Spreadsheets Lifecycle In a Cartoon TV Show

You were hired to manage this new TV Show. You feel the excitement of working on a new production. It may be one of your first jobs as a…

6 years ago   •   5 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré

You were hired to manage this new TV Show. You feel the excitement of working on a new production. It may be one of your first jobs as a Junior Production Manager, or you can be in a familiar territory as an experimented one, you still enjoy as much beginning a new project.

But whatever your skill level, you know that a big part of your job will be to produce spreadsheets, many spreadsheets… These tables are the backbone of a production. You create and use them at every stage:

  • Recording the name of the people in the team
  • Storing the task assignments
  • Listing the asset casting of an episode
  • Collect specific details for an animator
  • Build your progress report

Spreadsheets are the major tool of the production: everybody relies on it. That’s why the information has to be up-to-date and accurate. It’s the main communication tool.

Day 1 of the production

Here you are at day 1 on this new production! You already have prepared many things. Among them, you have a lot of information to share: the contact list, the scripts breakdown, the todo list for the Director and the Artists…

If you already worked on TV Show Productions, you probably have your own templates. If it’s not the case, at least, the studio will provide you some. You will have to adapt them for this new production, and probably for each episode.

Sharing the spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are not lifeless. Once you have created them, others will use them, maybe just to read it but most of the time your spreadsheets will be modified by others. To make this happen, you have three options:

  1. Your sheets are based on a desktop software. All the users need it on their computers. You have to ask your IT to install the software for them and pay the extra licenses for each supervisor/artists who will need an access to the spreadsheets.
  2. If it’s a web app linked to an email account, they will need a professional account. Same money issue here: you will have to pay a license for each one. Otherwise, they will use their personal email and it will become a security issue.
  3. If part of your team is elsewhere, you will have to share your spreadsheets via email or online file storage. You will have a lot of back and forth.

First steps of the production

At the beginning of the production, you have to inform people, dispatch the work to do. You are already printing many sheets to share the information. Things run smoothly, you only have to manage one episode. You can take good care of each spreadsheet. Everything goes well.

And sometimes you feel you have to do twice the job. Let’s take an example with storyboard breakdown and leadsheet. The only difference between them is the way you display the information. These two documents don’t serve the same purpose and different people use them. If you have technical skills, you can link the data of your breakdown to your leadsheet. But, still, it will require some work to be properly done.

This kind of problems can be your first headache for this production. Fortunately, it’s the beginning, you have time. Everything is ok.

Ongoing production

We are several months later. Some episodes are at the animation stage, others at the storyboard stage, and the newest are still at the script stage.

You already have a lot of spreadsheets. You use them on a daily basis. You spend time juggling between tabs. The difference between now and the beginning of the production is that people contribute to your spreadsheets and add data by themselves.

The Director, the Background Supervisor, the Animation Supervisor are working on them, sometimes all at the same time. The more people use documents, the more mistakes happen. They missed a line, they fill the wrong tab or sometimes squash an entire tab…

After spending hours to fix the spreadsheets, you think about damage control. One solution is to copy the spreadsheet and give one copy to each supervisor, director etc. You wait for them to fill it, then you synchronize all the documents.

It’s so time-consuming that you start to work late. You may think of bringing work at home. You spend all your time on these spreadsheets because they are necessary for the production. To make sure that everyone is on the same page, they need to be neat and accurate. You may even lose the big picture of the production because you are too focused on the details. Things are getting tough.

People outside of the studio

It’s common that you have to share information with people who are not physically located inside the studio. For instance, you will email your files to Artists or Directors who don’t work in the building. They don’t have access to your network so they have to wait for your email, and you have to wait for their answers.

Waiting for listings, drawings and videos increase the latency of a production. When finally, you receive all the elements, you still have to check them and maybe ask for more details. The back and forth begin.

The production report

Your head of production or your producer will ask you to do production reports. It’s important for them to communicate the progress to all shareholders and have an overview of the production.

If you have technical skills you can create reports automatically filled by the data from the spreadsheets. Even with that, you will have to double check your spreadsheet to be sure the formula is not broken by mistake, or if anyone deleted them by mistake.

If you don’t have the skills, you create them from scratch. You juggle through all your tabs and compile the data to build a coherent and accurate report… and by the way, you have one more spreadsheet!

Production tracking software

Production tracking softwares are here to help. They allow you to manage all these data in shared database and display them in dedicated UI.

To create a better show, your artists need to totally focus on their creative work and should be able to rely on the production for everything else. That’s why these kinds of tools can greatly enhance the productivity of your team. It allows everyone to collaborate, they are more error-proof, and provides easy to read UI. You don’t have to manage hundreds of files and it’s easier to keep everyone on the same page.

Wrapping up

Let’s sum up everything! During the lifecycle of the production, you are going to create at least half a dozen spreadsheets per episode. A TV show has an average of 52 episodes. If you do the maths, you understand that you will have to create, maintain, analyze, share, check and double check 312 spreadsheets during the production lifetime.

Let me assume you have five episodes running at a different stage in the same period. If we consider that you have two tabs per spreadsheet, you will have almost thirty tabs opened to track these episodes.

When someone asks questions about these episodes, they expect that you find quickly the answer for them. You are the keeper of the spreadsheets, people consider you as the main source of information. It’s a great responsibility, assume it and be proud of it!

At CGWire, we develop a production tracker named Kitsu. It’s here to help the production by managing all the heavy lifting for you:

  • Task dispatching
  • Preview validations (publish, comments and retakes)
  • Breakdown management
  • Time tracking
  • Easy deployment to the whole studio
  • Instant sharing
  • Up-to-date production reports

If you are interested, ask for a trial instance and give us your feelings about what we do!

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