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MICDI Productions: Music Editing for Television and Films

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Quick, who edits the music for 11 of the most popular series on television? The answer is Burbank-based MICDI Productions, a union provider of music editorial services to motion pictures and television. MICDI has won three Emmy awards for various ER episodes and taken home two MPSE awards for American Dreams and one for Ally McBeal. Five of the television shows that the company is working on have recently been nominated for Golden Globes. Music editor and CEO Michael Dittrick, who edits the feature film projects and is responsible for day-to-day administration, helms the company. In addition to editing, his collaborator of 10 years, Sharon Gersh, acts as company president. They, along with their staff of music editors, edit music for Desperate Housewives, Commander in Chief, Boston Legal, Grey’s Anatomy and the perennial favorite ER, which they have worked on for 10 of the show’s 12 years. Their feature film work includes Elektra, Donny Darko and Halloween 8.Dittrick prides himself on his crew. “People here are very creative, innovative and young,” he says. “They love to tool around with newer software and newer ideas.” The company strives to remain on the cutting-edge of technology. All the edit and digitizing rooms are tied to the Internet and to a centralized server.For show and tell—when production wants to preview a new music cue—the editors can lay in the music against the scene, do a rough mixdown of dialog and music tracks, then create a Quicktime file that can be uploaded to the company’s FTP server.The system works great with productions that are Internet-friendly. Unfortunately, only about half the productions are this tech savvy. In many cases, shows are still relying on DVDs and couriers.MICDI’s edit suites are outfitted with digital equipment, but the company is cautious about constantly upgrading because technology is changing so fast. It still uses analog gear on hand because many productions are still using the older equipment.All but one of the company’s computers are Macs. The lone PC is used to guide non-Mac clients through problems on the Internet or FTP site.The company has a feature rig set up to take out to dub stages, but that gear is so often in use that they rent equipment as needed for the stage. For television shows, they have put together mini-rigs consisting of laptops with M-boxes and ProTools that can be used to adjust music edits on the dub stage.Eight years ago, when David Kelley moved the production offices for Ally McBeal to Manhattan Beach, MICDI developed a system for tele-spotting—an innovation born of necessity. With music editorial in Burbank and composer Danny Lux elsewhere in the region, the additional drive time to Manhattan Beach greatly extended the weekly spotting sessions. Actual video conferencing was very expensive, but Lux came across a box that allowed a telephone line to be plugged in and which then came out as an audio cable mini-plug.Gersh explains, “Production has audio timecode on channel two of their VHS. When they hit play, that timecode comes out of the VHS, into the box and gets transferred to the phone line. They call me. I can hear that timecode. I have a box here. I send that to my ProTools, so now my system plays back the same part of the picture that they are playing on their VHS. To take it a step further, we are able to do a three-way call with that audible timecode to the composer’s house. Now both of us are locked and our computers are at the control of the producer with the remote. We use a second telephone line to communicate our voices.”A key benefit to this system is that the minute the spotting session is over, the composer can begin to write the episode instead of sitting in his car for two hours.MICDI’s workflow has been developed to facilitate the quick turnaround of television shows. It takes four to five days from the time a show editor spots the locked (or almost locked) picture until the completed tracks have to be on the dub stage to mix.“All the shows are very individualized. It’s amazing to watch each production go down differently. Not many people do the amount of product that we work on. We get a chance to really visit and see how ER works, which is extraordinary compared to any other show,” says Dittrick. “How Grey’s Anatomy works is completely different from ER.”Usually the team gets the picture to digitize, although sometimes that picture is turned over at the one- to three-hour spotting session. “The whole process begins at the spot,” explains Gerth. The composer, music editors and representatives from the production side such as the picture editor, a postproducer or supervisor and sometimes the director meet to spot the film. As they view the picture, SMPTE timecode is noted in the areas where music is needed.After the spotting session, the first thing that the music editors do is time the show—giving the composer descriptions and sign-in numbers. Certain shows use temp music to give the composer an idea of what they like. Sometimes music editorial provides temp music cues for picture editorial to lay in. Every show has a database library of all music written for the show that is kept in-house to use for temps as needed. The music editor can cut alternates that are put into a client folder on the FTP site for downloading by the picture department.While the composer scores, the editors work on source music, which might come from the production music supervisor or an inexpensive, easy-to-clear, music library. Once the composer scores, the completed cues are either sent to the FTP site, downloaded from the composer’s server or driven to the office on CD. This usually occurs early on the morning of the dub. The tracks are prepped into a ProTools Session that is taken to the stage on FireWire drives. After the dub, musical editorial also has to do “legals”—track the exact time that music cues are used on a show so that the composer can receive accurate royalties.“The beauty of being a company as opposed to being a solo editor is that we are all here to support each other, help each other out, bounce ideas off each other, or help with overlaps or a schedule conflict if that comes up,” says Gersh. ”I think one of the main reasons our clients return to us… is the reliability of always having someone there to get you what you need as fast as possible.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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