Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 3)
Growing up, I was always glued to the Summer or Winter Olympics. And as a young and ambitious video nerd, I wondered what went into the incredible number of visual stories being told. Luckily I crossed paths with editor Mike Api who is currently in PyeongChang, South Korea, freelancing for NBC in his second Olympic Games. Mike’s “unit” is in the “Control C/Graphics Ingest” unit — that is, the department that cuts promos, sponsorship enhancements, and a few athletic features (or in other words, packages and profiles).
Mike is sending me periodic dispatches from PyeongChang, where the athletic highlights and stunning stories continue to pour out. Check out part one to get started on his journey.
Mike’s Olympic ‘stache next to the Olympic flame.
What’s a typical day like for you now that the games are in full swing?
We work twelve hour shifts and I’m on a 2pm-2am workday this time around. My producer and I have to cut two new pieces every day for a primetime show on NBC affiliates – a show open and a highlight “lookback,” which is like a highlight montage of the best moments or stories from that day. Beyond that we’ll help out with other deliverables as needed, cutting promos, finishing pieces the day shift didn’t have time for, and crashing* on new pieces that may pop up on the spur of the moment (which happened just this week after the men’s skiathlon).
* – “Crashing” is an informal term for quickly cutting a new piece from scratch, usually because of some unexpected development or breaking news. In our case, we were asked to crash on a piece telling the story of Norwegian cross-country skiier Simen Hegstad Krueger’s unbelievable comeback in the men’s skiathlon. (He crashed and broke a pole at the start of the 30km race, fell to dead last and made a miraculous comeback to win gold, passing all 63 skiiers in the process.) The whole thing was done with announcer calls from the race, so it was basically us digging through the hour-15 behemoth for little bits and pieces to tell the story coherently. There’s more I would like to do with it, but I think it came out pretty cool nonetheless.
[Watch Mike’s crash piece on Krueger’s comeback on NBC’s website — it’s really good.]
Do you get to actually watch anything, on TV or in person?
Yes on both accounts! We’re surrounded by TVs with feeds from all the Comcast Olympic stations as well as direct feeds from the venues so we can see literally everything! I got to attend about ten or twelve events down in Rio but I was also on a 2am-2pm shift, so by the time my day was done there was a ton of things I could go see.
Here in PyeongChang it’s a little different since I’m out at 2am and my window is a bit more limited. I’d like to see some luge, bobsled, snowboarding, ski jumping, and alpine downhill if I can swing it. Also, Japanese broadcaster NHK has a special Super High Vision* theater set up in the IBC, broadcasting events both taped and live in stunning 8K/22.2 surround sound. They’re testing and preparing for Tokyo 2020 (and have been for years). I saw figure skating yesterday and it looked and sounded like I was sitting in the arena, it was incredible.
[Editor’s note for the nerds: NHK’s SHV is 7680×4320 10/12 bit 16:9 at frame rates of 59.94, 60, or 120. New to the Super High Vision for this Olympics is the addition of HDR for all events.]
Outside the Super High Vision Theater
Are there any special circumstances you have to watch out for in South Korea?
Nothing too crazy aside from the bitter cold and brutal wind. I’ve talked to a lot of Olympic long-timers who say this is by far the coldest Games they can remember, which is bonkers considering we’re not that high up (around 2300ft) and we’re about even with San Francisco latitudinally. I’m lucky enough to be in an edit bay all day. I can’t imagine what the camera ops, mixers, photographers, and other production personnel are dealing with out their in the deep freeze.
What’s been the best moment of the Olympics so far?
The best moment I’ve seen so far has been that crazy skiathlon comeback I mentioned earlier, but there are new amazing moments happening every hour. Take your pick: seventeen year old American Red Gerard winning Gold in slopestyle snowboarding (the USA’s first medal); figure skater Mirai Nagasu’s gravity-defying triple axel; Canada’s Philippe Marquis qualifying eighth in moguls with a torn ACL, which is like the most insane thing I’ve ever heard. Literally every hour of every day some new record is set or a new compelling story develops. And it’s still only Day 3!
What has been a personal highlight so far?
My personal highlight so far was getting the opportunity to cut a piece for the Opening Ceremony called Meet Team USA. It was a short stat-heavy feature that aired right before Team USA entered the stadium for the parade of nations. We worked on it in our down time for about 4 or 5 days and I’m really proud of the result. (I’m always my own worst critic and never feel like anything I work on is really ever ‘done,’ so this was a first for me.)
MEET TEAM USA from Mike Api on Vimeo.
Basically we started with a long script that was essentially a ton of numbers and names. We knew just yelling figures at people would get tired after a while, so we recorded a scratch VO, picked some music, and went to town pacing it out how we thought it should sound. From there we added some nat sound pops and announcer calls where we felt we needed a little break from the narration. (IMO, this is pretty standard documentary process – lay down your sound first and then elevate it with good visuals to tell the story.)
As my fantastic producer Scott and I mined for better and better shots, the Graphics department built us some cool full screens and animated titles, and hosts Katie Couric and Mike Tirico recorded the voiceover. As always, things kept popping up last minute (in this case athletes dropping out of the Games due to injuries), which meant new graphics as well as new voiceover – not the easiest thing to coordinate when you’re hours away from the Opening Ceremony. Once we locked our cut we sent it off to [the NBC Sports home base in] Stamford, CT to be mixed, dropped in the final mix and exported to our playback server about 2 hours before the start of Opening Ceremony.
Mike’s Media Composer timeline for Meet Team USA.
How does the constraint of time and deadline work for you in this environment?
In all of these cases, I find myself thriving off the high pressure and time constraints. It forces you to be more decisive and quickly recognize what you like or dislike. You do a lot of relying on your gut instincts since you just don’t have the time to second guess yourself or flounder around in “well, I don’t know” land.
You have to be creative off the top of your head, trust your teammates, brainstorm new ideas, collaborate, and try things out. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, SOMETHING has to air, so you need to get image and sound on a timeline one way or the other. Personally, I love working like that because at the end of a shift, it’s on the air, out of my head, and I’m onto the next thing with a fresh mindset.