Nicole Baer talks putting together ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Timeless’ resurrection

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Nicole Baer is one of those lovely behind-the-scenes people who work on a show, but never get the kudos they deserve. Nicole is a film editor – she worked on Supernatural for 10 years and moved over to Timeless, which recently got renewed for its second season (after NBC originally cancelled it; if you recall we told you all this way back in April). We can just say that maybe Baer was able to change NBC’s timeline with Timeless.

She’s worked on some of my favorite episodes, Alpha and Omega, Red Meat, Just My Imagination (directed by Richard Speight Jr.), Fan Fiction, LARP and the Real Girl, Yellow Fever and of course  — the French Mistake.

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So you were working as an assistant editor for Supernatural, and then after the writers’ strike you got promoted?

Yes, after the writers’ strike ended, the studio brought us back for four more episodes. Since the show has three editors, they gave one episode to each, and for some reason, the producers decided to give the extra one to me and let me audition on an episode. It was the opportunity of a lifetime!

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Working on a show for 10 years, you must almost have a connection, like a bond with the characters … how difficult is it to actually have such horrible things happen to them? Because I know as a viewer …

Killing them time and I again, I don’t really feel the emotion of that because I see them before the take and after the take, but I do feel the emotional scenes, like where Jensen is crying – I feel that – I take that home with me. I’ll go home and my husband is like, “What’s wrong with you?” I’d say, “It was a really sad scene today.” In Death’s Door, where we killed Bobby … that episode tapped into all of my demons. It had father issues, a couple that couldn’t have kids, and the premature death of a family member.  That was a hard month to get through that episode.

I still have friends that say I won’t watch Supernatural because they killed off Bobby … but he comes back a few times!

You’re never truly dead on Supernatural.

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Exactly. You’re never truly dead on Supernatural. So, what are your favorite episodes, if you have any.

I do. I am very fond of Monster Movie because it’s beautiful black and white. It’s directed by Bob Singer, my favorite. It was my first episode as an official editor – after they tried me out on Long Distance Call at the end of Season 3.  I knew going into the hiatus that my first episode was going to be an old-fashioned monster movie so I spent my two months over the summer watching every cheesy old black and white, horror movie I could get my hands on to get a feel for the style. That one is dear to my heart.

Death’s Door, I mentioned that. That, for different reasons … it was painful, but I think that’s the most emotional one I did. And – oh, the French Mistake. The French Mistake – it was hard to edit because everybody kept coming in my edit bay while I’m trying to cut dailies … everybody’s like – I’ve got to see this scene!  It was just so anticipated … the script is hilarious …

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I love the French Mistake. I think I’ve watched that episode itself, probably a good 10 times.

All the behind-the-scenes people, they’re referring to actual crew people!

I know! Like that guy is playing Kevin Parks, the first AD …

What exactly is it that you do? I mean, you’re provided with a bunch of tape that’s been filmed during the day (which of course is all digital now) … do you have to go through and set it at a certain length, continuity, or?

My assistant editor Nancy downloads all the footage, and then she organizes it into scene bins and strings together into one timeline every take they printed.  It can be an hour’s worth of footage or more for a scene that’s going to be a minute long. I watch all the dailies, I sit there with my script and look for little special moments. If there’s a cool look, if somebody had a really interesting line read, I’d mark ‘use this take’ in my script. I’ll make all these notes, so when I get in the middle of editing it, I won’t get lost. I’ll know that at least at these points in the scene I know where I want to be. Eventually, we string all the scenes together into the whole show.

I’m editing the whole time they are shooting so eight to 10 days. (I get the footage the day after it’s shot.) I’m trying to keep up with camera because my cut is due a few days after they stop filming – complete with temp sound effects, temp music, a full show. So Nancy and I are editing like crazy. After we put out the editor’s cut, the director comes in, and we work on the directors’ cut for four days.  Then we run the ‘notes gauntlet.’  The producers come in, and we work on fine-tuning, rearranging scenes and cutting the show down to time.  At that point we send it to the studio and the network and they call us with their notes, and we address those – and then we lock picture.

And then we start on the next episode.

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It sounds so interesting; I love the behind-the-scenes stuff … so working now on Timeless, following Kripke basically, is there a lot of things that are the same, and what is different?

Timeless is a first season show [that’s recently been renewed! Yaay], and it was a big show. A BIG show … it was a lot more hours than when I worked on Supernatural, but I’ve heard that’s the case with any first season show. We were often working seven days a week – it was such a big undertaking but I am so proud of it, and everyone is so proud to be on that show. It’s a labor of love.

It’s beautifully done. I love how everything is shot in Vancouver, but yet it completely looks like different times … with Supernatural, it’s basically different places …

… and motel rooms …

Tons of motel rooms! But with Timeless, it’s not just different characters and different areas; it’s different times. That’s got to have so much work put into it.

That is John Marcynuk and his staff. John worked for Jerry Wanek on Supernatural – I think he actually began on the pilot – somehow they pulled him over to Timeless; that guy is amazing. I mean, they built the Alamo!  And a time machine!  And Al Capone’s headquarters!

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Wasn’t that the one with Misha in it?

Yes, that’s the one.

I remember the Supernatural family is like, “You killed Castiel!” No, they didn’t, that’s a different character!

We killed Eliot Ness … It was so fun to see him in a different role.

And that’s what I loved about his shorts (if you haven’t seen them, I highly suggest watching the TSA America shorts; not only is Misha in these, he also directed, produced and wrote them as well!); it was a completely different character, it was hilarious!

Did you edit any of the gag reels?

All the editors help pull the gags when we’re watching dailies … if we see the guys break character, flub a line or start laughing, we’ll pull those and stick them in a bin for Shawn Wagoner, who has been doing a great job editing those the last few years.

Is there going to be a gag reel for Timeless?

I made a little one just for fun for the crew, but I don’t know if it will be available anywhere.

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I’ve been watching old gag reels from Friends and Little House on the Prairie – when you’re young, especially when you’re growing up, you don’t realize these are real people and that they are doing a job, and just like everyone else, they have to have fun doing their job … I’ve heard some of the crazy gags that the boys do.

Well, the worst thing that they do is try to make each other break character. I’m sure you’ve seen that in the outtakes.  When the camera is over Jared’s shoulder, for instance, he’s doing everything he can to get Jensen to laugh. I wish I could swing around and see the faces he’s making, but I only ever get to see his shoulder … I just remember a lot of poor Misha trying to get through his lines, then saying “Damn it, Jared!”

What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into film editing?

I would say, edit anything that you can get your hands on. It doesn’t matter what. Every single thing you edit you learn from. You’re learning how to drive the Avid, or the Final Cut … you’re learning how to make the cuts invisible…you’re learning how to make fight scenes fast and exciting without being confusing….and I’m still learning from every single scene because they’re all different. That’s the fun of this job…the challenge and opportunity to continually improve your craft.

The biggest hurdle is getting into the union. You’ve just got to work on something for 100 days so you qualify for the union.  None of the scripted shows can hire you until you’re union. It’s kind of a Catch 22 – you need experience to get into the union, but it’s difficult to get work until you’re in the union.

This is embarrassing, but my first paid editing job was on the graveyard shift editing cosmetic dental procedure videos.  Listening to teeth being drilled at 2 o’clock in the morning was not exactly fulfilling my dream of working in Hollywood … but I was learning how to drive the Avid, and it was good for me because I was the only one there … I made mistakes, but there wasn’t anyone sitting over my shoulder watching me fumble with the keys. You can study editing all you want but until you actually drive the machine and make the choices of when to cut where, you just can’t figure it out. And, I’m still figuring it out.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the whole thing, but my favorite part of the process is when the director comes in. Nobody sees the editor’s cut except the director; it doesn’t go out to the whole staff until it’s the director’s cut. So, I get four days one-on-one with the director, where it’s just the two of us in the trenches together, trying to create the best show possible. I love that time of collaboration, and I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazingly talented directors, who are confident and creative enough to be willing to explore a variety of editing options. Lots of times I’ll cut a scene two different ways; I’ll cut it the way I think the director wants it, because I feel that’s my job, to help them see their vision as quickly as possible. So when I watch the dailies, I’m looking for camera moves, I’m looking for rack focuses on certain lines, and I try to read their minds based on the footage. I owe that to them. But, sometimes if I have extra time or I get inspired, I’ll cut a completely different version of a scene … that’s the beauty of the Avid … you can cut a scene two different ways and have it ready to go. It’s not film that you’re physically cutting & splicing.

So when the director is in there, if I’m feeling brave, I’ll play an alternative cut of a scene and ask, “What do you think about this?” Sometimes they hate it; sometimes they like it … sometimes it just gets us thinking about doing the scene a different way. Those few days of collaboration where it’s just the two of us working together can be so creative and magical. And I geek out because I’ve gotten to work with some really cool directors, like John Badham [John directed one of my favorite seasons from Season 12, Regarding Dean], Tom Wright and Jeannot Szwarc.

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Out of the first season of Timeless, which one was your favorite episode?

The Alamo. It was the first one I did; John Terlesky’s the director, he’s amazing … it was just fun. We got to fight the Alamo! There were soldiers and rifles and explosions going off….a guy even gets shot off a horse … it was big! It was challenging. I’m so proud of that one.

What are your thoughts on NBC cancelling Timeless, and then changing their minds and renewing it?

When Timeless was cancelled, I was heartbroken.  I am so thrilled that they reversed that decision.  And, it’s the fans that were the deciding factor.  The outpouring of love and support for that show is incredible.

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When does filming for the next season start? Is there anything you can tell us about the next season?

Not sure….they are figuring out those details as we speak.  I’m just glad that the adventures of Lucy, Rufus, Wyatt and Flynn will continue!

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Tell us about being stuck in a room with Richard Speight Jr. for four days …

What an intelligent, talented and hard-working guy!  He was so enthusiastic about the editing process and learning everything he could do to make the best show possible.  He even visited me before he flew to Vancouver to start prep to see if I had any advice on potential pitfalls to avoid.  Working with him was a joy!  We even figured out that we were both at USC at the same time and had mutual friends.  Sure hope I get to edit for him again someday!