How making a TV show works
By Marshall Brain
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Have you ever watched a favorite show on TV and wondered where it comes from? It turns out it is an amazing process. For example, a typical hour-long TV show involves dozens of people who spend 1,000 hours or more crafting the show.
Why does it take so long, and what are all of those different people doing? I have been one of the people working on a new series called "Who Knew, With Marshall Brain," which will premiere on the National Geographic Channel March 13 at 9 p.m. EDT. We have three new episodes airing in March on Thursdays. It has given me a chance to see the creative process that builds a TV show from scratch, and it is fascinating.
Here's a brief description of the show. We travel to factories and discover how they make the products that we see and use every day. For example, we've been to a car factory, a cheese factory, a gun factory, and so on. We interview people working in the factory and let you see how they manufacture dozens of different products. For example, a hot dog factory makes more than a million hot dogs a day. Which is amazing in itself, but how do they pull that off? We go inside to find out.
For each show we visit three factories.
The creation of a show starts weeks before an actual factory visit, as a team of people contact hundreds of factories. Let's call them the research team. They are looking for visually appealing factories that are making interesting products and that are willing to host a camera crew within the constraints of the shooting schedule. It turns out to be a lot harder than you would expect to meet all those requirements.
Once a factory is selected and approved for the show, the research team learns everything they can about the factory and its processes. Everything is researched down to the last detail. They produce a 50- to 100-page summary that explains the process. From that we decide what we will shoot in the factory, who we will interview, etc. Next, the travel team makes all the airline/car/hotel/travel arrangements for the team that will visit the factory.
The end result is that a team of six to eight people and all their equipment fly in and meet at the factory for the shoot. The amount of equipment - cameras, lenses, lights, batteries, monitors, tapes, supplies, etc. - is amazing. The team usually includes two camera operators (one of whom acts as the directory of photography, or DP), an audio engineer, a production assistant, a host (me) and a producer.
The producer is the captain of the ship, in charge of everything that happens on the shoot. There might also be a couple of additional people who are trainees or assistants, depending on the size of the factory.
The team's job is to shoot A-roll and B-roll in the factory. A-roll is segments where people are talking, which is normally interviews in our show. B-roll is shots of the assembly line itself and the people who work in it. In a typical A-roll shot, I am interviewing someone in the factory. The two camera operators shoot the interview from different angles, the audio engineer mixes the sound from the people in the interview, the producer watches and listens to the feed from the cameras to make sure everything looks and sounds right on tape, and the production assistant keeps track of any people who appear in the background. The production assistant will later get signed release forms from the other people in the shot. In a typical factory, we might shoot 20 hours of tape over the course of two days. A typical day in a factory lasts 12 to 16 hours.
That 20 hours of tape then goes back to an edit suite. An editor looks at all the tape, picks the very best stuff, and cuts it together into a 17-minute segment. In other words, 19 hours and 43 minutes of everything that we shoot in the factory ends up on the cutting room floor. This, by the way, is why shows on TV look so good. If there are computer graphics in the show, artists will create them and they get edited in as well. It might take two weeks for an editor to cut together the first version of a segment.
Three segments are selected and combined to make one show. A writer then creates the narration for the show, in the form of a voice-over script. A typical script is 40 pages long. I will go to a sound studio and spend a day recording the narration. That recording gets sent to the edit suite and added to the show, along with music and any sound effects.
All during this process, the scripts and edited segments have been going back and forth between the edit suite, the network and a fact-checking team to make sure everything is perfect. Thousands of adjustments are made in the edit suite. Once the last adjustment is in place and everyone signs off on it, one episode is complete and ready for broadcast. All of these people have invested 1,000 hours or more in this single episode. A typical season might have 10 to 20 episodes.
When a show is in full production, all of these things are happening simultaneously. There are people researching factories, making and constantly changing travel arrangements, shooting factories, editing, writing, drawing, voicing, checking and approving all at the same time.
The person in charge of keeping everything running smoothly is called the show runner. A good show runner is a master at juggling 1,000 tasks and keeping dozens of people happy.
As you can see, it's a huge production to make a TV show. Therefore, even the simplest and least expensive shows start at about $100,000 per episode. A big network drama or sitcom can cost millions of dollars per episode. All of that time and money spent by dozens of people so that we can sit on the couch and watch an hour of entertainment.
Don't forget to tune in on March 13, 20 and 27 and see what we've created!
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© 2007, How Stuff Works Inc. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.