Chris Szabunia is a Post Production Supervisor and Editor at Pink Buffalo Films, a film and video production company in Vancouver. He walks us through a day at his job, where he has been telling stories for almost 10 years, and shares his secrets to work love and longevity: proactive meetings, predictive scheduling, and competitive office foosball.
6:00am: I used to have an alarm clock until just over two months ago, when my wife and I welcomed our first child, Ellie. Now she’s the alarm clock, and sometime between 6:00am and 7:00am after her morning feeding is when we get together for some one-on-one daddy time! Melissa can get a little bit more sleep, or shower or take care of anything else that is challenging while I’m away at work. I’m happy to do it since Melissa is kind enough and thoughtful enough to let me sleep through the nighttime feedings when I have to work the next day. Thanks, love!!
Ellie is super fun and interactive first thing in the morning because that is when she has had her longest sleep. I look forward to getting out of bed for her even though it’s earlier than I normally would have. There is no normal anymore. We go out into the living room, I make myself a coffee, Ellie bounces in her lamb chair and tells me stories. It’s a special time.
7:15am: I met all my deadlines yesterday so I prefer not to check my work email before I get to the office. I give baby back to mum and I get myself ready, which doesn’t take too long. Today I trim my beard (there is a photo shoot for this, after all) and I load up my breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is healthy-ish, yogurt and granola with fruit. Lunch is Chinese takeout leftovers from the weekend. My doctor says my sodium levels are dangerously low so this is how combat this. Ha!
8:10am: I’m out the door to ride my bike to work, which is a leisurely 10-minute trip. It’s usually a nice part of my day with all of the fresh air and exercise, provided I don’t get too annoyed by other cyclists running red lights and such. Grrr. We are road vehicles and must abide by the same laws! Between baby time and my bike ride, I never walk into the office feeling sleepy or lethargic. I come in fairly upbeat and with good energy and it’s because I have these positive experiences to start my day.
8:30am: I fix my bike helmet hair, grab a coffee and sit down at my desk. I check my emails, and update the production schedule, which is a categorized spreadsheet of all the projects currently in the pipeline from development to post-production. I fill in any changes to projects that directly relate to me and my department.
9:00am: Weekly production meeting. Everyone gathers in the boardroom and we go through, project by project, anything with relevant changes, what the next steps are, who is responsible for them, what are the deadlines, and what’s coming down the pipeline next. These meetings are brisk and productive, but also lighthearted with a healthy dose of one-liners and laughs. We celebrate our wins, for example, there were two projects that I completed and delivered, so those get moved to the “completed” tab and we sound off the goal-light siren to mark the occasion. Yay!
10:00am: Back in my office, with the information I have gathered from the production meeting, I turn my attention to scheduling. It is like assembling a complex puzzle and it usually only goes together one way. I have to look at what is filming and when, project due dates, editor availability, other projects already in editing and a dozen other factors. I have to be able to see ahead and be predictive. This can easily take up a couple of hours of my day, because it’s never just sitting in front of the computer to get it done. I try to have a face-to-face check-in with each one of the editors to make sure we’re on the same page and I usually need some additional info from several of the producers as well.
I manage a team of five to six people including myself but I am still primarily an editor in addition to my supervisor duties. The administrative, leadership and responsibility aspects of those duties can be stressful, but it’s a balance I am willing to take on in order to accommodate my inner control freak. I try to be decisive and make important decisions in a timely manner, which allows me to move on to editing because that’s the part of the job that I truly love.
12:00pm: Lunchtime. Today, like most days, I eat at my desk and catch up on what my old friends Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have been up to. Real news (fake news) is a little bit too depressing these days so I’d rather hear it from them. It’s only half an hour but it is a nice break to disconnect from work in the middle of the day.
12:30pm: I’m meeting with one of our producers, Morgan. He and I sit down and go through the latest round of commercials that we’re creating with a client who is a bit eccentric and occasionally unpredictable, but with whom we have a good rhythm. My edit suite is a place where producers, directors and clients can sit comfortably on the couch and view the playback of what I’m working on. Edits like this one are a lot of trial and error, going back and forth, can I see this take, can we move the graphics here, can we try to change the timing slightly, etc. These spots may be scripted, but it is still a creative and collaborative process.
2:30pm: We’re happy with where these spots are at, so I export and upload our work to Vimeo and we send the link to the client so he can review them. They are due to be uploaded to the broadcast distributor by the end of this week, but with final approvals, colour, audio, broadcast prep and trafficking all still to be completed, I know I will be seeing this project on my agenda for at least a part of each day until delivery. Coffee pots tend to stop getting made at the office as the day wears on, so I take this opportunity to zip over to a nearby cafe and grab a nice dark roast. I feel lucky every day that our office is located in an area with so many options for food and drink!
3:00pm: I confer with a couple of the company partners about which videos we would like to feature at our upcoming monthly townhall meeting. We want to share some of our best work with the entire crew because things are so busy right now that it isn’t a foregone conclusion that everyone has already viewed all of our recent content.
4:00pm: Everyone on my post-production team is caught up enough on their work that we can play a foosball game or two, out in the production room. It’s fun, it’s competitive, and really, it’s part of our company culture. There might be a bit of trash talking, but it’s never mean-spirited. At about 15 minutes per game, it’s the perfect coffee break activity. It’s teamwork, skill and stress relief all rolled into one!
4:30pm: So much of what we do in post production is attention to detail, so I want to double check that my project exported cleanly, uploaded properly, that it plays back, and that I gave the correct password. You can’t send a link to the client near the end of the day and walk out of here, only to have them email back that the link doesn’t work. And now you’re at home. That simply can’t happen. I review schedules for tomorrow so I have an idea of what everyone will be working on; who might need help and where any bottlenecks could occur.
5:30pm: Checked in with Melissa and little Ellie is having a good day, so I extend my bike ride home a little bit longer for some additional exercise. I go right past our building on the seawall and down to the Granville Bridge before turning around.
6:00pm: I get home and I step right back into baby time. Melissa has been on her feet with Eiilie all day and she’s ready for a break. How things have changed. There’s no more come in, sit down, put my feet up and chat about our days. It’s come in, get changed, use the bathroom and take the baby. She’s lucky she’s so darn cute!
After Melissa has had some time to rest, she gets Ellie back while I move on to cooking dinner. Tonight I am making one of our staples – fish tacos. I season, bread and fry up some cod which goes into whole wheat wraps along with cheese, tomatoes, coleslaw, avocado and mine has a healthy dose of hot sauce on it as well. Yummers in the tummers! We cook dinner at home and try to eat around the table three to four nights per week and we always make enough to be able to have a second helping for lunch the next day.
7:30pm: Melissa feeds Ellie while I clean up the kitchen and we try to watch something on TV. I can’t tell you exactly what show but it may have the word “Bachelor” in the title. It’s a guilty pleasure and I make no excuses. Don’t act like you haven’t watched it.
8:30pm: It’s Ellie’s bedtime and now it’s Dad’s time to go wild!! Not exactly, but it is about the only 45 minutes to an hour that I have in my day where it’s just me. Tonight I have a cold beer and change the TV over to watch some sports highlights and email the guys in my fantasy football league about the upcoming draft. Other nights I use this time to go down to the pool and hot tub in our building or I might slip out to the grocery store to make sure we all have meals and snacks for tomorrow.
9:25pm: Ellie is down in her crib, asleep. We’ve been gradually inching her bedtime earlier—she was going to bed at 10:30 pm just last week—so we’re pretty satisfied with our progress. Not that we really do anything with that extra time just yet—tonight we just watch the end of our show. Can you believe Alex didn’t get a rose??
10:00pm: Bedtime stuff. Wiped faces and brushed teeth. At this stage of parenthood, you have to take advantage of your baby’s best sleeps. We chat in bed, “How was your day? What happened at the office? What’s going on with the family?” It’s funny that the conversation we used to have over dinner now seems takes place in bed because when Ellie is awake it’s all about her.
10:30pm: On the baby monitor, we hear Ellie squawk. And that’s the reminder that we should be sleeping right now, too. Melissa will have to be up with her again in a matter of a few hours and before I know it, Ellie will be in my lap all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and expecting her dad to talk to her and make hilarious faces. And a guy needs his rest for that. I put on old episodes of The Office or Brooklyn 99 or Forensic Files on Netflix using my phone, stick in one earbud at low volume and start to drift away…
Photos by Elyse Stevenson and courtesy of Chris Szabunia.