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PP-Post sup series-Lost/Alias

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Pushing the quality on the postproduction end has played no small role in making ABC’s Lost and Alias two of the most successful TV series of the last few years.And while both are ratings hits, flush with success, putting the final touches on the show is a truly personal affair for the crews working on them.The shows share a number of key personnel, stemming from JJ Abrams having created Alias and co-created Lost. Alias is winding down its five-year run, while interest in Lost is at an all-time high as the show prepares to wrap up its second season and head into a third.As with any TV series, time and money are the biggest production and postproduction obstacles. But when shows are complicated by the globetrotting action seen in Alias and the hidden mysteries of the deserted island that’s home to the castaways of Lost, postproduction plays a huge role in giving these shows the polish they need to convince audiences what they’re watching is real.“We’re perpetually scrambling in post,” says Bryan Burk, executive producer on Lost and co-producer on Alias. “It’s no fault of our own, it’s just that’s where you catch up.”The process begins far in advance with such seemingly simple decisions as how many episodes to produce in a season. Each show shoots an episode in eight days, with editorial starting its work as soon as the early stuff is in the can.In running two shows at the same time, visual effects supervisor Kevin Blank is directly involved in the production phase of Alias, which is shot in Los Angeles, while vfx co-supervisor Michael Rivero is on hand at the Hawaii location for Lost.Blank says his job on set is to make sure the interests of the visual effects department are represented, ensuring that what’s filmed will work in the postproduction phase. He also can advise the crew, should inspiration strike. “I’m the person who knows how we do it, how quickly we do it and how much it costs to do it,” he says.Work on the visual effects begins almost immediately because tight schedules preclude waiting for an episode’s cut to be locked before starting. Blank says he will often ask Burk to lock effects sequences first.Blank says Alias averages 30 effects shots an episode with a turnaround time of a little more than two weeks. Lost averages 15 to 20 shots an episode on a schedule of a week and a half.But those numbers can vary tremendously. The pilot episode of Lost had 200 effects shots, and the first season finale had 85. The record on Alias is 125 effects shots.The actual effects work is turned over to a handful of freelance artists rather than a full-fledged effects facility. Blank says this creates more work for him, but it ensures quality and keeps costs down. “My preference has been to give loyalty to individual artists and less so to visual effects companies. I feel when I’m dealing with individual artists one-on-one, I know what I’m getting.”Artists working on these shows send their work back and forth to Blank via FTP servers from locales as diverse as Washington State and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Working this way saves costs for the show and earns more for the artists, as no money is going to a company with overhead costs or rented office space.“I’m creating more work for myself because my life would be infinitely easier if I could show up at a visual-effects company and say, ‘Here’s a bunch of money and here’s all the work I need for the season,’” Blank says. “It really is like I’m running a visual-effects company. But the purpose is not to turn a profit for myself, it’s to turn the profits over to the show in savings.”And those savings can be significant. “We’ve never spent more than $100,000 on any single episode, and I know a handful of visual-effects shows that have a standard budget that’s above that,” says Blank, adding that the effects budget for a single episode of either show has exceeded $50,000 only eight or nine times.Sound is equally important. “We have an obsession with sound. All of our favorite movies have great sound,” says Burk, who hands out a copy of The Exorcist to the sound crew at the start of each season.“I want every sound to be very singular and our own, and when people hear it they immediately associate it with Lost,” Burk says, citing the unique sound of the clock on 24 as a good example of that concept.Lost in particular poses some interesting challenges, given the mysterious forces that seem to be at work on the island. That required a sound that wouldn’t give away anything but still work in retrospect when the story reveals what is making that noise.Another challenge for Lost stems from shooting on location in Hawaii. The outdoor conditions make it difficult to record clean dialog tracks. Burk credits production sound mixer David Yaffe with doing a great job recording on set, and Burk says they turn to ADR only as a last resort.“As we all know, no ADR can really replicate the original performance,” Burk says. “There are a lot of times when we should do ADR and we won’t use it. I’ve made this promise to my actors that I will never substitute a clear line for a good performance.”Similarly, composer Michael Giacchino scores both series with a live orchestra. “If your intention is to duplicate an orchestra, there’s no substitute” with synthesizers, Burk says.The final mix is done in 5.1, even though it won’t air with that kind of range on its network broadcast. Early on in Lost’s run, the show experimented with pushing the volume on the show to the limits of what was possible with an over-the-air broadcast. The 5.1 mix makes its home on the DVD release, which these days is the definitive version of most TV shows.“We have on a number of occasions gone back in and fixed things after it’s aired to make it better,” Burk says.

Written by Tom McLean

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