Fall TV: NBC's <I>Bluff City Law</I>
Issue: September/October 2019

Fall TV: NBC's Bluff City Law

On Monday, September 24th, NBC premiered a new, one-hour dramatic series starring Jimmy Smits and Caitlin McGee. Bluff City Law is set in Memphis, TN, and centers on the relationship between Elijah and Sydney Strait — a father/daughter legal team that has reunited after years of not speaking. While Sydney has lingering resentment and distrust, she knows that working alongside her father is her best hope for changing the world.

Peter Chomsky (Dead To Me, Fargo, Charmed) is the show’s producer and oversees its post production workflow. In addition to the pilot, the network has committed to an additional nine hour-long episodes for this first season, and the possibility of increasing that number should the show achieve success in the ratings. 

Bluff City Law’s Memphis feel should come across to viewers early on, as the entire production takes place in the Tennessee city.

“One hundred percent of the show is being shot in Memphis,” states Chomsky (pictured). “It’s really going to have that look and that feel because it’s there and it’s great. In fact, the main office set for Strait Associates is not a set that’s built at a studio or in a warehouse. It’s an actual building that’s been dressed to be our set. So outside the windows of the building there’s actually a real street, traffic and people…It looks as real as it can look because it is real.”

The series is shot using Arri’s Alexa Mini. It is mainly a two-camera shoot, but a third camera is used on occasion, such as when covering a big courtroom scene is necessary. 

“NBC only requires an HD 1920x1080 format for air, so we’re shooting in 2K," says Chomsky. "I did a show for Hulu called The First, and we shot that in 8K, so I’m very versed in the different formats. But NBC’s delivery requirements are not as stringent as Netflix or Hulu, so we can shoot with the Alexa Mini, which is a very versatile and solid camera.”

Bluff City Law is assembled by a team of editors. Leon Martin worked with executive producer Dean Georgaris on The Brave, and cut Episode 102. Scott Boyd, who Chomsky brought on-board, is the show’s second editor. And Casey Brown is the show’s third editor. The team has Avid-based editorial suites set up in a building in Encino, CA, where EP Georgaris oversees a second show.

“We’ve got a whole suite dedicated for our post production, and upstairs they’ve got a big suite for both shows for the writing staff,” Chomsky explains.

For the series’ early run, the editors will get approximately three days to create the ‘editor’s cut’, and as the season progresses, that will taper down to two days per episode. There will then be four days spent on the director’s cut, four to five days on the producer’s cut, and several days for the studio and network to review each episode.

“I have about five days from lock until I mix,” says Chomsky. Two days will be spent mixing each episode, and then it goes through a QC process before delivery.

Each editor handles their own episode, but should one need support, another will jump in to help. 

“I like to have an environment where we’re all on the same team,” says Chomsky. “We’re all working towards the same goal.”

Chomsky explains how the edit evolves through the different review stages. The editors will work from the script and dailies to put the editor’s cut together. 

“It’s their first take — their interpretation of the script and the material that they receive out of dailies from the director,” he says of the editor’s cut. “After they put their assembly together, they send that to the director. Our director comes and works for four days with our editor to craft the vision that they had for the show, and then we receive the director’s cut.”

The editor’s cut will often run longer than the 44-minute time allocated for a one-hour broadcast.

“Our first couple of episodes were coming in closer to 50 minutes,” Chomsky recalls. “We have some time that we have to get out of them. Dean is really good at story and the script. He is really good at giving us suggestions for lifts. He’ll also, at times, want to refer to what the editor put together for a certain sequence. Sometimes we might revert back to some of the work that the editor did in their cut. It’s sort of a team effort: What do we have? What what’s going to create the best version of this episode?”

The show’s visual effects needs may not be that of a sci-fi series, but there is still work to be done, and it may go unnoticed by the viewer. Monitor composites, for example. 

“A lot of times in the courtroom, there’ll be a case and they’ll use video or streaming files on computers for playback as evidence,” explains Chomsky. “A lot of that is handled in post so we can control the timing. And, a lot of times they have to shoot the material. It doesn’t necessarily shoot with enough time to prep for actual playback on the day when they’re filming, so it becomes visual effects.” Studio Post and Technicolor in Hollywood handle those VFX needs.

Bluff City Law’s Memphis feel is further supported through the use of original music created by a composing team that’s well versed with the region’s style. “Waz and Jamie Jackson — they are from the south and they’re very versed in the feel of music from that area, that locale, and I think that’s going to play into the show in a really positive way,” says Chomsky.

Smart Post Sound in Burbank handles all of the show’s sound editorial, its ADR and final sound mixing. The series is mixed in 5.1 and folds down to stereo.