The television series Leverage follows a team of thieves, hackers and con artists who act as modern-day Robin Hoods, standing up for the little guy who has been victimized by the rich and powerful. Award-winner Timothy Hutton stars as the team’s leader Nate Ford in the high-stakes, action series which began airing new Season 5 episodes in November.
Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment produces the popular TNT primetime drama and production for Leverage typically runs from late February until the end of July, but the entire process from prep until final delivery of all episodes takes about 10 months. All 15 hour-long episodes are shot in Portland, OR. As the shoots continue, files are sent to be edited by three editors and five assistants during a 10 or 11 week post production window. The entire post department, as well as the writer’s room, is located at Electric’s Hollywood headquarters, which was originally a veterinary hospital back in the 1930s.
Because Electric Entertainment produces and edits all the content in house, it has developed an internally, streamlined workflow. Brian Gonosey, editor on Electric Entertainment's one-hour drama, Leverage explains: “We shoot using a dual system with audio and pictures being synchronized by ourselves to create the edit files. Although we were happy with the efficient workflow we had developed since 2007 with Final Cut Pro, for the latest season we decided to use Final Cut Pro X to create an even faster and more flexible all-digital post production workflow.”
Gonosey estimates that 95 percent of the show’s production and post production workflow changed for Season 5: from using new cameras and locations in Portland, to working with new color grading and sound mixing software in Hollywood. At the center of the new workflow was Final Cut Pro X. Given the scope of those changes, Gonosey believes, “It was a significant editorial achievement to maintain the signature, high production quality of the show and still hit the deadlines.”
As a long-time professional editor, Gonosey was particularly interested in the application’s new editing model. “Given how I work in the timeline, Final Cut Pro X has been a very smooth and fluid transition. Final Cut Pro X has enabled increased flexibility and saved time while allowing the creativity necessary to produce a television show that averages 40 digital effects per episode.”
However, there was a challenge. Gonosey explains: “We’ve worked with Apple from beta stage and it became clear early on that we needed to be able to retrieve the audio files in the most efficient way possible. Final Cut X could edit with referencing audio WAV files, however, we required composite dailies created with new multi-audio track picture files. In fact, we needed daily quick time movies with five-eight audio tracks.
“We looked at how we could build the workflow from the ground up and the first thing we said was who will help with this challenge? Marquis (www.marquisbroadcast.com) was the first company we called. I met with Chris Steele and Peter Davies from Marquis and explained what we needed. We exchanged lots of emails and Electric Entertainment became an early beta customer for X2Pro. The collaboration to create a solution to match our needs has been fantastic.”
X2Pro Audio Convert delivers Final Cut Pro X projects into Pro Tools for audio finishing. X2Pro uses Marquis’ Media Highway, the core technology employed by Marquis’ media integration products to integrate Final Cut Pro X into professional audio workflows, delivering seamless integration between the two applications.
“We shoot many multiples of audio tracks,” explains Gonosey. “On- set, these might come from several boom microphones and lapel microphones. Final Cut X edit uses one picture and one audio track. However, Marquis’ solution uses BWF metadata to trim and label all the audio media files created. X2Pro then takes the FCP X XML and lets us take all the audio tracks into Pro Tools. The labels remain the same as when the files were recorded throughout the workflow, making it easy to find and access any file at an audio work station. When we’ve finished editing, the list appears in ProTools. We can see the file and all the five-eight tracks of audio. This is great as there is an instant dialogue assembly.
“This functionality comes into its own in a situation where one of the audio channels is not usable, say an actor has turned his head and the lapel microphone has not caught his dialogue for example. Normally, someone would have to track down the other original channel recordings to replace the dialogue, which is really time consuming. However, X2Pro will include all muted channels in the AAF, either referenced or trimmed and embedded, so making them available to the audio editor. In this way, Marquis allows all the clearly labeled channels to be delivered together at the same time which makes blending audio channels a quick and simple task. The main advantage is in saving time — doing in one step typically what would take an audio editor a day to do. Times that by 15 episodes and that’s 15 days saved!
“And on this series speed is essential. I present a live cut to the director one week and then I work to implement any changes before it goes to the network the following week,” confirms Gonosey. “One of the advantages of using the faster engine of Final Cut Pro X and this workflow is the rapid turnaround that can be achieved. We’ve been able to meet every timeline and schedule.”
In addition, Electric Entertainment has been able to take advantage of the enhanced way FCP X roles are converted to Pro Tools tracks through X2Pro. There is an option to select which roles are exported, control the order the roles appears as Pro Tools tracks and there is an option to ignore subroles when packing media onto tracks.
“In this way X2Pro offers the capacity to select one role from a massive sequence,” explains Gonosey. “Together these features deliver far more compact tracks in Pro Tools, saving time and helping accelerate the workflow.”
Gonosey, concludes: "When Electric Entertainment transitioned to Final Cut Pro X, we needed to re-engineer our whole workflow. X2Pro became the missing puzzle piece that allowed us to work with Apple's software and still maintain the highest quality production standard. With Version 2's ability to work with referenced media, X2Pro has greatly increased our efficiency in moving from FCP X to Pro Tools."