A Day In The Life of a Production Assistant

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Krista Bobi Header

Name: Krista Bo
Title:
Production Assistant
Company:
CNN
Location: New York, NY

Biography

I’m Krista Bo: I’m a Production Assistant (PA) for a panel-driven, news show. I enjoy keeping up with the news of the day—and the Kardashians, my guilty pleasure. I’m the oldest of four, which should explain enough about me, I think. A current obsession of mine is shoe shopping—I hate how basic that sounds, by the way. Other hobbies of mine include cooking and baking low-to-no carb recipes, trying out new makeup and skin care routines and traveling with my boyfriend and friends.

Job Description

As a cable news Production Assistant, I do just that: assist production. Now that we’re on the same page, My job is to handle elements that support the story being told—paint a picture, if you will, for the point trying to be made. That means cutting video, building graphics and full screens of information with optimal imagery, finding permissible photos or collecting research on topics. Being flexible and dependable was something about this position that inspired me and got me excited to figure out what I wanted to do with my career and see what I’m good at!

ADITL: Monday

Wake up at 9:00 AM

I’m finally waking up after my third alarm goes off at 9:00 AM. The night before, I went to bed giving myself a pep talk to wake up early enough to work out. But today, it didn’t work out… I shower, make my bulletproof coffee for breakfast—look it up, it’s amazing—and get dressed. After that, I’m making my lunch, which is usually a salad, bringing me to 9:55 AM. I then walk over to the bus stop a block away.

Leave for work at 10:00 AM

Commute:

I get on the first NJ Transit bus I see and I’m off to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) two stops away. Depending on traffic, it can take me as little as ten to as much as 40 minutes to get into the city from Weehawken, NJ. I’d take that commute over taking the train in any day.

While I’m on the bus, I’m reading through my work email inbox. I signed up to receive local, national, and international news reports and alerts from the network and their reporters, so it’s the first place I go to read the news. Overnight, I can get upwards of a hundred emails, so I skim through and read the wires of interest.

By the time I’m done going through those, my manager’s rundown note was sent to me and I’m halfway through the Lincoln Tunnel. This note includes the topics, articles used as sources for the topics, and assignments for each segment, or more commonly known in the industry as a block. I work mainly on the graphics for the show, so I start reading all the articles and pitch captions and imagery as I go along for each block.

On almost every cable news show, they have what’s called monitor fills and over-the-shoulder graphics (OTS). The monitor fills, or as we call them, monfills, are the images you see behind the anchor and or panel guests. The OTS graphics are the images you see pop up to the left side of the screen and anchor. Both serve to give the audience context to the topic of discussion. The idea is to keep the captions as short and punchy as possible and the imagery simple, but descriptive.

This specific day, one of the blocks was on the media’s addiction to covering President Trump’s every little move. So I pitched the captions: TRUMP BUMPS ADDICTED TO TRUMP &  CAN’T QUIT TRUMP paired with images of President Trump and a press gaggle. There are six blocks with each block including at least two caption suggestions and one imagery combination.

I arrive at PABT and head downstairs to catch the A train. I used to walk the 15 or so blocks up eighth ave to get to my office. You know, to make up for the exercise I was supposed to get by waking up earlier. But since I didn’t do that and I’m supposed to be at work now, no exercise for me today. One stop on the subway it is!

Arrive to work at 10:30 AM

Work Environment:

I work on the eighth floor of my building with my own desk sitting near my team members. We film our show on the seventh-floor studio, Studio 72, and work out of Control Room 72. There are two studios on the seventh floor! There are also two studios on the fifth floor with five flash studios, or smaller studios, total in the building. We use the flash studios when we have to tape an interview and our regular studio is scheduled by someone else. We also use flash studios to place New York guests when there isn’t room for them the set of the studio. We have a cafeteria on the tenth floor, complete with a Starbucks, which both close way too early for a 24-hour news network if you ask me!

10:40 AM

I finish up my monfill & OTS pitches to send to the Executive Producer (EP), Supervising Producer (SP), and Line Producer (LP). I like to get them in before 11:00 AM, no later than 11:15 AM so I can get approval faster! After I send that email, I send guest tweet pitches to my co-worker, the Associate Producer (AP) who handles videos and social media for the show.

The guest tweets are the tweets we send out from the show’s account before each block dictating what guest is on and what the block’s about. We usually like to keep these short but descriptive as well, but since it’s social media, we can have a little more fun with them! I work on that while I wait for the EP’s monfill & OTS response.

12:00 PM

The guest tweet pitches are sent and I’ve received the EP’s monfills & OTS he wants by now. I then open iNews, a software that acts as the skeleton for the show where the script, banners, graphics, and imagery are coded and pasted. The software hosts other functions network-wide.  Another one of those other functions I use in iNews is the graphics request section. This area of iNews is where the graphic designers in Atlanta get their instructions and requests from each show. We have two assigned designers to our show, so I’m working with mostly the same people every day.

I put in the monfill and OTS requests with very specific instructions. For instance, if one of our blocks is talking about what Trump is doing about the Syrian civil war, I would find a picture of Trump that has a serious look on his face. The expression on people’s faces tell a story, so we want that story to be in line with the editorial vision.

After I put those in, I work on any other graphics requests that come my way from Segment Producers or the LP. The amount of graphics and the timing of the requests from the Segment Producers varies based on a lot of factors. Breaking news comes through. The anchor changes his or her mind on a beat or talking point. A video could better support a certain point. Whatever the case may be, there’s no telling how many graphics I’m making on any given day!

The LP, however, will always have lower third menu tease and fullscreen tease graphics requests. The fullscreen tease graphic is an animated template we use with a video or photo input paired with a caption that teases the topic of the next block before the commercial break. As for the lower third menu teases, those are graphics that pop up on the bottom third of the screen that teases the topics of upcoming segments while the show is live.

It’s an animated template I code into the script with areas to write-in captions. In the template, I also plug in video or photo codes in each corresponding inputs for each menu. It’s 12:30 PM and the LP gave me his requests for those graphics, so I create the skeleton for the menu teases while I wait for requested photo codes from ATL to complete the template.

I access these templates through a plugin located in iNews. Each show on the network has their own folder with upwards of 50 templates at their disposal, but it doesn’t mean every single template is used at least once each show. Some of them don’t get used at all! We have a few go-to’s on our show!

1:00 PM

I work on graphics requested by producers. Today, I had at least three graphics for each block, so at least 18 total, not including the tease and editorial graphics. For example, I was working on a side-by-side graphic of the candidates in the TN Senate race. So at this time, I request photo codes of the candidates’ official headshots lifted from their websites or social media profiles to ATL. Next, I create the skeleton of the graphic inside the template with the desired title at the top and names, occupations, party affiliation and state served if applicable below each photo code.

Once I get the photo code, I plug it in the input, spell check everything, save-as, and drag and drop the graphic in the correct spot in the iNews script. It has to be in the right spot so everyone knows when and where that graphic is supposed to come up during an anchor read, interview or table discussion. I then send a screenshot of the graphic to the segment producer who requested it asking if any changes want to be made. I use “Snipping Tool” on my Windows computer to achieve that! Multiply this process by however many graphics I get and that’s my mid-day workflow. I’m also simultaneously answering any questions other Segment Producers, ATL designers, and management might have of their graphics requests.

2:00 PM

I send over screenshots of the monfill & OTS graphic designs to the EP, SP, LP, and Director for an official sign-off. By 2:00 PM, a lot of things can change from when these graphics were first requested. Upper management, when looking at these, is looking at how aesthetically-pleasing and editorially-effective the design is. The topic may change angles, which could cause changes to the imagery and captions of these graphics, so it is very important the EP sees these ASAP. Sometimes, we ask to change the design six times. Sometimes, we like the first draft as is. The back-and-forth on design with ATL all depends on circumstance and sometimes results in drama, but we’re all friends at the end of the day!

I’m also simultaneously working on building, checking and coding graphics requested from Segment Producers for the next hour.

3:00 PM

Shoot, I forgot to eat lunch. I normally get hungry at around 1:30 PM, but I like to be on top of things on the graphics front. So this day, in particular, it was hard to leave my desk.

While I was eating lunch at my desk, a guest backed out of a segment and the booking producers emailed the show alias with information on the new guest. I went on Twitter, found his handle, drafted a new guest tweet and sent it to the AP responsible. She sits right next to me, so I told her it was coming her way shortly after the guest change email came in.

By now, the monfills and OTS are approved and coded into the iNews script. For the next hour, I’m juggling graphic requests from Segment Producers. If I have any downtime, I’m working on a podcast tweet for social media and podcast title and description for tonight’s episode. More on that later! I try and come up with quippy captions and descriptions for the topics of tonight’s show for promotion.

I also ask if the video team needs help with anything, as cable news production is very much a team effort!

4:00 PM

It’s time for pre-pro—short for pre-production. Pre-pro is time allotted an hour before a show is live where elements, scripts, banners, remote-guest patch-ins, and animations are checked. The Director, Video and Graphics Operators, the LP, the Booking Producers, and the Technical Manager are in attendance. We go through the entire show from the A block—the first segment—to the F block—the last segment—checking for spelling errors, missing elements or technical difficulties. There are three rows of people working in the control room who talk to each other via headset. I sit in the very back row next to the graphics operator.

By 4:30 PM, the anchor is her chair reading over her scripts on paper and in the teleprompter if she feels she needs to practice her tone on a read. Sometimes, the Director requests the anchor reads the script from the teleprompter so he can practice the flow of elements. Sometimes, at this point, I’m waiting on last-minute graphics from ATL. While I wait for those, I check the spelling and accuracy of the lower third banners—the text you see at the bottom of the screen naming someone or providing information on a topic. Sometimes, the banners are separated into the different topics for when the topic of the conversation switches gears. It’s my job to make sure the banners switch at that time by me telling the graphics operator to change the topics accordingly.

5:00 PM

The show is live and I’m following along with the conversation with matching banners. It’s something I need to work on, timing is everything! I’m checking for spelling and extra spaces, as well as miscoded banners. I also keep an eye on my topline, which is a messaging app built into iNews to see if the ATL graphic designers messaged me. I’m waiting for a full screen for our C block and it is now halfway through the A block, not the time to panic yet!

The A block ends, the B block begins and now I’m getting a little worried about my fullscreen. The graphic designers get backed up with requests by a certain point—our show is not the only show they work on. However, whoever’s show is on the air at the time gets first priority on any design requests since it’s timely!

The B block ends and I’m still waiting for my full screen. I think I’m making up dramatic scenarios in my head—or not, it’s unclear—that the designers are sweating me out on purpose because of how late I sent this request. Sometimes, I fuck up and forget to send things to them. Sometimes, I can’t help the time I put the request in because I got the request late myself. Today was the latter situation. The drama is silly but understandable—no one likes to be rushed! Two minutes before we’re back on the air for the C block, I get the photo code and there are typos on the full screen!!! AH!!!

I speed-dial ATL and ask for a fix while everyone in the control room is in my headset asking me for updates on the full screen. It’s usually not in a friendly tone either, that’s just the unfortunate nature of the control room. High-stress situations can bring out the worst in people. Anyway, I finally get the fixed graphics code by 5:26 PM, seconds before it’s supposed to go on air. Phew, I can breathe now!

The rest of the show goes by smoothly with me following along and watching for social media moments to pitch to the video & social media AP

6:00 PM

The show ends and I head back up to my desk on the eighth floor. This week, it’s my turn to cut the blocks up and upload them as a new episode of the show’s podcast. The other Production Assistant and I switch off weekly. She helps me cut one to three blocks out of seven total in Adobe Premiere originating on the network’s video server, Newsapps. After I publish each completed segment back to the Newsapps server from Adobe Premiere, I transfer them to another separate folder to transcode the video files into mp4 files.

This process usually takes 30 minutes to get all 7 segments uploaded as mp4 files. I then upload the files to our AdKnit account as a new podcast episode to be posted to all of the major podcast apps—iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, etc. This process takes about 15 minutes to transcode and upload! While this is happening, I make sure the social media & video AP doesn’t need help with any captions for social media and work on those if needed.

7:00 PM

The podcast is posted and I get to go home! I take the A train one stop downtown back to PABT to catch the bus. Today, there was a long line waiting for the buses, so I had to stand the whole way home. I always opt to get on the bus if I can so I can get home faster, even if that means I’m uncomfortable standing for twenty minutes.

7:30 PM

I’m home by 7:30 PM. Mat and I start dinner, talk about our day, unwind with a little bit of Netflix and work on Experience ADITL by 9:00 PM. This particular day, I was working on transcribing and scripting the sixth episode of our podcast. The podcast goes live September 4th, so be on the lookout for that!

Asleep by 1:00 AM

Tools For the Job

  • Newsapps: A hub of all our video needs from servers they live on to software for editing them
  • MIRA: A library of archived videos that range from 8 days old to decades old
  • Mediasource: A software where timely types of videos live — these videos can be anywhere from seconds old to seven days old
  • Adobe Premiere: A video editing software with network-specific add-ons for Newsapps and Mediasource compatibility
  • iNews: A software that acts predominantly as the outline of each show for every show at the network where the scripts, banners, graphics and videos are coded to be used in the control room for air
  • Viz Object Store: A program to upload usable images and create a unique code to be used in graphics templates
  • Teleprompter: An iNews-compatible device with a dial and buttons to move, blank and skip through the script as needed as the host reads along live
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