One World Concert Production Team Takes At-Home Efforts to New Heights
Digital production technologies unite 150+ pieces of content into a single show
One World: Together at Home this past weekend was broadcast on ABC, CBS, and NBC as well as on multiple online platforms, and it showed how the power of music and storytelling combined with digital production technologies could do something that would have been unthinkable only five years ago: have more than 150 pieces of content created for a six-hour show that was produced and directed with everyone working from home.
“It was a big challenge not having a producer in the edit bay to help cut together a lot of the packages and news stories,” says Executive Producer Michael Dempsey, who has handled many big-time shows, such as the ESPYs, Critics Choice Awards, and NHL Awards. He oversaw the six-hour online show, which was broadcast on April 18. “We did have one producer who was married to one of the editors, which helped, but we used Evercast for the assembly of the show, so it was like we were in the edit bay and able to talk to the editor.”
Also a challenge was making sure that everyone involved played by the WHO/CDC recommendations concerning social distancing. Spouses, significant others, and children played the role of camera operator, and in-home studios were utilized in a new way.
The online six-hour broadcast was a mix of music performances, celebrity messages, and news stories about the coronavirus. It included 68 songs by artists around the world as well as 20 celebrity messages and 30 unique news pieces. An additional 29 songs also came in but weren’t used, and event organizers are figuring out how to put them to use via VOD or another offering.
“We scoured the internet for interesting stories and then reached out to people to shoot the stories on their phones,” Dempsey says.
With so many artists contributing content from so many nations and in so many languages, he adds, specs for the format to shoot in and how to shoot on a phone (iPhone was the camera of choice) were put in laymen’s terms.
“We told them how to shoot and what settings work best for video, and that really worked out well,” he says. “There was no push back, and everyone was just grateful to be part of it. There were some language barriers, but it went pretty smooth. The hardest part was waking up to so many emails every day.”
The submissions showed a wide range of skill levels and ambition, he notes. Some artists would shoot just one angle while others recorded themselves from various perspectives.
“We did the editing for much of it, but some artists also delivered completely edited packages,” Dempsey says. “Hozier, who is in Ireland, recently did a new song with Marin Morris, who is in Nashville, and, within 48 hours, she recorded her part, he recorded his. They exchanged the files and then sent us a piece that was mixed.”
How is all that content pulled together in only three weeks? WebEx meetings in the morning provided status reports from everyone, including talent bookers and the editors.
“There was a core group of about four of us who were also on a group text, and that was the most efficient way to communicate,” says Dempsey. “It sounds elementary, but it worked and got things done.”
With the musical performances in hand, the last element was to find a host for each hour of the show. “We gave them more of the heavy lifting when it came to the messaging of the show,” Dempsey notes.
Audrey Morrissey, who is the creative force behind The Voice, oversaw the two-hour primetime special, which was directed by Alex Coletti. Jeff Jacobs served as a show runner on the event. An editorial challenge was to figure out if the show was going to be political or not, was going to be about entertainment and happiness or about awareness of the coronavirus.
“The trick was showing the issues but also still be positive,” says Jacobs.
One of the trickiest things from a production standpoint was working with three TV networks as well as entities like Apple, Amazon, and YouTube to ensure that there was proper framing for lower thirds and network bugs placed on different areas of the screen. Also challenging was doing an entire production where everyone, from on-air talent to behind-the-scenes teams, was working in ways they have never worked before.
“We changed the fear of producing in the cloud and created production workflows out of necessity,” Jacobs explains. “They were workflows that rarely get used for live television, given that the culture is one of people always doing things the same way.”
The first thought was to have the production team based at 30 Rockefeller Center in a scaled-down Today show control room. But the possibility that the control room could be off limits by the time the show would air ultimately led to the decision to simply produce it in the cloud.
“We rolled the tape live to air, and a lot of the live performances were done live to tape, using things like LiveU and Cisco WebEx,” says Jacobs. “Also, all three hosts have different workflows.”
During the coronavirus epidemic, Jimmy Kimmel is hosting his show each night from his home in Los Angeles over WebEx with three broadcast cameras and Evercast software. Stephen Colbert’s show is shot from his house in South Carolina, and CBS has an uplink truck in the driveway and a broadcast camera and lighting in his den. Jimmy Fallon relies on Live U.
“The challenge is to make them all match and look the same,” says Jacobs. “And we also send a Cisco WebEx DX70 camera to each of their homes in case there was breaking news and we needed to go to air live via Cisco WebEx.”
LiveU’s Smart Guest Interview also played a part, allowing links to be emailed out to performers.
“They just click the link, and they can begin shooting,” says Jacobs. “We wanted to make the process as simple as possible and didn’t want to have to send them an app to download.”
The show was assembled on Friday and Saturday morning by four editors from Chainsaw Edit (part of the SIM group of editing facilities) working remotely. Prior to that, Jacobs says, upwards of 100 clips of musical and standup performances had to be edited, cleaned up, and fixed prior to airing. Frame.io was used to handle asset management for all the files; WSC-Sports was deployed for cloud-based clipping for VOD assets.
“We would have more than one version of the songs so we could edit and do things like clean up the audio or deal with things like music in the background for which we didn’t have rights and clearances,” Jacobs explains. “Or, in some instances, there weren’t enough pixels because the video file was too small so we would work to improve that or edit in other images.”
The show was fed live to digital platforms through Vista, and the primetime two-hour special was fed out via The Switch.
“There also were five different satellites and three fiber hubs as there was one feed distributed globally,” adds Jacobs.
Dempsey notes that one legacy of the show is that both artists and music fans will be a lot more tolerant of cellphone video.
“People will start to crave the 10- or 12-camera concert with an audience singing along,” he says of a return to normalcy. “In the end, this was a show honoring the frontline workers, and we had a special thanks roll at the end naming everyone who contributed. It was around 350 names.”