FX Networks recently aired the fourth season of Louie, the half-hour scripted series that stars comedian Louis CK. Each episode spotlights his hectic life in New York City, which includes raising two young daughters, dating, observational humor, and performing a stand-up routine.
The comedian wears many hats in the show, which is in-part, based on his real life. In addition to serving as its star, he’s also the show’s creator, executive producer, director and editor. Ryan Cunningham is Louie’s post production producer, and recently took some time to tell us how the show comes together.
How long have you been working on Louie?
“I have been involved since Season 3. In the beginning, it was very low-budget. That was the deal that was made with FX — to keep it low-budget. And it has gotten a bit more elaborate and ambitious as the seasons have gone on. But they do everything kind of bare bones.
“They shoot everything on the Red [Epic] camera. All of Season 3 and the first half of Season 4 was shot in 4K. They switched halfway through the season to the Dragon sensor and are shooting in 5K. The way production goes is that there is often not a lot of time to set up lighting. [Louie] doesn’t like to over-light things, so the Dragon sensor is so much better for low-light sensitivity.”
The show is shot single-camera and many shots are quite long in duration.
“That was something he really pushed for this season. They did shoot a lot of coverage of all the scenes, but for the most part, he preferred to go with a single take as much as possible.”
How would you describe the structure of the show?
“A typical episode is around 21-and-a-half to 22 minutes. FX has been so wonderful about being very flexible about timeframes and allowing Louie to deliver things the way he feels are necessary.”
There’s a flash-back episode in Season 4 that is very long.
“That’s actually two episodes, and each is half an hour. They were going to be two episodes, and I believe in repeats it will be two episodes, but FX offered a 90-minute slot in order to air it as one solid episode. It came out to be 65 minutes. All we needed to do was add two additional commercial breaks. [Louie] was happy to do that in order for it to be the way he wanted.”
How many episodes make up a season?
“It’s usually 13. We had 14 this season, but ended up airing 11 and 12 as one solid episode.”
As the post production producer, what are your responsibilities?
“I am responsible for everything from when cameras stop shooting until it airs — everything that has to happen within that timeframe is what I oversee. On some of the other shows I work on, I have more of a creative roll, as far as the editorial, that I don’t have on this show, because so much of the show is Louie’s vision. He’s not as involved during the finishing process. He comes to a few of the color correction and mix sessions, but he tries to deliver it to us in as complete a vision as possible.”
I understand Louie is very involved in the edit?
“Last season we had another editor, Susan Morse, working during production and Louie would work at night, and they would trade cuts back and forth. Then he came on full-time as an editor once production was done. This season, Louie decided that he wanted to edit every episode. We structured it so that so he wouldn’t have to be editing during production. In the past, he found that to be very frustrating. He loves editing and prefers to do it himself because he feels he has the vision in his head as to how it should be. But it’s always been very taxing on him to do production and editing at night and on the weekends.”
How big is the team?
“We have an associate editor full-time. The editorial staff is really bare bones, the way the production is. It’s really just me, and we have an associate editor, Gina Sansom, who was on last season as well. And we work with Running Man Post (http://runningmanpost.com). They process all the dailies for us.”
What is the process after shooting?
“We do a full back-up process. That gets delivered to the post house. The post house processes all of the dailies, and processes it to DNx36, and gives that to our associate editor Gina, who works at Running Man. She gets everything organized for Louie, and works with Running Man to make sure there are no errors, and everything is looking good. And then it goes to Louie. Running Man set up a system in Louie’s house with Avid and Pro Tools. They also wired his theater room so he could view dailies and cuts.
“This season he found it tremendously helpful to be able to look at dailies almost immediately and watch the footage over and over again. Even though he wasn’t editing during production, he was watching the footage almost constantly, and it really helped him make decisions in his head, because when it came time to editing, he was able to put the episode together really quickly.”
What is the show cut on?
“Avid Media Composer. We moved over to Avid, but all the previous seasons were Final Cut. With Version X, it’s just not possible to use on the professional level, with multiple editors and sharing media, and the magnetic timeline makes it impossible to lay things out properly the way you need to for finishing and turnover for sound and finishing. Basically, when Final Cut moved to Final Cut X, we said this is not even a possibility.”
Does Louie have a preference?
“Louie learned how to edit on Avid, and switched over to Final Cut at some point — I am not sure when. He learned to cut on Avid in the ‘90s. There were some frustrations. We switched him over to Avid on his HBO special, Louie CK: Oh My God, which he did in March of last year. That was his first Avid project, and we did that because they shot with eight cameras and we needed to be able to multi-cam eight cameras at once. Using Final Cut 7, you can do that, but it’s extremely slow and bogs everything down. It’s not really a possibility for as tight of a turnaround as we had for the edit on that. We used that as his reintroduction to Avid, and then moved comfortably over to Avid for Season 4.”
Do they shoot a lot of footage?
“Out of all the shows I work on, it probably has the least amount of footage shot. He is very efficient. He only does two to three takes of things, with a few exceptions. He really does like to do things in one'ers. He will go in and get coverage, but I would say at least 50 to 60 percent of time, he doesn’t even touch the coverage when he’s editing. His directorial vision, especially this season, has been pushing to do everything in one take. He feels that it’s more truthful and powerful.”
Talk about the soundtrack?
“All of the music is composed. Matt Kilmer is the main music supervisor. He has a jazz band and Louie attends all the sessions. They’ll start with riffs and look at stuff, and provide an entire library for each season. Last season he licensed one song in the ‘Barney/Never’ episode. I think it was Night Ranger. The previous seasons they licensed the ‘Brother Louie’ song for the theme, but Louie wanted to move away from that and not take up so much content time with the show open.”
The show open is just a title card?
“We did it with no open, with just the ‘Louie,’ which I think was extremely effective.”
Is there a set structure?
“It usually starts right away with Louie, and every once in a while we have a bit of a cold open. The thing about this show is that there are no real rules, which is kind of exciting. And it’s great that FX allows us that.”
Where is the show mixed?
“We go to Parabolic in New York City and Lew Goldstein is our mixer.”
What is the relationship with Running Man?
“They provide the edit rooms and the equipment. Gina is a freelancer, working for Pig Newton, which is Louie’s production company, and then working at Running Man. They do all of our color correction as well, at Running Man.”
Does the show use VFX? The 'storm' episode must have been a challenge?
“We had so many meetings about this in pre-production, and there were a lot of plans for visual effects, but for the most part it, was done entirely practically.
“The visual effects are pretty minimal. We are cleaning up production things, like we are cleaning up booms a lot. We also had all of the fake news stuff, and the whole elevator saga. That was all visual effects. We had a couple in ‘Pamela Part 2,’ when they were watching the shooting stars in Central Park. That was created by Brainstorm Digital (www.brainstorm-digital.com). They are on 37th Street.”
What type of look are you going for with the color process?
“Louie is very specific about preserving the look that they are seeing on-set. He doesn’t like to make things look too pretty. He’s fine with things being dark. In the ‘Model’ episode, with the benefit in the Hamptons with Jerry Seinfeld, they are walking backstage and you will notice that it gets very dark at points. He felt it was important to leave it that way and not brighten it because that’s how it really was at the location.
“In Season 3, ‘Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 1,’ he’s in the girls' school walking down the hallway. When he went to the color correction, they made it look nice, but he was like, ‘No! It had that shitty, terrible, green fluorescent light. We want it to look like that.' He really wants it to be as natural as possible.”
Talk about the finishing process?
“We color the show on the Digital Vision Film Master. We color everything in Red log film, and we actually work in 4K, even though FX only requires an HD deliverable. Louie is very cognizant of archival and the future. If you watch the show 20 years down the road, you want it to look as good as possible. We archive in 4K. Troy Thompson is the colorist and our dailies processor at Running Man."