I’d wanted to do this for decades, but the enormity scared me away. But with my YouTube channel approaching 100 million views, and wanting to commemorate it in a significant way, I figured if not now, when? I had the resources and the means that no one else had, so it was for me to take this on.
The original concept was to include images of Dave at his desk from every late night show he had hosted from 1982 until 2015. That meant scanning through the video files to select 6,028 images from both his Late Nights (1982-93) and Late Shows (1993-2015). After weighing the task vs. my sanity, I decided to scale it back to just the Late Night era, so just 1,810 shows. Still, I’m calling this “Part 1,” so maybe the Late Show era will follow at some point, like, say, when the channel someday reaches 200 million views.
The other plan was to include every show-image of Paul in the upper right and the band in the lower left. But, again, sanity.
With the scope now more manageable, I began scanning through every Late Night, searching for the typical Dave expression — not too extreme, not too tame, though I did include a few goofy expressions as well as other images. The aim was to select shots of Dave looking directly at the camera. I later discovered that there were a few where he was instead looking at the cue cards positioned directly under the camera, as seen below, but they were fleeting, so I let them go:
The image order was based on when the show was taped, not when it was broadcast. There were a number of shows — especially in the earlier years — that aired out of sequence from when they were taped, the most extreme being Show #531, taped April 3, 1985, but not broadcast until six months later on October 29. It had been set aside to be transformed into graphic animation. But the project was eventually scrapped, and so the original video finally aired instead.
And, yes, every show, including January 16, 1991 (#1416), the night the first Gulf War broke out with news coverage preempting all regular programming. The show never aired, and there’s reason to believe that I may now have the only copy.
Searching and selecting appropriate screen-captures took a full month. “Tedious” doesn’t begin to describe the slog. Here’s a screen-capture of the computer directory, looking at the screen-capture for Show #71, June 3, 1982:
Next was fixing the color. The shows all came from different sources, from poor- to pristine-video quality, and the hues bounced all over the place. So each image had to go through the color-correction wash in Photoshop. Not having any training, I struggled to come up with acceptable improvements.
Here are some of the more successful Before/After images:
With the images now prepared as best I could came the next stage: placing them into a video editor. I used iMovie 9 for its relative simplicity. Instead of importing every image into one iMovie file, which would have slowed the processing down considerably, I instead chose the modular approach, creating one file per show year. Here’s what the first 42 images from 1982 looked like when imported into iMovie:
All images were timed at 1 second each, along with a 1-second cross-fade. Exceptions for the first and last, which were set at 4 and 3.5 seconds, respectively, and no cross-fade for the last image. That file was then processed into a 5 1/2-minute video. Here’s what all of the 1982 images looked like after being processed and re-inputted into iMovie:
I then sped up the processed 5 1/2-minute file 500%, which would reduce the duration to just over 1 minute:
After placing the year chyron in position, I processed that into yet another file, now done for 1982. I then set it aside and repeated the inputting/processing sequences for the remaining 10 1/2 years of the show. (This all took considerable trial-and-error until I found what worked to my satisfaction. Also, I had considered ID’ing every image by show number and broadcast date, but I couldn’t guarantee that the placements would be seamless from one image to the next, and, once again, sanity. So I limited it to just the year.)
It was at this point when I realized that all of the color-correction done in Photoshop had been negated when processed through iMovie, so I gave up tweaking everything to “perfection.” The images were what they were.
With all 11 1/2 years now processed at 500% and chyroned with their respective year, I then combined them into one new iMovie file, the “Final Build” (more on that below).
The next stage involved the soundtrack. Except for the 1982 broadcast performance of “Green Onions,” I used music never heard outside the studio. And made sure the timings fit:
1. “Late Night Theme,” Close, then the Open edited in at the end. From January 20, 1982, the first “shakedown show,” and the first time the theme was ever heard. A cooler, “downtown” jazzy feel. The harmonic twist that transposed the theme to a new tonic center (right before what would later become a consistent 10-beat count) was missing here. That wouldn’t be added until the fourth Late Night in early February.
2. “Green Onions.” From April 28, 1982, broadcast.
3. “Late Night Theme,” Close. From December 6, 1982, post-tape. This was found in one of my source tapes.
4. “The Way It Is.” From September 11, 1990, mid-show music break. With a snippet edited in near the beginning from Late Show, December 2, 1993, to fill in the brief silence when the picture went dark. Both with Bruce Hornsby, who sat in with the band on both shows.
5. “Late Night Theme,” Close. From April 20, 1983, here with the full ending that had been cut off when broadcast.
6. “Late Night Theme,” Open. From February 6, 1992, the 10th anniversary special at Radio City Music Hall, here without Bill Wendell’s announcement voice-over.
The last stage involved add-ons preceding and following the main event, the last clips from both aired and unaired videos, with audio extracted from still more unaired material. The audio doesn’t sync with the video, because they’re from entirely different shows, but I wanted to include material never previously seen or heard.
The source material:
1. Prologue chat with Dave and Paul from December 21, 1989, broadcast.
2. Empty desk from May 18, 1982, broadcast.
3. End of faces montage empty desk from March 27, 1992, broadcast.
Epilogue audio and videos:
a. Bill Wendell video from February 23, 1982, Cold Open “Audience Point of View” broadcast.
b. Bill Wendell audio from June 20, 1983, post-tape, extremely low volume, raised here.
c. Dave video from April 18, 1983, post-tape.
d. Dave audio from January 7, 1983, post tape.
Here’s a two-part screen-shot of what the “Final Build” looks like in iMovie, each “Faces” file at 500% comprising every Late Night year (you’ll notice that the 1988 file is shorter due to the prolonged mid-year writers strike):
This isn’t as polished as I would like, but that’s what happens when one takes on a project with near-zero expertise. I hope I’ve done some justice to the upcoming 100-million-views milestone, a number I never imagined when I began this adventure.
This is dedicated to Pam, who would have loved the concept, regardless the execution.