August 10, 2023

Veteran editor Molly Shock, ACE, is among the team of editors on the 13th season of MasterChef: United Tastes of America on FOX, having started on Season 10, plus Season 8 of MasterChef Junior. Unlike a team of 2-4 editors on a typical scripted show, eight to 20 editors might be cutting MasterChef at the same time. For example, in 2019 more than 20 editors delivered 40 episodes in one stretch between Masterchef 10 and Masterchef Junior 8.

Season 13 of the cooking competition series features top home cooks from four regions of the United Sates (Northeast, South, Midwest and West) who are aspiring to win $250,000 to help them reach their culinary dreams. This season, which includes a judging panel made up of Gordon Ramsay (who also hosts), Joe Bastianich and Aarón Sánchez, involved a dozen editors and three assistant editors to deliver the 20 42-minute episodes. “It is an incredibly well-run machine,” says Shock.

“They typically film for about a month of competitions to narrow it down to the three top finalists, and then a finale of the top three contestants going head to head. “On set, they usually have anywhere from nine to 18 cameras going at once in an industrial warehouse park in Los Angeles plus they usually go into the field for a couple episodes a year. There is a ton of footage to go through. It’s a little bit of the Henry Ford assembly-line model of editing in that we’ll have a group of editors that tend to cut all the ‘cooks’ and another group of editors to handle the judging and eliminations.

These editors leapfrog from episode to episode. Then we have an editor dedicated to cutting all the ‘previously on,’ ’tonight  on,’ ‘next time on,’ and they work on every episode. Lastly, we have a supervising editor who will work on every episode, making sure that once all the pieces of the show come together each feels consistent in style and tone. Our three assistant editors service  everybody, including the producers.”

For her part, Shock has primarily edited the judging sequences and contestant eliminations in the last few seasons. “When  the cooks bring their dishes to the judges to taste, they’re given praise or criticism. The judges go off to the side and they deliberate about who’s going to win, and who’s going to go home,” she explains of her duties. Each tasting is only going to be about a minute and a half in the final edit. “You’re trying to dial in what’s the most dramatic thing that the audience can see, but you’re still getting new information with each person that speaks.”

She also edits a ‘farewell package’ where you want the audience to feel positive about exiting contestants’ journey with the show. “We develop a fondness for certain characters, and hate to see them go, but that’s how the game is played.” Shock loves when they get a contestant who can offer editors interesting facial reactions or visual reactions to cut to in their timelines. “When Gordon Ramsay says something really cutting or deeply complimentary, you want the contestants reaction to be your avatar for the audience,” Shock explains.

Of the assistants on the series, she relates, “Assistant editors in unscripted are superhuman in the way they are able to wrangle hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of footage in an easy-toaccess manner. We can have contestants, plus three judges, plus a guest judge, plus a boom – that’s 25 mics and 18 cameras all grouped. I can go to my different banks and find exactly what I need, or feel confident that if it isn’t there, it doesn’t exist.”

Working remotely for the last three years, Shock edits from home while assistants are physically in a building with  two dozen Avids and banks of storage. The show’s assistants make sure that editors have unlimited access to all the footage and audio required for each episode and are responsible for doing all the outputs.

When building an episode, the first thing Shock receives is a string out of an act from a story producer that has been approved by the supervising producer. “These producers are part of our post team,” she says. “We interact with them on a daily basis. They were there when everything was filmed – so they know where all the ‘bodies were buried.’

They know what the storylines of the whole season are going to be, so they know the really broad story arcs of each episode. Not only that, when I need something to fill out a story or something doesn’t feel like its working, it’s the story producer I turn toto  collaborate with and find what I am missing.”

Once Shock receives her string out, she watches it and takes a mental note of how she responds to it as a viewer. “After that, I start digging into the edit. I’ll realize some of the interview bites are a little flat, or there’s a really funny aside comment or reaction that a contestant made that will really pay off the story line that I can incorporate,” she remarks.

She adds that as she gets to know the contestants, she starts digging into the copies of the transcripts. “I’m immediately trying to hear if there’s anything that says the same information, but ina much more interesting way. I’ll start playing with the interview bites and dig into what the judges are saying. I can hear the rhythm in my head and I can hear how I will cut the music or the reactions or the SFX to really land. The reverse is also true: Sometimes different people say the same thing, so let’s streamline that.

“I usually cut all my video first, and then I go back to the very beginning, and I’ll just listen to it over and over and make sure that it sounds like they’re talking naturally,” she continues. “I want to make sure I’ve built in air for breaths and for information to land, that the tone sounds right and the volume sounds right. Then, I’ll go back and I’ll start scoring it. We have an amazing library from all 13 seasons, including Juniors and MasterChef Australia.”

For music cues, MasterChef uses a scoring vendor, Bleeding Fingers Music, and the show’s picture editors add pieces of music to their sequences. “We are lucky enough to have entire libraries of stems for these compositions. If I want something very full I can use the complete orchestral version, but maybe that’s too busy for a quieter moment that’s happening, so I’ll just use the strings and percussion to help enhance the emotions of what ,is in the scene.” The editors will also add in sound effects. “We add in sounds of cooking, sizzle frying in grease,” Shock says. “We really want that kitchen to sound alive. So we’ve got a ton of cooking sound effects: mixers, pans clattering, flames, knives scraping and cutting.”

The standard notes process on the series is once she finishes a rough cut of an assigned act, she runs it back through her story  producer. Those notes are implemented and as other acts of an  episode are completed by the other editors on the team, the whole show comes together and is presented to a supervising producer who notes the entire show. Notes come back and are implemented and the show is sent further up the chain, repeating the notes process until an episode is sent to production company Endemol Shine North America, before going to the network.

“We get comparatively incredibly few notes back,” says Shock. “We’re very lucky, but also very respected by the network. They trust that this team knows how to deliver what they expect the show to be, even from a rough cut stage. It’s another reason I love working on this show. This entire team is such a well oiled machine and we know that we can step in at any time to help each other out on any part of the show. It might take me a week to cut an act, but maybe I do it in four days, so while I wait for notes a producer may assign me to do notes on a different episode, or cut a Gordon Ramsay cooking demo for an upcoming one. We trust each other to instantly understand what each episode should look and sound like no matter what we are working on.”

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