Date: Wed, 26 Feb 1992 17:40:59 -0600 (CST)
From a magazine called POST; date June 1991.
EXACTING SCIENCE FICTION
Comedy TV's sci-fi laugher retro-rockets into the "future" via IVL Post.
by Jim Stokes
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - In comedy, timing is everything. Add consistency,and good comics stay in business. Such is the case with producing andposting any successful comedy show.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 on HBO and Viacom's new Comedy TV network is post produced by IVL Post in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Original footage is shot at Best Brains, Inc., in nearby Eden Prairie, MN. The melding of Best Brains' comedy with IVL's technical essence are a winning combination. The post house is in its second year with the now three-season major cable net show.
"The quality controls are probably some of the most important aspects of this show," says Daniel Gumnit, executive producer of post production at IVL. "Consistency is extremely important. Lots of small details add up in the grand scheme of things."
Best Brains originates and off-lines on Betacam SP, then brings an edit decision list to IVL on paper. A new EDL is sent back on disk to help the producers remix the audio via an eight-track Otari tape deck controlled by an Adams-Smith Zeta III.
The principals at Best Brains are comic Joel Hodgson and Jim Mallon with Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu. The spacey comedy show has mad scientist/character performances by Beaulieu and comic Frank Coniff. Ken Frenell shoots. Post production technical supervisor is Tim Scott, who works with production manager Alex Carr.
The 24 episodes of the show in the course of a year are finally prepared by Tim Paulson, IVL senior editor. "He's got to have a sense of humor, too," observes Gumnit. "He's got to feel like he's part of the creative team."
(There are two photos parsed in with the article on this page and they are:
Photo of Joel Robinson on the bridge of the Satellite of Love flanked on the left by Crow and on the right by Tom Servo. The caption reads: "Space Camp: MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER conjures the early days of TV by running very bad movies which the keyed-in talent watches (in silhouette) and criticizes."
Photo of interior IVL control room. Caption reads: "High tech for low tech: IVL's Paulson uses Ampex ADO, Zeus and Vista switcher to create the retro look.")
In the show, Hodgson plays a maintenance worker at the futuristic Gizmonics Institute. Scientists jettison him into space where he must watch some of the worst sci-fi or otherwise weird movies ever made. But Hodgson has the company of two robot friends who cavort on a set a la PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE, replete with movie countdown doors opening and closing with numbers akin to SESAME STREET. Sight gags abound such as a literal "smoking jacket" for the smoking area in a restaurant and a robotic arm wrestling contest.
Most of us have either talked back to the screen or harbored that secret wish. That vicariousness is brought out as the trio, seated in silhouette, kibitz the movie with creative one-liners.
During CAVE DWELLERS. sample barbs are "You can eat off this floor"..."stately Wayne Manor"..."Their table manners need work"...and "those moon boots went out with the 70's!"
According to Gumnit; HBO, which is in charge of distribution, supplies IVL with 1-inch copies of incredibly bizarre and ridiculous films. The titles bespeak content: the large fire spitting turtle GAMERA VS ZIGRA, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, or FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS.
"There are no slasher movies," he adds. "It's all family entertainment. The shows appeal to a wide audience. Little kids like them because they're silly movies. But adults like them because they're making sophisticated jokes about the Algonquin Hotel and Gertude Stein. In all, it's quite fun."
IVL makes a 1-inch movie master dub from the distributor's video to later integrate with the Betacam SP shooting masters. "If they're black and white movies," he says, "we'll lightly color wash them slightly blue, which helps the characters pop out against the black and white footage."
Editor Paulson says the films are in pretty good shape most of time. "However, I'll take up the black level quite a bit because the charaters are silhouetted. If you just set up the color bars and runit normally, the characters would disappear in the dark areas. The graininess isn't a big concern since it's covered up somewhat with the wash. Actually, Hodgson's decision is to keep the show looking as low tech as possible. He wants it to look like the early days of television (before sophisticated processing).
The Ampex Zeus 1 digital video processor is used to fix up jumpy video, bad chroma and video levels. "It has a very high tolerance for taking garbage in and sending good video out," notes Gumnit. "The Zeus is essentially a D-2 digital processor. But it records the information on analog tape and outputs the video as standard NTSC as well as outputting the video in digital form."
"It's very good," he says. "We can go many, many generations without loss of video quality. It's really made a difference in the show. HBO is so happy with the quality of the 1-inch that they're not interested in going with D-2 at this point."
"We provide Best Brains with the Betacam SP window burn of the film they're looking at in a monitor," he notes. "So, when they're shooting the characters at their studio, they can do an inexpensive key inside their switcher. That way they can see themselves keyed against the film."
The Betacam SP shooting masters, which consist of the silhouettes of the characters against the Ultimatte blue backround, are combined with the movie at IVL via Ampex AVC Vista 18 Switchers using chroma key. "The Vista's keying ability is one of it's stongest points," says Paulson. "It's very clean. The show is a composite using a number of keys. At times it's five levels deep in a single pass." Characters are keyed over the film at IVL so it looks as if they can reach up and touch the screen. In one gag, Hodgson got up from his seat to peek at a book an actor was melodramatically reading on the screen.
"We composite the image of the actors on the live video," adds Gumnit, "and assemble all the advertising bumpers, door opens and and closes, and so on." The Ampex ADO 2000 with Rotation/Perspective/Digimatte has the role of creating strobe effects for the various host segments.
"The film always ends with a gorky-looking professor character punching a button which makes the screen contract into a little dot similar to an older style TV turning off to black." he adds.
Paulson says he sometimes used the ADO to compensate for the characters' size against the fully projected movie. "I'll have to enlarge them a bit and move them around to position them exactly right so they're in the correct spot (to comment on the action.) "All that material goes back to Best Brains, where they spend several days reworking the audio, dropping in new jokes for ones that didn't work, and adding sound effects. Then the whole thing comes back to our shop for final audio layback."
It's vital that the jokes are right on cue with the screen on the final master. Speaking of timing, Gumnit says, "Small details add up like making sure the regenerated timecode on the movie master is the proper timecode starting at exactly the right place. And that it's consistantly in the right place throughout all 24 shows that come out during a year. Then there's the way audio is handled on the individual channels of all the Betacam SP copies."
IVL's two online editing suites are primarily equipped with Ampex post production equipment. The bevy of Ampex gear includes ACE 200 Edit and Micro Edit Controllers, AVC Vista 18 Switchers, Zeus 1 Digital Video Processors, ADO 2000 with Rotation/Perspective/Digimatte, and VPR 6 Type C 1-inch VTRs. VTR formats also include Betacam SP, Sony BVH 2000 1-inch Type C, and Sony BVU 8000 3/4-inch machines.
Other posting tools include Abekas A42 Digital Stillstore and Chyron Super Scribe with Logo and Compose, as well Chyron Scribe Junior, and Ikegami ITC 770 CCD Color Camera on Motorized Bencher Stand.
Audio postings is via Sony PAR 5003V Stereo center-track timecode decks.
"We feel that IVL Post has a very dynamic graphics and animation department," says Gumnit. "We create work for many national and regional broadcast clients. The animation and paint graphics are created using Vertigo, Wavefront custom software running on Silicon Graphics workstations."
Timewise, Gumnit estimates three to four hours per film preparing the elements for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Best Brains may take two days to shoot their elements plus two or three days for their offline. At IVL, initial online video picture edit takes a day and a second day for the audio and preparation of broadcast masters via a senior editor Paulson.
He notes that IVL has been able to meet or exceed all of HBO's expectations all the way down the line. "We're glad to be able to renew again with them for this year. We're also talking to them about broadcast production in the Target arena for live events."
IVL's integrated post and broadcast facility located in the new Target Center arena, which is home to the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team, is totally unique in the country. "We coordinate all the broadcast in and out of the Target arena," he says, "whether it be ABC or Prime Sports." Their business is diverse and also includes high end corporate/industrial videos, TV spots, and music/home videos.