After their amazingly successful Kickstarter and before production begins on Season 2, now is the perfect time to probe the minds behind Board with Life.
The main cast of Board with Life consists of Niki Shults, Jonathan Armstead, Brittany Smith, Chris Bryan, Donald Shults, Casey Barteau, and Ashley Burch (pictured below from left to right), but the majority of which don’t have an acting background. In fact, Chris, Donald, Casey, and Brittany all have experience in film production and editing.
Note: All photos in this post were taken and are used with the permission of George Leonard.
“Most of us have been working together for 5+ years,” Chris said. “So we knew everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to work together long before we shot any Board with Life. Even with all of our collective experience, we were still under the gun with almost every episode and bit for the first 6 months, Im sure it would have been impossible if we hadn’t had such a strong background in production. We work really hard to learn from everything we make, and apply that to future projects, and we are still completely in the learning phase of our careers. Season 2 will be much smoother than Season 1, and we are really excited about that. The biggest learning curves came from writing this sort of comedy, working in a writers room, and acting. Those things were completely new to us, so we had the most to learn about those things.”
Board with Life Season 1 was shot using the 2.5k Black Magic Cinema Camera. Even now, months after it’s release, it sells for an average $2,000. To someone not in the know that may seem like a lot of money for a high resolution camera, but in the film and video market it’s actually fairly priced. An equivalent camera from Sony or Canon could easily costs $5,000 to $10,000. But having fancy gear isn’t enough. You need to know how to use it and the crew on Board with Life know exactly how do to that.
“The camera was brand new to the market when we started the web series,” Chris said. “It has an incredibly low price point for the quality image it can produce, especially the Dynamic Range if you’re into sexy tech speak, and we already had some compatible lenses. Basically, it was the nicest camera we had regular access to and we were generally pretty pleased with how it performed.”
One of the downsides of using a fresh off the shelf camera is that you can hit road blocks if your editing software isn’t up to date on codecs or can’t read the file types without first converting them to something else.
“A lot has been said of the limitations of the BMCC 2.5K, many of which are software-based, and therefore even more frustrating to folks, but considering the context of the market, it still astounds me how great this camera is,” Casey said. “As long as you know and understand its limitations and plan for them, then it’s a very easy camera to work with.”
Non geeks recognize that “HD” is fancy and looks nice yet true geeks now that HD has been around for years and already the market is shifting from the standard 1920 x 1080 resolution to 4k. Luckily it will be years before 4K is the industry standard, but even when that comes, using the 2.5k means Board with Life will still look good while regular HD is starting to look pixelated.
“An average viewer wouldn’t be able to tell much difference in the resolution of the picture, especially when viewed on youtube,” Casey said. “But the versatility of the RAW footage is much greater, which makes it a fun treat when we do shoot in it. What really sets the camera apart is the dynamic range of the image it produces in RAW and, to a lesser extent, ProRes.”
“Dynamic Range is basically the distance between the brightest white that still retains detail, and the darkest black that still retains detail,” Chris added. “Normal cameras capture between 5 and 7 stops, the human eye can manage something like 11 stops, the BMCC can shoot 13 stops when shooting in RAW. Which is crazy considering the camera can record things your eyes can’t.”
The gear is only part of what goes into making a Board with Life episode. From start to finish, an episode goes through pre-production, production, and editing. Pre-production is where all the writing and planning happens.
“The first season was written with most of us just throwing ideas out, and then each of us going off into our hole and writing something,” Donald said. “We’ve learned a lot as we’ve made the show though. The second season already has a much more collaborative and fun writing process. Essentially, we have an e-mail thread we have been seeding for months. We’ve done it for so long most of us don’t remember which ideas are ours or someone else’s. We recently went through those 200 or so ideas and started seeing where the dots connect. It’s a much more exciting process.”
Once a script has been locked, the cast and crew don’t just magically get together and film it. They actually have to collaborate schedules, account for time, locate any props, and treat the ordeal as if it were a serious production.
“For the stuff we did in 2013, we would write a bunch of Bits and schedule a day to get together and shoot them,” Donald said. “Scheduling people and gear is sometimes kinda’ tough so it usually would end up running last minute on every single one. Going into 2014, we’ve decided to start spending more time on individual bits and make them better overall. Hopefully people will start seeing the results.”
Production time varies heavily depending on if the cast and crew are shooting a bit or a full episode. A simple bit may take three to four hours to film while a complicated one could take eight to ten hours and a full episodes can easily take three to four days of shooting.
Shooting episodes and bits can be a lot of fun, but they aren’t done until and editor works their magic. Both Casey and Chris have at times handled the editing, but a lot of the work falls onto Adam Henderson, one of the unsung heroes of the show.
“Added up all together, we have about 10-12TBs of storage space allocated for the show,” Adam said. “We will most likely have to at least double that amount to prepare for season 2.”
The editing for Season 1 mostly happened on a Mac using Final Cut, Color, and After Effects. All of which are well known industry staples in the video editing world.
“As we can find a functional workflow for us in Premiere Pro, we’ll likely move be moving to that, as the dynamic link with After Effects would increase our speed and reduce our hard drive footprint greatly,” Casey said. “I also need to get more acquainted with Speed Grade, which isn’t the most accessible piece of software – especially considering its place in the Adobe Suite. Then again, Apple Color makes no sense at all, and I learned that.”
What most people don’t know is that editing is an art. Every performance you see an actor do on screen is something created by the editor when they string multiple takes together in a fluid way that isn’t noticeable. Doing it right takes time. Then once you factor in motion graphics and compressing files for the web you are talking about hours upon hours of work.
“It really varies, some bits we can get done in around 8 hours worth of editing, video and audio combined, while some take closer to 20,” Chris said. “A bit like Mr Jack, that has a lot of style to it takes much longer than a bit like Dominion, especially considering our composer had to write custom music for Mr. Jack. But those are the ones we have the most fun making. The episodes probably take closer to 50-60 hours worth of editing. We have to write music for them, go through many more takes, do special effects, and often times find the humor in the edit. They can be pretty grueling.”
With the Kickstarter having wrapped, the cast and crew of Board with Life are moving head first into pre-production of Season 2. Bits & episodes have already been written but more than that, the team is trying to be more efficient and improve on their overall workflow.
“As far as workflow is concerned, we’ve been streamlining and improving it with each new video,” Casey said. “The Kickstarter will thankfully allow us to purchase some much-needed equipment that will broaden the range of what we can produce, and how fast/well we can produce it. For example, one reason you don’t see a lot of wide shots of the full group in our show is because we generally don’t have the adequate lighting or sound equipment to handle shots like that without having to make sacrifices we don’t want to make. In post, I hope to better organize our infrastructure and organization, so that it’s a better oiled machine when it comes time to courier footage and media managed projects to each other. Hopefully, with Season 2 there will be no more “wait, who has the drive with XYZ on it?” Ideally, we’ll also be able to organize ourselves better so that we’re exporting our final cut long before it’s scheduled for upload. We can have a tendency to be procrastinating perfectionists, which is a horrible life to live in production.”
Board with Life is as big of a production as a little production can get so when watching a three minute bit, keep in mind the number of hours and number of hands that went into.
“We should probably take a moment to thank people like Adam, Kellen [Voss] and Andrew [Manson],” Donald said. “We have a small team of people you don’t usually see on the show who also do a lot of our post stuff and the how would definitely suffer without them.
“Yeah, when it comes down to it, the machine just wouldn’t work without the people who have the skill to run it,” Casey added. “And those three are who make the show look and sound as good as it does. It’s really just cheating being able to rely on them to prop us up and overshadow our shortcomings on set.”
Even though the Kickstarter is over and Season 2 hasn’t yet premiered you should still head over to Board with Life’s YouTube page and checkout Season 1 and all of their bits!