NBC’s hit show America’s Got Talent, currently airing its 13th season with its special winter edition of
America’s Got Talent: The Champions, featuring a best-of-the-best competition of previous winners and finalists from around the world, is essentially a talent show. A ratings juggernaut, the series is known for its diverse group of contestants that range from singers, comics and dance troups to magicians, daredevils and ventriloquists, as well as some of the wackiest and most outrageous auditions on TV.
The series, from NBC, Syco Entertainment and Fremantle (www.fremantle.com) — creators, producers and distributors of scripted and unscripted content — features the all-star judges panel of executive producer Simon Cowell, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel, as well as new host, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews.
The show, which has had more than 900 million global viewers since it began airing in 2006 and has aired in 194 markets worldwide, is about to begin shooting (in March) its 14th season, which will air this summer.
Fremantle’s Sue Moyer, supervising producer, is charged with overseeing post production.
“There are really two distinct sections of the show,” Moyer (pictured, below right) explains. “In the early rounds, we’re doing a tape-based show. We’re shooting auditions and the middle rounds at a specified location. Everything is recorded to tape and edited in post that way.
“In the later rounds, the final six weeks of the show, it’s a traditional live show. So, we have two very different workflows. We have a tape-based workflow and a live workflow.”
For all action taking place on-stage, the show is shot on Sony HDC-2500 series cameras with Canon Studio lenses and Fujinon EFP lenses on the handhelds and jibs. Moyer, who is now in her ninth season with the series, explains that during the taped rounds, the production team is “ISO’ing all of the footage to XDCAMs in the production truck. So, although we’re doing a line cut in the truck, we’re also Iso’ing all of those records to XDCAM. That allows us to bring a six hour shoot day down to time…and it gives us that flexibility. Because the way the auditions is shot, it’s not one day of shooting equals one television episode, it’s that we’re shooting over a period of 13 to 14 days and that comprises the first 12 hours of television, the first six, two-hour episodes.”
For the backstage, reality type of footage, such as interviews with contestants, crews are using a variety of multi-format, tapeless cameras, including the Canon C300 series. “In part, to achieve different looks,” Moyer explains. In addition, the show is relying on different variations of Red cameras to capture action outside of the theater. “If we are watching a contestant walking down Hollywood Boulevard, for instance, discussing what this opportunity would be in their life to perform on one of the largest stages in the world,” she says. Red is also being used to shoot slow-mo on the stage. “Again, that allows us to give a very different look than what a traditional stage-recorded show looks like,” Moyer adds.
Once the footage is captured, it then moves into post. “This is one of the things that I think is most fascinating about the process we put in place,” says Moyer. The team is shooting such massive amounts of footage and editing on such a tight timeframe, that the process of getting all of the tapeless media into post is crucial.
According to Moyer, while the footage that is going to XDCAM is a fairly traditional workflow that most shows follow, the workflow for the tapeless media is what’s unique. “Because we’re shooting in so many different tapeless formats, and because of our ultimate goal of the color correction, everything is being shot in a flat color space. And so what we’re doing is, we’re using a proprietary software that FotoKem developed called NextLab, which was initially designed to deal with dailies on-set for feature films. But we found an application in reality television that allowed us to bring in, actually in the field, that allowed us to not only backup the full res, tapeless format, but it also allows us to transcode to the MXF media that we need to use in Avid, and it allows us to not only create a full res MXF file, but a low res version of it with a LUT applied that basically then we can use in the offline edit. So, now all of those stages are being done in NextLab in a system where we used to have to do that on multiple machines, even as recently as Season 11, two or three years ago. It was a very time-consuming, very management-intense process. Now the NextLab allows us to do that as a much cleaner, faster process and turn around the tapeless media much faster.”
Moyer also credits the NextLab solution for allowing the production team to use the Red cameras. “It’s really allowed us to give production what they needed creatively in a world that made it possible for us to turn it around in post.”
Much of the post services for the taped shows are completed by Fremantle at the company’s LA offices. However, once the show goes live, post moves to the basement of the Dolby Theater, where the live performances take place.
“So, that tapeless aspect that is so key to turning around the massive amount of footage during the taped shows, becomes even more important during the live shows in our ability to turn it around quickly,” stresses Moyer. “Because we’re on the live show deadline, we’re literally shooting footage for one of the packages in the morning, getting it into the system within hours so the package can then be edited and locked and sent overnight to online the next day for air. So, it becomes a really tight process at that point.”
Post production also completes all of the show’s graphics/titling — a traditional graphics package with bump outs, transitions and lower thirds — for the taped portions, while an operator in the truck handles the realtime motion graphics via Ross Video’s XPression during the live broadcasts.
AGT is cut on Avid and color graded in DaVinci Resolve by Santa Monica’s Revolution Post (https://revolutionpost.com); Levels Audio (www.levelsaudio.com) in LA relies on Pro Tools to complete the show’s 5.1 audio mix. Both studios move to the Dolby Theater, along with the Fremantle team, as well, once the show goes live. All assets are stored on an Avid NEXIS, with archival footage stored on a StrongBox Data Solutions’ StrongBox with LTO.
According to Moyer, there are several post teams that leap frog one another, each taking several episodes, in order to complete the work in time for air.
She says one of the most unique things about the show’s post production is the editing team. “As an editor, you never know what kind of an act you’re going to cut,” she says. “You could be cutting a super emotional, golden buzzer moment or shooting a dance act that is totally action driven. That’s why we have an editorial team that is completely diverse. The show requires an editor who has to have the ability to edit any kind of style. On AGT, that editor can be faced with any type of act and has to be adept at telling an amazing story and one that is unique to a particular act.”
Moyer says that the biggest challenge working on the show, which is also what she loves the most, is its “ever changing, ever evolving aspect. Here we are in Season 14, and there’s nothing stagnant about the show. We’re still developing new technologies, looking for new opportunities creatively and the challenges on post to come up with solutions to make it viable, both financially feasible and in the workflow itself to get it on air. It’s one of the biggest challenges and one of the things I love most about working on America’s Got Talent.”
America’s Got Talent: The Champions airs on NBC on Mondays at 8pm (EST). Episodes are also available for viewing on the NBC Website.