Laugh Factory: Michael Schaubach

In a world of online one-upsmanship, CollegeHumor's director of post-production competes against cat videos, epic fails, and fainting goats to keep comedy aficionados and online procrastinators up to their earbuds in laughs.

 

CollegeHumor’s goal may be to tickle your funny bone, but in the editing room, it’s anything but fun and games. Churning out between five and 12 videos per week, the comedy megabrand’s site brings in more than 15 million unique users every month, while its original material garners more than 100 million monthly views. Michael Schaubach and his post-production crew ensure that CollegeHumor’s unique videos look and feel professional before they hit the eyes of an increasingly discerning online audience. Editing, sound mixing, color correcting, and polishing each individual video, the University of Iowa grad and his team work with writers and directors to ensure that each original CollegeHumor production is as true to the vision of the project as possible.

Schaubach says that his daily duties can range from keeping directors on schedule (and on budget) to reaching out to third-party vendors for visual effects or motion graphics, but his real responsibilities boil down to one simple task. “A lot of my job is just handling crises,” he says.

Get In Media: What are some common post-production crises?

Michael Schaubach: Computers will go down. That’s a big one. Somebody will come to me and say “We have a computer down and we have a session in an hour” and it will be my job to get IT involved and solve those problems. [Problems can range from that] to “We’re out of money on this project and we still need music. What do we do?” It’s searching for the right music or the right composer that’s willing to work within a budget. Anything that can and will go wrong on a project does for us because we do so much. It’s my job to sort of stay on top of it and handle it all. 

GIM: Walking me through the steps from having an idea for a video to getting it up on the site.

MS: An idea is conjured in a writers’ meeting and a writer is assigned to write the script. The script gets written and that can take anywhere from a day to ten days. The script lands in the hands of Production and that script then gets assigned a director and producer and a budget. They spend the next two to five days planning out the shoot, casting, talking to post[-production] about visual effects, music, or anything they might need for the shoot, then they shoot it and the footage comes to us that day or the next day.

“Web content is growing and it is turning into something lucrative. It’s turning into something somebody can have as a career. I’m proof of that.”

Shoots are normally in one day, so the next day we’ll get the footage and, by that afternoon, my assistant editors will have had it logged and ready for an editor. An editor starts cutting and normally there’s a first cut the next day, probably mid-day, which goes to the director. The director gives notes and this note process can go with the director one or two days. After that it goes to the writer. The writer gives notes and the writer and director then collaborate on it. Sometimes there’s a session that they have with the editor. It helps speed things up when they actually do an in-person session. So having the writer give notes, that takes a day or two, then we send it off to [CollegeHumor President of Original Content] Sam Reich for final approval then it hits the web whenever we schedule it. If it’s something topical, it will go out right away, but if it’s something that’s not topical, then we’ll decide when that goes out.

RELATED: Hunter M. Via, award-winning editor of The Walking Dead, talking about cutting one of TV’s most popular genre shows.

GIM: How long does it take to produce a typical original clip?

MS: Just because our videos come from the mind of a creative person, they’re so different every time we do them. An average video takes probably about a month from start to finish, but other times we’ll turn them around very quickly. Let’s say something’s happening like the Pope’s leaving or something like that. They’ll think of something that afternoon and we can get something out that night or we can get it out the next day. That is a pretty fast turnaround.

GIM: You’ve stated before that engaging audiences online is getting harder. How so?

MS: That’s interesting. I think because online content is increasing. I think that it’s harder to be noticed because there’s just so much content out there. If you just keep refreshing YouTube or even CollegeHumor, you’ll see that there’s something new every click. I think that that’s really the challenge, is how do you in this sea of content creators now, which is anybody; high schoolers in their living room up to professionals here in edit bays. How do you stand out amongst them? One way we’re approaching this is utilizing composed music to add a special quality to your web production that can set it apart from other people who maybe aren’t thinking that way.

GIM: What steps do you take to ensure that the audience is actively engaged?

MS: We just try to make the best content possible. That’s our goal. We feel that if we make the best product possible, people will come back. It’s not our job to hypnotize people or get out there and force them back to our site. It’s our job to say, “OK, is this the best possible thing we could be making right now? Yes, OK.” We’ll put it out there and trust that that’s what people want to see and that’s what they’ll come back for.

“Always be learning either how to use a piece of technology or how to make your craft better.”
GIM: With so much online content coming out, do you feel like the Internet is poised to overtake television?

MS: Is television dead? Good question. No. Television is much more lucrative than web at this point. Web content is growing and it is turning into something lucrative. It’s turning into something somebody can have as a career. I’m proof of that. But right now, I would say there’s definitely more money to be made in movies and television, but the tide is changing, absolutely. In the future, there will be more web content. It will be better and we’ll move in that direction but … I think we’re a ways from that.

GIM: For students who are looking to move into your job, what do you recommend they do to prepare?

MS: To do my job, I would say that they just need to practice. They need to be passionate about making great content. They need to be writing, thinking of great ideas. They need to learn, most importantly, the technology so they need to be up on the cameras. They need to know about what cameras are out there, what they can shoot on. They need to learn about composition and how to make something that looks good and then in post. They need to learn pretty much everything they can get their hands on, from Final Cut Pro to Avid to Adobe Premiere, any of the top software. 

After Effects is a big one to learn if you really want to get ahead here, because you can create pretty dynamic web videos in your living room if you know After Effects. You can do some really great visual effects with that program and you’re not really dependent on outside people to collaborate with, so you can save a lot of money in that way. I would say for the most part, always be learning something. Always be learning either how to use a piece of technology or how to make your craft better.

REALTED: Comedy tastemaker Steve Heisler got his job by publicly complaining about a major comedy festival lineup.

GIM: When you recruit job candidates, what are you looking for?

MS: Somebody I would like to work with is somebody that works hard, who knows the technology, and is familiar with the comedy world. I know that when we look for writers and we look for directors, we look for people who are very much involved in the comedy world, so that’s important to us; somebody who has a comedic eye. Maybe we don’t share the same kind of comedic eye, but they have something and they’re passionate about comedy because that’s what we do here. We want somebody to come in and say, “Yes, I’m passionate about comedy. This is my voice.” We’ve found that to be a success.

GIM: What has been your greatest accomplishment and greatest mistake in your career?

MS: Greatest accomplishment would be the relationship, the genuine relationships that I’ve formed through my years in this industry. It is what has kept me working. Not befriending people because you think that maybe they’ll get you a job one day; befriending people because I genuinely like them, because I can genuinely relate to them and that we have like interests and, through that relationship, either they help me succeed or I help them succeed.

I think my greatest failure, that’s a tough question. Maybe my greatest failure is feeling like maybe I wasn’t open enough to these relationships and maybe I missed a great opportunity. For me, this business is all about relationships. Anybody can learn Final Cut Pro. Anybody can learn how to pick up a camera. This is about the kind of person you are, the kind of person you project out into the world, and that is what’s going to lead to success.

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