Tag Archives: Conan O’Brien

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!