After a busy shoot — scrambling to get as much usable footage as possible while dodging the weather — we return home with a hard drive that’s loaded up with all that hard work. That’s when Steve takes over.
Rick is the creative spark, Simon is the logistical mastermind, and Karel is the artistic eye. But Steve Cammarano — who has edited every single one of the more than 100 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe — is the one who puts it all together.
In the field, Simon and Karel always have Steve’s concerns in mind — making sure they provide him with footage that can be cut together easily. For example, it’s jarring to cut straight to a close-up — you need to ease the viewer into it with an establishing shot. So Simon and Karel make sure they’ve shot all of the bits and pieces that Steve will need.
When filming, each shot needs to be identified to facilitate Steve’s work. There’s no literal slate clapboard, but at the beginning of each shot, Karel verbally “slates” what he’s about to film: “Hey Steve, this is that communist statue.” “Hey Steve, another angle on that statue.” “Steve, a close-up of the two main figures.” “OK, this is a wide on the Square of the People, where that statue is.”
Steve also gets a copy of the (semi-) final script, which has been tweaked and polished throughout the shoot — a process we call “scrubbing the script.” “Scrubbing” means simply reading through the entire script, again and again, making each word earn its keep. Part of the scrub is knowing which footage worked — and which didn’t — and tailoring the words perfectly to what’s in the can.
When we’re satisfied with the script, Rick records a “scratch track” — a quickie voice track of the entire script, whose sole purpose is to give Steve something to cut to. This doesn’t have to be perfect — it’ll be replaced later — and in a pinch, Rick might even record it on his iPhone in a hotel-room closet (between hanging clothes to buffer echoes).
In his rabbit’s warren of an office, Steve uses the script, the verbal slates, and the scratch track as guidelines for piecing together the show. Like every other part of the process, editing TV is equal parts science and art: Steve has a clear blueprint, but he employs his own artistic vision in how he pulls it all together. It’s also tedious: Steve has to rewind each little snippet and rewatch it, again and again and again, to cut it just right. (I used to work in an office adjoining Steve’s, and I must admit: Overhearing a little two-second audio clip — say, a Swiss cowbell clanging, or a Norwegian girls’ choir singing a Christmas carol, or Rick shouting “Freeeedooom!” on the Scottish Highlands — 20 or 30 times in a row was enough to drive me batty. How Steve maintains his sanity, I’ll never know.)
Once Steve is finished with the rough cut, Rick and Simon watch it and weigh in with notes. If the show comes in a little long (not unusual) — or a lot long (as was the case in Romania, which was nearly four and a half minutes over) — it’s time to reach a consensus about what to trim. It’s a tough decision. Some cuts are pretty obvious, but others come down to a no-win pick-’em between two equally good bits that both deserve to be in the show. But at the end of the day, each show gets just 30 minutes (24 minutes and 16 seconds of actual content, to be exact, once you subtract the open, credits, and underwriting). And to be honest, those time constraints are probably a blessing in disguise: They force us to respect the attention span of our fans, and make tough decisions rather than bore our viewers.
Once the final cuts are made, Steve sends the footage to be color-corrected, evening out variations from different shooting situations to help the show feel visually cohesive. (It’s amazing what a good colorist can do to spruce up washed-out or cloudy footage.) Meanwhile, Rick and Simon watch the final cut one more time — the final “scrub,” with the help of ace wordsmith Risa Laib — and make a few last-minute wording tweaks. Finally, Rick records the final voice track, Steve cuts it to the color-corrected final cut…and the show is finished.
The last of 10 brand-new episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 (Cornwall) is airing across the country right now. We hope you enjoy them. And if you do, keep in mind the many talented experts — both in front of and behind the camera — who make that scrappy little show some of the most lovingly produced and most compelling travel television out there.
Thanks for tuning in for this “behind the scenes” blog series on Rick Steves’ Europe. And, of course…keep on traveling!
This is the ninth and final installment of my “Behind the Scenes” blog series about Rick Steves’ Europe Season 9 — now airing nationwide (check your local listings). You can also watch the Bulgaria and Romania episodes for free. And in case you’re in a gift-giving mode, the brand-new, 10-episode Season 9 DVD is currently on sale in our Travel Store.