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Post haste spells big-box entree

Producers wary of making last-minute changes on a TV show before it goes to the network, take note: Increased digitization of post production could result in significant time and cost savings for episodics and telefilms.

Over the past several seasons, TV post has moved decisively toward electronic assembly of final broadcast masters. A master is put together using selected scenes pulled from rolls of tape fed into a piece of gear known as an edit controller or switcher. It is the electronic equivalent to selecting takes from a roll of film, then splicing them together.

Among primetime shows in the ’94-’95 season, only “Murder She Wrote” was still assembled on film.

But the ascendance of computer technology could mean the end of controller/switcher assembly, which came of age in the 1980s.

Laser-Pacific, the Hollywood company responsible for post-production on more than 40 primetime network series last year, has begun cutting shows using an IBM supercomputer.

The move is significant, says Laser-Pacific president Emory Cohen, because of its potential to lower post-production costs for producers and studios, and because it frees up time for a show’s post-production staff, including producers. “The benefit to producers is that we can finish a one-hour show in 2 1/2 hours, instead of seven to 10,” he says. “And because it takes so little time, we don’t have to charge them a penalty if they cancel.”

Shows using the system include “Babylon 5,” “Frasier” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

The supercomputer package, which IBM markets as the Power Visualization System, has been used at other Hollywood companies, such as Boss Film Studios and Digital Domain, to create digital effects, but Laser-Pacific is the first company to use the system for editing.

The PVS was first used by other industries to create models in the areas of oil exploration, medicine and seismology. PVS creates graphic representations of vast quantities of data.

The supercomputer editing of TV series takes place during the phase known as online. That’s when the broadcast-quality master is created, based on creative cutting decisions made earlier in the “offline” edit.

Online has been one of the most expensive steps in post, due to the costly equipment used in the process, as well as the highly trained engineering staff required to operate and maintain the gear.

Usually an online suite must be booked days in advance, and a member of the show’s staff, generally the associate producer, must be available throughout the session. Cohen says the PVS eliminates the need for producers to be on hand, freeing up a day in their production schedule.

Laser-Pacific exec VP Leon Silverman says producers at first are surprised that last minute changes are so easily made using the PVS.

The system itself consists of the computer and a number of disc arrays for data storage. Using the edit decision list created in offline, Laser-Pacific’s PVS sorts the list so the appropriate videotape material is sent to the disc array, where the individual edits are digitized as full-bandwidth, uncompressed files.

From there, the video images are recorded onto videotape of any format. That videotape becomes the master that is delivered to the network.

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