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EPIX crew works around clock for quick turnaround

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- The bagels from breakfast are still sitting out while lunch is being ordered, plenty of them untouched as the hours bleed away with no one really noticing, or caring.

Producers in one of the four edit rooms are sifting through hours upon hours of footage while wearing winter coats because for some reason that no one can figure out, the heat in that particular edit room is not working properly this morning.

So what, they say. It doesn't stop them. They grind. They always grind.

This is a small snippet of every-day life in the world of the post-production team behind "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Stadium Series," featuring the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. It's the same post-production team that was behind "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic," that featured the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals.

EPIX 'ROAD TO THE NHL STADIUM SERIES'

Watch "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Stadium Series" to get an inside look at the personalities of the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings as they prepare to take their rivalry outside, to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 21 for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game. REGISTER FOR YOUR EPIX FREE TRIAL ›

Home for the nearly two dozen members of this post-production crew these past two-plus months has been their corner of Vidiots Inc., an expansive, full-service, state-of-the-art production studio on the fifth floor of a downtown Manhattan building. Family is the team they play for to produce this taxing, tiring, difficult and extremely rewarding form of television.

Whereas most production teams working on reality TV shows have weeks to produce an hour-long show, this crew that allowed us into their studio and their lives Friday has to put an hour of unique, compelling television out for public consumption every Tuesday night for four straight weeks and eight weeks in total this winter.

The turnaround time is even shorter when you consider each episode has to be ready to preview by 8 a.m. Monday, and a lot of times the footage isn't even ingested into the editing software until Sunday night.

"The hardest part about this show is time, you just don't have the time," said coordinating producer Johnson McKelvy. "But from top to bottom this group is the best group I have ever worked with. And having Ross [Greenburg] at the helm is amazing. He demands that we tell great stories, and that is critical to what we do."

Greenburg is the godfather for this form of television. He's a 52-time Sports Emmy winner who crafted and developed the critically acclaimed "Hard Knocks" and "24/7" series during his time with HBO Sports.

Greenburg oversees everything as executive producer. He works closest with McKelvy to craft the changing storylines that the 24 people embedded in the field, approximately 12 per team, have to cover in what essentially is a non-stop marathon of capturing footage and sending it back to the studio in New York either digitally or over the Internet.

"We'll put a show to bed and then Johnson gets a call from me probably about an hour later and we start hammering out the format for the next show," Greenburg said.

Inevitably the plan has to change with the various tangents the teams take through the course of the time the camera crews are with them.

"On Tuesday I'll start discussing with Johnson what I think the storylines are that we need to hit, but for this upcoming episode, on Thursday, once we saw the way the L.A. Kings games were going and the outcomes, I changed the format," Greenburg said. "I started reshaping some of the later segments to focus on the agony of defeat and what's going on in the locker room, what's going on with [coach Darryl] Sutter, what's going on with the players. We send out the messages to the field that these are the kinds of stories we're looking for because it's obvious this season has taken an odd turn. We have to feel the pulse of what's going on with this team."

Greenburg also decided he wanted to close the upcoming episode with the Kings' reaction to their game at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. But what in all likelihood will be a three- to four-minute closing segment actually takes approximately 36-40 hours to create.

"The words that no one wants to hear is when I say we have to put Saturday night's game in the show," Greenburg said. "That's tough."

Why? Time. And the magnitude of what they're shooting.

The crews in the field shoot each game with four cameras positioned in various locations, including GoPro cameras. The media manager on site constantly is sending footage back to the studio in New York.

Once all the footage from a game is captured and sent it amounts to approximately 16 hours of footage, with four hours coming from each camera. All of that has to get ingested into the software system in the studio so it's in a format that the editors can work with. Ingestion takes about 30 seconds for every minute of footage, so 16 hours of footage takes approximately eight hours to ingest.

"Think about it as if when you're at your computer and you're trying to get a download going and you're waiting for the buffering," Greenburg said. "It's that on a huge level."

There are multiple games put into each episode for each team, including quite often two games on Saturday. Footage from games Saturday can't be fully ingested until Sunday evening, which means the editors won't even get a chance to see it in order to start building the segment out until that time. They have to have the show ready to preview by 8 a.m. Monday.

"It's an incredible amount of storage," said post production supervisor Dan Edelman.

Once all the footage is in, the editors have to see it and hear it so they can crush it down to the most important and best moments. They watch everything, and putting a three-to-four minute game segment together could take up to 16 hours.

The first game segment they created for the Stadium Series show took 27 hours to make.

"Every time we cut a game we try to come at it from a fresh angle so it doesn't seem repetitive," said Andrew Romero, an editor who handles at least two games per week. "Another thing that is key is we don't want it to look like a highlight reel. You want something intimate to come out about the game, the players, being on the ice."

The same process holds for scenes that don't involve games. One editor has to watch and listen to everything so he can chop down the footage for the next editor to build the segment.

In total there are four edit rooms going all day long with at least 12 editors working in them. That doesn't include Greenburg, McKelvy, the night-shift editors or line producer Cristina DiLegge and her staff, which among other tasks handles the show's budget and all the details of the travel for the field crews, including making sure their equipment can get in and out of Canada.

"Other folks that work on other reality shows get 10 weeks to do an hour and we have four-and-a-half days, so it's a completely insane fast-track version of what we do, and it looks amazing for what we're putting together," DiLegge said. "That's why the number of resources that you see and hear about have to go into it. It's not that we have 24 people in post-production, it's that we have the right 24 people. There are a lot of people who couldn't do this."

McKelvy said transitions in a show such as this are hugely important to carrying the viewer through the hour. A choppy transition will take the viewer away from the storyline. So even after the segments are built and the storyline is created, there has to be a natural flow to the show.

Enter the narration from Bill Camp, who is reading a script written by Aaron Cohen, 38, and a veteran of script writing for sports documentary series.

Greenburg said he, Cohen and McKelvy will typically start crafting the close of the show on Thursday, but if they want to include a Saturday night game, that can't be written until Sunday at the earliest.

"We have found the 25th hour," DiLegge said.

It isn't until the show is cut and ready to be previewed Monday morning by EPIX, the NHL and representatives from the teams that the post-production crew sees it in its full format.

"I go into that room Monday morning and I am so nervous because I haven't even seen the show," McKelvy said. "It's like going, 'Here it is, God bless.'"

The show doesn't get delivered to EPIX until approximately noon ET on Tuesday. Before it airs that night, the crew is already working on the episode for next week. They won't stop grinding until the final show is delivered to EPIX at noon ET on Feb. 24.

"From Dec. 1, when the first series began, to today I've had two complete days off and one of them was Christmas," McKelvy said. "You sign on for this and there are no days off. This becomes life and this studio is home. Everybody who signs on for this show knows that they're going to hug their kids and kiss their spouses goodbye and this becomes their priority."

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