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Dispatches from PyeongChang: The Edit Infrastructure of the Olympics (Part 4)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where he's nearly two weeks into editing the Olympics. Check out part one to get started on his journey.

What's the workflow like for cutting the stuff you cut and then making it to air? What’s the overall technical workflow for ingesting everything else?

The primary source for every network is OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Service), the official host broadcaster for every Olympics. They are a branch of the IOC and provide every media outlet [who has purchased the rights] with what we call the World Feed - literally every second of every event. Any game you see on TV was shot and recorded by OBS. The scope of their production is really impressive. They have cameras all over every venue, plus action cameras like the ones that race along the track/pool/ski slope/whatever, plus a bunch of high tech spidercams, drones, lipstick cams planted throughout the playing fields, on and on and on. Plus god only knows how many microphones dotted all over every playing venue. We get the World Feed plus textless "melts" - reels of the best moments from several different angles, usually in super high speed.

We also have our own production people filming and recording a whole separate slew of ENG material - true speed, super high speed, helicopter aerials, all sorts of fun stuff - on top of all the athlete profiles and cultural features we produce. Our stuff looks really filmic and helps add some color and texture to the broadcast. I have to shout out our ENG shooters for the unbelievable work they do - high-level professionals like Samson Chan, Aaron Mendez, and John Biggins provide us with some really astounding moments.

In addition to cutting sponsor enhancements, promos, and features, we're kind of the central distribution hub for all other departments as well as other broadcasters and venues. Our media managers ingest an ungodly amount of material every day, catalog it, and distribute it to my department. Loggers and PAs watch *everything* that comes in, subclip it, name it, and check it into Avid Interplay. Each editor has a producer in their edit bay, wading through the massive stockpile of material and digging out the gems depending on what our assignments are. PAs also do a lot of digging for shots and moments and even some editing. It's not uncommon for us to be in a pinch, with everyone crashing on their own pieces, and hand a project off to a PA to be cut. After all, they are the first eyes on the material and typically know the footage better than the rest of us. It's a great opportunity for these young bucks. Editors edit, producers edit, PAs edit, everybody's got their hands in the footage.

Editing wise, we're 100% Avid/PC based. Everyone's running on MC 8.9.2 with Symphony enabled, accelerated by these gorgeous whisper-quiet Avid Artist DNxIO boxes. We have a colorist making a color pass on select material upon ingest (usually scenics and specific major features), everything else gets colored in the edit. We work entirely in full resolution since it just wouldn't be practical (or necessary) to have proxies and then uprez later. We need to see everything in high res from the start and get it out as quickly as possible. After cutting, we'll color correct and either mix it ourselves or send it to our Pro Tools mixers in Stamford, CT if it's a bigger or more complex piece. Once we get the mix we export the uncompressed finished product to our EVS servers for playback. (Beyond just the regular HD broadcast, we also do a bunch of 4K HDR, VR, mobile, and even Snapchat stuff, all with their own unique delivery paths.)


Inside the IBC.

Can you give us an idea of how vast the infrastructure is?

It's mind-boggling. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the numbers because they are so comically high:

I think we have something like 2,500 crew members working here in PyeongChang, plus another 1,000 back home in Stamford, CT, some more at 30 Rock in Manhattan, some out at CNBC in New Jersey, plus more in Denver working on Olympic Channel stuff - where most of these sports than only get seen every few years have more regular coverage. This year we're doing about 2,400 hours of coverage (120 something hours a day), around 1,800 of which is live. We deploy 150 of our own cameras and 2 helicopters to accompany OBS's massive arsenal (they had 1,000 cameras in Rio). We have 15 or 16 edit rooms here in the IBC, plus another 15 spread out amongst the venues. I heard we take up around 72,000 sq ft of space within the IBC, which sounds about right. Everything is connected via fiber but I couldn't begin to guess how much cable was used to build the infrastructure. All I know is the 6000mi transfers from PyeongChang to Stamford, CT are lightning fast. The engineering team behind the build are mad scientists, man.

On the media side, it's equally as bonkers. Beyond ingesting the World Feed, our media managers also get about 3-5TB of new ENG material plus another few hundred GB of helicopter stuff every day. There's hundreds of GB of graphics, hundreds of TB of specialty promo footage, and as of today (Day 9) our projects drive is already about 600GB full. That's a lot of metadata! We also have a massive archive of all of our footage from past Olympic games. Storage-wise, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.2PB (or 2,200TB). Like I said, mind-boggling.

When you are working on location, do you have much interaction with the locals? How do you try to experience life through their eyes?

Absolutely! Every Olympics has a local crew of staff and volunteers that work all the events, direct people where to go, assist with translations, man all the security stations, handle all the food, act as local concierges, everything. Getting to know the locals is one of my favorite parts of the job. I mean, why travel around the world if you're not going to meet new people and experience different cultures? My team and I do as much traveling in the country as we can, exploring nearby towns, eating where the locals eat, visiting cultural landmarks, just trying to immerse ourselves in the local life.


A day off in Seoul makes for good Instagrams.

Another great way to meet people is Olympic pin trading. Olympic pins date back to the very first Summer Games in 1896 and are a whole world unto themselves. Broadcasters all have their own unique sets of pins, as do equipment vendors, sponsors, specific venues, host cities, everybody. I've got some from NBC, BBC, Avid, Anton Bauer, CBC, and some classic ones from the 80s. All you have to do is ask for one (typically best to do in the very beginning, as supplies quickly evaporate once more broadcasters arrive at the Games). The local volunteers are here every day with us, so they're essentially our co-workers. Trading pins with them is a really easy way to forge a bond and make someone's day. I've had some really rough days turn around because a local kid was excited that I gave them a cool pin. For us, we go to Olympics every few years so we amass a pretty sweet collection of keepsakes, but for the locals working around us, this may be the only opportunity they have to get some.


Mike's pin collection so far.

[Below is an exchange from Rio that I'll never forget. My friend Karl (on the right) and I were coming into work one day at about 2am, about halfway through the Games. We were both exhausted and really struggling to maintain our energy. On our way in that day, this stoic security guard - who hadn't said two words to us the entire time - stopped us and gently pointed to the pins on Karl's lanyard, asking to trade. In a matter of seconds this guy went from stone-faced serious business to ear-to-ear smiles (as did Karl). He was proud of the Olympics being in his homeland and just wanted as many pins that said Rio on them as he could get. We made his day, he made ours, and believe it or not it gave us a little boost to get through the last week of the grind. All because of a little pin.]



Which past Olympics would you have liked to work?

I really wish I could have worked the Sydney, Barcelona, Torino, London, and Vancouver Games because they're all places I either love or have always wanted to visit. From a historical standpoint, of course I would have loved to have seen the Los Angeles '84 Games and the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid '80. Honestly, I'm still in disbelief that I get to work any of them.

NEXT: Read Part Five!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 22, 2018 at 5:43:33 am olympics, post production, editing, avid

Being an Assistant Editor on a Sundance Documentary: Julie Hwang on "The Game Changers"

Before the lush celebrity gift suites, the sold-out Q&A sessions, and the long lines of frozen but eager cinephiles trying to grab the hottest ticket in Park City, a movie was made -- and it was hard work. And behind the producers and directors and actors who led the charge, a "below-the-line" crew of anywhere from tens to hundreds of craftspeople worked to bring filmmakers' visions to life. They're the post production engineers, the editors, the camera operators, or the composers whose names are in the credits but not the numerous story pitches to Sundance press outlets like the COW. Union or non-union, aspiring or veteran, these individuals spent weeks of their life behind the scenes dedicated to telling a story. And in my 2018 COW Sundance Film Festival coverage, I'm telling their stories.


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Like many of the connections made at Sundance, I met Julie Hwang in a flash during an Avid mixer on Main Street, introduced by a mutual friend. Between the purple lights, free beanies, and blaring music, we could barely hear each other — but when I saw she had served as an assistant editor on her first Sundance documentary feature, I insisted we trade cards and follow up soon after the fest. (Then I ran off into the night to interview Barbie down the street.)

And I’m so glad I did because Julie is rad.

Julie Hwang came into editing in a roundabout way. Her background is technical: she went to MIT and was an electrical engineer at Texas Instruments in Texas where she designed HDMI switches for ten years! “If you ever switched inputs on your HDMI TV, there's a good chance one of the chips I worked on made that possible.”



Once she left engineering, Julie took a Final Cut Pro class and some other production-oriented classes around Dallas, worked on a low budget feature in various roles, and then found herself moving to Silicon Valley along with her partner when he was transferred. After a couple years of freebies and Indies, she decided to fully commit to post production.

“I finally got into post-production, oddly enough, via production. I was working as a PA and assistant travel coordinator on a pretty big travel-based reality competition show. I got to travel to a bunch of different cities, and it felt a little like running away with the circus. Ultimately, I wanted to find something more stable and in post-production back in the Bay Area. Luckily, one of the producers on the show recommended me to a post production supervisor she knew in the Bay Area, and that's how I finally got my first job working with Avid. I started out as a logger and I didn't really have any Avid experience at all. It was my first time working in a real TV post-production environment and I just loved it and knew that's where I wanted to be.”

Julie served as assistant editor on The Game Changers, a documentary that features athletes, soldiers, scientist and cultural icons working together to change the way we eat and live and shift toward a plant-based diet. The documentary was directed by Louie Psihoyos and executive produced by James Cameron, and debuted at Sundance to a sold out audience.


Outside The Ray Theater where The Game Changers premiered.

Creative COW: Why did you originally choose to go into engineering, and what made you shift into film? Was it a life-long passion you put aside to pursue engineering?

Julie Hwang: I've had a love of movies and a fascination with the film industry since a pretty young age, but I grew up as a first generation Asian American whose parents were both engineers. The film/TV industry was something that wasn't really known to my family and also seemed like a risky and impractical pursuit to them. It was something I could never give up completely though. Even at MIT, I took film and media classes, which I definitely enjoyed more than my engineering classes.

Back in Dallas, I became heavily involved in the film festival community there and even helped run the Asian Film Festival of Dallas for a few years. Those experiences brought me in contact with actual filmmakers and other people working in the industry, which made the idea of working in the industry much less abstract. I also want to mention Justin Lin's success at Sundance back in 2002 with Better Luck Tomorrow. Seeing someone with a similar background to my own break out in the movie industry like he did was huge.

Deciding to make the break still took a while, but my final turning point came when I realized I didn't want to retire from my working life at 55 or 65 as an engineer, and that's what was going to happen if I didn't leave.

Engineering and post production are two industries that are notoriously unwelcoming to women. There’s copious research that shows parallels between both industries’ lack of ability to retain, develop, and promote women properly. What has been your experience going from one to the other? Do the two technical roles share similarities, or are things quite different?

Both industries definitely require similar skill sets and I think my engineering background has served me quite well. It's all about trade-offs and working with the resources you have to get things done.

One thing I saw a lot in my engineering career was the drive to make processes more efficient and squeeze more performance out of existing systems and that's a mentality with which I approach the technical side of my work as an assistant editor. Especially in television, where schedules are so tight, it's important to do everything you can to get the editors working as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

I think I was pretty lucky in my engineering career to have worked at a large corporation that had a lot of programs and systems in place to help promote and develop women. Going from a company that had thousands of employees to companies that had less than 50, sometimes less than 5 employees was a big adjustment. Also, so much of our industry is word of mouth and you often find yourself on short assignments. There's a lot more hustle involved. I had to learn to really speak up more for myself and put myself out there in order to make an impression or find new opportunities.

In any field or occupation, I think it's important to stand up for yourself and let your ideas be heard. I still have trouble doing that sometimes, and I will admit, I've found myself more willing to speak up in situations where the crew has been predominantly women. Let me just say, I've been in a few situations where I've felt my ideas were dismissed, ignored, or just put down, and none of those situations involved a female producer, director, or editor.

I think one of the best ways to bring about positive change for women in any field is to seek out and work with people you respect and who value your contributions in return, male or female.


Bryant Jennings in The Game Changers.

Tell me about The Game Changers. How did you get involved on the film, and what was your role? How long did you work on the film?

The Game Changers is a feature length documentary that follows elite special forces trainer and former UFC fighter James Wilks as he discovers the performance, health, and environmental impacts of a plant-based diet. It was directed by Louis Psihoyos, who won an Oscar for The Cove, and executive produced by James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron.  One of the writers was Mark Monroe (Icarus) and the film was edited by Dan Swietlik, ACE (An Inconvenient Truth, Sicko, Fed Up) and Stephanie Mechura (The Price of Sex, Frontline). It was really a dream team of documentary film making and it was an amazing experience to be able to be in the edit rooms with Dan and Stephanie.

I was brought onto the project back in February of last year because they made a decision change NLE's from Premiere to Avid and needed Bay Area Avid assistants to help transfer the project. I ended up staying on through the rest of the post production process. I was able to do some string-outs and editing, but my primary duties were to manage our massive project and the media and assets.

I feel really lucky to have been brought onto the film, not only because of the caliber of the filmmakers involved, but it's probably the first project I've been involved with that I felt could have a positive impact on the world.


Outside Park City's Egyptian Theater

What was the most challenging aspect of The Game Changers for you as an assistant editor? How did you meet that challenge?

The amount of material we had was enormous. This is easily the largest project I've worked on, in terms of hours of footage and the number of subjects involved. Over 100 subjects were interviewed. In addition to that, we had hours of verite and also a huge amount of archival footage and graphics. From a creative standpoint, condensing and refining all that material into a coherent 90 minute film was a huge challenge by itself, but we also had a lot of logistical issues to deal with.

We had producers, writers, and graphics artists spread all over the world and our editor Stephanie was also working remotely for part of the time. It was vital to have the project well organized and with a good naming convention for each different type of media so we could find things quickly or new material could be found logically. We made heavy use of Google Drive both for sharing scripts, exports, and even Avid bins quickly.

As I mentioned earlier, I had been brought on to help move the project from Premiere to Avid. It was a decision that delayed the start of the edit by about 6 weeks, since we essentially had to rebuild and re-sync everything from scratch, but in the end it probably saved us months.

The ability for multiple members of the team to be working in the same project at the same time was absolutely essential and Scriptsync was just a brilliant way for us to quickly go through all the material we had and to assemble edits. I'm also not sure that we would have been able to keep everything in one project with Premiere. Avid handled our gargantuan project like a champ.

Is this your first trip to Sundance with a film? What has that experience been like?

Yes! This was my first trip with a film. I had come to Sundance before, just as a festival goer, but this was definitely a more exciting experience. At the premiere, I finally got to meet several of our documentary subjects in person which was kind of strange and also nerve wracking, since none of them had seen the film yet. It was a great relief that all the athletes and scientists were happy with the film and how they were portrayed.

Many of your credits are on reality and documentary projects. What are you working toward in the future?

I enjoy the challenge of reality and documentary work where you're essentially finding the story in the edit, but I do hope to be able to move more into narrative work. Part of my desire to shift is just because that's a whole area of post production that I'm unfamiliar with and I want to gain that knowledge. In narrative work you also have a larger number of disciplines coming together to create and drive the story, and it would be exciting to be a part of that.


The Game Changers.

What’s next on the horizon for you? Do you have another project lined up?

There's still a little more work to be done on The Game Changers post-Sundance. We finished the Sundance cut of the film only a few days before its festival premiere so it doesn't feel like that project has really wrapped yet. After that, I'm looking at some other TV documentary work, and I think it's time to start going down to LA more.

What advice do you have for people who might be considering shifting careers into post production?

Always be willing to work hard and learn as much as you can. Be patient but never complacent. If you're not sure about the switch, ask yourself where you want to be at the end of your career. If you can live with the track that you're on, that's great. If you can't, then you need to do what you can to switch.


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 19, 2018 at 12:30:27 am Sundance, the game changers, assistant editor, editing, vegan

Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 3)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where the athletic highlights and stunning stories continue to pour out. Check out part one to get started on his journey.


Mike's Olympic 'stache next to the Olympic flame.

What's a typical day like for you now that the games are in full swing?

We work twelve hour shifts and I'm on a 2pm-2am workday this time around. My producer and I have to cut two new pieces every day for a primetime show on NBC affiliates - a show open and a highlight "lookback," which is like a highlight montage of the best moments or stories from that day. Beyond that we'll help out with other deliverables as needed, cutting promos, finishing pieces the day shift didn't have time for, and crashing* on new pieces that may pop up on the spur of the moment (which happened just this week after the men's skiathlon).

* - "Crashing" is an informal term for quickly cutting a new piece from scratch, usually because of some unexpected development or breaking news. In our case, we were asked to crash on a piece telling the story of Norwegian cross-country skiier Simen Hegstad Krueger's... in the men's skiathlon. (He crashed and broke a pole at the start of the 30km race, fell to dead last and made a miraculous comeback to win gold, passing all 63 skiiers in the process.) The whole thing was done with announcer calls from the race, so it was basically us digging through the hour-15 behemoth for little bits and pieces to tell the story coherently. There's more I would like to do with it, but I think it came out pretty cool nonetheless.

[Watch Mike's crash piece on Krueger's comeback on NBC's website -- it's really good.]

Do you get to actually watch anything, on TV or in person?

Yes on both accounts! We're surrounded by TVs with feeds from all the Comcast Olympic stations as well as direct feeds from the venues so we can see literally everything! I got to attend about ten or twelve events down in Rio but I was also on a 2am-2pm shift, so by the time my day was done there was a ton of things I could go see.

Here in PyeongChang it's a little different since I'm out at 2am and my window is a bit more limited. I'd like to see some luge, bobsled, snowboarding, ski jumping, and alpine downhill if I can swing it. Also, Japanese broadcaster NHK has a special Super High Vision* theater set up in the IBC, broadcasting events both taped and live in stunning 8K/22.2 surround sound. They're testing and preparing for Tokyo 2020 (and have been for years). I saw figure skating yesterday and it looked and sounded like I was sitting in the arena, it was incredible.

[Editor's note for the nerds: NHK's SHV is 7680x4320 10/12 bit 16:9 at frame rates of 59.94, 60, or 120. New to the Super High Vision for this Olympics is the addition of HDR for all events.]


Outside the Super High Vision Theater

Are there any special circumstances you have to watch out for in South Korea?

Nothing too crazy aside from the bitter cold and brutal wind. I've talked to a lot of Olympic long-timers who say this is by far the coldest Games they can remember, which is bonkers considering we're not that high up (around 2300ft) and we're about even with San Francisco latitudinally. I'm lucky enough to be in an edit bay all day. I can't imagine what the camera ops, mixers, photographers, and other production personnel are dealing with out their in the deep freeze.

What's been the best moment of the Olympics so far?

The best moment I've seen so far has been that crazy skiathlon comeback I mentioned earlier, but there are new amazing moments happening every hour. Take your pick: seventeen year old American Red Gerard winning Gold in slopestyle snowboarding (the USA's first medal); figure skater Mirai Nagasu's gravity-defying triple axel; Canada's Philippe Marquis qualifying eighth in moguls with a torn ACL, which is like the most insane thing I've ever heard. Literally every hour of every day some new record is set or a new compelling story develops. And it's still only Day 3!

What has been a personal highlight so far?

My personal highlight so far was getting the opportunity to cut a piece for the Opening Ceremony called Meet Team USA. It was a short stat-heavy feature that aired right before Team USA entered the stadium for the parade of nations. We worked on it in our down time for about 4 or 5 days and I'm really proud of the result. (I'm always my own worst critic and never feel like anything I work on is really ever 'done,' so this was a first for me.)


MEET TEAM USA from Mike Api on Vimeo.



Basically we started with a long script that was essentially a ton of numbers and names. We knew just yelling figures at people would get tired after a while, so we recorded a scratch VO, picked some music, and went to town pacing it out how we thought it should sound. From there we added some nat sound pops and announcer calls where we felt we needed a little break from the narration. (IMO, this is pretty standard documentary process - lay down your sound first and then elevate it with good visuals to tell the story.)

As my fantastic producer Scott and I mined for better and better shots, the Graphics department built us some cool full screens and animated titles, and hosts Katie Couric and Mike Tirico recorded the voiceover. As always, things kept popping up last minute (in this case athletes dropping out of the Games due to injuries), which meant new graphics as well as new voiceover - not the easiest thing to coordinate when you're hours away from the Opening Ceremony. Once we locked our cut we sent it off to [the NBC Sports home base in] Stamford, CT to be mixed, dropped in the final mix and exported to our playback server about 2 hours before the start of Opening Ceremony.


Mike's Media Composer timeline for Meet Team USA.

How does the constraint of time and deadline work for you in this environment?

In all of these cases, I find myself thriving off the high pressure and time constraints. It forces you to be more decisive and quickly recognize what you like or dislike. You do a lot of relying on your gut instincts since you just don't have the time to second guess yourself or flounder around in "well, I don't know" land.

You have to be creative off the top of your head, trust your teammates, brainstorm new ideas, collaborate, and try things out. Like I've mentioned in previous posts, SOMETHING has to air, so you need to get image and sound on a timeline one way or the other. Personally, I love working like that because at the end of a shift, it's on the air, out of my head, and I'm onto the next thing with a fresh mindset.


Navigation in the buildings.

NEXT: Read Part Four!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Feb 17, 2018 at 6:07:11 pm olympics, post production, mike api, editing

Dispatches from PyeongChang: Preparing to Edit the Olympics (Part 2)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).

Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from balmy PyeongChang, where it is currently mid-afternoon on a Sunday and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, on track to be one of the coldest Games in recent memory. Check out part one to get started on his journey.


Mike with the Winter Olympics mascot Soohorang (수호랑) and Winter Paralympics mascot Bandabi (반다비).

When does the Olympics actually start? Why are you there so early?

The Opening Ceremony is Friday, February 9th, but technically the Winter Games start on the 7th. There are usually some events that take place before the OC because there's such a huge number to get through and scheduling & broadcasting them all means there has to be some crafty logistical maneuvering. There will never be any medals presented before the OC, but some early round robins/preliminary events get the early go. (In this case it's biathlon, luge, alpine skiing, and ski jumping.)

We get here almost two weeks before the opening because there's a lot of work to do! On the editing side, we have a ton of promos, sponsored content, and all sorts of different elements to create beforehand. There are also pieces that were cut in Stamford, CT that will need to be either finished, upgraded*, voiced, or totally recut depending on late-breaking developments (e.g. - if someone gets injured before the Games or if a shoe-in athlete we've been producing a feature on doesn't end up making the Olympics, which always happens). The studio and engineering crews have been here for much longer, building and testing all the studios and technical infrastructure. None of this was here a few months ago!


The International Broadcast Center being pieced together.

This year is especially complicated because it happens to be NBC's turn to broadcast the Super Bowl (in the same week no less!), so a good portion of the crew is still working on that.

Beyond that, we're still shooting new pieces that will need to be cut, colored, voiced, mixed, and ready to go later this week! (To be clear, this isn't due to a lack of planning - some things just aren't possible to do way ahead of time, especially any pieces that involve the athletes physically being in Korea. And again, things always come up.)

* - "upgraded" refers to upgrading the footage. The standards for visuals are very high, so we're always tweaking until we're happy with every shot in a piece. For instance, we may cut with "dirty" (texted) placeholder footage from an old race until we get our hands on better angles or better quality replacements. "Specialty" shoots are where we get the really pretty, really stylized b-roll and scenics that sports tv is known for.


Seoul, South Korea.

In the days leading up to the beginning of the games, what kinds of things are you doing or preparing, in general?

You name it. We're prepping a bunch of pieces we can't actually edit until we get competition footage, cutting a big preview show, cutting all those new late-breaking pieces I mentioned earlier, cutting dozens of sponsorship enhancements* (branded content that act as in-broadcast highlight reels while also serving as ad time), all sorts of jazz.

Right now I'm cutting a special Meet Team USA piece that's going to air directly before the USA walks into the Opening Ceremony! (No pressure at all, right?)

[*An example of sponsorship enhancements would be if Creative COW sponsors the Games and buys 12 sponsorship enhancements with a focus on "teamwork." So as the Games go on, we'll have to deliver 12 mini highlight reels with an emphasis on the best team moments - teammates picking each other up, passing the baton during a relay, celebrating together, etc. People often dog the Olympics for being too ad-heavy, but the fact is without sponsors like Coca-Cola (who is not paying me to say this), we wouldn't be able to broadcast the Games across the world. It's also how they manage to keep the courses, fields, and rinks clear of any advertising.]


Home for the month.

What have you learned is important to bring with you when you work on location in a foreign country?

Copies of your passport are crucial because it can take a really long time to replace a lost passport. Scan it, email it to yourself, and email it to someone else. Prepare a list of emergency contacts in your phone and also keep a physical copy on you. If you wear contacts - bring extras! It sounds obvious but I've gotten burned a few times when a lens popped out or ripped at the beginning of my trip and I had no backups.

It should go without saying but you also need to bring a respectful attitude and be mindful that you are, in fact, representing your entire country abroad. *This is especially important for younger people.* Sometimes you're excited to travel abroad and let loose, but you have to understand that the image you're putting out there is representative of (in our case) the United States and the NBC network. This isn't your home. It's someone else's. You can get plastered and be loud on the LIRR [Long Island Rail Road] and get a few stares but do that in another country while wearing your company logo and that's the image people will associate with the United States. It's not a very good look. 


Sight-seeing in Seoul.

How do you prepare emotionally for such a high intensity job that lasts for so long?

Finding a good rhythm and taking care of yourself is essential on these long hauls. The Olympics is definitely a grind; we're pulling 12-hr days 7 days a week for a month straight. If you're staying up late all the time or not eating properly and not getting enough rest it'll catch up to you, your body will shut down, and you won't be productive.

Psychologically, you really need to focus in on the task at hand, forget about social media or any other distractions. and operate on a Left-to-Right mentality. (That's a reference to putting things down on a timeline from left to right, getting ideas onto a sequence rather than wondering IF an idea is going to work.) Just try it and then adjust - after all, something is going to have to air. This is an approach I take to any project, no matter the pressure. Then go back and make it pretty when you have the time. This is not to say there isn't time to think and be creative, but you need to be efficient and focused.

What are you doing in your downtime?

(What is this "downtime" you speak of?!) I try to relax after work, get a good meal in and alternate between doing nothing and doing...something. And it almost always involves food (naturally). In Rio I did a lot of wandering around the Olympic Park checking out different events, and a bunch of days were spent exploring nearby towns. Here in PyeongChang, I happen to be at a hotel smack dab in the Mountain Cluster where nordic combined, ski jumping, and snowboarding is going down.



I have eaten my weight in Korean fried chicken, barbecue, kimchi, and all sorts of fun treats. We're also pretty close to the slide centre so I definitely want to catch some bobsled and luge. We're also pretty close to the high speed train that takes us to the Coastal Cluster where hockey, speed skating (!!), figure skating, and a host of other events are happening. We got an unexpected day off on Friday and took the train to Seoul, which was pretty amazing. Once we really get into the thick of it, I'm sure there will be days where I don't want to do anything but eat dinner and relax. It's a delicate balance of exploring while being mindful of how much rest you're getting.



[Editor's Note: Mike also got a scary warning text this weekend. It turned out to be warning of the impending cold wave. Which is also scary, but not in the way he was probably imagining.]



NEXT: Read Part Three!



Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 1)

Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Between pre-cut packages and live footage and montages put together with moments that had happened seconds ago, I couldn’t fathom what went into the teams who created this media.

Lucky for all of us, among the nerds I have been grateful to cross paths with is LA-based editor Mike Api. (That rhymes with “happy”.)

For the next few weeks, Mike is in PyeongChang, South Korea, where he’s working as a freelance editor on the Olympics for NBC. Having been through the Olympics editorial experience before — the Summer Games in Rio two years ago — he knows he has a lot of interesting stories to tell us while he’s working.

He also knows life gets crazy on location, so I’m helping him to tell his stories as best we can as they happen. I don’t know how often I’ll post a new dispatch, or how long it’ll be, or how illustrated we’ll make it. But I’m going to ask him a few questions every few days, and he’s going to tell me what he can, and we’ll all have a great time.

Ya’ll, I know the Winter Olympics has its high drama, it’s ups and downs and emotional beats on the skating rink or the ski slope. Wait ’til you hear about the twists and turns of the edit suite. (Think I’m being dramatic? Read below about playing live to the world via an Avid sequence and try not to scream.)


First day in Korea, decked out in swag.

Mike has worked in a bunch of different genres – reality, news, documentary, sports, narrative, music videos, sketch comedy, even a syndicated Good Housekeeping special (if you need advice on the best oven mitts out there, let him know). Most of his unit has been through at least five or six Olympic Games — with one friend, Paul, having been at it since Atlanta in 1996. There are lots of departments that work on all kinds of custom opens or late-breaking features. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles). (To add to the scope of the Olympics, his unit cuts a lot of features, but the large majority of them are done by another unit called Daily Stories. And the deep-dive cultural and investigative pieces are produced and edited over the course of several months, some over several years. They are constantly being rewritten and upgraded right up until the start of the Games.)

“There is a wealth of experience around me, for which I am eternally grateful. Not a day goes by where I'm not inspired by someone else's work or approach to it. I'm a naturally curious person, so these trips are like nerd-brain overdrive for me.”

Mike set off for PyeongChang yesterday and answered my first batch of questions from his Air Korea flight.

What is the process like for arranging travel and going to work in a foreign country — logistically and emotionally?

The NBC logistics people handle all of our travel arrangements and honestly have the most insane job of all. There are thousands of NBC staff and freelance employees from all over the world on-site at each Olympics. That's thousands of plane tickets, hotel rooms, airport transfers, and visas every two years. Not to mention all the cancellations and delays that go along with traveling around the world. It's really impressive.

To say this job is “exciting” would be a gross understatement. The fact that I get to play with this unbelievable material and contribute to such a massive production is something I really cherish. This time I'm doubly excited because I was obsessed with the Winter Olympics as a kid!

That said, my mind is so scattered from wrapping my last job, buying stuff and packing for Korea, and prepping my next project that the reality of what I'm about to do hasn't really sunk in yet.

(Hell, I left my passport at home this morning. HELLO? IS THIS THING ON? I LEFT MY PASSPORT AT HOME. I remembered my sack of Reese's Pieces but forgot the only acceptable form of identification I can use to travel.)

It'll probably hit me once I'm sitting at my Avid on day one, dipping into the footage (which, again, is the most unbelievable footage in the world. I could go on for hours about our cinematographers).


Mike's caption for this was "dope a** inspiring signage" which I think is sufficient.

Tell me about your experience the first time around in Rio. Surely you had a cool experience or two.

Getting the chance to see Olympic events in person is a dream come true. In Rio, I got to see some cycling, swimming, indoor volleyball, fencing (which looks like Tron meets Star Wars and is so damn intense), as well as the US women's gymnastics team gold, the US men's basketball gold, and the single greatest sporting event I've ever been to: the men's beach volleyball gold medal match between Italy and Brazil. It was at midnight on Copacabana Beach in the pouring rain, and by pure luck I snagged a seat in the first row right in front of the Brazilian team. It was insane, the stadium was literally shaking. I was about 20 feet away from the athletes (and completely surrounded by maniac Brazilian fans completely losing their sh-t.) I'm in the background of the medals ceremony awkwardly clapping and shivering.



Beyond that, it's an indescribable rush to edit something — sometimes in only a matter of minutes — and then immediately see your work on the air as a part of the biggest broadcast event on the planet. As a video nerd who lives for behind the scenes stuff, seeing how the sausage is made is my favorite part of the experience.

What’s the craziest thing that happened in Rio?

The craziest thing that happened in Rio came on my very first shift. In fact, it happened right at the start of my first shift.

We were about to open up the first day of the broadcast with a roll-in of the most grandiose Rio scenics we had, accompanied by the classic Olympics score. It's the FIRST thing anyone watching NBC sees of the Olympics — the biggest, swooping establishing shots that have to set the scene for the following three weeks, over which our hosts do their live introduction.  A few minutes before air (six, maybe ten minutes), the roll-in failed on the server and wouldn't play. (There are a lot of steps we have to go through as far as naming conventions, codecs, and exports to make sure it plays out and for whatever reason, it failed.) 

My supervising producer, showing incredible faith (or perhaps I was the only goon available) gave me the task of banging together a new open - which we did from a bin of scenic selects I happened to start the day before when we were setting up our machines. With no time to export a new cut, we played the open LIVE onto the air straight from my Avid. I've rolled out live-to-air a handful of times in my life but never anything remotely close to this type of pressure. We got the shots, got the music, timed it all out, gave it some pad, and carefully hit the spacebar. My edit bay, now filled with producers and curious PAs, went pin-drop silent and I don't think anybody exhaled until it was finished. That was my welcome to the Olympics.


The ski resort complex where Mike is staying.

What’s next once you land?

Once we land we'll do the accreditation of our media credentials, make the three hour bus ride to PyeongChang (this year's Games are the most remote in history) and get some shut eye. We have a day of acclimatization and hit the ground running on Tuesday, Jan 30th. First up is workflow training with our brilliant senior post supervisor, catching us up on this year's process and any new features we'll be incorporating. We usually have the latest build of Media Composer as well as our own dedicated team of techs from Avid to work out any kinks.

And that, my friend, is just the tip of the iceberg for seeing how the sausage is made. The Olympics is typically when networks push the envelope developing and test-driving new technologies, and sometimes we're the guinea pigs! Once we get a briefing on what new tech we're playing with, then the real fun begins...


-13C in PyeongChang -- off to a good start.

NEXT: Read Part Two!


Posted by: Kylee Peña on Jan 29, 2018 at 5:51:43 am Winter Olympics, post production, editing, mike api

Why Representation Matters: Thoughts on the Creative Arts Emmys

The first time I had tea with Meaghan, it was a bright summer day in New York. She told me I would have to work harder than almost anyone I knew if I wanted to succeed.

It was my first trip to the city after a lifetime of aspirations. We sat in Moby’s vegan cafe on the lower east side and she told me all about her experiences and opinions as a woman and a person in post production. She’s a part of my generation, but had a lot more experience in high level broadcast content in one of the biggest cities on Earth. We’d met on Twitter a few years before. I was in corporate video and she was an assistant editor at Sesame Street.


Meaghan and I sharing our first tea in New York.

Despite this massive gap in experience, she treated me as an equal. She was sincere, exacting, and honest. She told me that as a woman in post production, I was already at a disadvantage thanks to a subconcious gender bias. We talked about why this existed and how to fight it, and she gave me suggestions for dealing with the reality of it without the empty advice of “leaning in.” Thematically, her advice boiled down to having a firm grasp of reality. Life is unfair. Accept your circumstances or work as hard as you can to change them while being a beacon for others. Also, try the vegan cheesecake. (It was really good.)

That conversation was the first time I had thought hard about what it meant to be female in a male-dominated industry. My early experiences in post production were skewed by the fact I was hired out of college to work in a trucking school. Any subtle gender bias inherent in tech jobs was massively dominated by not-at-all-subtle outright sexism in the trucking industry. I was a bystander and I was buried too deep in just trying to do good enough work to be accepted.


Meaghan and I walking to the DGA Theater for Editfest.

During the first few years out of college, life was hard. I was in the midwest and working on content I didn’t really like very much. The Great Recession was mostly still in full swing. I was massively underpaid with no other opportunities available. I worked nights and weekends on any other freelance work I could find. I spent days on free work just to learn new skills in case the economy improved. Besides my BFF and fellow recent graduate Katie Toomey, no one else looked like us in the post industry in my area. I considered myself as much less than equal.


Meaghan showing Katie and I around Sesame Workshop.

Talking to women like Meaghan (who have also had hardships) on Twitter, and then meeting them in person to find generous individuals not drowning in cynicism made it possible to climb out of the hole created by the housing crisis and by my own self-doubt. I was equal and had been for a long time, even if society did not agree. (I knew and continue to know many generous men on Twitter too. But my own subconscious self-perceptions didn’t allow me to consider myself as equal to them, and their experiences didn’t directly apply to me.)

It took many more years for me to fully form my own opinions on life as a “minority” in the tech world. Since that day, I’ve had many more conversations with my greatest mentor and other friends (and Meaghan) about sexism in post. Meaghan and I have shared a lot of tea.


Walking around New York, feeling like I belonged.

I branched off into a highly technical part of the industry — something I might have never considered possible for myself had Meaghan not welcomed me out of the hole — and now work on network television shows in Los Angeles. I’ve written a lot about sexism in post. I’m an advocate for young women through groups like the Blue Collar Post Collective, a group which Meaghan helps me with as a committee member.



In the years since, I have had many conversations with young women about their potential challenges in this industry. Each time I talk with an intern about her typically brief time in post production, I see a light bulb come on when she realizes that her experiences with gender bias are universal. She is comforted. Sometimes she’s angry and we talk about channeling that into something positive. She asks for advice and resources. She becomes her own catalyst for change that may write her own articles or start her own advocacy groups.

Meaghan was recently nominated for her first Primetime Emmy for her editing work on CONAN — specifically, Conan in Korea.

Out of the 76 people nominated for picture editing Emmys this season, 15 are women. That’s 19%. According to the latest data from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, 21% of editors in primetime television in 2015 were women. These numbers haven’t really changed significiantly in the last 15 years.


Meaghan's own Instagram from the Emmys ceremony on September 11.

People who represent minorities in this industry and choose to be generous, realistic, and not at all cynical with their advice and experiences are vital to changing what the face of an expert looks like in post production. Every time someone like Meaghan opens up and “holds space” (her perfect words, not mine) for someone, it ripples downward. It’s not just women helping women, but women and men helping women and men see that underrepresented people in this industry are only underrepresented by design, not by true merit.

And every time someone like Meaghan chooses to use her position in the industry to loudly advocate for women (or workers rights, or family, or any other issues), there are massive incremental effects. Someone else speaks up. And then someone else. And even if someone else doesn't feel safe speaking up, they may change their actions.

When women are visible, others that come behind them will aspire for more. And for editors, it doesn’t get much more visible than the Primetime Emmys.


Meaghan and her post supervisor Rachel Yoder.

There’s a large amount of cynicism in post production that comes from evolving software, aging business models, and grumpy people who just don’t like change. It would be especially easy for a woman in post production to be grinded into a cynical little nub by bearing the burden of those challenges plus the tight-rope walk of femaleness in tech.

But not Meaghan. Meaghan makes post production welcoming, but not without caution that hard work is on the horizon and luck is necessary and sometimes elusive.

Appropriately, it seems nearly perfect that Meaghan would be nominated for editing a show for a boss who left a very difficult time of his own with these words: “I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Congratulations to Meaghan and the other 14 women nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy. Whether you took the statue or not, your presence is vitally important to making post production more inclusive — and less cynical.


Meaghan and I at the Eddie Awards in LA in January 2016 with other female friends gained through Twitter.


Meaghan and the Emmy nominated editing team for Conan in Korea.



Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 11, 2016 at 5:28:25 pm emmys, editing, editors



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