Editing the Big Bang Theory: An Editor's Chat with Peter Chakos
How do you edit with a bang? To find out, we turned to the award winning video editor, Peter Chakos, for answers.
Chakos acts as both editor and producer for the Emmy-winning comedy series, The Big Bang Theory. In 2007, he was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series for his work on the show.
As fans of the show, we were excited to jump right into the interview with Chakos.
NB: How did you get involved with video editing? And how did you make it into primetime TV?
PC: Well I started as a runner P.A. on a TV show called Cheers.
NB: Wait, you mean the show “Where everyone knows your name?”
PC: Yes and while I was there I slowly moved into the postproduction area. I wanted to learn more about the edit system, which at the time was called Laser Edit. They were showing film editors how to take the leap into the 90s.
While I was taking the [Laser Edit] class everyone kept asking me if I had ever edited before. By the second week I was helping teach the older guys who were transitioning from film.
A couple months later, I went into the Cheers edit bay on a Friday night. I cut an episode, for fun, just to see if I could do it. I handed it to our producer, Andy Ackerman and said, “Here take a look at this.” Ackerman came up to me a few days later and said, “I strongly believe you should become an editor.”
NB: What tools and software do you use? What specific NewBlueFX plugins are used for The Big Bang Theory? When and where do we see these in action?
I use Avid Media Composer. When I got involved with NewBlue we were doing a show that was a different kind of show for us. We were not really flashing back, but imagining “what ifs.” Like what if the guys had never met Sheldon. It was a Christmas episode and Sheldon was out of town.
I wanted to do something different with the transitions to get us out of these “what if” sequences. That’s when I began to look for some cool transitions. And I found NewBlue Motion Blur. In fact, that episode landed me my first Emmy nomination.
NB: Last year you won your first Emmy for Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series for the episode “The Cooper Extraction.” On stage you joked that you would “have to wait for a lifetime achievement award.” What was that moment like for you finally winning the Emmy?
PC: It was actually surprising. When you go that many times and don't win, you kind of trust it. So I didn’t think I had a chance at winning at all. I was with my son and I told him, “Don’t get too excited, we’re probably just going to sit here and enjoy the show.” So it was a big shock.
NB: What are the challenges of editing a multi-camera series in front of a live audience?
PC: It’s different. We’re about 80% in front of a live audience. We do some pre-shooting on Mondays and we play those scenes back for the audience to get their feedback.
It’s kind of exciting because the show is done like a play for the audience and depending on the response and how we feel a scene is playing, it gets changed right on the fly and we’ll shoot a scene again with different jokes in it.
It’s sometimes up to me to choose which joke I like out of the choices we just gave ourselves.
That immediate response from the audience is always good. It’s gratifying to hear them laugh at a big joke rather than if you were shooting with no one there. You just got [to] trust it. If you think it’s funny, America will think it’s funny.
NB: What is your post-production process like?
PC: The post-production process is pretty streamlined. I cut the show, we hand off an EDL, it’s reassembled in High Def. and then it gets color corrected. We take out boom shadows and little problems here and there. We mix it and then it goes out. It’s a really fast process. I also get involved in music selection. If music is called for a scene, I’m usually the one that gets to select it.
NB: What were some of your favorite music selections?
PC: My favorite choices are when I have the opportunity to write a song myself.
NB: So you write music?
PC: I do, I’m not really a full-on composer. Sometimes we’ll shoot on a Monday that’s a very specific kind of scene and I’ll think it needs to be scored. So I’ll cut it Monday night and I’ll write something as a temporary song for the audience on Tuesday, but it winds up staying in. It happened more in the early days, but every now and then I get to write a specific song.
NB: Do you believe that The Big Bang Theory accurately represents the nerd or geek community or just perpetuates a nerd stereotype?
PC: Well I don’t think it does either. I think we make science accessible for people. I don’t know the nerd community enough to know if we’re accurately representing them. I don’t think we’re being terribly stereotypical. One thing about our guys is they don’t have trouble with ladies (usually). Which is the nerd stereotype that "oh the girls just never pay attention." They seem to do okay.
NB: Yeah, they’re married and engaged!
PC: They’re married, engaged, or dating. Even from the first season even though, Penny seemed out of reach. Leonard wasn’t a virgin. A lot of times when you watch these kinds of shows, they portray these guys as completely inept socially. I think Sheldon is the guy that is the most underdeveloped socially, but he’s come a long way.
NB: Do you believe The Big Bang Theory has changed the way we look at “nerds” or science enthusiasts?
PC: I think it’s made it cool and even sexy to be smart.
NB: The Big Bang Theory has been around for 8 seasons now! You’re about to head into your 9th season. Are we gunning for any more Emmys?
PC: Always! I hope to be nominated this year, you never know. It’s always nice to be asked to the dance.
NB: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk editing with us today.