By Randi Altman
Need an escape from a world filled with coronavirus and murder hornets? You should try John Krasinski’s weekly YouTube show, Some Good News. It focuses on the good things that are happening during the COVID-19 crisis, giving people a reason to smile with things such as a virtual prom, Krasinski’s chat with astronauts on the ISS and bringing the original Broadway cast of Hamilton together for a Zoom singalong.
Josh Senior, owner of Leroi and Senior Post in Dumbo, New York, is providing editing and post to SGN. His involvement began when he got a call from a mutual friend of Krasinski’s, asking if he could help put something together. They sent him clips via Dropbox, and a workflow was born.
While the show is shot at Krasinski’s house in New York at different times during the week, Senior’s Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are spent editing and posting SGN.
In addition to his post duties, Senior is an EP on the show, along with his producing partner Evan Wolf Buxbaum at their production company, Leroi. The two work in concert with Allyson Seeger and Alexa Ginsburg, who executive produced for Krasinski’s company, Sunday Night Productions. Production meetings are held on Tuesday, and then shooting begins. After footage is captured, it’s still shared via Dropbox or good old iMessage.
Let’s find out more…
What does John use for the shoot?
John films on two iPhones. A good portion of the show is screen-recorded on Zoom, and then there’s the found footage user-generated content component.
What’s your process once you get the footage? And, I’m assuming, it’s probably a little challenging getting footage from different kinds of cameras?
Yes. In the alternate reality where there’s no coronavirus, we run a pretty big post house in Dumbo, Brooklyn. And none of the tools of the trade that we have there are really at play here, outside of our server, which exists as the ever-present backend for all of our remote work.
The assets are pulled down from wherever they originate. The masters are then housed behind an encrypted firewall, like we do for all of our TV shows at the post house. Our online editor is the gatekeeper. All the editors, assistant editors, producers, animators, sound folks — they all get a mirrored drive that they download, locally, and we all get to work.
Do you have a style guide?
We have a bible, which is a living document that we’ve made week over week. It has music cues, editing style, technique, structure, recurring themes, a living archive of all the notes that we’ve received and how we’ve addressed them. Also, any style that’s specific to segments, post processing, any phasing or audio adjustments that we make all live within a document, that we give to whoever we onboard to the show.
Our post producers made this really elegant workflow that’s a combination of Vimeo and Slack where we post project files and review links and share notes. There’s nothing formal about this show, and that’s really cool. I mean, at the same time, as we’re doing this, we’re rapidly finishing and delivering the second season of Ramy on Hulu. It comes out on May 29.
I bet that workflow is a bit different than SGN’s.
It’s like bouncing between two poles. That show has a hierarchy, it’s formalized, there’s a production company, there’s a network, there’s a lot of infrastructure. This show is created in a group text with a bunch of friends.
What are you using to edit and color Some Good News?
We edit in Adobe Premiere, and that helps mitigate some of the challenges of the mixed media that comes in. We typically color inside of Adobe, and we use Pro Tools for our sound mix. We online and deliver out of Resolve, which is pretty much how we work on most of our things. Some of our shows edit in Avid Media Composer, but on our own productions we almost always post in Premiere — so when we can control the full pipeline, we tend to prefer Adobe software.
Are review and approvals with John and the producers done through iMessage in Dropbox too?
Yes, and we post links on Vimeo. Thankfully we actually produce Some Good News as well as post it, so that intersection is really fluid. With Ramy it’s a bit more formalized. We do notes together and, usually internally, we get a cut that we like. Then it goes to John, and he gives us his thoughts and we retool the edit; it’s like a rapid prototyping rather than a gated milestone. There are no network cuts or anything like that.
For me, what’s super-interesting is that everyone’s ideas are merited and validated. I feel like there’s nothing that you shouldn’t say because this show has no agenda outside of making people happy, and everybody’s uniquely qualified to speak to that. With other projects, there are people who have an experience advantage, a technical advantage or some established thought leadership. Everybody knows what makes people happy. So you can make the show, I can make the show, my mom can make the show, and because of that, everything’s almost implicitly right or wrong.
Let’s talk about specific episodes, like the ones featuring the prom and Hamilton? What were some of the challenges of working with all of that footage. Maybe start with Hamilton?
That one was a really fun puzzle. My partner at Senior Post, Joanna Naugle, edited that. She drew on a lot of her experience editing music videos, performance content, comedy specials, multicam live tapings. It was a lot like a multicam live pre-taped event being put together.
We all love Hamilton, so that helps. This was a combination of performers pre-taping the entire song and a live performance. The editing technique really dissolves into the background, but it’s clear that there’s an abundance of skill that’s been brought to that. For me, that piece is a great showcase of the aesthetic of the show, which is that it should feel homemade and lo-fi, but there’s this undercurrent of a feat to the way that it’s put together.
Getting all of those people into the Zoom, getting everyone to sound right, having the ability to emphasize or de-emphasize different faces. To restructure the grid of the Zoom, if we needed to, to make sure that there’s more than one screen worth of people there and to make sure that everybody was visible and audible. It took a few days, but the whole show is made from Thursday to Sunday, so that’s a limiting factor, and it’s also this great challenge. It’s like a 48-hour film festival at a really high level.
What about the prom episode?
The prom episode was fantastic. We made the music performances the day before and preloaded them into the live player so that we could cut to them during the prom. Then we got to watch the prom. To be able to participate as an audience member in the content that you’re still creating is such a unique feeling and experience. The only agenda is happiness, and people need a prom, so there’s a service aspect of it, which feels really good.
It’s hard to put things together that are flat, and I think one of the challenges that we found at the onset was that we weren’t getting multiple takes of anything, so we weren’t getting a lot of angles to play with. Things are coming in pretty baked from a production standpoint, so we’ve had to find unique and novel ways to be nonlinear when we want to emphasize and de-emphasize certain things. We want to present things in an expositional way, which is not that common. I couldn’t even tell you another thing that we’ve worked on that didn’t have any subjectivity to it.
Let’s talk sound. Is he just picking up audio from the iPhones or is he wearing a mic?
Nope. No, mic. Audio from the iPhones that we just run through a few filters on Pro Tools. Nobody mics themselves. We do spend a lot of time balancing out the sound, but there’s not a lot of effect work.
Other than SGN and Ramy, what are some other shows you guys have worked on?
John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, 2 Dope Queens, Random Acts of Flyness, Julio Torres: My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres and others.
Anything that I haven’t asked that you think is important?
It’s really important for me to acknowledge that this is something that is enabling a New York-based production company and post house to work fully remotely. In doing this week over week, we’re really honing what we think are tangible practices that we can then turn around and evangelize out to the people that we want to work with in the future.
I don’t know when we’re going to get back to the post house, so being able to work on a show like this is providing this wonderful learning opportunity for my whole team to figure out what we can modulate from our workflow in the office to be a viable partner from home.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.