Greg Mulvey, Second City Communications
Posted Jun 10, 2011

Greg Mulvey is the Lead Editor and Motion Graphics Designer for Second City Communications, the business solutions division of Chicago's world-famous improv comedy theater, The Second City. (Alumni include Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, and Bill Murray to name a few.) Editing comedy is an art form, one that Greg admits he's still learning. Uninhibited creative exploration in editing is paramount to his process. A smooth workflow with few interrupions lets him concentrate on the story. He credits Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, and its integration with Final Cut (used by members of his staff), with freeing him to focus on the creative process without having to stop and start to wait for importing, exporting, and rendering to finish.

Back Story
His gig at Second City Communications is the culmination of a 15-year career in video production, which began in his junior year at Columbia University. It was the mid-1990s, a technological turning point when editing video on a computer was farily new. At Columbia, Greg trained on an Avid system, also using versions of Premiere and After Effects that were still in their infancy. "It's hard to remember a time where I wasn't using some form of an Adobe product," he says.

In 1999, while he was still in school, offered Greg a job as webcast director/editor/shooter. "My professors all told me I would be stupid to not take the opportunity!" So he left Columbia to produce live-streamed shows of major concerts. It was an exciting time to be streaming live, back in the day of 56K modems. At this time he traded his Windows-based machine and Premiere 6.5 for a Mac, and gave Apple's Final Cut Pro a shot. With no decent Adobe solution for Macs at the time, Final Cut was all the rage for desktop editing.

Shortly thereafter, Greg decided to officially register the businss he had started in high school, Presto Productions, as a bona fide business and acquire a steady sream of clients. Presto Productions was a company named for its main clientele: professional magicians. A former pro magician himself, Greg intended to produce a better quality video than the dry instructional and promotional videos that were being put out by magicians at the time.

Then, as always, Greg felt the pull of challenge of innovation. He recalls thinking, "It's being done one way. How can we flip it and do it differently?" He brought a cinematic feel to the videos and created DVD trailers that looked like real movie trailers. While editing video in Final Cut, Mulvey was still taking advantage of other Adobe appliations to create additional marketing pieces for magicians, such as Dreamweaver for websites. "Parts of Adobe were integrated into my career from the beginning," he says, because of their accessibility and usability. "Once I knew one program, it was pretty easy to figure out the others."

In 2004, now the owner of a Mac Pro, Greg was still using Final Cut Pro as his default editing tool, and he continued to use After Effects and Photoshop, almost on a daily basis. "Once you get used to something, you get in the habit of using what you know."

Greg's next stop was Las Vegas, where he lived and worked from 2004-09. Through Presto Productions, he consulted for a company called Penguin Management. There he produced training and promotional DVDs for magicians in addition to many magic-related television specials, including one 13-episode series that was shot internationally.

Second Coming
Having moved back to Chicago in 2009, Mulvey branched out his business to include wedding videos as a service. In the summer of 2010 he launched Presto Wedding Films, shooting with DSLRs. By now, due to its lack of integration with his other go-to apps, editing in Final Cut Pro was becoming too time-consuming. Adobe Production Premium, on the other hand, freed him to focus on being creative and telling the story. "At the end of the day, it's about telling stories. I am a visual storyteller, and Adobe gives me the tools to tell the story without getting in the way of my creative process."

What he appreciated most about his go-to suite at the time, Adobe CS4 Production Premium, was its Dynamic Link integration, especially with the amount of After Effects work he was doing. "I could do my work in After Effects and not have to deal with the whole importing, exporting, and rendering thing." It was a big creative block to get his edits out of After Effects and into Final Cut, since they didn't talk to each other. "I would do motion graphics, export them out as a QuickTime, bring them in to Final Cut, and hope that the client didn't have any changes," he says, adding, "which is rarely the case."

The obvious benefit to using Premiere was a time-saving one. "I could change things more quickly, especially on deadline. If a client wanted a last-minute change, I could jump into After Effects, make that change, and it would be updated in Premeire instantly."

At the time, Greg's workflow went like this: He would edit in Final Cut, then use Premiere Pro CS4 like a conduit or plug-in to get the footage out of Final Cut and into Premiere Pro. Once there, he used the Dynamic Link feature with After Effects. This allowed him to select, say, a clip from an opening graphic title sequce in wihin Premiere Pro and send it to After Affects. After Effects would open, he could make his changes, and then instantly switch back to Premiere to see the updates.

The benefit he hadn't anticipated was the creative freedom that it gave him. Now he could test out edits to see how they worked without having to go through that whole rendering, exporting, importing process.

When Adobe released CS5 Production Premium, making the switch to editing in Premiere Pro was a no-brainer. There was no waiting to ingest footage from P2 or DSLR, as with FCP.

By now Greg had made a name for himself. Last summer at WEVA Expo 2010, he took a call from Second City Communications, the corporate arm of the famed improv theater, who offered him a job, beginning in September 2010.

Second City Communications hires out their comedians to companies to inject humor and fun into workplace team-building activities, to sales training initiatives, or to just lighten up a meeting. "We do a lot of corporate work that you would think of as dry and boring, and we spice it up."

Three or four years ago they added video to the mix. So now rather than the actors actually going to a company's location, Second City Communications offers a full-service video production team including professional writers, actors, directors, sets, recording studios, DPs, and editors to create funny, custom corporate videos. These include both external, advertising-type videos and internal training videos. "We take topics like ethics and compliance and make them funny."

When Mulvey arrived at Second City Communications last fall, it was primarily a Final Cut-based studio. Since then he has shifted the studio to more of an Adobe-integrated studio. "Almost by accident I discovered how much more efficient the workflow was, how much faster Premiere Pro CS5 was than ever before." Most impressive was the ability to play things back in real time. In Final Cut, on the other hand, the same footage-especially greenscreen work or full HD-could take 25 minutes to render out. "When I'm compositing and color correcting, it's a big hit to wait and see what that looks like." In contrast, he says, "85% of the compositing I was doing in Premiere was perfect. The Ultra Key effect in CS5 allowed me to key so fast. I wouldn't have to make any other adjustments and it would play back in real time."

CS5.5 First Impressions
A beta tester for Adobe, Greg has been able to put Premiere Pro CS5.5 through its paces over the last few months with Second City Communications' latest productions. One one these, a live stage show called "Sex and the Second City, Version 2.0," featured interactive elements (a satellite appearance by Fred Willard), all done with CS5.5. Mulvey and his team also edited Nine Inch Nails' Another Version of the Truth 3-disc release in Premiere Pro CS5.5 and edited it in Adobe Encore.

Greg Mulvey, Second City Communications

With CS5.5's Mercury Playback Engine and its native 64-bit operating system support-along with its XML interchange with Final Cut-editing his projects exclusively in Premiere Pro CS5.5 just made sense. Greg was also thrilled to find that CS5.5 had added Dynamic Link integration for Adobe Audition. While he sends most of his work out to professional audio mixers, he appreciates being able to remove offending noises, like a whirring fan in the background of a production. With this new version, he can make his edits in Premiere Pro, send it to Audition via the Dynamic Link feature, remove the noise from the entire audio track, and send everything back to Premiere Pro.

While the rest of the editing team at Second City Communications is still most comfortable editing in Final Cut, Greg is fine with it since he can simply import their Final Cut edits right into Permiere Pro. "We use Final Cut at the initial, rought-cut phase and finish everything in the Adobe ecosystem."

Now that word has spread about Second City Communications, the company is starting to do more forward-facing, B2C work with ad agencies. One recent project was a social media collaboration with Seattle's Best Coffee, a Starbucks subsidiary. Facebook users who "liked" Seattle's Best gained access to a live 24-hour Second City improv comedy event. They were able to feed suggestions to the improv performers. Mulvey and his team immediately cut, edited, and posted the sketches to the user's Facebook page.

Mulvey prides himself on using tools for good reason, not just because of a brand name. "I've always tested the waters to see what's out there and what will let me tell stories better and faster, what will give me more creative control," he says.

Greg Mulvey, Second City Communications

"At the end of the day," Greg says, "I'm a storyteller. And I'm going to use those tools that will help me tell those stories." Today, that tool is Adobe Creative Suite CS5.5 Production Premium-which, he adds, runs seamlessly on his Macbook Pro. "Teamed up with my Matrox MXO2, I have a powerful portable edit station with all the I/O I need, as well as super fast H.264 creation." Whether editing an improv sketch or a wedding, he says, "This setup is perfect for doing same-day edits when fast turnaround is important."

Liz Merfeld ( is a freelance writer and editor based in Madison, Wis.