Dispatches from PyeongChang: Editing the Olympics (Part 5)
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 he’s on day 15 in a row (or day 16, time zones are confusing) of editing the Olympics. This is the fifth installment — check out part one to get started on his journey.
What role does music play in the editing you’re doing? Are you selecting it, is it provided, are you assigned edits that use more prolific music or is it something that’s used a lot? OR are you not using a lot of music at all for the stuff you’re sending to affiliates?
The Olympics has a very distinct orchestral score that’s instantly recognizable, but that’s not really what we go for when we’re cutting our pieces. There’s definitely a time and place to use the huge epic tracks with the pounding drums and 60-piece orchestra, but if you use that all the time it starts to get boring. The big soaring John Williams stuff is mainly to set the atmosphere for the live broadcast and then maybe some end-of-Games recaps or epic montages, but for promos and features the score can be all over the map genre-wise. This time in particular, we’re making a concerted effort to freshen it up and experiment with more upbeat modern stuff as opposed to the typical “Olympics” music and I think the results have been pretty cool. We have access to a ton of music libraries to pull from. We’ll do a few pop songs each Games but it’s mainly library stuff.
At this point you’ve been away from home for several weeks, and you’re in double digit number of days working 12 hour shifts in a row. How do you maintain a level of creative inspiration to keep going? Do you ever hit a wall when working with this, or is that just not possible?
Sometimes it can be tough to stay fresh creatively but it helps that there are new sports each day, so you’re usually looking at new angles of new people in new places, doing new (crazy) things. It can be a challenge for events like figure skating and skiing that happen every day, but you reference the previous day’s work and try to do something a little different, or improve upon what you’ve been doing. It helps you stay sane instead of just plugging in the same formula day-in day-out.
Beyond that, I’m always inspired by the people I work with and am constantly absorbing new tricks and techniques. It’s fun to watch each other’s stuff and see how we’re all turning the same footage into drastically different pieces. We often do the whole “where’d you get THAT shot!?” or “have you seen THIS one?” routine like the nerds we are.
You can get super close to the track.
I think you can easily hit a wall physically more so than creatively. Like any edit job, you’re making hundreds if not thousands of decisions every day and there’s always more to do. It can be really taxing mentally. Somewhere around Day 10 or 11 the schedule starts to catch up to you. By that point the Games are in full swing, you’re cranking on pieces every day, maybe you’ve crashed a few last minute pieces or some you were really proud of were killed because the featured athlete got hurt. But everyone’s in it together, supporting one another and keeping the energy flowing. Once you get past Day 10 it starts to move pretty quickly. I’m writing this on Day 15 and can’t believe we’re almost done. It feels like I’ve been here forever but at the same time the Games themselves flew by.
Are there any special pieces that are generally prepared for the end of the Olympics? Or does that change?
There are a number of annual ending pieces and they’re the most anticipated cuts aside from the grand Olympic open (which is cut by longtime NBC veteran Phil Parrish). Everyone’s got some kind of end-of-Games recap or lookback to do, plus there is the credit rollout to cut. We have so many credits that our rollout is about ten and a half minutes long. The big headlining end piece is called Remember The Titans and it airs right before the credit rollout plays. It’s a piece we do every Olympics of the very best of the best, most epic shots and intimate moments, heartbreak, emotional victories, and the Olympic spirit. Everybody pulls selects throughout the whole month and it’s really special when you finally see it all compiled together with the Titans score. We’ll all gather together on Sunday to watch the finished cut. It’s a great culmination of everyone’s work (and some fantastic editing by the brilliant Josh Glaser).
OBS HD cameras along the track in the sliding center
Can you talk about going to see some of the events, like alpine skiing and skeleton? How was it different than what you saw in Rio?
I’m a little biased because I love the winter sports more than the summer sports, but the atmosphere at the events I saw was unbelievable. Alpine skiing is terrifying because of the sheer speed at which they hurl themselves down the mountain. It’s completely insane. Skeleton was particularly cool because as fast as they look on television, you can’t imagine how fast they whiz by you in person. I remember thinking to myself, “oh, these guys are out of their damn minds too.” You can literally blink and miss them. That said, it does look like a lot of fun to careen down an ice flume like a superhero. We walked down the length of the track and stopped at the last big turn before the finish line to watch South Korea’s Yun Sungbin (the guy with the Iron Man helmet) win gold amongst a sea of Koreans, which was incredible. Seeing the home team win gold and everybody going crazy is a really special experience.
You said you’re coloring in the edit, out of curiosity are you doing any QC for picture and sound levels or is that a separate department that legalizes stuff?
We QC everything ourselves and take it really seriously. Everything that gets delivered first gets sent to our EVS supervisor, where he and usually the editor plus one or two other people will all watch the piece down before pushing it to the servers. Whoever receives the cut on the other side will also give it a QC pass before it’s finally cleared for air. From the outset, we have really specific standards as far as audio levels, video levels, and the entire export process so it’s pretty clear what we need to be delivering.
Have you personally developed any Olympic traditions aside from pin trading now that you’ve got the majority of two of them down?
(Does eating like an animal count as a tradition?) You can learn a lot about a culture by diving into their cuisine, which is why I like to house as much of it as I possibly can. I loved the food in Rio and lovvvvve the food here in Korea. You could put an old sneaker in front of me and I’d eat it if it had gochujang (Korean red chili paste) on it.
Aside from pins, a lot of people get a postcard stamped on the day of Opening Ceremony. It’s a pretty unique little souvenir to have something with these specific Olympic postmarks on them. The last thing I need in my house is more stuff, but since they don’t take up any space I might make this a new tradition of mine.