AN OVERVIEW OF POST PRODUCTION
At its most simplest: post production comes after preproduction and production. It is where footage captured on set/location (rushes) is converted into a format agreed by the production company, edited into a VT story, programme or series and then delivered to the channel/broadcaster for transmission. Those working in post-production have to deal with a multitude of different digital materials coming in from shoots - film rushes are a rarity in TV these days as it’s so costly to develop and does not fit well with small crews.
When footage from production arrive in post, the first process it goes through is ingest (compressed to a low resolution so it takes up less HD space) then it goes to the offline edit. Junior post production staff carry out the ingesting and prepare footage ready for the editors to start a rough assembly using editing software such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid. Editors are guided by directors (usually in drama) or edit producers (EP) and series producers SP (more common in factual/documentary), who assert the narrative thread and set the style and pace of the programme. Throughout the offline, rough cuts of the programme are viewed by the production company executive and SP and then sent to the broadcaster to view, usually via online file share sites such as Wetransfer.com or directly to the end user’s server using FTP. After client feedback, the edit will produce a fine cut, which will go through another round of viewing, feedback and amendments. Offline finishes when the cut is ready for picture lock, (all the pictures are fixed - though narration/sound design can still be adjusted). To bring the programme up to TX (broadcast) standard, the resolution has to be upgraded in an online editing suite, which requires a lot more HD space to accommodate the conform.
In TV it’s quite common now for programmes to be graded at the end of the online edit. Grading evens out the colour tones and irons out irregularities if footage has been shot in different formats, and it’s also used to control the time of day. As a comparison, in film, colour grading is used predominantly to give feeling to the whole production, it sets a theme for the content. Think of the difference between the shine of 'Gladiator' and 'Mad Max' compared to the washed out gloominess and greyness of 'The Wire'. There are dedicated grading suites in most post-production facility houses, and colourists lead the grading process. A fine cut (or final cut) is the last edit process and includes putting in lower frame supers (captions), title sequence, adding a credit roller and graphics / visual FX outside of titles as well. Master copies are assessed (QC = quality control), then either printed and delivered, or more prevalently now - file based transferred via FTP. The post house will also produce a volume of safe copies for the production company to archive and distribute.
Most production companies producing corporate content will have in-house edit suites. The post-production processes for small independent production companies are becoming more and more affordable, as powerful industry standard software and hardware is getting cheaper and more accessible. Often offline edits will be done in-house with online, grading, tracklay, mix and delivery happening at a post house. Due to tight turn arounds and squeezed budgets, there is no room for error in TV; so post-production houses have insurance for making mistakes on deliverables, which takes the responsibility a little out of the production companies hands at one of the most important stages: delivering the goods.
Post-production houses offer a range of services to producers including: designing workflows suited to any kind of format or schedule, data wrangling, tracklay, mix, foley, online edit and grading. Technology changes all the time and post-production houses have to keep up in order to cope with the demands of the market. They often have a database of freelance editors, runners and edit assistants on their books, but it is up to the production companies to decide if they want use the database or bring in their own editor(s).
How do you get into Post Production?
Solid IT skills are useful but often processes specific to post-production are taught in training or on the job. If you’re pedantic about backing stuff up on HDs and are a bit OCD with digital filing and naming conventions, then this is a great start. Technical running experience is the most obvious route into this role, though it helps to have a grounding in media formats, a broadcasting or technology degree and/or some post-production knowledge. You could apply to be a edit trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives hands-on experience in the industry and will help you build contacts who will become essential when looking for work - it’s a crowded industry so you need to put in extra legwork to make Heads of Departments notice you.
You could start out as a runner at a broadcaster, commercial or in-house at an independent production company. Try to express your passion for post-production and you could be asked to do some data wrangling or help out in an editing suite. You need to be trustworthy, incredibly organised, accurate and meticulous. Attention to detail under pressure is also vital for ensuring best practice methods are adhered to. A lot of the UK’s biggest and best post houses are found in Soho, London. Top companies to look out for are: Pinewood, Envy, Evolutions and Molinare. Here’s a list of the current top 10 facilities houses (based on the biggest turn-over) in the UK.
Making and cutting your own films, or offering to edit other people’s short films is another way to get noticed and hone your story cutting skills. The more diverse the subject area the better, the more footage you get used to handling, in a wider range of formats, the more prepared you will feel when you step into a post production house. You don’t have to spend any money to have a go at editing - if you’ve got a MacBook, you can use free software iMovies, or you could trial professional editing software for free. You may only get 30 days in some cases, but it’s good to familiarise yourself with the different products out there. Open source software is increasingly capable of delivering professional results. Check out video editing in Lightworks and Blender. There’s thousands of free online tutorials on YouTube too, so you can learn editing shortcuts and tricks of the trade in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with one or two editing programmes, cut a few short films and added them to an online portfolio (eg. Vimeo), you should research the post-production facility houses in your area. Apply for work experience or apply to be an in-house runner (you’ll find a ‘work for us’ page on most post houses websites with an email address to send your CV to). Ensure that you add a link to your Vimeo portfolio to show that you’re actively practicing editing. Once you’ve got your foot in the door and proved that you’re resourceful and reliable, you may be rewarded with being given some simple edit tasks such as labelling and storing tapes, backing up data or assisting other post production staff.
Logging footage is a natural progression from running and often leads into edit assisting. Loggers are employed either during production (especially on live shows, or fixed rig documentaries), or in post-production. A logger’s chief responsibility is to view all the rushes and record key themes, sync and story arcs. After they’ve watched everything and produced their logs using popular video logging software such as Forscene, A-frame and Cinegy, they feed back information about good storylines and provide time codes of good sync/scenes. Feedback is provided in a searchable log format, key moments are identified using time code so that the SP/EP/PDs are able to build stories quickly and efficiently. The role of the logger is important because they summarise hundreds or thousands of hours of footage so that editorial can easily locate the juiciest moments for the edit.
If technology and data workflow is your thing, you could go from logger to edit assistant then editor, which would mean you keep a foot in editorial, but you also have a better understanding of work flows and the storytelling process.
WHAT DOES AN EDIT ASSISTANT DO?
Setup edit suites ready for use (if a technical assistant isn’t present)
Help identify best practices for working with media captured by production
Consolidating sequences for picture lock
Managing all media from shoots, contributors and graphics houses, ensuring everything is suitably backed up and labelled correctly
Ensure correct naming conventions are applied
Managing backups (Production insurance companies often require 3 copies of digital camera footage stored in at least 2 locations, on at least 2 different forms of media)
Monitor data storage requirements and flag up to production team and tech lead ahead of running out of space to ensure no disruptions
Research/source archive materials
Export specific sequences requested by SP/EP/PD for viewings. This could be a short clip, the first 15 minutes or even a whole episode.
End of Edits (EOE), this involves exporting EDLs, exporting playouts, cleaning sequences, consolidating media, generally preparing the offline edit for transition into online edit and tracklay.
May assist colourists (in the online grade), or senior post production staff
May carry out some simple cutting and editing work
IN WHAT GENRES OF TV CAN THIS POSITION BE FOUND?
It totally depends on the production budget. Some low budget productions or single programmes will edit in-house or use a freelance editor who has a home edit suite. You may find edit assistants are used on the following productions:
The bigger productions (multi camera rig shows, OBs and long running entertainment shows) are most likely to have a lead edit assistant with additional loggers and technical runners as support because so much footage is produced and needs to be processed very quickly. You’re likely to find a team of assistants on entertainment shows. On smaller budgets though it is not uncommon for the edit assistant to work solo and simply have to put in the extra hours to make it happen.
WHO ELSE WORKS IN POST PRODUCTION?
With the rise and rise of digital formats - the structure of the post production landscape has changed significantly over the last few years, with many post facility houses introducing whole teams of data assistants, and tech management departments. Here are some job titles you’re likely to encounter in the post environment:
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DATA ASSISTANT AND AN EDIT ASSISTANT?
Edit assistants are usually employed by the production company and data assistants are usually employed by the post house. Edit assistants are usually focused on one production at a time with a wider variety of tasks whereas data assistants usually work across a series of productions but primarily focused on managing media for the relevant project. Often the roles overlap and often they work together hand in hand.
WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH IN POST PRODUCTION?
Like any area of the TV industry - there are multiple routes in and a number of ways to merge into the department if you are determined to go into post production. Depending on your previous work experience, a good path is to start as a post-production house runner/receptionist, you could transition to edit assistant in 3-6 months, but it’s more likely to take a year or two. In broadcast TV, once you have got your first few credits under your belt, expect to stay as an edit assistant for anywhere from 2 to 5 years. Your next step would likely involve becoming a junior editor. Again expect to work in this capacity for 2 to 5 years before becoming a fully fledged editor. For a lot of editors, reaching the offline is a successful milestone in their career, but others may cross over into online and specialise in grading as colourists.
WHAT IS POST PRODUCTION LIKE TO WORK IN?
It used to be commonplace for editors to work in cave-like conditions - pale people housed in dark, dank rooms with no windows. But the edit suites offered in post-production houses are much more luxurious now and often have air-con, big windows and sofas too! Edit suites these days are more client-facing and thus more accommodating so the environment is amiable.
You need to strike up a good and friendly rapport with the senior post-production staff and production managers from production companies, and especially the editors, because if a particular editor spots your talent - they can put a good word in which can lead to getting work but it’s more about making sure you get on with the production manager. You need to be dexterous and good at multitasking as often, you may be supporting a few edit suites at once (maybe more depending on the size of the company). When you become an edit assistant, you will be working very closely with the editor/editors of the show - similar to the IMO editorial / production relationship, you and your editor/editors will become like a mini family as you spend a lot of time in close proximity.
Be prepared that every now and again, the series producer, exec or commissioner will join you in the edit to see how things are progressing (sometimes at very short notice) - so it helps if you’ve got good people skills, and know how to act around execs and high-powered people. Be friendly but keep your eye on the job at hand. If there are no refreshments, organise a runner to get some (if it's a busy schedule, you've got to delegate and be available for tasks orientated around your jobs), be prepared for stressful situations and sometimes creative confrontation between other members of the team. In these instances it’s best to speak when spoken to, keep your mouth shut when in a viewing, do not interrupt the viewing in anyway, and leave the room quietly if you have to deal with something like another editor or production member.
Although editing is a highly creative craft, (you’re piecing together a compelling story from reams and reams of footage) some TV formats (Eg. daytime / entertainment) have rules that must be stuck to, which in turn takes a lot of the creativity away. The editor’s primary focus is to find the nuggets of TV gold, play god with a range of different characters and form a narrative that will (hopefully) please the intended audience and beyond. Yes there are crazy hours to be worked, and the rushes are not always top quality, but if you love a challenge and appreciate well-cut programmes, then this could be the career for you
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU FIND IN OFFLINE EDIT SUITES?
Bear in mind, this list is only a guide - every post-production house has a different approach, but it’s good to start to familiarise yourself with bits and pieces that you’re likely to come across and be responsible for:
PCs and Macs
USB, thunderbolt, firewire, HDMI etc.
SD, Micro SD, CF, SxS etc.
Breakout boxes (BOBS)
Avid ISIS (SAN Solutions)
General Network Attached Storage (NAS Solutions)
Shotput Pro, MPEG Streamclip, Quicktime, VLC etc.
Avid Media Composer (or Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro + open source options)
Software shortcuts for common editing processes in relevant software packages
Multi monitor setups
Stereo mixer, speakers, headphones and basic microphone setups
DO I NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS?
You don’t need any qualifications to work as an edit assistant, a degree in media technology or media production would provide good grounding but you still have to work on the practical skills in your own time.
Short courses can be quite expensive, but there are often bursaries available for freelancers (through Creative Skillset). Free entry industry trade shows such as BVE have tutorials and workshops running all day, hosted by professionals at Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro - so you can soak up some pearls of wisdom and ask lots of questions. At these events, there’s also lots of panel discussions covering topical industry developments where you can learn a lot and potentially meet and make industry contacts
JARGON ANYONE WORKING IN AN EDIT SUITE SHOULD KNOW
Naming convention. naming methods used to label incoming content for edit
Media Bins. Used in project to organise media
Sequences. Used to create timelines of media
Consolidating. Taking only media that is used on a timeline and saving it as a new project to backup only what is required, often handles are applied to media to allow for further editing.
Wrangling. Backing up rushes and additional content
Ingesting. Bringing media into project to be used in the edit, often involving transcoding
Transcoding. Converting media from one format to another, often to save on storage space and costs, pre conform.
Conforming. Process that returns a project back to full resolution after an offline edit.
End of Edit or EOE. Preparing projects for transition from offline edit to online and tracklay / mix.
TC. Time code
BITC. Burnt in time code - graphic representation of hrs:mins:secs eg. 10:28:13:05.
VICT. Vertical interval timecode - time code recorded as part of the video signal but not visible on the picture.
LTC. Longitudinal time code - time code recorded as analog audio signal normally to a dedicated time code track.
Scratch Narration. Draft narration added to off-line edit, usually recorded by editor or director as a guide before it’s replaced with a professional voice-over.
ARC. Aspect Ratio Conversion”. When a piece of material needs to be converted from one format to another.
Tech Spec. Technical specifications that apply to the programme, issued by the broadcaster - needed for producing the master.
Aston. Industry standard brand text and graphics generator used by most post production facilities.
What hours will I be working?
Although edit assistants have an office-based role, the position can involve working nights, weekends and bank holidays - depending on production/delivery deadlines. data assistants often work shift patterns. It all dependant on amount of footage coming in, often an edit assistant’s days will be 10 to 12 hours minimum and at crunch time this can easily be extended to 16 to 18 hours. Be prepared to do an all nighter if necessary! If rushes come in late from a shoot, you will have to wait till they arrive, then ingest them before you go home. Remember also, you are the right-hand-man/woman of your editor, and if they have chaotic deadlines to reach from time-to-time, that means you will too.
What are the industry bodies for post-production?
How much will an edit assistant be paid.
Some post houses will have you on a 5 or 6 day working week, with a 10 hr day cited as ‘social hours’. Other productions will pay you a daily rate. Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union) have their recommended Editors Rate Card, which lists trainee/edit assistants working on a Mid-Budget British Drama as £525 for a 50 hour week (inc holiday pay). In reality - rates depend on experience and production budget, so it could be from £350 to £600 per week.
Can I start a career in film and cross over to broadcast TV?
Yes, it’s possible. If you’re a data wrangler working with a DOP on feature films, you often liaise with post-production houses, which is a good way to step into editing, as you’ll have a strong list of contacts and be familiar with the layout and anatomy of edit suites. TV edit suites are pretty much identical to those used by film editors and most post houses cater to both TV and film production needs, so you could quite easily transition to TV. Diversity of the content that you’d be cutting will be the biggest variable. Due to the growing use of file based systems across both genres - there are more similarities these days.
Do I need to invest in any equipment or software?
Hardware and programmes used in post houses are eye-wateringly expensive so it’s doubtful a new entrant would be able to afford an industry-standard set up. It wouldn’t hurt to have knowledge of the top programmes and systems on the market, which you can gain and updated by attending free trade shows and production exhibitions like BVE and the Media Production Show. You could also make use of free commercial software trials. The industry moves so fast that a lot of things become obsolete or need updating frequently so it’s a good idea to utilise all the free options.
Thank you's ...
My First Job in TV would like to thank Callum Yuill for his input into the guide.