Primetime: Managing workflow for NBC's 'The Voice'
Issue: June 1, 2014

Primetime: Managing workflow for NBC's 'The Voice'

HOLLYWOOD — The Emmy-Award winning competitive reality show The Voice, which airs weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, pits vocalists from across the country against one another in a competition that spans several weeks. The show recently wrapped its sixth season in May by crowning soulful singer Josh Kaufman as “the voice,” with musicians Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Shakira and Usher returning as coaches, and Carson Daly as host.

The series is a production of Mark Burnett’s One Three Inc. and Talpa Media USA Inc., in association with Warner Horizon Television, and features an innovative format with fast turn-around times from when the footage is shot to when it airs — sometimes just three to four days. There are five stages of competition — the Blind Auditions, the Battle Rounds, the Battle Rounds Two, the Playoffs and finally, the Live Performance shows — and a post team that manages a multitude of formats and footage. As each season progresses, the media assets grow.

To meet the challenges of a nearly nonstop production schedule and demanding deadlines, the show’s post supervisor Jim Sterling and supervising editor Robert M. Malachowski Jr. rely heavily on gear from Avid, with a system built around Avid Everywhere technology that allows for integrated workflows, enhanced collaboration, and the managing and protection of media assets. Using Avid’s  ISIS 7000 shared storage system, the team employs 40 production stations — often broken up into teams so each group can work on different shows, and at time, leap-frogging each other. 

Here, Sterling and Malachowski Jr. discuss the tools that help make the show possible.

POST: Can you detail the show’s workflow?
JIM STERLING: “It’s pretty much shoot, ingest, offline, up-res, online, color correct, mix, deliver. That’s the broadest stroke there is. There are 20 editors involved in the offline editorial process. There are six to eight assistant editors, depending on what phase of the process we’re in, three post coordinators plus myself, plus a few PAs and somewhere between eight to 10 people transcribing interviews and footage.”

ROBERT M. MALACHOWSKI JR.: “I also have two other online editors that assist me with the final finish of the show and a complete audio company outside of that, that does the final mix.” 

POST: How many different acquisition formats are you managing?
MALACHOWSKI JR: (Laughs) “Name a format that we haven’t shot on and you’ll have a shorter list. Primarily it’s Sony XDCAM, Sony F800s and Sony F5s, and we also get home footage from iPhones, Droids, mini-DV, and YouTube videos. While the basic workflow hasn’t really changed [over the years], what has changed is the amount of [content] that goes into what I call the ‘meat grinder.’ What I mean by that is, the show doesn’t capture simply on one format, nor does it capture one frame rate. We shoot the stage show at 59.9i, we shoot all reality at 29.97 progressive, we also shoot some at 23.98 progressive, and as I mentioned, we have all different formats, with some even coming from overseas.” 

STERLING: “The footage from all the cameras for the live show and for our stage performance shows [Sony HDC-2500s], which are taped, all go into the truck and come back to us on XDCAM.” 

POST: How did you integrate Avid Everywhere and ISIS into your workflow?
MALACHOWSKI JR: “We have Media Composer Version 7.2 on all the offline systems that are linked together with the ISIS. Even with the online, we’re all together on the same ISIS so we can share media more directly and efficiently. The nice thing about it is that we have all these systems all going to the same ISIS, all going to the same media, so a producer can be down working on the soft system, leave a note for the editor or for the assistant who, upon ingest, is writing notes.
“All of that goes through from offline all the way to me, so if there’s a note or a bad piece of video we can’t use for legal reasons, that’s flagged from the beginning. When I get it, I can make sure that if it’s a piece of media that shouldn’t be used, it won’t show up.”

POST: You started using the ISIS in Season 3. What difference has the ISIS made?
MALACHOWSKI JR: “It’s really helped us with managing the amount of media we get on the show. Some people just don’t realize that while the teams finish off with 12 per coach, we literally go through several hundred [contestants] and hours of video footage at the beginning, with the Blind Auditions. I believe it’s 19 cameras on stage and four to six reality cameras backstage.

Malachowski Jr. and Sterling

“The editors are grabbing all of that media. We keep it all online. When we were on the Unity, we were constantly bumping into the glass ceiling of not having enough workspace, not having enough seats open to add more Avids, to add more editors, to add more storage, so we could maintain this level of storage for all the media.

“Also, it’s an extremely creative environment. We are chatting and sharing with each other now because we’re connected via the ISIS and we’re looking at each other’s cuts. Some of our editors, as they’re finishing their stuff, will pop in and say, ‘Hey, take a look at what this guy did.’ It’s really cool that Avid has allowed the editors to be far more communicative. The ISIS has been really stable, to the point where we have 30 to 40 people hitting this thing day in and day out. There are literally times when we have editors working seven days a week, round the clock, and this machine is just doing what it’s supposed to do.”