Primetime: ABC's <I>Grey's Anatomy</I>
Issue: March 1, 2018

Primetime: ABC's Grey's Anatomy

After 14 seasons and more than 300 episodes, ABC’s top-rated and Emmy Award-winning medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, is still beating strong. Whether it’s a talented cast, likable characters, outstanding writing or gripping storylines, or the fact that it’s been streaming on Netflix for the past few years and attracting a whole new viewership, the Shonda Rhimes creation is on the horizon of becoming the longest-airing primetime medical show in the US.

While star Ellen Pompeo (as Meredith Grey) has remained the show’s central figure on-screen since the pilot episode, which aired in 2005, many crew members behind the scenes have also made their own contributions towards establishing the show’s look, pacing and tone. Each week, a team of editors, colorists, audio mixers, audio editors and more contribute to Grey’s high Neilsen ratings.

Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Lisa Taylor (pictured), post producer on Grey’s Anatomy, talks about the show's transitioned to digital, how its maintained that signature pacing and its overall workflow.

The series has been on the air since 2005. Technology has changed quite a bit over the years. Technologically speaking, what do you think has changed the most since the beginning and how did it impact the workflow?

“When we first started the show, we were shooting on film, and we didn’t make a change to digital until season 10, so that was one of the biggest changes that we made. It took us a while to switch over because we wanted to maintain the integrity of the look of the show. There was a lot of push, they wanted us to go digital earlier on but the technology wasn’t there. We stayed with film as long as we could and we finally made the shift. We picked the [Arri] Alexa [camera] because we felt it was closer to a film look, so now we shoot with Alexa on SxS cards. That was huge. 

"Also, our workflow has shifted from tape-based to digital — we deliver digitally as well.”

What is the workflow, with footage moving from production to post?

“We shoot at Prospect [ABC Television Center in LA] and have the SxS cards and compact flash cards sent over to Arsenal [Arsenalfx Color], that’s our post facility in Santa Monica, and they transfer the SxS cards in their Colorfront system and they sync sound to Apple ProRes 4:4:4 and they keep all the files on their SAN. Then they upload via Signiant Media Shuttle directly to our editorial suite, so we don’t have to pick up dailies any longer, and are transferred to a hard drive. In the morning, our PA just takes the drive, hands it to the AE, copies it over to the [Avid] ISIS and they are ready to start cutting (on Avids — color is done on Lustre).

"Back in the day, the PA would go and pick up the DVCAMs and then we’d have to digitize to an Avid. It’s so much faster and more efficient now.”

Grey’s is still a top-rated show. What do you think are some of the main contributions from post that 
help keep it unique and relevant? 

“The show’s music sensibility always keeps it interesting and relevant and fresh. Post-wise, it’s the same with editorial. I think editorially, even though we’ve changed tonally over the years, initially there was a balance of comedy and drama and then it shifted a little bit towards drama and now we’re shifting it back towards comedy. I think having editorial embrace the change, that keeps it relative and fresh. I think post is helpful in that regard.

"Everybody in post, and every department, just tries hard to give everything to maintaining the standard that has been set and I think everybody just brings their A-game…a lot on this show.” 

Any significant post challenges on the series?

“A lot of times we have an ever-changing schedule. Some of the choices for our facilities embrace our ever-changing schedule. They are helpful in that regard and make it less of a challenge to get things done. But scheduling is always a bit of a challenge. After all these years, though, we’re kind of like 
a well-oiled machine. We’ve been doing it for so long, and working with the facilities and the teams that have been on the show for a long time, we just kind of work really well together and to make it as seamless as possible.”

What’s the turnaround time on an episode?

“For a regular show, it’s 21 days from the time principal photography ends to the time when we deliver. Anything less than that is considered ‘rush post.’ And in the beginning of the season, we have a lot of that. That’s actually one of the biggest challenges — rush post — of course! 

“By the time we lock the show to the time we’re on the dub stage, if there’s less than five days there, it’s considered rush post. And there are cost consequences to that, because there’s not enough time for everybody to finish — sound and picture — and everybody works overtime and double time and etc.

“Also with rush post, there’s less time, a lot of times, for the editor’s cut, the director’s cut and the producer’s cut. Everything gets truncated. And we do that a lot, especially when we’re in the beginning of the season when we’re airing eight episodes in a row. It’s always a pleasure in the middle of the season, when we’re not in rush post. It’s wonderful. But then at the end, it crunches up again. Especially with Grey’s Anatomy, where we do 24 episodes, which I know normally, people do 22/21 episodes, so we shoot more as well.”

Grey’s seems to have a very specific editing style and pacing. Can you talk about that a little?

“Yes, exactly! Last season was the first season we had all new editors. I’ve been on the show since Season 2, and we had an arsenal of editors for a very long time that kind of maintained that and helped to establish that pace that you’re talking about, that Shonda [Rhimes] set forth. And they were on the show for a very long time. With the new editors, they were given a template and they just did their research and were able to jump right in last season and maintain that editorial style, keeping up the banter and the dramatic intent and help picking the music that supports it. In order to be an editor on Grey’s, you have to have a strong music sensibility. That’s part of it as well. We’ve been very lucky to have a new set of editors who are able to keep up the pace. Joe Mitacek (one of the original editors) is working on Scandal now. A lot of our editors started out on Grey’s Anatomy and have gone to other Shondaland shows, which is a wonderful thing.” 

Traditionally, music has always been an important part of the show. There had been full season soundtracks available, as well as an all-musical episode. Can you talk about that?

“Well, it’s integral. I feel like Shonda was one of the first ones to have needle drops like that. Sometimes she plays to the scene and sometimes she plays against the scene. Now a lot of shows use needle drops in their episodes, but back in the day, I think she was one of the pioneers. I definitely think it’s one of the fundamental things that identifies Grey’s — how she uses music on the show. And we’ve carried it on for her…all of the editors spend a lot of time listening to music, understand its importance and take a lot of time in placing it.”

In fact, early on, the show broke some news artists!

“Yes, it was very exciting, all these new artists, we were helping break careers — Brandi Carlile, Snow Patrol, so many!"

Any plans for 4K?

“I know people are moving towards 4K, but I haven’t heard any grumblings from ABC down to our shows. I’d be open…that’s where we’re going.”

Anything you want to add?

“Yes, the move we made from tape to digital has been really great. Arsenal is in Santa Monica and I’m in Los Feliz, and the way the process is now, with streaming, I don’t have to schlep out to Santa Monica to have any sessions. I do my color pass via a Streambox. They stream the show for me and I do my color pass remotely over in Los Feliz, which is great. That’s a significant change to our flow. I don’t feel limited. Back in the day, if you’re in Hollywood, you want to choose a facility that’s close by, rather than have it dictated by the talent that you want to work with or the facility. I tend to gravitate more towards boutique facilities because they work with me, with regards to the schedule because, as I said, it changes often. It alleviates a lot of stress when I can change on a dime and they make it happen for me.

“Moving into the digital age has allowed for a lot of creative freedom and less limitations. It’s been a great thing — being on this show and watching it change and seeing all the advantages of moving from film to video.”