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September 2014
Issue: May 1, 2013

Sunny Days: Posting 'Sesame Street'

By: Jesse Averna
NEW YORK — Sesame Street produces a large amount of content every year, and sooner or later it all passes through my desk. Every day our post department is filled with new material, new challenges and new laughs. I’d like to walk you through a little of our process and some of my highlights from the latest season, our 43rd to be exact. 

Our current broadcast show is one hour and made of several segments. Some are shot on our live set with the Sesame Street Muppets and performers, some are shot on a key, some are delivered from other filmmakers and some are animated.  

New to this season is a segment called “Elmo the Musical” (ETM). Together, Elmo and the child at home go on a math and musical adventure in Elmo’s imagination. ETM is originally shot on bluescreen and then the 3D animated backgrounds are added in post. The puppeteers perform by looking down at a monitor to see what the camera sees and what the scene looks like. Since ETM was shot on bluescreen, our technical director, Tom Guadarrama, would add temporary backgrounds and elements into the monitors. 

It was crucial that the performers got to see how the episode was cutting together, so it was my job in the control room to live ingest and quickly piece together, key and playback for the performers. 

I work in tandem with John Tierney (and with the help of my assistant Meaghan Wilbur). He works on Avid Media Composer and After Effects; I work in FCP 7 and After Effects, but more on that later. Once the day wrapped, the segments were sent to John Tierney to edit and then to our VFX team at Magnetic Dreams. John has been working on Sesame Street for a couple decades. Some of our most complicated pieces will go to John at Definition 6 and then come back to me for final QC and delivery.

Teamwork is critical to getting the job done quickly and effectively. For example, this season John was cutting a new “Super Grover 2.0” segment on how to turn a solid into a liquid, while I was editing our narrative story where the Sesame Street residents figure out how to make Snuffy leap into the air using a pulley system. Another time, John edited the narrative story with Community’s Donald Glover about problem solving, while I worked on a “Word on the Street” segment with Kristen Bell about the word “splatter.”

Having a partner in editing allows us to specialize and know our tools intimately enough to really be able to focus on story and craft. I’m currently cutting on Final Cut 7 at the Workshop, although my keyboard and shortcuts are Media Composer mapped, since I come from an Avid background. I spend about half my time in FCP7 and half in After Effects. I use a lot of Red Giant products as well. 

The second half of this season was being shot at the same time as our next season, 44. That meant that the shows we were editing would need to be turned around quickly to our sound and music teams. (Oh, that's me and Big Bird, BTW.)

While the season was being shot, I was also busy building our one-hour show for domestic and international delivery. The one-hour show also has a 3D animated segment called “Abby’s Flying Fairy School” as well as pieces that highlight the letter and number of the day. Those pieces are often commissioned from independent filmmakers and companies, QC’d by me, and added into the show.

Once we’ve locked the segments and they have gone through their sound mix, it is my job to QC them for quality. I assemble the one-hour show and bring it to PBS’s broadcast spec and send it on its way to millions of kids around the world. 

In addition to our domestic and international show, Sesame Workshop has many departments with different needs for our material, as well as the need for new material outside our show to be generated. I work on a variety of different reels for highlighting, licensing and research. Some notable projects this season were an interview with legendary puppeteer and performer of Big Bird and Oscar, Caroll Spinney, on our Sesame Street Old School Volume 3 DVD; “Share It Maybe,” a spoof on Carly Rae Jepsen’s song with Cookie Monster; and a song from the Count, “Counting the ‘You’s in YouTube,” celebrating the one billionth view on Sesame Street’s YouTube Channel. That’s definitely another favorite that stands out this season. 

The biggest highlight for me, though, was the opportunity to shadow one of our directors on set. While that visit’s intent was to develop my directing skills, seeing the process intimately educated the way I cut and allowed me to look at it in new ways. 

I always tell people that the trick to being a good editor is “out-caring” everyone else in the room. If you can care more about the project you are currently working on, more than even the writers, directors and producers, then you’ll make something great. 

That’s not easy at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, since everyone gives it their all. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. I have one of those rare jobs where I feel fortunate every day. 

Jesse Averna is an editor at Sesame Workshop (www.sesameworkshop.org).