Tag Archives: Conan O’Brien

Matt Shaw on cutting Conan Without Borders: Ghana and Greenland

By Randi Altman

While Conan O’Brien was airing his traditional one-hour late night talk show on TBS, he and his crew would often go on the road to places like Cuba, South Korea and Armenia for Conan Without Borders — a series of one-hour specials. He would focus on regular folks, not celebrities, and would embed himself into the local culture… and there was often some very mediocre dancing, courtesy of Conan. The shows were funny, entertaining and educational, and he enjoyed doing them.

Conan and Matt on the road.

In 2019, Conan and his crew, Team Coco, switched the nightly show from one hour to a new 30-minute format. The format change allowed them to produce three to four hour-long Conan Without Borders specials per year. Two of the places the show visited last year were Ghana and Greenland. As you might imagine, they shoot a lot of footage, which all must be logged and edited, often while on the road.

Matt Shaw is one of the editors on Conan, and he went on the road with the show when it traveled to Greenland. Shaw’s past credits include Deon Cole’s Black Box and The Pete Holmes Show (both from Conan O’Brien’s Conaco production company) and The Late Late Show with James Corden (including Carpool Karaoke). One of his first gigs for Team Coco was editing Conan Without Borders: Made in Mexico. That led to a full-time editing gig on Conan on TBS and many fun adventures.

We reached out to Shaw to find out more about editing these specials and what challenges he faced along the way.

You recently edited Conan Without Borders — the Greenland and Ghana specials. Can you talk about preparing for a job like that? What kind of turnaround did you have?
Our Ghana special was shot back in June 2019, with the original plan to air in August, but it was pushed back to November 7 because of how fast the Greenland show came up.

In terms of prep for a show like Ghana, we mainly just know the shooting specs and will handle the rest once the crew actually returns. For the most part, that’s the norm. Ideally, we’ll have a working dark week (no nightly Conan show), and the three editors — me, Rob Ashe and Chris Heller — will take the time to offload, sync and begin our first cuts of everything. We’ll have been in contact with the writers on the shoot to get an idea of what pieces were shot and their general notes from the day.

With Greenland, we had to mobilize and adjust everything to accommodate a drastically different shoot/delivery schedule. The Friday before leaving, while we were prepping the Ghana show to screen for an audience, we heard there might be something coming up that would push Ghana back. On Monday, we heard the plan was to go to Greenland on Wednesday evening, after the nightly show, and turn around Greenland in place of Ghana’s audience screening. We had to adjust the nightly show schedule to still have a new episode ready for Thursday while we were in Greenland.

How did you end up on the Greenland trip?
Knowing we’d only have six days from returning from Greenland to having to finish the show broadcast, our lead editor, Rob Ashe, suggested we send an editor to work on location. We were originally looking into sending footage via Aspera from a local TV studio in Nuuk, Greenland, but we just wouldn’t have been able to turn it around fast enough. We decided about two days before the trip began that I’d go and do what I could to offload, backup, sync and do first cuts on everything.

How much footage did you have per episode, and what did they shoot on?
Ghana had close to 17 hours of material shot over five days on Sony Z450s at 4K XAVC, 29.97. Greenland was closer to 12 hours shot over three days on Panasonic HPX 250s, P2 media recording at 1080 60i.

We also used iPhone/iPad/GoPro footage picked up by the rest of the crew as needed for both shows. I also had a DJI Osmo pocket camera to play with when I had a chance, and we used some of that footage during the montage of icebergs.

So you were editing segments while they were still shooting?
In Greenland, I was cutting daily in the hotel. Midday, I’d get a drop of cards, offload, sync/group and the first cuts on everything. We had a simple offline edit workflow set up where I’d upload my cuts to Frame.io and email my project files to the team — Rob and Chris — in Burbank. They would then download and sync the Frame.io file to a top video layer in the timeline and continue cutting down, with any additional notes from the writers.

Generally, I’d have everything from Day One uploaded by the start of Day Two, etc. It seemed to work out pretty well to set us up for success when we returned. I was also getting notes on requests to help cut a few highlights from our remotes and to put on Team Coco’s Instagram account.

On our return day, we flew to Ilulissat for an iceberg expedition. We had about two hours on the ground before having to return to the airport and fly to Kangerlussuaq, where our chartered plane was waiting to take us back to California. On the flight back, I worked for another four hours or so to sort through the remaining segments and prep everything so we could hit the ground running the following morning. During the flight home, we screened some drone footage from the iceberg trip for Conan, and it really got everyone excited.

What are the challenges of working on the road and with such tight turnarounds?
The night we left for Greenland was preceded by a nightly show in Burbank. After the show ended, we hopped on a plane to fly eight hours to Kangerlussuaq for customs, then another to Nuuk. The minute we landed, we were filming for about three hours before checking into the hotel. I grabbed the morning’s camera cards, went to my room and began cutting. By the time I went to bed, I had cuts done of almost everything from the first day. I’m a terrible sleeper on planes, so the marathon start was pretty insane.

Outside of the little sleep, our offload speeds were slower because we were using different cameras than usual — for the sake of traveling lighter — because the plane we flew in had specific weight restrictions. We actually had to hire local crew for audio and B and C camera because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the plane to start.

In general, I think the overall trip went as smooth as it could have. It would be interesting to see how it would play out for a longer shoot schedule.

What editing system did you use? What was your setup like? What kind of storage were you using?
On the road I had my MacBook Pro (2018 model), and we rented an identical backup machine in case mine died. For storage, we had four 1TB G-Tech USB-C drives and a 4TB G-RAID to back everything up. I had a USB-3.0 P2 card reader as well and multiple backup readers. A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard rounded out the kit, so I could travel with everything in a backpack.

We had to charter a plane in order to fly directly to Greenland. With such a tight turnaround between filming and delivering the actual show, this was the only way to actually make the special happen. Commercial flights fly only a few days per week out of neighboring countries, and once you’re in Greenland, you either have to fly or take a boat from city to city.

Matt Shaw editing on plane.

On the plane, there was a conference table in the back, so I set up there with one laptop and the G-RAID to continue working. The biggest trouble on the plane was making sure everything stayed secure on the table while taking off and making turns. There were a few close calls when everything started to slide away, and I had to reach to make sure nothing was disconnected.

How involved in the editing is Conan? What kind of feedback did you get?
In general, if Conan has specific notes, the writers will hear them during or right after a shoot is finished. Or we’ll test-screen something after a nightly show taping and indirectly get notes from the writers then.

There will be special circumstances, like our cold opens for Comic-Con, when Conan will come to edit and screen a close-to-final cut. And there just might be a run of jokes that isn’t as strong, but he lets us work with the writers to make what we all think is the best version by committee.

Can you point to some of the more challenging segments from Greenland or Ghana?
The entire show is difficult with the delivery-time constraints while handling the nightly show. We’ll be editing the versions for screening sometimes up to 10 minutes before they have to screen for an audience as well as doing all the finishing (audio mix, color as needed, subtitling and deliverables).

For any given special, we’re each cutting our respective remotes during the day while working on any new comedy pieces for that day’s show, then one or two of us will split the work on the nightly show, while the other keeps working with the travel show writers. In the middle of it all, we’ll cut together a mini tease or an unfinished piece to play into that night’s show to promote the specials, so the main challenge is juggling 30 things at a time.

For me, I got to edit this 1980s-style action movie trailer based on an awesome poster Conan had painted by a Ghanaian artist. We had puppets built, a lot of greenscreen and a body double to composite Conan’s head onto for fight scenes. Story-wise, we didn’t have much of a structure to start, but we had to piece something together in the edit and hope it did the ridiculous poster justice.

The Thursday before our show screened for an audience was the first time Mike Sweeney (head writer for the travel shows) had a chance to look at any greenscreen footage and knew we were test-screening it the following Monday or Tuesday. It started to take shape when one of our graphics/VFX artists, Angus Lyne, sent back some composites. In the end, it came together great and killed with the audience and our staff, who had already seen anything and everything.

Our other pieces seem to have a linear story, and we try to build the best highlights from any given remote. With something like this trailer, we have to switch our thought process to really build something from scratch. In the case of Greenland and Ghana, I think we put together two really great shows.

How challenging is editing comedy versus drama? Or editing these segments versus other parts of Conan’s world?
In a lot of the comedy we cut, the joke is king. There are always instances when we have blatant continuity errors, jump cuts, etc., but we don’t have to kill ourselves trying to make it work in the moment if it means hurting the joke. Our “man on the street” segments are great examples of this. Obviously, we want something to be as polished and coherent as possible, but there are cases when it just isn’t best, in our opinion, and that’s okay.

That being said, when we do our spoofs of whatever ad or try to recreate a specific style, we’re going to do everything to make that happen. We recently shot a bit with Nicholas Braun from Succession where he’s trying to get a job from Conan during his hiatus from Succession. This was a mix of improv and scripted, and we had to match the look of that show. It turned out well and funny and is in the vein of Succession.

What about for the Ghana show?
For Ghana, we had a few segments that were extremely serious and emotional. For example, Conan and Sam Richardson visited Osu Castle, a major slave trade port. This segment demands care and needs to breathe so the weight of it can really be expressed, versus earlier in the show, when Conan was buying a Ghana shirt from a street vendor, and we hard-cut to him wearing a shirt 10 sizes too small.

And Greenland?
Greenland is a place really affected by climate change. My personal favorite segment I’ve cut on these travel specials is the impact the melting icecaps could have on the world. Then there is a montage of the icebergs we saw, followed by Conan attempting to stake a “Sold” sign on an iceberg, signifying he had bought property in Greenland for the US. Originally, the montage had a few jokes within the segment, but we quickly realized it’s so beautiful we shouldn’t cheapen it. We just let it be beautiful.

Comedy or drama, it’s really about being aware of what you have in front of you and what the end goal is.

What haven’t I asked that’s important?
For me, it’s important to acknowledge how talented our post team is to be able to work simultaneously on a giant special while delivering four shows a week. Being on location for Greenland also gave me a taste of the chaos the whole production team and Team Coco goes through, and I think everyone should be proud of what we’re capable of producing.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

How being a special needs dad helps me be a better editor at Conan

By Robert James Ashe

I have been working in late night television for Conan O’Brien for nearly 10 years, currently as the lead editor for Conan on the TBS network. Late night television has an extraordinarily demanding pace. An old colleague of mine used to refer to it as the “speed chess” of editing. It demands that your first instincts when editing are the best ones. The pace also puts extraordinary pressure on your writers and producers. I like to think of editors as the pilots hired to bring the plane in for a landing that may have already lost an engine, so it’s important that you maintain balance and focus.

I am the father to three amazing kiddos with special needs. My first daughter was born with the amyoplasia form of arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She is also nonverbal. My youngest daughter was born with amniotic banding syndrome. For her, it means she only has a few fully developed fingers and a prosthesis on one of her legs. We’ve addressed her physical challenges through surgery and she has lots of fun sprinting around with her “robot leg,” which is what we call her prosthesis. We are in the middle of adopting our son and hope to bring him home in the fall. He has similar orthopedic challenges to our second daughter.

I take my jobs as editor and as a father very seriously, but it is also important to note that I am happy. Here are some things that I have learned over the years. I have made mistakes in every one of these rules, but I try every day to be better.

1. You will reach a new normal
I like to think of an editor’s job as a client’s spirit guide of sorts. A guardian of the story you are helping to tell. Once you get all of the footage, and you have a good idea of what you are dealing with, your job is to advocate for the story your client is trying to tell while handling various tech issues so you can remain creative. It took me a long time to make this adjustment. Now I try every day to make it my new normal.

Once we got through the first few weeks of my first daughter’s life and received a diagnosis, we decided to not live our lives with a cloud over our heads and to instead look for the sunshine. We refused to consider our lives to be a tragedy. My job is to advocate for my children while making sure they can remain kids throughout the doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I want them to feel happy about their lives.

2. Know Your Role
It’s important to know that the story you are being hired to tell for your client is not yours. I am very trusted at my job to work on pieces with little supervision. I have earned this trust because the writers (my client) know that I will put together segments based on their sensibilities. I am there to help tell their story and to solve any tech problems that may arise in doing so. I am not reinterpreting the story to fit my own sensibilities (plus, I’m not very funny so it works out).

I am a player in my children’s life story. I deal with insurance. My wife takes them to appointments on workdays. But, we are not the ones receiving the therapy or medical services, so our story is different than our children’s. You must know how to separate the two. I am there to guide them. I am there to protect them but it is their story.

Rob (center) with his co-editors Chris Heller and Matt Shaw.

3. Attitude monitors everything
I have to be mindful of my attitude. I am a large, intimidating looking man. The slightest expression of negativity is read to be much larger because of my size. Your attitude can affect an entire workspace. People will recommend a decent editor who is nice over a grumpy “professional” any day of the week. I’ve made this mistake many times. I would start on a new project so passionate and personally invested in the story that I was hired to tell I would be arrogantly offended if I felt that anyone I was working with didn’t give their absolute best. The truth of it is most people try to do their best with the circumstances they have been given, and the more I’d complain the more I’d become the real problem. Give people more credit. You don’t know the kinds of things they have had to deal with.

Dealing with the medical industry can be daunting. It’s easy to feel frustrated on calls with insurance or scheduling appointments. I try to have empathy for the other person I am dealing with as they have to deal with frustrated and frightened people all day. You don’t know the kinds of things they have to deal with. I also have to be very mindful of my attitude around my kids. My wife figured out quickly that if our lives were going to revolve around going to the Children’s Hospital that we were going to make it fun. Our kids actually love going. They have a playground and so many things for the kids to enjoy. If we acted depressed around our children, it would affect them. Before my youngest daughter’s prosthesis, we would talk about all the things she would be able to do and all the fun she’d be able to have once she got her robot leg.

4. The world isn’t fair
Not everyone is going to recognize what you contribute, even when you are at your absolute best. You must try to not take it personally. I try to remind myself that often we are working for people who have their own issues to worry about and don’t always understand the technical challenges of what we do. I have seen hundreds of all sorts of people passed over for promotions they deserve or recognition that they have earned. As someone who has been in charge of other editors, I have also received credit for work that is their own. That is why I insist at the end of every project sending a private post mortem to my clients so people can understand everyone’s contribution.

I get way more credit than I deserve for being a father of my children, and it’s not fair. One time my wife and I brought the kids to a party. My oldest daughter doesn’t have the muscle strength to feed herself, so I spent time feeding her while my wife talked with her friends. After leaving the party, my wife remarked how impressed they were that I fed my child. My wife is an amazing mom. I married Mary Poppins. Our family does deal with a fair amount of challenges, but I have met many single mothers over the years that are worthy of so much more admiration for what they take on than anything we’ve ever accomplished.

5. Take care of yourself
You will never be the best editor you can be unless you take care of yourself. Eating correctly, sleeping enough and moderating drinking or drug use is just the tip of the iceberg. The most high-profile jobs will demand that you be at your best 100% of the time.

My oldest daughter cannot walk without the use of braces, so we need to remain strong enough to lift her upstairs or into the shower. I am getting older, so I’m really starting to make a concentrated effort to eat better, exercise and drink less. The most challenging times we have faced have demanded that we be at our absolute best mentally and physically as long nights during surgeries can be draining.

6. A job is a job; family is everything
I like to park my car on the far side of the studio that I work at. It gives me a 20-minute walk to my trailer that allows me to look at all the other shoots happening that day and reflect on how I used to dream as a kid to one day work in Hollywood. It also gives me a chance to get some exercise.

Hollywood has been very kind to me, but my job doesn’t define my happiness. It’s not who I am. One of the best things that has ever happened to me in Hollywood was to figure out that once you take all the glitz and glamor away, it is a job like any other. A job I enjoy that allows me to provide for my family.

When I’m gone from this world, my most meaningful accomplishments will have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my family and friends. The greatest thing I have done with my life is adopting my (soon to be) two children. My job demands long hours, so I have to miss some things, but I take comfort in knowing that it is to provide for their future.

7. You are capable of much more than you know
When I became an editor, I really didn’t know what my career would have in store. I just found it fun and decided that I could make money doing it. When I started in late night television almost 10 years ago, delivering a 42-minute show in 90 minutes used to make my hands shake. Now, it is one of the easiest points of my day. I went from freelancing on side projects for little money to helping plan international media transfers and deliveries for network primetime specials supported by an amazing and capable team. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

When my first child was born. I didn’t know what life was going to have in store. We just decided to go all in and be the best we could be at it, and now we are parents to (soon to be) three wonderful kiddos with an amazing orthopedic medical team. Our children are part of case studies that will advance medical science. They’ve been filmed and photographed for others to learn how to properly treat joint contractures and prosthesis adaptations. Their presence is going to help future kids get the treatment they need. When something like this happens in your life, you find out what you are really made of.

8. Finally, please remember to have fun. It’s fun.
I wish you nothing but the best.


Robert James Ashe is the four-time Emmy-nominated lead editor of Conan on TBS. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertjamesashe and read more pieces from him on The Mighty.

‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ associate director of post Dan Dome

This long-time editor talks about his path to late night television

By Randi Altman

You could say that editing runs through Dan Dome’s veins. Dome, associate director of post at Late Night with Seth Meyers, started in the business in 1994 when he took a job as a tape operator at National Video Industries (NVI) in New York.

Dome grew up around post — his dad, Art, was a linear videotape editor at NVI, working on Shop Rite spots and programming for a variety of other clients. Art had previously edited commercials for such artists as Kiss and was awarded a gold record for Kiss Alive 2. Dome loved to go in and watch his dad work. “I saw that there were a lot of machines and I knew he put videos together, but I was completely clueless to what the real process was.”

Dome’s first job at NVI was working in the centralized machine room as a tape operator. “I learned how to read a waveform monitor and a vectorscope, how to patch up Betacam SP, 1-inch and D2 machines to linear edit rooms, insert stages, graphics and audio suites. I also learned how to change the timings of the switcher through a proc amp — the nuts and bolts.”

This process proved to be invaluable. “Being able to have an understanding of signal flow on the technical side helped a ton in my career,” he explains. “A lot of post jobs are super technical. You’ve got to know the software and you’ve got to know the computers and machines; those were the fundamentals I learned in the machine room. I had to learn it all.”

While at NVI, nonlinear editing via the Avid Media Composer came on the scene. Dome took every advantage to learn this new way of working. After his 4pm-to-midnight shift as tape op, he would stay in the Avid rooms learning all he could about the software. He also befriended an editor who rented space at NVI. Christian Giornelli allowed Dome to shadow him on the Media Composer and, later, assist on different projects.

After a time, he became comfortable on the Avid. “I was working as a tape operator and editing at night at NVI, cutting promos and show reels. The first professional editing job I had was cutting the Neil Peart Test For Echo instructional drum video. Shortly after editing that video, I left NVI to pursue freelance work.”

A year into freelancing, Dome began doing work for the NBC promo department working on a little bit of everything, including cutting promos for various shows and sales tapes. During this time, freelance work also brought him to Broadway Video, MSNBC, MTV and VH1 — he was steadily building up a nice resume.

Let’s find out more about his path and how he landed at Late Night with Seth Myers...

When you and I were first in contact, you were out in LA working on the Conan O’Brien show on TBS.
Yes. My early work with NBC’s promo department led me to NBC’s post team, and they started booking me on gigs for Dateline, The Today Show and, every now and then, as an editor on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. I developed a great relationship with the writers and the other editors on Conan. When the transition to HD happened, they chose to use in a nonlinear system, Avid DS, which I learned. That helped me work on the first HD season of Saturday Night Live through the 2008 season.

Late Night With Conan O’Brien had two primary show editors and another editor cutting remote packages. I started falling into that group more and more, and close to the time Conan was taking over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, two of the editors retired. Myself and another editor ended up seeing Conan’s Late Night off the air.

During that time, I developed a great relationship with the associate director and mentioned that I wouldn’t mind moving out to California if they needed an editor. They did. I started working with Conan on The Tonight Show and continued on when he went over to do Conan on TBS. All in all, I was out in LA for almost five years.

How did you end up back in New York and working on Seth Meyers?
While I did enjoy California, I got a little homesick. I heard that Seth was taking over for Late Night from Jimmy Fallon and threw my hat in the ring for that show.

Let’s talk about Seth’s show. Did you help to set up the post workflow?
Late Night with Seth Meyers was the third show I’d launched as a lead editor — there was Conan’s Tonight Show, then Conan’s show on TBS and then Late Night with Seth. It was great to be at Late Night from the ground up, and now, with the title of associate director/lead editor,

 I worked with our engineers at NBC as far as folder structure on the SAN, what our workflow was going to be, what NLE we were going to use, what plug-ins we needed — we worked very closely on workflow and how we were going to deliver the show to air and the web.

A lot of those systems had already been in place, but there are always new technologies to consider. We went through the whole workflow and got it as streamlined as possible.

You are using Adobe Premiere, can you tell us why that was the right tool for this show?
Well, Final Cut 7 wasn’t going to grow any more, and I wasn’t convinced about Final Cut X. If we went with Avid, we’d need all the Avid-approved gear. We already knew we were going to be on Macs, and we would use AJA Kona cards with Premiere. We based this show’s post model off some of the other shows already using Premiere.

Do you use other parts of the Adobe suite?
The entire post team is using Creative Cloud. I edit, and I have an editor, Devon Schwab, and an assistant, Tony Dolezal. We’re primarily working in Premiere, Audition and Media Encoder. Our graphics artists are in Illustrator, Photoshop and After Effects. Every now and then we editors will dip into After Effects if we need to rotoscope something out, or we’ll use Mocha Pro for motion tracking when something in the show has to be censored or if we are making mattes for color grading.

You guys are live-to-tape — could you walk us through that?
We shoot the show live-to-tape between 6:30pm and 7:30pm. During the first act I’m watching the show as well as listening to the director, the production AD and the control room from my edit suite. If there are camera ISO fixes that need to be addressed, I’m hearing that from the director. If there are any issues with standards, like a word has to be bleeped or content has to be removed, I’m getting those notes from the producers and from the lawyers.

Tony, Dan and Devon.

Tony, Dan and Devon.

As soon as the first act is done, my assistant stops ingest and then starts it back up again, so now I have act one: seven ISO cameras and one program record. The program record file has the show as it’s cut for the audience, so all the graphics are already baked into it, and it’s a 5.1 mix coming from our audio rooms. I bring those eight QuickTime files into Premiere through an app called Easy Find and start laying the show out.

I try and finish all that needs to be done in the first act by the time second act of the show is done being ingested. Once all six acts are done, we’ll have a good idea if the show’s over or under in time. If it’s over, we figure out what we are going to cut. If it’s a little bit under, let’s say 20 or 30 seconds, then we may decide to run credits that night.

So taping is done by 7:30?
Yes. At that point the director, the show producers, segment producers and writers come down. We start editing the entire the show together for air. At that point I’ve already built the main project for the show to be edited. I then save a version of my project for my editor and my assistant editor and assign acts for them to edit.

How many do you cut personally?
I’ll usually end up doing three out of the six acts. My editor will do two interview acts, and my assistant will do one, usually the musical act. As the show is being put together for air, I keep track of the show time on an Excel spreadsheet. There’s a lot of communication among us during this time.

Once I do have the show close to time, I start sending individual acts to the Broadcast Operations Center at NBC, so they can start their QC process. That’s between 8:00pm or 8:15pm. As they are getting the six acts and they’ve begun to QC them, I release my timing sheet so they can confirm the show is on time. It’s 41 minutes and 20 seconds, and they get it ready to go to what they call a “composite” after QC. They composite the show between 10:30pm and 11:30pm with all the commercials put in. I’m completely done for the night when the show hits the air at 12:35am… if there have been no emergencies.

Taking a step back, how do you cut the pre-packaged bits?
Usually those go to my editor Devon. He will be editing, mixing audio and I will be doing the color grade — all within Premiere. If it’s a two- or three-camera shoot, I’ll get a look established for the A, B and the C cameras and have the segment director give notes on the color grade. Once the grade is approved, Devon can then just apply the color to the finished piece. Sometimes we are finessing pre-tapes right up until show record time at 6:30pm.

One recent color grade I did, that Devon edited, was a pre-taped piece called Reasonable Max, which was about Seth’s deleted scenes from the film Mad Max: Fury Road.

Anything you want to add before we wrap up?
I feel very lucky to have had all these experiences in the TV business. I want to thank my dad for introducing me to it and all the people who helped me get where I am today. The most talented people in the business staff all the shows that I have been lucky enough to work on. Watch Late Night With Seth Meyers, weeknights at 12:35 on NBC!