A Q&A with Robin Grossman
A couple of years ago a college friend of mine, Robin Grossman, moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. A few months later I was thrilled to learn she got a job on the crew of a television pilot. I asked Robin if she would be willing to share her experience. She gladly accepted.
Post Production Assistant for the
(unsold) TV-pilot, Astronauts
What was the plot of Astronauts?
It would have been a really cool show about a group of crack astronauts vying for seats on the next mission. It focused on a maverick astronaut and the love he left behind, who is now his boss on the flight crew. The pilot focused on an accident on the International Space Station which traps two astronauts in a dire situation -- one of which happens to be the Maverick astronaut's brother. It's a race against time to get the crew and the next shuttle in shape for the rescue. This pilot was shot long before the recent Shuttle disaster.
Can you give some insight into the character Chris Potter portrayed on the show?
Chris Potter did an amazing job as the Director of Flight Operations. He made all of the astronaut gobbledygook coherent and exciting.
What did you do on Astronauts?
My job title was Post PA or Post Production Assistant during 2002. I worked for John Niss, Post Supervisor and Co-Producer on the pilot. Unfortunately, the show was not picked up.
I got the job through a friend who was John Niss' Production Assistant. She got me the interview, but I got the job because it was clear John had loads of work and needed help. I needed experience so I stuck around and helped out. And after a day or two, they hired me.
My job involved memos, faxing, invoicing vendors, general office duties and script breakdowns to create shotlists of graphics, videos, and special effects we would need for the show. These lists were given to different vendors to create. This list changed over time as the script went through several re-writes. I also picked up and delivered the dailies (VHS tapes) during production to the producers, director, and the ABC/Disney executives. That involved a lot of traveling. I put 3000 miles on my car in 3 months time.
Can you give us some descriptions of some of what happens in post production?
In post, you tend to be on deck for pre-production, production and post-production -- the entire lifespan of the project. Considering this show had a lot of special effects, our post job included pricing out the various effects companies, those that could create the faux computer programs on the monitors, hiring the sound and film editors, hiring the company that transferred the film stock into VHS dailies, and much more.
Basically, once in production, the film gets turned into VHS called dailies so everyone in the decision-making process gets to review the work of the day before. As a PA, I picked up and delivered these dailies as well as created the shotlist based on the Script Supervisor’s notes which corresponded to that day's work.
At the end of production, the Editor's make a rough cut called an Editor's Cut -- rough cut. Then there's a Director's Cut -- cut the way he wants it. Producer's Cut which includes Producer's changes on the Directors Cut. There's a Studio Cut that goes out to the studio (ABC) -- suggestions come back. Then there's a Network Cut. Network people make suggestions. Then the Network gets a Network Cut that is supposed to include their changes. Finally, they include all the changes and Lock the Picture. From there they do spotting sessions and clean up the sound and editing work and add the credits. It's been a while, but that's basically how I remember it.
What are spotting sessions?
Spotting Session is like it sounds. They spot something they need to fix in the show. Then they decide how they want to fix it. Either they'll bring in actors to add dialog or they choose to edit out the problem
What were your hours like?
Basically 8-12 hour days during the post phase where I was doing office duties, putting lunch orders together, delivering materials to sound and music editors as well as delivering dailies. There were a few times I worked a week straight. I wasn't supposed to do that, but it was tight situation.
Got any anecdotes you can share?
Generally, all the people were really great and helpful. It was my first time working on a show and I learned a lot from them. It's certainly trial by fire.
How long did it take to complete post production work on the show?
The entire production schedule for the one-hour pilot stretched from March 4th to May 6th when we delivered the final version. The post section of the schedule stretched from the production wrap (last day of shooting) April 5th to May 6th. Roughly a month including weekends.
Do post production people have any contact with the actors at all? What about other members of the production crew?
There's some contact. I met some of the actors briefly in a pre-production meeting, but not like we had any conversations. I was allowed on the set, but ordinarily I was WAY too busy to do anything other than my own duties. I had a lot of contact with the Director and Director of Photography, delivering their dailies.
Whom did you meet from the cast?
I met some of the cast when we were doing ADR (adding in dialog over film). Jeffery Pierce, the handsome star of the show, was the only one I met. He gave me a nice hug one day after I told him his dailies looked great.
Once the production is complete, then what?
For crew, they had better be lining up their next job during the production, because once production is over, you're out. Done. You're out of work. I didn't seek out other jobs simply because I needed a month or two to recover. I haven't returned to production work even though I loved everyone I met on the show. I'm still in contact with some in the production office. But I'm not interested in a TV or even film production career path. It's a ridiculous amount of work and everything has to be done yesterday.
If the show had been picked up do you think you would have been asked back onto the show?
I might have been asked back. I know I impressed a lot of people, especially the producers with my effort and upbeat/get it done attitude, but the production life isn't for me. It left me NO time to write screenplays which is my main focus. I quickly realized it was pointless to be in the Industry and have no finished scripts to show. I'm currently unemployed and am studying After Affects, a video editing program. I hope to do freelance rotoscoping work.
What is rotoscoping?
Rotoscoping is a process where you pull a element out of a frame. Suppose you have a guy on a horse and you just want the horse. With a computer program, you can separate the guy and the horse and put the horse on a separate layer. Now you can special effects to that horse and make him look magical. Now do the same thing on all the frames containing the guy and the horse. Now you create a film with a magical horse in motion. That's basically rotoscoping. I understand from friends that it's fairly boring work, but pays well.
Sounds interesting, though. Thank you, Robin, for taking the time out to talk to us about Astronauts, and good luck to you in your future endeavors.
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