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How IFC’s ‘Documentary Now’ Crushes Collaboration

Documentary Now is a television series on IFC. It parodies celebrated documentary films, from Grey Gardens to Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Recently, the team took on Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s legendary 1984 concert documentary about the band Talking Heads. Frame.io plays an integral role behind the scenes, as this video attests.

The series was created by Saturday Night Live alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers along with directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono. The premise evolved on SNL, where the 3 actors portrayed faded British punk rockers in a segment called Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros: History of Punk. The short was a parody of This Is Spinal Tap.

We pay loving homage to some of the most celebrated documentaries ,” explains Rhys. Each episode is its own film, a parody of a documentary that is usually a well-known feature film. Development includes writing, production and post, as well as research of extensive archival footage. “We must have 10,000 archival shots in our database right now,” Alex estimated.

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Fred Armisen as David Byrne, Bill Hader as Jerry Harrison in Test Pattern

Test Pattern

Earlier this year, the team targeted Stop Making Sense with Test Pattern, an episode featuring Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Seth Meyers and Bill Hader as members of the band. The re-creation was performed semi-live to a crowd of extras inside a Los Angeles-area venue.

Co-director Rhys Thomas enjoys the moment.

The show uses Frame.io extensively. Archival Producer Tamsin Rawady shares clips and images that inspire the look and content of the show with the team. “The great thing about Frame.io is being able to get immediate reactions from the directors about the footage that I’ve posted.”

Fred Armisen plays to a full house.

Two directors and many departments

These archival shots are fundamental to the production. They inspire the writing and direction efforts. They also allow the full production team to recreate the authentic look and feel of the original. “Because my job covers so many different departments—the directors, or the art department, or makeup—everybody can be collaborating on Frame.io and it becomes this central hub for the whole program.”

Keeping all of the production notes within Frame.io refines the ideas and humor of the show. It also prevents lots of redundant effort. “I can quickly pull up the cut. I can either see if Alex has already been through it, made notes, and add to those notes,” says Rhys.

Shot review in Frame.io

Ideally, the creative team assembles the show together in one room, explains editor Micah Gardner. “A good substitute, though, is Frame.io’s timecode-specific notes.” Micah is in New York, Tamsin is in LA and the directors and talent are constantly on the move. Via the web and iOS, collaboration can occur at any time.

Bill Hader and the gamelan

All the time and energy that we used to spend just organizing our ideas can now just be spent coming up with new ideas. And that’s just because we have a tool like Frame.io.

Documentary Now: Test Pattern appears on IFC. Background on the episode is also featured at LA Times and Pitchfork, and Fast Company published this guide to documentaries that have inspired the show in the past.