The Weekend Shift… Running the House

My First Weekend Shift

The weekend after I had officially been offered a job I was to work my first Saturday shift. On weekends the amount of staff is almost nil. There are 2 runners in the building…compared to the usual 5 or 6 in the kitchen. There are no receptionists and there are no library people. The 2 runners who are on have to do all of these things; reception, room service and library & dispatch work.

I had already done some training at reception before the weekend so I knew how to answer the phones and use the email and schedule system (ScheduALL). I wasn’t too happy at the prospect of answering phones I have to say..

Front of House

This is pretty much where the reception is. The people here were usually runners at one point and chose to go this route as way of promotion. If you go the runner-receptionist path you are generally interested in getting into production and looking to become one of the post-production producers. The next step after front of house is bookings which is linked closely with the production workflow.

Samara was training me on this day. She was talking me through the computer which is linked to the Envy server along with the phones (you can connect with all the producers’ phones and the suites by clicking on the screen). She told me the correct phone etiquette “Good afternoon, Envy Post” and all of those rather, professional matters. One of the most important things she taught me was to always look like I know what I’m doing, what production companies are in, who each client is even if in fact I had no idea who they were. Egos are important in the TV industry.

General responsibilities I learnt:

  • Answering queries on the phone
  • Greeting clients and telling them what room they are in. You must ring up to the editor in the suite and see if it is okay first to let anybody up to them. Always. They don’t want clients barging into a possible…”panicky” moment in the editing suite.
  • Connecting people to the other Envy buildings, which all have specific extension numbers.
  • Dealing with anyone, anything or any problem that walks in the front door of Envy Post.
  • Do not give anybody’s number out particularly producers. You must ring through to them to see if they answer and the connect the call. (all of this phone business was the most scary part to remember how to do)

Samara emphasised the importance of taking your time. She said that every client and every production company thinks their project is the golden child and will pressure you. She recounted times where clients wouldn’t even acknowledge her and walk straight up to suites or be incredibly rude and awkward deliberately. Some would be offended if you didn’t know their name or exactly where they were to be. I could tell the frustration in her voice as she told me these things.

The front of house people had to keep the equilibrium in Envy, negotiating clients, producers and editors. I didn’t look forward to my turn on Saturday…

Training: The Library – the check point of post production

My First Day of Official Training

I finally got my first official training day and was sent to The Library. Here is where I take any tapes, hard drives etc. that are being moved from place to place to be scanned and logged. I sat in with Caspian who was going to train how to the system and the workflow they go by.

 

The Significance of The Library – Everything must go through the library to be logged in or checked out of the system. So every time a tape or rushes from a show come into Envy they are processed here eg. given a unique barcode, linked up with the client working orders and sent to the appropriate machine room. When this happens you then have to send an email to the in-house producers letting them know exactly what has happened, what files were logged, where they were sent and who they are for. Once a file/tape is logged into Envy its movements are tracked the entire time whether it is moved from audio to VFX or another Envy location until it is completely checked out of the company. It is a very strict work flow, not too complicated, but must be done properly.

 

Why? Firstly, and most obviously, it is important to have an organized filing system in any company be it in the creative industries or not. However, in the TV industry in particular deadlines are tight and money is high so mistakes are costly. Every single episode of a programme, rushes, drives and tapes need to be tracked just in case a producer suddenly needs it at the drop of a hat. Also, often deadlines are short and shows need to be in and out within a mere week or even few days!

 

Accountability – It was stressed the importance of letting people know on who’s instructions you were acting upon when doing any task e.g. “as per ins _____ ” was to be written at the end of every email sent by the library after logging footage/tapes. Caspian said himself that if anything did go missing or sent to the wrong place that then it wasn’t on your head.

 

My Turn

Then the spotlight was on me an I had a go at the task of logging in 3 new tapes that had come in from Top Gear who had switched their business to Envy after being with Evolution. A side note on that is that Envy now had to log ALL of Top Gear’s footage since the first series…they had boxes full of tapes coming in every day. He also said Top Gear are giving them great business but also ridiculously demanding wanting everything as soon as they click their fingers. So with great business comes higher responsibility and working with even more demanding clients. A tape with rushes from a shoot with a helicopter and expensive Ferraris…can’t really go missing now can they? That would be expensive to re-shoot.

 

The Machine Room

The machines rooms. The haven that all runners look towards as a way out from dashing about with food and beverages. The machine rooms are a symbol of upward movement in Envy. Here are where the “assistants” are e.g. the online assistants, the audio assistants etc. They assist the main operators who work in the suites.

In order to move up in Envy you have to do internal training in the machine rooms and clock up hours. You can train in whatever machine room you like if it is the route you wish to take. Machine Room 1 (MCR1) tends to be the busiest as audio mixing is the most competitive currently in Envy with quite a few people vying for positions there amongst the runners.

As an intern/part-time runner in Envy I also have the opportunity to train in the machine rooms as much as I’d like. Tom knew that I was interested in colour grading and suggested I try spend my time in Machine Room 2 (MCR2).

So today I had to work over at Foley St. When I arrived there it was completely different to its usual busy pace. It was a lot quieter and there were no producers, just a swanky lobby, a nice rooftop terrace and doors concealing machine rooms, suites and the kitchen. Most of the time Foley St. is very busy as it is where clients are cutting the shows together, sometimes for months.

The offline machine room was really quite large…very large. It has stacks of machines and tape decks on one side humming away and on the other side are about 3 or 4 machine room operators doing things with computers I have no idea about. Until it explained to me what offline machine room assistants do:

  • Assist clients and freelance editors to set up their computers (Avids) to commence the offline edit of a show, film etc.
  • Log all of the rushes from the shows – which means the raw footage that has come in from shooting needs to be copied onto the servers and backed up immediately.
  • Check that when the footage is logged in that it plays smoothly on the computers and that it is exactly the right resolution, aspect ratio etc. for the show.
  • Help the clients with any problems they may have – which can be difficult compared with other machine rooms assistants who don’t have to even meet the clients. He relates it to having to mix technical abilities with client services.

Machine Room assistants have to handle the rushes, the most important part of production and make sure everything is transcoded and compressed accurately ready to be edited. Most people fail at the job because they don’t establish a practical workflow. If you miss a beat you will get something wrong. This is something I find quite intimidating working in post-production. The line of responsibility is nerve wrecking and the margin for error is so little it prevents me from pursuing the next job up in roles like this for fear of not knowing what I’m doing.

I think there is a lot of unnecessary stress in the creative industries. You can often get clients ringing you expecting you to know everything and often you have to pretend or look like you know what your doing. But because clients are so valued they must not feel as though anything is problem.

Offline editing was always my goal coming into Envy. I do offline editing in my freelance work and I really do love it. I love piecing together a narrative and bringing a piece of work together coherently and creatively. Working as an offline assistant though…this is something that I would not enjoy. The reason being you are more of a data-wrangler: logging and ingesting footage, transcoding and troubleshooting. These are probably my weakest points in video production and funnily enough they are so necessary in order to progress and become an editor, who in the end does none of those jobs.

This is the problem with working in large post-production companies, the lines are so vividly drawn between roles with little cross-over. This is compared to smaller creative companies who often have runners doing assisting jobs and assistants doing editor jobs.

The Sit In

Sitting in with one of the “Ops” 

Today I was lucky enough to be able to sit in with one of the ops while they were working and shadow them on their project. If you are just doing work experience at Envy then the Head Runner will try to let you sit in as often as possible for the two weeks that you are there, however if you are employed then you must do all your training out of hours. As I am on a 4 week paid internship, all my training should technically fall out of hours, but if it’s a quiet afternoon then I have been able to sit in with some of the Ops a couple of times.

Ideally you will want to sit in with an operator that does the job you’d like to get into; for me this would be Offline Editing or Colour Grading. Offline editing however happens in Envy’s Holden House building and their Foley Street building. They also only have 2 in-house off-line editors and the rest are freelancers hired by production companies for each individual project. This is in some ways makes it impossible to think of working your way up to that position within Envy. Producers and Directors seem to have their own offline editors and it is VFX, graders and audio operators that Envy really provide to clients.

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Tom the Audio Man

I had another opportunity to sit in with one of the top operators in Envy again. This time it was Tom who is one of the senior mixers and works with some of the biggest clients they have in.

I sat in with him for about 2 hours as he was mixing the audio for Gold Rush which is an observational documentary (“ob-doc”) on Discovery Channel in the US. Tom told me it was Discovery’s most successful show ever and therefore a very important client.

I asked him what exactly he does and so he explained:

  • A tracklayer or editor puts together a base layer of audio which includes music, sound effects and sound from the camera – but it can be very rough and full of gaps or errors.
  • It is his job to make sure all the levels are mixed equally, the music fits well, make sure all the sound effects from anything on screen and the video and audio are synced perfectly and put in the voice over if necessary.
  • He also has to deal with the clients who will come in to check on the audio mix and make any changes they want.

 

A word about the Clients …

Tom said he had worked on over 50 episodes of Gold Rush so he found editing the audio quite routine at this stage. It’s a very industrial show, lots of machinery and the bustling of gold mines. I asked him what it was like working with the clients of the show, and he explained how after working for so long with them they had built a strong level of trust and he tended to know what they wanted

The Guide to being a Runner

A Runner’s Life

There are nearly 40 runners in total working for Envy, and they’re spread across 5 different post production houses in Soho. There are about 7 or so in Rathbone Place where I am currently located.

The Kitchen

The kitchen is the home of the runners. Here they are connected to all of the rooms via two phones. It is this way that operators can ring and request coffee, lunch or whatever they need from the runners for themselves or their clients. The reception, library and machine rooms also ring in to ask for a “run” between rooms or to different buildings with tapes.

Running Etiquette

Professionalism and discretion is very important. Being discreet and respectable is very much appreciated in this industry, so as you deliver coffee and lunch to these people making inappropriate comments will not get you very far.

Efficiency

Quick on your feet and doing your job quickly and well, is noticed. Try your best to do every tasked asked of you from a latté to delivering a tape to another production company as a fast as possible.

Team Work

In such a high pressured and efficient work place everyone works together to help each other out and get whatever job done quickly. You help somebody do whatever is needed because it makes your job easier and the whole environment a lot more peaceful and relaxed. Each role in a production company is important to make the company a smooth running operation.

Machine Room and Library

When you’re asked to deliver a tape to ANY place inside Envy or outside Envy you must, on every account, go to the Library which is where all tapes are logged in, marked as moved or checked out. If you do not do this then they will not know where a tape is and with such a high work flow this is vital. If at any point I am unsure of where to go, the Library must also be noted of the movement of any tape or files.