BURBANK — Hollywood loves to pigeon-hole people, so how did comedy editor Stuart Bass, who typically cuts 30-minute shows, end up on Barry Sonnenfeld's one-hour Pushing Daisies? "I'm basically a half-hour guy, and usually hour people won't talk to me," says Bass with a laugh. He made the leap to "longform" by working with Sonnenfeld on last season's half-hour comedy Notes From the Underbelly. Clearly, Bass impressed the critically-acclaimed director.
The irony of this "half-hour guy" cutting a one-hour show is that the feel and production schedule of ABC's new Pushing Daisies is very much like a feature film. "Executive producers will always say, 'We are making a little feature here,' but this one really looks like a little movie," says Bass.
Pushing Daisies, about a baker who can bring the dead back to life with his touch, is shot on 35mm and owns a feature film schedule. Each show is 41 minutes, and for the pilot they shot for 17 days, which ends up being about three minutes of show per day. "The episodes have a 14-day schedule," reports Bass. "That way we take our time, make every shot look right, and get it perfect."
WORKFLOW & TOOLS
LaserPacific performs telecine on the 35mm film for the show's dailies. They deliver a Beta SR, 10-bit uncompressed video, copy that goes to the visual effects house, Sandman in Salt Lake City; Bass — who works out of Warner Bros. here in Burbank — gets a DVCAM version that's loaded into his Avid by assistant Andrew Charlton. Once loaded, Charlton also scripts it. "This is a recent innovation for us, thanks to Avid's ScriptSync, which is new to Version 2.7," says Bass, who convinced Warner Bros. to forgo the usual editing set-up for television series — Avid Meridiens running on G4s — and try software-only Media Composers, V.2.7 using Mojo and running on Mac Intel machines. His three assistants — Charlton, Catherine Haight and Rachelle Dang — use Avid Mojo SDI systems; rentals come from Timeline in LA.
Bass had been using the manual version of Avid's scripting software for years, but now that the company added the automated ScriptSync, he says, it streamlines the process significantly. Thanks to the phonetic-indexing engine, the syncing has become automated. "It's been very important to the process because we get a lot more done in the editing room on extremely tight schedules."
He says that while the pilot had a very feature-like schedule for shooting, it had a television schedule for post. "On a feature a director gets about six weeks afterward to work on it. With Pushing Daisies it's about four days, and the producers get about two days because we have to lock effects." And there are many of them, according to Bass, who says they are mostly photorealistic. The pilot features 96 opticals and the first episode has 190.
They are also working right up to the airdates on the series — delivering Mondays for a Wednesday airing. "It's a crazy television schedule, but with tremendous amount of dailies and a lot of takes," explains Bass, "and the scripting allows me to very easily to go through and hear every reading of every take and really be thorough. When the producers come in and say, 'Do you have anything that could give this scene a little more emotionality,' I can very quickly run through and show them all the readings of a certain line." The script is right there on Bass's computer and all he has to do is click on the line of dialogue to get all those readings.
And Bass emphasizes that it's not just ScriptSync that speeds things up; the new system and software help as well. "I can do a lot of effects realtime, or they render extremely quickly."
And thanks to that increased speed, he's been taking advantage of some of the software's effects, like SpectraMatte for all the show's bluescreen shots, Marquee for better titling, as well as the ImageStabilization tool.
Another big help has been the TimeWarp effect. "I do a lot of slowing down and speeding up of footage," says Bass, and it's nice to make it transparent. In the past you always got that jittery kind of film, and now we can do this interpolation of frames… and the slow downs look just like they were shot with a high-speed camera. In the past you have been able to do this fluid motion, but on a Meridien it can take 20 minutes to render something like that, and on this system it's more like 30 seconds."
Bass says this kind of speed lets him experiment more, and sometimes even change how actors perform. "If somebody doesn't say the line quick enough, there is a big gap; I will tighten it up by speeding up little areas of them. There are new tricks that this software allows me to do."
And just as the show's schedule is feature film-like, Bass isn't cutting Pushing Daisies like a typical television show. "I'm tending to stay wider and stay in masters and not use coverage to speed things up, and I'm using a little slower rhythm than you would see on CSI or Lost, where they try to keep things charged up all the time."
As an editor, he says, you have to be very sensitive to exactly which performance is being chosen and make sure you aren't creating an artificial rhythm. He says this is completely opposed to the way he cut Arrested Development, where the timing was compressed. "With Arrested, I was trimming out spaces, and you really manufacture this energy and get the rhythm of the jokes in a certain way. Pushing Daisies is a comedy as well, but it unfolds. You kind of have to look for its own organic nature, and the editing has to be invisible and show off the story as best as possible."
Earlier, Bass mentioned having a ton of footage to work with. "I'm getting like 10 or 12 takes," he says. "And that's good because that's how we get these performances — by finding the right takes."
Bass explains that Paul Edwards, director of the second episode — the one he was working on at press time — comes from the television world, and tends to run the camera without cutting. "This means very long takes, and you end up with different parts of dialogue and different parts of the footage, and that's where the scripting software really shines because it becomes easy to find specific line readings when slates are missing."
WORKING WITH SONNENFELD
Bass came into Pushing Daisies knowing how Sonnenfeld — who only directed the pilot and episode one — thinks, and that helps keep the process moving. "Going into Notes From the Underbelly, I was a huge fan of his, everything from Raising Arizona, Men in Black to Get Shorty, and even his more obscure movies. I've watched them all, so I have a very good sense of his rhythm and what he likes."
Bass calls Barry Sonnenfeld a very smart person and a wonderful director, who is also quite demanding. "I would get the material in the morning and he wanted everything cut before the end of the day," he says, explaining that they output it to DVD or put it up on a server for when the director was out of town — similar to how they work with Salt Lake's Sandman.
"He wanted to see everything he'd shot the day before cut, and he'd email me notes as we were going through the days," he says. Because they were cutting as they went along, they basically had a director's cut early on. "We pretty much had all the temp music and temp effects in, so it's almost like the day after the last day's dailies, the show is in pretty good shape. Then Barry would come in and spend a few days just kind of tweaking things; then we'd present it to the rest of the executive producers — Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Heroes) and Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen (both produced American Beauty). There is a lot of concern about detail and quality, which you don't see that much in television." After the producers sign off, the show goes to the studio and then ABC for a final look.
At press time, Bass had been joined by two more show editors — one-hour TV vets Lisa Lassek (Wonderfalls, Serenity) and Scott Wallace (Wonderfalls, Traveler) — growing a quality editing staff for Pushing Daisies.