Post Perspective - How being a special needs dad helps me be a better editor at Conan

I have been working in late night television for Conan O’Brien for nearly 10 years, currently as the lead editor for Conan on the TBS network. Late night television has an extraordinarily demanding pace. An old colleague of mine used to refer to it as the “speed chess” of editing. It demands that your first instincts when editing are the best ones. The pace also puts extraordinary pressure on your writers and producers. I like to think of editors as the pilots hired to bring the plane in for a landing that may have already lost an engine, so it’s important that you maintain balance and focus.

I am the father to three amazing kiddos with special needs. My first daughter was born with the amyoplasia form of arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She is also nonverbal. My youngest daughter was born with amniotic banding syndrome. For her, it means she only has a few fully developed fingers and a prosthesis on one of her legs. We’ve addressed her physical challenges through surgery and she has lots of fun sprinting around with her “robot leg,” which is what we call her prosthesis. We are in the middle of adopting our son and hope to bring him home in the fall. He has similar orthopedic challenges to our second daughter.

I take my jobs as editor and as a father very seriously, but it is also important to note that I am happy. Here are some things that I have learned over the years. I have made mistakes in every one of these rules, but I try every day to be better.

Made in Frame: The Conan O'Brien Show

On January 11, 2018, Donald J. Trump, the sitting POTUS, called the Caribbean nation of Haiti a “s***hole.” The mainstream news outlets did little more than give airtime to the usual talking heads clapping back, while most of the late night talk show hosts capitalized on the ready-made monologue material.

But at a time when a few humorists are doing some of the most important journalistic work on TV (John Oliver and Bassem Youssef come to mind), Conan O’Brien decided, right then and there, to travel to Haiti in order to set the record straight. It wasn’t an unprecedented move—he’d previously done shows from Mexico, Israel, Armenia, and more.

What was different was the time frame.

Post Perspective - Meet the Artist

We are a rag tag group of varmints who come together Monday through Thursday to make a hour of late night television for enjoyable consumption by the general public. That show being Conan O’Brien’s Conan on TBS.

Editor/Opening Titles Designer for Conan. I also do the opening titles for Deon Cole’s Black Box on TBS.

I along with lead editor Dan Dome and editor Dave Grecu edit pre-taped segments, remotes and mock commercials for that day’s show. After the taping, we edit down segments and bring the show to time. I also render the opening titles of the show every day and do a redesign if we take the show on the road.

Fonts in Use

Gotham was used for the popular “I’m With Coco” posters created by Mike Mitchell during Conan O’Brien’s 2010 Tonight Show conflict. The typeface was eventually adopted for TBS’s Conan logo and other logos designed by Rob Ashe Jr.

Post Magazine - Gadgets and Gear

Rob Ashe (@robashejr) is one of three editors working on the Burbank-based Conan O’Brien show on TBS. Duties are typically assigned by speciality, with Ashe doing mock commercials, Dave Grecu working on remote packages and lead editor Dan Dome (pictured with Ashe, below right) doing a little bit of everything and overseeing the workflow.

When I asked Ashe about some tools he just can’t live without, he had some technical offerings and some that were a little more old school.

First up, the free tool Kuler from Adobe ( Ashe calls it worth its weight in gold. “I work with different color schemes a lot on the show and it’s tough to find complementary colors for what you are doing at the time. Kuler makes this easy”

He used Kuler on a sketch a few weeks back called 3 for 5, based on the big-pot Powerball Lottery. “The concept was, so many people waste money on lottery tickets, why not have this new lottery game that is a guaranteed winner every time. So for a $5 lottery ticket, you are guaranteed to win $3. It had large titles to it and I had to find a lot of complementary colors. When you are dealing with reds in a video, it’s tough to find something that’s not going to bleed and just fall apart. It’s a ridiculously-fast tool.”

A free iPad app that Ashe finds handy is Ideas, also from Adobe, a touchscreen drawing program. “For a while, every Thursday we’d somewhat change the show open and create a :10 fun animation. So I would use Adobe Ideas to express how I wanted the animation to go. What’s cool is I can bring in a still of the standard animation layout and draw on it. You can circle the moon, put an arrow on it and say, ‘I want this to go down.’ When you are done, you can email what you drew; it helps to make the pitch easier for the graphics guys, who can then put in the real work and do their thing based off whatever suggestion I’ve given them.”

The editing team, which famously and humorously bashed FCP X in a video introduced by Conan on the show after its initial release and made a viral video of their happiness with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and its “Freddy Mercury Engine,” still make use of Final Cut 7 and other Adobe Creative Suite 6 offerings, including Photoshop and After Effects with plug-ins from Red Giant Software and Video Copilot’s Element 3D.

“Element 3D is a really down and dirty way of getting 3D text going. It’s got really good texturing, which to me is its single biggest strength. Being able to texture 3D shades and stuff in Elements in 3D is great. If we ever need anything more complex, we go to Cinema 4D.”

One particularly interesting project that used some of those tools took place months back when Conan reported that a talk show in China was using an open that stole parts of Conan’s opening title sequence. “We were going back and forth taking jabs at each other between the two shows in a funny way, and it was starting to come to an end. That morning it was like, what’s a good final button. It was noon, and as a joke, I suggested that I should just make them their own open. The writers and Conan said, ‘That’s great. You have four hours.’ So me and the amazing graphics guys hauled ass — lead Eric McGilloway, Steve Robinson and Pierre Bernard Jr. It was all Photoshop and After Effects.” Rublight (pictured, left) was a recent mock commercial edited by Ashe.

Another piece of “equipment” that Ashe puts to good use is the basketball hoop behind his door. “One of my first duties in the morning is to update the open for the show. Typically, there are four panels per show: first guest, second guest, and a comedian or band or special performance, and then episode titles. It usually takes 20-25 minutes to render the names, so the hoop comes in handy. I put them in the cue and make the best use of my time!”

The piggy bank that lives in the editing and graphics area helps the team save money, which is a value in itself! “It’s called the Fuck-Up Jar,” explains Ashe. “If anyone makes a major mistake, they have to put in a dollar.”

Creative Cow - Designing CONAN

In March of 2010, it was announced that Conan O'Brien would be embarking on a three month national stand-up comedy tour. I was lucky enough to be assigned Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog's segment. I worked on the pieces at home, communicating with Robert Smigel (the man behind Triumph), and head writer Mike Sweeney through email. The experience was the first time I can remember editing for anyone without ever really talking to them. It was also the only time I was able to hear the live reactions of six thousand people to something I edited.