NBC recently launched The Titan Games, a large-scale, physical-competition series hosted by former wrestler and current action film star Dwayne Johnson. Produced by Universal Television Alternative Studio, A. Smith & Co. Productions and Seven Bucks Productions, the 10-episode program pits everyday people in head-to-head challenges that are designed to test both the body and the mind.
In each episode, competitors face extreme challenges designed by Johnson himself, all requiring incredible strength and determination. Winners advance to the ultimate challenge of Mt. Olympus. Those who conquer Mt. Olympus become a Titan.
The show shot its competition segments on-location in Irwindale, CA, back in September, and in studio space belonging to A. Smith & Co. (http://www.asmithco.com) in Toluca Lake, CA. Luigi Porco serves as post producer/post supervisor on The Titan Games. He’s a ‘permalancer’ who’s been working with A. Smith & Co. for a number of years, including on the popular show
American Ninja Warrior.
According to Porco (pictured, lower right), Seven Bucks Productions and Universal Television are the co-producers of The Titan Games, overseeing the creative process. A. Smith & Co. handles post production for the show, including editorial.
“Every show is unique, and with The Titan Games being a ‘Season 1,’ we didn’t know what we were going to face until it happened,” says Porco of its production and post. “There were some similarities to how we do post production for
American Ninja Warrior, but obviously it’s a different show.”
The goal for Season 1 was to create 10 hours of programming. The show premiered with a two-hour episode (clocking in at 85 minutes), and then continues with eight one-hour episodes that run in 43-minute broadcast lengths.
When Post spoke with Porco in late January, they had completed roughly 60 percent of the episodes, with picture locked and delivered to NBC. The show captures an enormous amount of footage during the production of each episode — somewhere around 70 hours Porco estimates — so an efficient workflow is paramount.
The arena, for example, where the competitions take place — or as the production refers to as ‘front of house’ — is equipped with 21 cameras.
“Basically, everything that is filming in the arena and the competitions,” Porco describes. This also includes segments with host Dwayne Johnson and field reporter Cari Champion. Liam McHugh and Alex Mendez act as commentators.
Front-of-house cameras are a mixture of fixed, Steadicam, Techno-Jib and handheld units. Models include Sony’s HDC-2500, HDC-4300, HDC-P1 and FS700, and Panasonic’s AW-HE40. GoPro Hero 5s are also fixed to competition obstacles throughout the arena.
The Titan Games also has a ‘backstage’ set where competitors are shown getting ready for challenges. Here, they may give an interview or receive a pep talk from host Johnson. The backstage production set-up makes use of 17 additional cameras, including Sony’s F55, A9 and EX-3, and Arri’s Alexa Mini.
“Everything is used for different functions,” Porco says of the camera selection.
Yet another production aspect of the show are its ‘hometown’ features. The video segments are produced after the competitions, with a small ENG crew traveling to the competitor’s hometown and recording them at home and at work. The package also includes interviews of the competitor’s family.
To help shape the show, a director calls a line cut during the production, which provides a beginning, middle and end for each challenge.
“You get a full feel for what each obstacle is,” Porco explains. “But a show is only 43 minutes, and we are shooting all night long for one episode, so we can’t show everything. We have to cut it down.”
The line cut serves as a starting point, where editors can then select from other camera angles to best cover the action of the challenges.
“In general, we shoot roughly, anywhere from 60 to 70 hours of footage for each episode, each day,” says Porco. “That’s all of the competition, the front-of-house arena, the backstage stuff, the whole night. Then you have to add in the footage we shoot for the hometown (features), which is roughly eight to 10 hours per episode.”
The competition segments were shot in September, and then in October, the production shot the hometown profiles.
“Strategically, we would try to film the hometown profiles that would be in the first two or three episodes, because those were all ready,” he notes. “Obviously, that is weighed against the logistics. You don’t want to fly your crew to New York and then to San Francisco and then Chicago. It’s a balancing act.”
At A. Smith & Co., between 12 and 14 editors work on cutting the show down for its 43-minute broadcast length. Some editors specifically work on building the acts, while others work on packages, and yet others work on the hometown features. There’s also a team of assistant editors.
“We have an Avid ISIS and we cut on Avid,” says Porco. “We started with nine assistant editors, because it’s a lot of footage to ingest very quickly and get timelined into groups. And after about a month into post production, we scaled back to five assistant editors, which is what we have for the duration of the show.”
Graphics for the show were created by The Other House (http://theotherhouse.com) in Portland, OR. The creative boutique created all of the practical, on-set graphics, as well as the in-show graphics, including bumpers, lower thirds and graphic transitions.
“Basically, they use Cinema 4D and After Effects,” notes Porco. “Most of the elements start in Cinema 4D and then the pipeline continues on to After Effects. When they deliver to us the completed element, those are almost always a high-res, HD QuickTime file with an embedded alpha channel that we can put into our shows.”
The Titan Games makes use of both original music and library tracks. Cheche Alara serves as composer for the show, and is credited with creating its original theme and the bulk of what the audience hears. Additional music comes from the Vanacore Music (https://vanacoremusic.com) and Extreme Music (https://classic.extrememusic.com) libraries.
Finishing for the show takes place at Blueprint Post (www.blueprintpost.com), which is near A. Smith & Co. in Toluca Lake. The studio handles color correction for the show’s core segments, including the competitions, using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve. Avid Symphony is used for the hometown packages, which tend to employ visual effects. The studio also handles audio post via its Avid Pro Tools suite.
The Titan Games airs on NBC on Thursdays at 8pm (EST). Episodes are also available for viewing on the NBC Website (www.nbc.com/the-titan-games).