PostWorks Brings Feature-Style Finishing to Non-Fiction TV

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PostWorks Brings Feature-Style Finishing to Non-Fiction TV

New York post production facility applies C-Log workflow, Film Master color grading and digital restoration to non-fiction shows from NBC’s Peacock Productions.

NEW YORK CITY—November 22, 2013—High-resolution digital cinema cameras, RAW recording and sophisticated color grading systems are familiar components in feature film and scripted television production. However, such high-end tools are far less common in the production of non-fiction television programming, where tight budgets and rapid turnaround often make them prohibitive. But that is beginning to change. Lower cost technology and more efficient workflows are giving non-fiction shows the boost they need to catch up.

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Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall, a 1-hour real-life crime series airing on Investigation Discovery, and The Presidents’ Gatekeepers, a 4-hour documentary special that recently premiered on Discovery, are examples of this trend. Both projects were produced by Peacock Productions, a production unit of NBC specializing in documentaries, reality series and other non-fiction programming; both went through final post-production processing at PostWorks in New York, and both employed previously out-of-reach feature-style tools and workflows to achieve an enhanced look.

Where virtually every non-fiction television show is  shot in Rec. 709 (a display-specific color standard, where “what you see is what you get”), Deadline: Crime is recorded with Canon EOS C300 cameras in Canon Gamma Log (C-Log), a logarithmic color space. C-Log is not a RAW format, but while more affordable, delivers many of the same benefits; including high-dynamic range, a flat image, low contrast and subdued sharpness. That translates into maximum latitude in post-production. The colorist has access to more image information and therefore has greater ability to set and adjust looks.

“We wanted the show to have a filmic look,” explains Peacock Productions post production supervisor Brandt Gassman. “We didn’t want it to look like video or something that you’d see on network TV, but rather like an independent film.”

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PostWorks takes advantage of the improved imaging possibilities of C-Log by grading the show on a Nucoda Film Master system in a manner similar to the way they would grade a feature film. Working directly with the original camera files, PostWorks senior finishing editor and colorist Sean R. Smith initially applies a C-log to Rec 709 LUT to establish a basic look, and from there proceeds to make fine adjustments.

“It’s a unique workflow for a show of this type,” says Smith. “The C-log color results in a flat image so that when you begin the grading pass, all options are available. It gives us tremendous latitude with the look of the show.”

The higher dynamic range of C-log is particularly evident in low-light and low-contrast settings.  That is important to the look of Deadline: Crime as the show features crime scenes reenactments that often occur at night or in dimly lit environments. Smith uses the Film Master toolset to draw details out of the shadows and enhance the mood. For very dark shots, he applies DVO Clarity and DVO Regrain to reduce image noise. “It gave those scenes a soft, velvety look once the final grade was applied,” Smith says.

The Presidents’ Gatekeepers also went through a pass on PostWorks’ Film Master, only in this case it wasn’t for color grading, but rather to take advantage of the system’s advanced restoration toolset. A behind-the-scenes account of what it’s like to serve as Chief of Staff in the White House, the documentary included a large amount of news clips and other archival material, much of which was decades old and in poor condition.

“The majority of the historical news material we got from NBC’s archive was stored on Beta SP tape,” recalls Peacock Productions’ Brandt Gassman. “In some instances, the material had been transferred from other tape sources and was second or third generation. Some elements were originally transferred from film.”

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Smith used Film Master restoration tools to eliminate accumulated dust and other artifacts. Although much of that processing was automated, some scenes required special treatment.

Gassman recalls an aerial shot of the White House, used prominently at the beginning of the documentary’s first installment. “Although originally recorded on 35mm film, the version we were provided from a third party source was SD and from a degraded second generation tape that had not been transferred properly,” he explains. “We used Film Master to de-noise it and to mitigate a cadence problem caused by that transfer.”

A scene from a 1970s episode of 60 Minutes featuring former First Lady Betty Ford was marred by jarring video artifacts. “We treated it for video dropouts and things of that nature,” says Smith. “We used a combination of automated processing on the Nucoda system and manual restoration on Avid Symphony to address all of the issues.”

Overall, says Smith, the restoration was approached with a light touch. “The directors didn’t want us to restore the news footage to a fully pristine state,” he notes. “They wanted to retain some of the inherent flaws of the original formats to maintain its look as historical material. We didn’t want it to look like it was shot yesterday.”

Final editorial for both shows was performed by Smith on an Avid Symphony. Sound work was also completed at PostWorks with Jared Seidman as sound designer, sound editor and re-recording engineer.

About PostWorks

Founded in 1995, PostWorks is a cornerstone of the New York film and television industry providing editorial technology, edit suites, round-the-clock technical support and sound services to motion picture studios, broadcasters, television producers and independent filmmakers.  We support productions in our New York facilities, as well as build, deliver and maintain mobile editorial systems used around the globe.  Home to one of the industry’s largest film and television sound facilities, we also offer state-of-the-art recording, editing and mixing facilities and an award-winning team of sound artists.

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