Exploring The World of The Associate Producer With Terra Abroms

In this interview Terra Abroms helps shed some light on her role as Associate Producer (sometimes called a Post Supervisor or Post Producer), as well as tips for working with creatives, advice for keeping a post department running smoothly, and who to watch when you want to stay on the pulse of new technology and workflows.

TERRA ABROMS DISCLAIMER: Every project is different so this is just based off my  observations and experiences in the business.

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thank you for taking the time, Terra, to share some of your professional life with us. Can you start by laying out the post production playing field for us and where an Associate Producer fits in?

Terra Abroms: It’s important to understand post production starts in pre-production, not just after the cameras have finished shooting. I always make sure to connect with department heads in production before shooting. Depending on the project, we usually bring in the VFX supervisor and producer to consult as well.

The Post Producer, Associate Producer or Supervisor (depending on the genre) manages all of post like a UPM manages production. We create different budget scenarios with contingency plans, get bids, create schedules and follow through to make sure everyone has what they need.

Associate Producers are responsible for pulling together the post team, from the editors, AEs, vendors like post facilities, VFX, sound, the music department (composer, music supervisor, editor) through to QC and delivery. The creative positions require signoffs from the EP and studio – though normally these positions are repeats from previous shows. Remember this is a business of relationships.

We are liaisons between the creatives, production, the studio. On some shows we work closely with production to help make it happen once a budget has been signed off. This is a big team effort.

We work with the guilds and studios regarding credit issues, clearances, QC issues and delivery. Some of this includes creating closed caption versions, broadcast scripts, clearances, getting needed materials to marketing, added value and international.

LAPPG: What is on your Pre-Production Checklist?

TA: This is a partial list of my pre-production checklist, as every show is different:

  • Read scripts and notate.
  • Create the budget and schedule (you can’t do the budget without the schedule).
  • Review the project’s delivery items (such as DNxHD175x, Audio stems, etc).
  • Bid out show to post houses, VFX, sound and equipment vendors.
  • Confirm workflow with the Dailies post vendor, production keys.
  • Have a VFX meeting prior to the production meeting to establish how VFX are handled (what is green screen, etc.) and when the VFX supervisor will be on set.

LAPPG: What are important traits for an associate producer to have?

TA: The most important traits are to be thorough, organized, resourceful and a good communicator…. with grace and a sense of humor. A knowledge of cameras and technical knowledge of the process definitely helps.

LAPPG: What advice do you have for running a post production department and making sure post production runs smoothly?

TA: Hire the most experienced crew you can who have the right attitude for the job.

LAPPG: What are your tips for working well with directors, creative producers and editors?

TA: John Singleton taught me the biggest lesson. He listened to everyone and made them feel heard. Everyone wants to be heard. Let the creatives know you will research any questions they ask which you don’t know and get back to them quickly. Have Plan B and Plan C but keep the budget constraints in mind. It’s really about having emotional intelligence, active listening skills and keeping everyone in the loop.

Terra and team on the set of "Abduction" with John Singleton

LAPPG: How has post been affected during the pandemic?

TA: I worked on Welcome to the Blumhouse during the pandemic. Post production is lucky in that we don’t have large groups of people working together like production. In the middle of March 2020, we literally packed up essentials and left our cutting rooms at Smart Post. We had been there for nine months. I cleared out the offices four months later.

We had to set up remotely immediately, so the editors and AEs had access to the material securely. Katie Fellion and her team at Light Iron helped us create a successful plan at every step of post.

Whether working on the cuts, spotting for sound, music and VFXs, having notes calls or setting looks with the DP, color correction and the mix, it happened using some wonderful tools like Moxion, Frame.io and even Zoom (combined with PIX). There are other great tools like ClearView Flex and Evercast for post to use as well.

Light Iron's Katie Fellion

ADR took a bit to figure out. Some actors recorded their ADR at home with the director, producer listening in (with an ADR kit we sent). Some actors went to ADR stages. The sound stages took safety and security very seriously. For group ADR we had the loopers record from their home stages on a video call.

LAPPG: As an Associate Producer (Post Producer) how have you seen the television industry change over the years?

TA: When I first started, I worked on both 35mm (Dazed and Confused, CB4, Wedding Planner, etc.) and 16mm (Hustle & Flow). Post production supervisors were a new position in the industry. My father-in-law, editor Ed Abroms Sr, used to remind me he used to do my job (book the ADR, sign the POS, etc.). He could do my job because editing with a work print took more time.

Editor Ed Abroms Sr.

Working in film brought a different sensibility. Ed would reminisce how he used to dream of the scenes; when you ran the work print through a Moviola it was very tactile.

SONY HDCAM SR TAPE

Soon the industry transitioned to tape.

And then in 2011 Japan tragically suffered a tsunami where most of the Sony HDCAM SR video tape stock was made. Post production was forced overnight to switch to a tapeless or file-based system.

Many may remember when everyone was talking about RED, ARRI and Panasonic P2. There were heated discussions about which camera was better.

As I just explained and to paraphrase, Frame.io’s Michael Cioni, historically crises bring about technological changes. This changed the quality of the images (solid state) and how we captured, transferred and edited video. Cioni prepared a series of 13 videos on the film industry working before, during and after the pandemic and beyond. Here’s one of the videos:

We are now working remotely with Avids in machine rooms and using a VPN lines for secure access. No more hard drives or shuttle drives. We are using tools like ClearView Flex, Evercast, Frame.io or Moxion to collaborate at home.

With tools like these, the post community has shown we can work from home and be (more) productive. I wonder if we will go back to offices? And how many years until cloud-based post production is fully operational?

LAPPG: What are some of the benefits of things you enjoy or appreciate about working in the post production world?

What I love about post production is witnessing how once the pieces have been shot, how the story develops and blooms under the guidance of a strong producer. Both Lisa Bruce (Welcome to the BlumhouseThe Theory of Everything) and Stephanie Allain (Hustle & FlowDear White People) taught me how to work with the filmmakers and the studio to support the creative process.

I also love the improved technology of cameras, editing, finishing and how this has enhanced storytelling. Billy Fox (Coming to America, Hustle & Flow) is an editor who is always embracing technology and exploring how to push the boundaries for creative results.

Editor Billy Fox

I try to follow what Michael Cioni, Joachim Zell and Leon Silverman – to know what’s on the horizon.

I feel the editors and post production creatives (colorists, composers, sound editors and mixers, vfx artists) are unsung heroes… because after all, they know how to build suspense, enhance our emotional stake, incorporate style and captivate us.… It is truly an invisible art.

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