Super Bowl 50 is over, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has begun, and you’ve just watched Stephen have some fun with soldiers in Afghanistan, an astronaut on the International Space Station, Chewbacca, and The President of the United States and the First Lady. We had a hand in the latter.
Way back on December 14 we were asked by Late Show Associate Producer Megan Gearheart about Bruce’s availability for the first week in February. I knew CBS had the Super Bowl this year, and figured there was a solid chance we might get a call: Stephen and Bruce have a working relationship which goes back to The Daily Show, spans the entire run of The Colbert Report, and has continued as Stephen took over The Late Show. So, I’d already blocked out that week in my head. The surprise was finding out that the shoot would be here in DC.
It all became a little clearer when we heard from The Late Show again on January 5: “the window would be sometime after Sunday January 24 but before Sunday February 7th.” Oh, and “scheduling is totally dependent on our interviewee.” Our response? “We serve at the pleasure of the…late night host.”
Sure enough, it was confirmed that Stephen was going to travel down to DC to do something with President Obama in the White House. We would need two cameras, an audio tech and a teleprompter operator, nothing else, the bare minimum crew. We still didn’t know what exactly we were doing, but then a second day was added and we learned we’d be shooting a bit with the First Lady a week before working with the President. January 28th was locked in, the crew was confirmed, security information was sent in, and Bruce started going over the creative aspects of the shoot with Late Show Producer Liz Levin.
The sketch itself is, as you just saw, very simple. With the show airing directly after the Super Bowl the cold open would involve Stephen throwing a football to a variety of people, finishing up with an extended bit with President Obama and the First Lady. The devil was in the details. Blocking, screen direction, and as always, logistics. We then managed to throw ourselves a few curveballs. In the days of The Colbert Report we shot with Panasonic HDX900s, and on the recent shoots for The Late Show we shot with Sony PDW-F800s. This time we were going to shoot with Sony PMW-F5s so we did our due diligence to make sure that there wouldn’t be any hiccups in post. Much to our surprise the show had to have the footage in 1080/60i, as it was going to be rolled in live and the show is broadcast interlaced. Thankfully, the PMW-F5 offers an interlace option when shooting in MPEG mode, so that dictated our codec. The only thing left to do was do the shoot. Oh, no, wait, one more twist…Stephen was coming down to direct the piece with Michelle Obama, and the entire team had to be leaving the White House 10 minutes after the shoot was over to make a flight back up to New York to tape the Thursday night Late Show. We were suddenly second guessing the decision to go with the PMW-F5…handing off discs at the end of the shoot would be much faster than waiting for two cards to transfer to a hard drive. Argh.
Thankfully, the shoot went perfectly. Julio Luzquinos was on the second camera, audio was handled by DC legend Len Schmitz, and Rob Eustis of Telescript DC ran the teleprompter. There was even time to meet the First Dogs:
Part one completed. We then hunkered down for the blizzard that hit DC the next day!
The shoot with President Obama was scheduled for February 5. Same crew, same gear, same pressure to get everyone out the door the minute the shoot wrapped. Oh, and a three page script with the President of the United States to get through. And then there was another wrinkle: Julio had to leave town for a six day shoot, which meant a security swap with the White House. Sean Healey stepped in to take his place, and the shoot was a go.
Due to the schedule of the East Room (the piece with the First Lady was shot in the Diplomatic Reception Room) the crew had to arrive at 10am, hang out until 1pm, then set up to be ready for the President at 2:45pm. We had him for 30 minutes, the same amount of time as Mrs. Obama, and that was enough time for a few runs through it. As has been joked about ad nauseam President Obama is pretty good with a teleprompter, and his friendship with Stephen certainly makes things a lot easier. The shoot went great, the Late Show team headed back up to New York and the results…well, it turned out pretty great.
Thanks as always to Stephen Colbert and the fantastic people at The Late Show, in particular Liz Levin and Megan Gearheart who are both always so wonderful to work with. We’re already looking forward to the next one!