by Katy Andres
If you’re a fan of World’s Toughest Fixes because you think like an engineer, chances are you’ve probably wondered how the show is made. I know I have. Just two weeks into my internship with WTF, some of our team members grabbed their hard hats and headed down to my home state of Texas to make another episode. When they came back, I got to see this show hit the drawing tables from start to finish through all two and a half months of post-production, and let me tell you, it’s not called World’s Toughest Fixes for nothing. You wouldn’t believe how much work goes into creating each episode from start to finish.
While Riley and the camera crew were down in San Antonio tackling an antenna on top of a 400-foot building, the rest of us (10 in all) were holding down the fort back in the D.C. office. Whether it’s searching for new stories or finishing up previous episodes, there’s always something going on here in the WTF office. Priority number one however, was decorating our associate producer and producer’s desks with ridiculous Texas pride paraphernalia before their return to DC. I was hoping they’d been converted to Texas fanatics during their stay…
Three weeks later, the boys returned from their Texas adventure on a construction site, and another kind of construction began: editing the episode together. While capturing the story out in the field is obviously significant, most of the vision and focus of the narrative comes to life in post-production.
To begin this process, our magnificent producer Scott DeGraw dove into the 50 hours of video footage the team had captured to get an idea of what was available. For several weeks straight he was hidden away at his desk staring at his monitor with earphones in, something he likes to call his “edit bubble.” Meanwhile, Leslie Atkins, our video editor, was buckling up for the daunting task of editing together this beast of a story by going through the footage herself. Once they both finished getting acquainted with the massive amounts of footage, Scott and Leslie teamed up and began strategizing a game plan for this episode.
One of the perks of being an intern is that you can hop around and get a taste of just about everything going on around the office. I took advantage of this by spending time hanging out in the San Antonio Tower edit suite whenever I got the chance. It was there that I got to see some of the funnier moments that happen out in the field on WTF that most people don’t ever find out about. It was clear from the beginning that this episode featured some great characters. Riley and construction worker Cletis singing up a storm while hanging off of a 400-foot building was priceless.
Piecing together a documentary can be likened to a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with endless possibilities: the pieces may fit together, but you need to know what picture they’re supposed to be making if you’re ever going to get anywhere with it. To facilitate the brainstorming process, Scott and Leslie decorated the edit suite wall with a plethora of 3×5 cards featuring all the different scenes arranged and re-arranged into six acts. As the weeks passed those cards shuffled around quite a bit. When not staring at a computer or playing with 3×5 cards, Scott kept plowing away at writing the script and recording the rough narration tracks.
For this episode to come together in time, many jobs had to be done simultaneously. While Scott was multi-tasking, the team in the post-production office was busy arranging and developing the necessary graphic animations, gathering promotional materials, writing and fact checking information for the website, prepping the narration recording, and assembling the four-inch thick legal binder.
Much of the work was related to gearing up for the initial screenings attended by the executive producers of the show. First, there’s the pre-rough-cut, then the rough-cut, then fine-cut and pix-lock. Each time we screen one of these, about eight of us cram into an edit suite to watch and comment on how the final story is coming along. The last screening concluded with some never-before-seen high-fives and congratulations from the NGT executive series producer. Not bad, Scott and Leslie.
Halfway through the making of this show I was thrilled to find out that I would be hired on to the WTF team, full time! I moved into the WTF post production office and joined the “post girls” in basically checking off the massive list of tasks that have to take place within deadlines for each episode. All while tuning into Pandora for some ambience, of course.
I’ve learned a lot watching this episode come together, but mainly, it’s been a blast seeing the work that goes on behind the scenes. Both as an intern, and full time I’ve come to understand that the process of putting an hour-long episode of World’s Toughest Fixes is full of infinite detail and has lots of parts that mesh together to form something as impressive as taking an antenna off a 400 foot building, to me anyway. With a show as fun as WTF and a crew as great as we have, I couldn’t ask for a better job.
Video Preview: “Riley Flies High” — Riley helps a crew send a heavy load of steel up and over a gigantic building in the heart of downtown San Antonio.
World’s Toughest Fixes “Sky High Texas Tower” premieres October 7th at 8P et/pt.