Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, February 2007. Post Production Workflow of Reality Series, Blind Date: Career Advice & Lessons Learned from Behind the Editing Room by Daniel Gaucherassistant. Pages 50 – 52.
Behind every production lies a whole intriguing world of personalities, power struggles and problem solving that make up the day-to-day workflow of broadcast television. When you look at a show like the cult-hit Blind Date, you may think a production structure was in effect by day one. How far from the truth! Due to the nature of selling and subsequently making television, production schedules are often rushed. “Who do you know? Are they available next week?” Yes, it’s true. Television people are horrible planners, and often a production grows rather organically, making adjustments as the show rolls along. Word of mouth hires do happen quite frequently. Keep your friends close.
While I was living in Los Angeles, I was hired to edit Blind Date episode number three. Earlier I had been to a lunch meeting with my wife, who worked for Warner Bros., and a friend of hers from the WB law department. He happened to have a cousin who was going to be an executive producer of some new reality show. “Do you want me to pass your name on?” he asked. Sure, it sounded like fun.
Two weeks later there was myself and one other editor sitting in some cramped and sweaty offices in a Hollywood building. Across the hall was a methadone clinic. The show was top-heavy with four executive producers, a casting department, a video crew and a few producers and some Gaucherassistant producers. Post-production had two editors, two graphics artists and a copy of Art Explosion Clip Art for about $59.95. We were shown the pilot episode and told to emulate the style going forward. The workflow was this:
A shooting crew would cover eight hours of a couple’s blind date. Upon returning the field producer would write a report citing anything interesting that happened and how that might lend to the story. Next, an assistant producer would scan the eight hours of tape and begin to note timecode of good sequences as well as form a story structure. The producer would then take over, looking at about one hour or so of “selects” and working on tightening the storyline. Usually, it was one of three storylines:
• One dater is the emphatic character (“good guy/gal”) and the other dater is their worst nightmare.
• One dater is way out of the other’s league.
• The two daters are a match made in heaven and true love emerges.
The true love scenario was the most sensitive, and therefore the hardest to work with. It’s much easier to make people laugh than to make them sigh.
Now, the real fun began. Assistant editors would digitize the footage into the edit bays, and the producer and editor would sit down and toss the jokes. “Did you guys write the little titles and stuff?” It’s not rocket science. Sometimes it amazes me what is done in small, cramped office buildings all over Hollywood. Here were a bunch of writers with a frat boy mentality putting together national television. Only in this day and age…
Soon there were three edit bays, then four, then five. Crews would work two shifts, day and night on the machines. Our productivity improved as we experimented with styles, then added the successful ones to our toolbox. We would “sneaker net” our drives over to the graphics guys who would design complex animations, output them as Quicktime movies and put them on our drives. The editors and producers struggled to make the most out of the six-minute pieces as we built the standards: titles were done with 15-frame, slide-in effects using keyframing; 24pt Helvetica with offset drop-shadow (it reads better); spinning, sliding or flying icons; smooth cuts that never should have worked; and we blurred out non-copyrighted material. Crack decisions were made, but we were on a tight schedule. The occasional “motivational meeting” with the executives, often held at high volumes, also pushed us to put everything we had into our work. After a long summer we did meet the delivery deadline and our small, ragged crew went across the street to the local pub to watch our world premiere. Nothing would be the same after.
As our first season aired, we continued to learn lessons. We got sued for everything from copyright infringement on a painting on the back wall of a restaurant to questionable content when a couple decided to do “it” in the backseat of our production van (on camera, of course…more on this later). We learned the benefit of including the legal department in our production workflow BEFORE we went to air. We learned how to write better jokes, cut faster and make more intense animations. Mostly, we learned how to survive the first year of production, seemingly reinventing the wheel over and over.
After a three-month hiatus (Hollywood language for being ‘laid off’), most of the crew was hired back for second season. One piece of great news: the numbers where huge. Blind Date was a surprise hit! That meant higher salaries, higher standards and higher stakes. New opportunities continued to present themselves. We went national and shot episodes in places like Atlanta, New York, Miami, and Vancouver. We rented the surrounding offices, taking over the entire floor of the building (except for the methadone clinic… they were still there). We hired some excellent women producers and a whole slew of support staff to help streamline the production flow even more. The show’s music composer, Devin Powers, set up a studio on-site and showed a prolific work ethic par-excellence, cranking out BD’s famous tunes by the hundreds. Best of all, the production machine was starting to problem solve by itself, freeing the executive producers to do what they do best, sell more television. Pretty soon spin-offs were in the works. There was Chains of Love, Rendez-View and 5th Wheel to name a few. The show was getting excellent press. Maxim listed working for Blind Date as one of the 10 best jobs in the world. We couldn’t argue.
By the end of season two, Blind Date was looking to expand again. After hiatus, we were welcomed back with new offices, now having more elbowroom and air conditioning that worked most of the time. There were more producers, more edit bays, a tape vault with additional assistants, multiple graphics stations and the biggest change, a central server. Editors could pull down songs right after Devin had finished them. You could send a snippet of your date to graphics for them to work their magic. Afterwards, you could import the finished piece right off the server. Legal questions? You could network a Quicktime movie right to the legal department and get immediate feedback. Field reports, tape logs, producer review notes and scripts were all available if you needed to reference anything. We were now working ten edit bays around the clock and producing hundreds of episodes simultaneously (it was a daily show). Tracking everything had become much easier.
Getting back to the exhibitionists… You didn’t think I had forgotten about that, did you? We had learned where to draw better lines for what a national audience would accept. This didn’t necessarily mean we toned down so much as we learned to tastefully tease the spectator. Plus, if you wanted to see the full coverage you could always buy the “Too Hot” video for an additional $39.95, yet another lesson we had learned – how to make more money. Casting found these people in the nightclubs, on the streets and through acting agencies. These were real people living real lives, some with a real desire to be seen and heard, and we provided that stage for them. Did we ever lie? No. Everything you saw happened on its own. Did we heighten the drama? Would you rather watch the other seven hours and fifty-four minutes of small talk, sitting around and awkward interaction, or the six minutes of good stuff? Yah, we picked the best six minutes to show you.
So, if I had to summarize my three-year rollercoaster ride with Blind Date what would I say?
• Work to perfect, and then respect, the workflow. Organization is key to making good product.
• Be part of a team, not a diva. Assuming that your creativity is what carries the show is not only short-sighted, it’s counter-productive. The sum is greater than the individual parts, so make your contribution and control your ego. Plus, it’s more enjoyable to celebrate as a group than it is to sit at home and bask in your own self-importance.
• Learn to find the gold in simple stories. I wouldn’t call Blind Date a philosophical cornerstone in the evolution of humanity, but it struck a chord in most people’s lives. Simple, universal hopes and fears go a long way.
• You don’t gain more responsibility because you want it. You advance in your career by working hard at all levels.
Don’t treat your job like a stepping-stone. Focus on doing the best you can, and opportunity will find you.
Daniel Gaucher is an Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College. He established himself in the production world as one of the original editors for the hit series, Blind Date. Since then, he’s crafted a series of successes including 5th Wheel, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Extreme Engineering. His work has aired worldwide on NBC, MTV, Bravo, A&E, UPN, Spike, VH-1, TLC, Discovery, PBS and the National Geographic Channel.