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Supervisor Series Michael McLean

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By Diana Weynand
In this first installment of BTL PostProduction’s Supervisor Series, writer and columnist Diana Weynand traveled to Vancouver to talk to Michael S. McLean, postproduction supervisor at MGM for Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Dead Like Me. All three are shot in the west coast Canadian city.

McLean’s story reads like a who’s who in post. His editing credits include It Came From Outer Space II; the Danielle Steele television movies Palomino, Daddy and Fine Things; Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years; Two Harts in 3/4 Time; and Sybil. He also produced Meet the Munceys, Big Foot, Return of the Shaggy Dog, and Killer in the Mirror. He was postproduction supervisor on Outer Limits and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

Below the LinePP: How did you first get into the business?
Michael McLean: It was the classic story—I started in the mail room at Warner Bros. In those days, unless you had a relative in the business, your chances of going anywhere were very slim. So, without having any relatives, I looked around and realized that I could go further faster in editing than in any other department on the lot. I looked into the camera department, but unless you had a father or uncle there, your chances of becoming a cameraperson were very slim. Whereas in editing, it wasn’t as dependent on contacts. So I started there.
BTLPP: Did you follow the normal path to becoming an editor?
McLean: In those days, you had to have eight years’ experience in order to get into the union. It was like going to medical school before you could practice. I started as an apprentice and was an apprentice for about six months. Then I became an assistant. At that time, there were apprentices who had been waiting for 12 years to become an assistant. Being an assistant editor was considered a career position.
BTLPP: When did you finally get an opportunity to edit?
McLean: After about a year as an assistant, I started cutting trailers. From there, I went back to assisting but I was getting a lot of training as an editor and I started cutting on every show I worked on. By the time my gears were up to speed, I was editing on a feature called Freebie and the Bean. I left the studio after eight years and went off and started cutting.
BTLPP: How did you make the transition into post supervising?
McLean: I’d come to work for Aaron Spelling Productions when the company was just starting. I cut two pilots for them and they both sold. They wanted me to stick around but I didn’t want to stick around as an editor. So they offered me the job of supervising editor over all their shows. Eventually I became a vice president. I started directing there. In all the years of Love Boat I did all the second-unit directing.
BTLPP: How did you get involved with MGM?
McLean: I’d shot in Vancouver two or three times and really liked it. MGM had talked to me several times about coming up to Vancouver to help them out. Finally, the situation was right for both of us.
BTLPP: What does your current role as postproduction supervisor involve?
McLean: My job involves more than just postproduction. I look after MGM’s assets here as well. At the moment we have three shows. Over the last eight years since I’ve been here, we’ve had at least two shows going on at the same time.
BTLPP: How many people do you have in post for your shows?
McLean: With three series on the same production schedule, we have a total of nine editors, six assistants, two dubbers, three associate producers, three coordinators, three assistant coordinators, and the visual effects department. I do not function as a supervising editor since we have well qualified producers who will seek my advice as needed. My hands-on collaboration is limited to emergency situations.
BTLPP: How long is the post period for one episode?
McLean: We’ve got really big shows. The scheduling of the shows is driven by the special effects and how long it takes to physically create the visual effects. As a result, our post schedules are a little longer than they might normally be if you’re doing a show without effects. So we try to finish a show every 43 days.
BTLPP: Who else do you collaborate with?
McLean: We have close contact with our mixers, as their efforts directly affect our completion of the shows.
BTLPP: In what way do you work with the visual effects department?
McLean: In addition to handling personnel, I review budgets and have some creative input. Since the VFX on our shows tend to be extensive, it’s a constant battle to make our schedules, which change almost daily.
BTLPP: What about cinematographers?

McLean: Aside from the concept meetings that take place prior to production, most of our interaction with DPs occurs only if problems arise, either with film, tape stock, or cameras. Color correction and the treatment of material in the video facility are a collaborative effort between my department, the producers, and the DPs.
BTLPP: You’re shooting all three shows in HD this season. What do you feel is the impact of this technology?
McLean: A great deal of time was spent prior to production—with [people involved in] post, visual effects, camera [and with] Panavision—learning the rules of the road. We were ahead of the game since we have been delivering HD for the last several seasons. The biggest impact has been the massive amounts of dailies we now receive because of the philosophy that “it’s only tape.” The delivery of VFX is impacted by the time needed to render in HD.
BTLPP: What do you see is the future of post?
McLean: We are indeed moving toward the “studio in a box” concept. With the ability to online, title, render and color correct on Avid and Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing systems, the editor will be called upon to expand his or her skills and talents beyond the traditional role.

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