficiencies that have emerged, there’s also some challenges. Production Assistants in the field now need to have a little bit more knowledge; it’s not just labeling tape. … Now you really need this media manager and IT person to sit there and understand what you’re shooting, what frame rate you’re shooting, how you’re shooting it.”


HBO Sports’ Bill McCullough

Once the material is archived, however, there must be a system enabling producers to access it. The panelists agreed that metadata management must be a part of the archiving conversation.

“Over the last few years, we’ve moved to a totally digital system and started archiving all of our material,” said Woody Freiman, VP, production and programming, YES Network. “The biggest challenge is logging and creating the metadata basis to the workflow so everybody can find material.”

According to Freiman, YES Network has developed a successful workflow of capturing on Panasonic P2 cards in the field, transferring material onto the network’s systems, and cataloging the contents properly.

Across the Hudson River, the New York Giants’ workflow centers on the 16 Sundays that comprise the NFL regular season.

“What we’re doing is trying to build this emotional bond between our fans and our team. All of our TV programs, all of our Web shows, all the things that we’re doing for game day all builds toward the game on Sunday,” said Don Sperling, VP/executive producer, New York Giants. “Whether we go out-of-house to do animation or whether we do graphical stuff in-house, we’re building a week-long story that ultimately culminates in the game.”


New York Giants’ Don Sperling

The equipment used is certainly an essential part of the editorial equation. As cameras evolve, producers are able to get better-quality shots and more unique perspectives and rely less on aftereffects. Efficiencies in the field allow more time to develop the creative process. However, the panelists stressed that better technology is no substitute for storytelling ability.

“When it comes to the storytelling, you have to have established editors that know how to tell a story,” said Sperling, noting that just knowing how to use Apple Final Cut Pro is not enough.

Editing programs like Final Cut Pro have become far more intuitive than their tape-based predecessors, and, because of this, the editor position has become far less technical.

“[Learning] Avid or Final Cut is no different from [learning] Excel or Word. I can teach you how to do it. That’s not really what editing is,” said McCullough. “Editing, in my opinion, is the ability to tell a story, and so the editors that we like to work with are the guys who are actually storytellers. We’ve all heard the preditor [producer/editor] term, but there really is a conversion of roles happening in the industry because of technology.”

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