Fall TV: ABC's <i>Designated Survivor</i>
Issue: October 1, 2016

Fall TV: ABC's Designated Survivor

When the US President delivers the State of the Union address, a member of the Cabinet is always absent and housed in an undisclosed location. That person is the “Designated Survivor.” In the event of a catastrophic attack on the US Capitol that wipes out the presidential line of succession, the Cabinet member is sworn in as President.  

This unthinkable scenario plays out in the new series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Tom Kirkman, who was headed for replacement on the day of the State of the Union address and rises to the presidency by nightfall. Produced by ABC Studios and The Mark Gordon Company, Designated Survivor is shot in Toronto on Arri Alexa cameras. It is edited by Monty DeGraff, Pamela Malouf, ACE, Ned Bastille and three assistants; their offices are on the lot of Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. 

DeGraff, who cut the pilot, edits Marvel’s Daredevil series for Netflix and previously cut Lie to Me, Law & Order and HBO’s Carnivale. “In my first interview for Designated Survivor, the producers emphasized the multiple components to the show: the thriller aspect of who did it, the family story of a common man thrown into an unbelievable situation, and the political aspect of Tom building a new government. Each component had to have weight.”

After testing the pilot and after new showrunner Jon Harmon Feldman came on board, it was decided to give a bigger scope to the FBI investigation in the rubble of the Capitol. Several scenes were re-shot and the thriller and political angles assumed more screen time. “We set up an energetic pace in the pilot to capture the audience from act to act,” says DeGraff. “There was a mandate from the network and everyone involved creatively to maintain that energy, and I don’t think the audience will be disappointed.”

Dailies are sent from the set in Toronto to ArsenalFX Color in Santa Monica, where John Potter is lead dailies colorist. He does the first color pass, synchs the sound and delivers Avid DNx 36 files to the cutting room. Runway Post provides and maintains the Avid Media Composers and ISIS shared storage for editorial.

DeGraff gets three days to finish his cut, then the director comes in for four days to work on his cut and the producers weigh in from their big-picture perspective of where the series is headed for the season. “We work on time — we usually have one to five minutes to lose — and the best way to tell the story effectively,” says DeGraff. 

VFX editor Rachel Varnell is dedicated to comping screen shots and complex VFX shots, and interfacing with FuseFX, the show’s primary VFX vendor. “She’s a critical part of the show,” DeGraff says. “Rachel frees us from having to wrangle all the VFX shots as we work.”

The editors even out color in the Avid before Josh Baca and Kevin Mottashed do the conform on Avid Nitris, with beauty work in Autodesk Inferno, and Larry Field performs the final color on Resolve at Arsenal. “There’s a slightly different look and feel to the conspiracy, thriller and family aspects of the show,” DeGraff explains. “This is very much an interiors show: homes, offices, the White House — so the lighting is very controlled. But the White House war room, with all its technology, looks different from the warmer Kirkman home.”

The editors temp the music using compositions provided by composer Sean Callery’s music editor plus the music library that editorial is building for the show. Hollywood’s Larson Sound does the mix and post audio; Rick Ash and Mark Server are the re-recording mixers.

One of the things that DeGraff likes best about working on Designated Survivor is collaborating with his fellow editors. “It doesn’t always happen on shows that you get a chance to really talk to each other. Pam and Ned are very experienced and collaborative, and I really enjoy being creatively involved with my colleagues.”