Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video Getting to know Jesse’s projects, schedule and his take on working with puppets, part of Conversations in Video Editing.
- Hi I'm Ashley Kennedy. Welcome to our second installment of our series Conversations in Video Editing. Here I chat with current Disney editor and former Sesame Street editor, Jesse Averna. During this discussion Jesse was still on staff with Sesame Street, and we talk all about what it's like to work with the wonderful world of puppets that has influenced so many millions of children over the past 40-some years. He discusses in detail his various work flows including multicam, green screen, and music video. Okay, let's get on with the interview but first, we'll take a look at Jesse's Sesame Street sizzle reel to get a sense of what he works on.
- Oh here Murray. - Hey! - Welcome to Sesame Street! - Hello. - Hi! - Uh oh. (lively music) - An ice cube. (exclaiming) - ♫ Power of yet ♫ Yet yet yet ♫ It's the power of yet ♫ Yet yet yet yet yet ♫ That is what you get ♫ With the power of yet - Hi, I'm Claire. - Hey, I'm Seth. - Hi, I'm Zach. - What's the word? - What's the word on the street? - Ridiculous! Ha! - I love you shortbread.
- Cookie thirst! - Twilight Breaking Cookie. - Release the cracker! - Nosh of the Titans. - Come back here cookie! - ♫ That's what makes u so useful. - Go on. - Excellent. - ♫ And that's what you get ♫ With the power of yet - Alright, so Jesse thanks so much for joining us. Really excited to hear about everything that you're doing at Sesame Street and beyond.
Can you just give us a sense of who you are as an editor? How you got started, what you're doing now, and give us a sense what you're excited about. - Definitely. I am, as you mentioned, the editor on Sesame Street along with my colleague John Tierney. I'm starting my sixth season. John's been on for decades. I have worked in television and documentary and features but the genesis of what ended up getting me to Sesame Street, I worked on a show called Johnny and the Sprites, a Disney preschool show with puppets and humans.
And it's a pretty tight-knit puppet world so a lot of those puppeteers that were on that show also work on Sesame Street. - Very good. And so you're on your sixth season. From the time that I was watching Sesame Street and you and everyone else and even before us to now, it's just evolved so much and I'm sure it's even evolved over the past six seasons. Can you talk about, you know, in your experience in the last six years and just what you've, from what you remember to now? What are the exciting things that technology is allowing you to do in, you know, working in this way? - A big thing is the majority of the show is shot on set, on Sesame Street, but they've explored more and more with specific segments like Cookie's Crumby Pictures and Super Grover 2.0 and Elmo the Musical that are shot on three dimensional backgrounds so all shot green or blue and then eventually replaced so that way we're able to put Cookie Monster in the Star Wars universe.
Literally take these characters off of the street and put them in a different place. - I guess for those of our audience who might not be as familiar with cutting on green screen, can you take us through that process? What does that mean? - Yeah. Quite literally means that it's shot with a green or blue background depending on the color of our muppets who are on stage. So Super Grover is blue so we'll shoot him on a green background, same with Cookie Monster. But someone like Elmo will typically be shot on blue and the color of the green screen or the color of the key is determined on the color of the muppets.
- That's interesting because normally they just say to the talent, don't wear green or don't wear blue. But if you're a muppet and you're Kermit, there's nothing you can do about that so. - Right and if multiple characters have to interact on a key-- - Ooh, Kermit and Grover together. What do you do? (laughter) - But there is times where they'll shoot it in multiple passes. We'll shoot a pass on blue with characters and then later we'll shoot it with a green background with a different character and they'll interact with that playback that we'll provide for them.
- Wow. That's very interesting. And something I didn't think about with you have these very vibrant bold muppet colors that you really need to consider. - Which again speaks to these performers. They're able to act in time with each other but then there's, you know, because of that demands where we'll play something back for them and create another layer that in post we'll then, you know, put all together but they're interacting with a previous take. And so that adds to the fun of marrying how will these interactions work if it's been shot at different times because of the background.
- And what would you say you work on most of all? What do you like to work on the most? What are the biggest challenges of what you work on? Kind of give us a sense of how you work, how you like to work and all of that. - I thankfully since I've been on Sesame Street, it's been a year-round job. And so over the course of the year, the demands on what's required of post changes, essentially from quarter to quarter.
Part of the year is the actual production of Sesame Street which next day I'll receive the footage and start editing right away to do my cut and then the director's cut, the producer's cut, and creating that Sesame Street, the Street Story segment. But prior to that, we're cutting test shows that are shown internally, things that even our research team is exploring. Everything that we do, literally 100 percent of what Sesame makes is with the intent of helping kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder and we have a research team that is always looking at how to make everything that we do the most educational, the most beneficial for the kids.
So sometimes we'll do test shows, promos, promotionals, trailers, pretty much you name it. But then, when we are on the Sesame Season, there's a lot of times now where I'll be brought in to the control room to do live editing. When something requires blue or green screen background I'll work with the technical director to put in temporary backgrounds or do simple moves, that way the performers can see what it is they're interacting with if it might not be there.
And then also for timing. A lot of the segments will end up being some kind of specific time whether it's nine minutes or 10 minutes or five minutes. And so I'm helping to achieve that while we're shooting. And sometimes that requires editing script or something on the fly in order to achieve that time. So I'm a part of that. Once the season has wrapped production then we move into creating the actual broadcast show. And there's a one hour show that it's magazine style so part of it is shot by us and then other segments of it are commissioned from filmmakers and other companies that create the show.
There's letter pieces and number pieces. And every hour has a theme, whether it's friendship or sharing or, and everything plays into that theme. So once I move past the actual editing of that content I move into QC mode sometimes doing final color corrects, but making sure that everything that ends up going to broadcast meets Sesame standards as well as our distributor's standards. - Are there challenges in making that cohesive when you have so many different moving parts and you're contracting from third parties and using your own content? What is that like bringing that back all together? - That ends up being a little less than half my year.
It's quite a process. - Wow. - Part of our team will on paper decide what the theme will be for the show but then also how every piece of the theme or piece of the show will play into that theme. Every piece of that magazine, half hour, hour plays into making sure that that theme is solid for the kids. - Is that set before you go into that process? Or you just have a bunch of nuggets that you decide to put together later? - No no no, it's all chosen ahead of time by the producers, research team.
And because of timing, we have to meet it specific, you know, to the frame timing, so it's the challenge of what puzzle pieces will fit to achieve that, and then what transitions will we use between them or, you know, now seeing this commission piece here, it doesn't really work in the show and we'll swap it out or maybe it should be in a different order. It really is, there's an art to it. And what they do on paper is mind-numbing for me but it's a fun process for me because I'll help build that hour and then I'll review it with the producers and we'll make decisions on how to improve it even to the very last minute before we actually deliver.
- So the other half of your year is, as you mentioned you're doing some things to, you know, help the production team along during the creation process, but then the rest of it you're in the editing room as far as, you know, editing the individual pieces. Can we talk, I wanna kind of dive into that part of the process if we could. - Yeah. The show itself is shot multi-camera. Three to four cameras depending on how complicated it is. What we call the Street Story, what's actually shot on set, which can be around nine to 10 minutes, that's all multi-camera.
But then other pieces with celebrities or music videos, those type of pieces, usually tend to be one camera, they can be two cameras at times. But it ranges from having practical sets to things that are shot on green or blue and then replaced later. - Then can you, I mean, we're talking about as you said shows with puppets and humans-- - Yes. - Which is a great a way of putting it. What are the challenges in working with puppets that don't have the facial expressions and the, you know, working off of humans you have so many cues facially that you work on.
What are the editing strategies that you kind of can climb into with that? - I have to say these performers are just so outstanding. Because there's so many things that are taken for granted that humans can do that when introduced to a muppet is incredibly more complicated like pouring a drink or playing catch. I mean it's an incredible act of problem solving to make, to be able to do that and make it believable. But there really is an incredible illusion that they're creating.
Breathing life into these inanimate objects and making the audience and kids feel a connection to them that's sometimes even greater than with another person. But where my job is incredible gratifying is that with editing we help shape story but we also help shape performance. So everything that's happening on camera is really the tip of an iceberg. You're seeing what is intended to be seen but underneath there's an incredible choreography of humans working around each other in order to create a dance number or yeah, to achieve some of those things.
So these performers are not only providing voice and singing beautifully and dancing and moving around, they're also creating that illusion of believability. And so me as the editor, I'm always hyperaware of that. How can I help them to continually make Elmo and Cookie Monster connect with the audience, feel as real as possible at every moment? - And then what visually and is there anything that you, that they say, the editor will take care of that as far as, you know, there being a human attached to that, to that puppet? Do they frame everything in production so that you don't have much to worry about as far as that's concerned? Or are there things in post that you need to take care of? - I mean there almost inevitably is always something that I'll remove, but the puppeteers are pretty good about it.
That's one of the challenges for them is they'll achieve this incredible difficult move with multiple muppets, but there was a head in the shot. So you do it again. So if there is the opportunity to simply remove that head so that way they don't have to go through it again if it was a perfect performance then I do do that. That's one of the advantages of when I do get to be on the control room because I'll be able to say yeah don't worry about that, we can roto that out, yeah. - How often would you say that you're able to be on set and help the production team along as far as planning things? - It has evolved over the time that I've been there.
It slowly but surely I'm spending more and more time in that control room. It looks like this season I might, we're still figuring it out, but I'm gonna spend almost the entire season there being with them to help achieve, yeah, not only getting pieces to time, but also I'm able, I have the luxury of noticing any kind of issues visually that everyone else is too busy to necessarily always notice. - They're certainly smart to use you in that way. I mean any editor that can be on set helping the production team, that's super valuable.
So that's great. - And it's a blast. I mean, yeah it's amazing. - Definitely.