by Robin Rowe (originally published 6/10/10 by www.editorsguild.com)
“Days of Our Lives is a completely in-house operation,” says lead editor and associate director Lugh Powers. “Deadlines are intense. The production company requires the maximum in speed, flexibility and reliability to produce a daily one-hour program. Because we have such a fast turnaround from production to air, we get pretty aggressive with time management and efforts to streamline the workflow.”
The Emmy-winning daytime drama Days of Our Lives has been renewed by NBC for 2010-11, its 45th season. Days is produced by Corday Productions Inc. in association with Sony Pictures Television. Executive producer Ken Corday’s parents––Betty and Ted Corday––co-created Days of our Lives.
The edit suite is located at NBC Studios in Burbank. Powers chose Avid systems when he designed and implemented the changeover from linear to digital editing, and he and the post team at Corday use four Avid systems to turn out a one-hour drama every day, five days a week.
“Pressure?” asks Powers. “What pressure? Change, especially of this magnitude, can be daunting and one of the most important parts of leading this type of change is helping people to understand that the technology is there not to supplant them, but to support them.
“The workflow is built around me, a second editor, our assistant editor, the online editor, music directors, and the audio mixer,” he continues. “I gravitated toward the Avid systems because of the seamless interconnectivity between its picture editing machines, ProTools and the Unity Shared Storage solution. The editors also needed a powerful, yet flexible multi-camera editing bench.”
Days has four Avid Symphonys, the GenArts Sapphire package for effects, a Unity Storage system, and a ProTools HD audio workstation. “It seems that the budgets get tighter and tighter while the deadlines get closer and closer––so any method or machine that lets us spend less time being technical and more time being creative, and also helps us to meet our timetable is a must-have,” Powers explains. “The Avid multi-cam feature is still second to none for ease and efficiency of use. Add to that the Avid’s preservation of metadata, true frame accuracy and the ability to manage and organize large amounts of media quickly and easily, and Avid seems the obvious choice––especially when you look at post-production as a process rather than as a single machine.”
Before joining Days, Powers was already known as a creative editor with the technical skill to design and implement workflow, someone who taught how to use new technology and supported people through the learning process. It was being invited to present a seminar on the value of digital editing workflow at Corday Productions that led to Powers joining Days. “Based on that seminar, and a very in-depth discussion about my views on the art of storytelling, I was asked to join the Corday team specifically to bring a new perspective to the editing process,” says Powers.
“On my first day with the show, NBC engineer Mike Vick and I built Avids, lots of Avids,” he explains. “The next three months were about building the machines, troubleshooting the workflow and training the other people how to use the equipment, while at the same time editing a daily show.”
Powers’ approach to editing any project starts with a few basic questions. “Who is the audience we are trying to reach?” he asks himself. “Stylistically, how do we want to reach them? Thematically, what are we trying to say? The answers to these questions can change with every production depending on the vision of the directors and producers. The one thing that never changes, however, is that ultimately the story tells me how it wants to be edited. The way it is written, the way it is shot and the type of performances all guide me on pacing, feel and style.”
The editor admits that when he joined Days of Our Lives he had no experience editing soap operas, or even watching them. “For Corday, that was part of the attraction,” says Powers. “I brought a fresh eye to their program and a commitment to the art that is visual storytelling. I was specifically asked to give the show a different editorial look and feel. One of the attractions to the job for me was the creative latitude I was given by the executive producer, because I was able to take the show from being edited in a very traditional soap opera style to being cut in a more cinematic style. This allowed the directors to be more visually expressive, and the actors to stretch in their performances.” They must be doing something right. Days has gained five Emmy nominations and two wins in six years, and just earned nine Daytime Emmy Award nominations for the current season.
“One of the things I enjoy about my job is that I have the opportunity to interact with almost every department on the show,” says Powers. “As lead editor and general catch-all, my cutting room is the central hub of post-production. On any given day, I could be required to do everything from editing a show to researching and implementing video conferencing. I work with the producers on show structure and presenting the storyline. I interact closely with the ProTools mixer and the music directors so picture and sound work together to further the emotion of the story rather than in opposition with each other. We craft the look and feel of the show.”
As lead editor, Powers makes changes based on the producer and executive producer notes, does the fine cut on each episode, cuts it to time,and edits the “Next on” promo that tags the episode. Then the entire show has an audio sweetening session in ProTools. “One of the unique things we do in our ProTools environment is using the Avid Picture media [the ProTools SDI Mojo option] instead of a QuickTime movie or a chase tape,” says Powers. “It’s a fantastic feature that, among other things, helps to ensure quality sync between picture and sound.”
As part of the online process, Powers will prep various elements that recur in every show. He may then start with a first pass edit or move on to color-correcting an episode. Along with color correction, he’ll rebuild any show effects or graphics for online. New responsibilities that have become an everyday process include compressing and uploading files to the server for review and approval. They also provide elements for the Sony website and the Sony Soap Net promo editor. To pull the elements and build the reels required to support those projects, Powers often has two or three computers churning away most of the day.
Days has a second editor who exclusively concentrates on the first pass edit to enable her to move as many shows down the line as possible in a week. “The choice as to whether or not the first pass of the show is done by one editor or by both is really a time consideration,” says Powers. “Our environment is set up in such a way that all of the players on our post team, with the exception of one, are allowed to focus on one very specific job area in the post-production workflow. At some point, I will start on a first pass edit and keep working on that until it’s done. This helps keep a constant flow of episodes coming through my cutting room for notes.”
Days has an online editor whose focus is building credits and checking the video edits to verify the re-digitized shots are in the right place. Once the sweetened audio is approved he’ll take the files from ProTools and marry audio to picture. Then the show is output to tape for a final quality check. He also handles all of the paperwork associated with delivering the episode to NBC. The assistant editor digitizes, creates a circle take string-out, and generally prepares projects for editing.
“As well as editing, I have been responsible for some of the more elaborate effects that have been used on the show,” says Powers. “At one point, our head writer was very enamored with extreme visual effects, so he would write a large number of fantasy sequences into the show. We were rarely given guidelines but were asked to come up with appropriate effects that satisfied the writer and served the story. We were able to accomplish this by combining a healthy dose of creativity, the native Avid effects, and the GenArts Sapphire plug-in package.”
Days of Our Lives is no different from any other show in that music plays a big part in effective storytelling, according to Powers. “Fortunately, I have the luxury of working directly with both music directors, so when a particularly special moment in the story requires it, we have the approved-for-air composition to edit to,” Power says. “This allows us to jointly create genuinely special moments that the audience can enjoy and hopefully relate to emotionally.”
Powers still teaches from time to time at Video Symphony in Burbank. “Take every opportunity to learn from everyone,” he advises. “Be open to every story. Be open to every insight. Be open to every job. You’d be amazed at chances and experiences that can come from what might appear to be the most inconsequential of projects. A simple technical seminar led to my position on Days of Our Lives, and that led to two Emmys.
“The truth is that you can replace everything in your life except time,” Powers concludes. “It’s your responsibility to make sure that your time is being compensated in some way that has value for you. Serve the story. Serve the audience.”
Robin Rowe is a freelance writer as well as the president of MovieEditor.com. He’s worked on productions or created technology for DreamWorks Animation, NBC and the BBC.