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July 2014
Issue: September 1, 2007

EDIT THIS!: 'THE COLBERT REPORT'

By: Randi Altman

NEW YORK - Editing for comedy is all about pace and timing. And if you have ever watched Comedy Central's The Colbert Report and its regular segments, like Better Know A District or Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, you truly understand how cutting to a reaction and letting it sit for a while can grow the funny.

And to help them grow their funny, show editors Jason Baker, Andrew Matheson and Joshua Weinstein call on Avid Media Composer Adrenalines with Unity, while junior editor Bryan Dinello taps Apple Final Cut Pro, prepping clips for the day's shoot from various news sources.

According to post supervisor Jeremy Tchaban, Dinello's work has helped free up the Avid editors, who had been doing little pieces and small montages, to do more complex work, like field pieces and daily fixes to the show.

WORKFLOW

While the show is taping on Digi Beta in-studio with host Stephen Colbert — from 7pm to 8pm with feed to the network at 9pm — the editors digitize two cameras and the program feed into the Adrenaline suites, just in case they need to perform fixes. A typical fix is a misread line or technical issue, says Tchaban. "Instead of redoing the whole segment or having to jump-cut straight to tape, we can use the Avid during taping to really edit quickly and keep the show to time."

When Tchaban says timing is everything, he means it; they really only have one hour to edit the show. "It's important to get the control room a runtime of each segment so they can keep the show on schedule. We usually cut out material for time and rarely, if ever, cut for content or script issues."

While the show is being shot live to tape, all four editors work closely with the control room. According to Tchaban, the control room can only edit linear, which limits their  technical capabilities They have become accustomed to the editors performing complicated fixes, like pulling out time in a segment and tweaking audio, but that doesn't mean they don't do their share. "Fixes are performed both in the Avid and the control room, so our editors and the control room work closely to get the show on tape, on time and ready to feed to the network," he explains. "Sometimes doing the fix is quicker in our control room and other times it's faster to do it in the Avid when the edit requires more technical freedom."

PLAYING THE FIELD

The show has a field department that shoots reoccurring segments on location, on Beta SP. One of those is Better Know A District, where Colbert visits a congressman. "Our editors and field producers will spend a lot of time reworking the material and testing each comedic beat," says Tchaban.

On average, the producers will shoot about one hour of material, and when it's completely edited the result will be a seamless, four- to five-minute interview. "The field producer will work with the editor to create a rough cut, which is pretty close to the final version," he reports. "On the day the piece is scheduled to air, the field producer and editor work with the executive producers and Stephen to make any last-minute changes." Colbert and Jon Stewart are executive producers; the three co-execs are Rich Dahm, Allison Silverman and Meredith Bennett.

Sound design is typically done in the Avid, by editor Jason Baker, who started his career as a recording engineer. "Jason has been using  his experience as an audio engineer by sound designing the show's graphic opens and animations." In addition, Baker will compose original tracks in Apple's GarageBand. They also have a Digidesign Pro Tools station.

EXPLODING GRAPHICS

The Colbert Report's three-man graphics department is made up of senior graphics designer Andro Buneta, Kris Long and Bill Marko. They are responsible for producing the opens, animations, mock-ups and graphics. They are desktop-based and recently upgraded to Intel-based Macs and Adobe's Creative Suite 3. And they often call on affordable plug-ins to add polish and, well, explosions to their work.

One of those plug-in packages is Trapcode, from Red Giant, which they use for opening, segment animations and full-screen graphics. Buneta says it's particularly helpful with things that explode or are on fire."

For recurring segments, like Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, "we use the Trapcode plug-ins to add that little shine or sparkle, or whatever the joke calls for. Sometimes it's making someone's head explode, or in the case of Better Know a District, we're taking a Congressional District that Stephen is particularly annoyed with at the moment and exploding it right off the US map, which is pretty funny," he says.

Buneta notes that with the show's schedule, they need tools that are easy to use, and he says Trapcode fits that description. "Thanks to Trapcode we can do something really nice in a short amount of time."

All in a day's work, making a fake news show funny.