5Takes – Season 4


No time for photos… we’re on a very tight schedule…


Two years ago, we engaged in a small experiment in television production.

We wanted to send 5 young Americans to Europe for the summer with backpacks, laptops and small digital video cameras.

It was, in many ways, a predictable series for The Travel Channel – summer backpackers on $50 a day.

But if we produced it in the conventional way, it would not make air until the fall, at best. Most ‘reality shows’ on TV have production cycles as long as 19weesk, from the time they start shooting until the time the show actually makes air. We also wanted the 5 kids to blog and vlog online as they travelled. The show really only made sense if it aired almost as it was happening.

Travel Channel does not have the budgets for live shows from Europe. The kids were travelling on a shoestring and we were producing on a cable budget. But we have had a lot of experience in the news business. And news gets turned in a day. So we embarked upon a radical experiment. We decided to see if it would be possible to turn an hour of weekly ‘reality television’ in 6 days – that is, six days from the day we started shooting, we would deliver the finished show.

Now, to put this in perspective, when we produced Trauma, Life in the ER for TLC, the production cycles ran about 19 weeks. That was 19 weeks of paying producers, associate producers, office rental, editors, loggers, on and on and on. That was, in fact, the bulk of the budget. Now we were proposing compressing that entire process into just 6 days.

To do that, we took the edit systems – FCP 5.0 on G4 laptops, into the field.

We also started working, shooting and thinking in an entirely different way.

We shot the series with Sony Z-1, HDV cameras. As a sequence was shot it was immediately laid into the timeline on the editing software. We began editing moments after we started shooting – and from then on, editing and shooting went hand in hand.

Editing to real time has a lot of advantages. You watch the show build in front of you as you are making it. By sharing the rough cut with everyone, everyone sees where the show is going and what is needed for completion. Shooting ratios drop to close to 1:1. Things happen very fast. As you watch the timeline grow, you start to shoot only for the cut. By the end of the first week, we knew we could do it.

Now, a funny thing happened almost as a side consequence of the ‘fast turn’ style of production. Shows were coming on air almost as they were happening – so the website, which normally is a place for ‘if you want to know more’, suddenly became a place where we could ‘talk to the audience’ in real time, as we were in production. Our audience was anxious to talk back. We switched narrators twice, on the advice of our viewers. Our 5 kids ‘talked to’ the viewers every day. And we began to produce a whole second string of broadband only ‘webisodes and webimentaries’.

Ad Age ran a story on us, saying that we had created a 100% real-time focus group. Suddenly, the website was driving the show. It made sense.

This week we begin on season 4. Latin America. We’ve already been to Europe, Asia and The USA.

When we cast the first 5Takes, I took an ad on Craig’s List and got 11 responses. Last season, we had 10,000 applications for 5 spots. We’re still looking for this season.

Does Fast Turn work? It does. It cuts the production cost enormously, makes everything go faster and easier – but it requires a very different way of working… and thinking. Like much that we do, its a question of looking at the technology and seeing what it can do, then changing the way you think.

Oh…and it also makes some pretty good TV. Check it out: www.5takes.com


2 responses to “5Takes – Season 4

  1. Pingback: Will Sullivan's Journerdism » Sleeping giant Chicago Sun-Times makes big changes; Canon video camera rebates!; Podcasting doesn’t pay the bills, yet; St. Pete’s *tbt continues to grow

  2. I miss this show a lot. It made me feel like I could actually pursue my dream of traveling and film editing in the communications world. I wish it was still on. The 5 Takes Pacific Rim was my favorite season. The group of TJ’s were just awesome together and I enjoyed watching their trip. :]

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