Finish a Show Yourself

Recent advancements in desktop editing technology make it feasible for producers to finish shows on their own instead of going to a post-production facility and while this method can save money, producers are more vulnerable to emergency back-end costs if anything goes wrong.

Prosumer cameras can cost as little as a day or two of high-end camera package rental. This kind of saving makes a world of difference especially on reality shows where multiple cameras are needed over extended periods of time.

The capabilities of Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress Pro have increased while the price has come down. Instead of renting an offline edit bay for months at a time, producers can purchase one or more systems and complete all offline editing up to picture lock at their own production offices. This allows faster response to network notes and more time to create a sharper, more competitive product.

While offline editing requires creative finesse, online editing or finishing is mostly about technical acumen and precision. Finishing a show outside of post facility is certainly possible but it has pitfalls. The following are some issues to be aware of when deciding whether or not to finish a show outside of a traditional post facility.

Before a network can sign off on a delivery, the masters typically undergo a 100% QC process. As a QC operator once upon a time, I would feel I’d failed if I could not find any major problem with a videotape master. QC operators scrutinize every detail and every minute signal excursion outside of the specified range and take their mission very seriously.

Post facilities invest a lot of effort and money into equipment and staff who know how to create flawless masters and even then, QC departments occasionally kick tapes back for fixes. Production companies generally lack this kind of gear and expertise.

Mixing audio in an office sandwiched between a copy machine and a noisy street is not a good idea. Color correction in a room with uncovered windows on a non-calibrated, non-profiled computer screen without measuring instruments is not a good idea. You get the picture.

Final Cut Pro is a favorite tool of many production companies. It allows the editor incredible flexibility and that comes at a price. Ironically, Final Cut Pro requires more technical expertise than any Avid product in terms of immediate software skills as well as overall knowledge of SD and HD video. Final Cut Pro is like a stick shift car. You have to know how to drive it. Unfortunately, many very creative offline editors lack necessary video skills to deliver a technically sound master.

Over the last decade smaller and smaller budgets have forced producers to adopt tape formats like Mini-DV and HDV that were not exactly intended for professional use. The new high definition formats and various frame rates and standards make the whole game of online editing even trickier. A common complaint I hear from clients who suffered network rejections after taking a do-it-yourself approach is: “It looked really great on our screen. I don’t know why they are complaining.” Remember the type of equipment on which they will be inspecting the final product.

Depending on the type of show and desired quality it is possible to finish a decent looking master outside of a post house. Of course, some of the things like extensive audio mixing or color correction in a proper environment will have to be skipped and this may be acceptable for certain productions. Deciding to finish at the office is a matter of calculated risk knowing that a failure may result in additional rental expenditures, additional staff and missed deadlines.