Hanging out at the offices of the Transcription Co.
feels like roaming the halls of a freshman dorm. Young men and women quickly
walk from one suite to the next along a second-story terrace, doing the business
of documenting much of what Hollywood produces for television.
Inside the suites, dozens of employees are flanked by high-end PCs with customized word-processing software, sophisticated video decks that automatically time code each tape and small gray television screens so they can see what it is they're transcribing.
Many of these 100-word-a-minute typists and expert proofreaders aspire to write, produce or act in the very shows they're transcribing. They work at the Transcription Co. because of its flexible scheduling (open 24 hours) and its competitive pay (commonly $15 per hour).
The largest business of its kind in Los Angeles, the Transcription Co. transforms every word on the hundreds of videotapes it receives daily into meticulous scripts. The Internet plays a key part in the business, used not only to deliver transcripts by e-mail but also, increasingly, raw footage from production companies arriving in digital format.
"We swap a lot of digital files over the Internet and will do even more as the industry moves in that direction," company owner Rich Brownstein said.
Brownstein, who admits with pride that he's a self-taught techie, said voice-recognition software soon will be integrated into the Transcription Co.'s data systems. He's evaluating various software suites.
Each script that leaves the office has an index, a table of contents and time codes next to each quote. The first two of those features are extras and appear compliments of proprietary computer programming by Brownstein.
The index was a request from a frustrated production coordinator at television's "Inside Edition," whose boss made her index every transcript Brownstein delivered. The table of contents came to be after Brownstein asked a client in his dry, sarcastic manner, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" The answer: "Yes, you can add a table of contents."
Brownstein's venture has grown sevenfold during the past 2 1/2 years and to 500 clients from five clients in 3 1/2 years. In the beginning, he had one client and his house was his office. Today, his clients include every major studio in Hollywood and such non-entertainment customers as the Reagan Foundation, Microsoft Corp. and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"I've sent the Transcription Co. 3,000 master tapes since February," said [the] senior production coordinator at company customer New York-based ESPN Classic. "And that doesn't include the 6,000-8,000 tapes I sent for the series on the greatest athletes of the century."
[He] said there are plenty of transcription companies in New York he could send his business to but he prefers the Burbank-based Transcription Co. "They're just as quick, and the price is fair," he said.
Of the 11,000 tapes he has sent to them, only one has been lost, [he] said. "And that was the fault of the courier," he said. "The box ripped, and one of three tapes fell out. I only got two back."
Other clients include VH1, ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Access Hollywood."
"Say these producers have 20 or 30 hours of tape," Brownstein said. "You can't easily edit that volume of footage into 48 minutes. We give producers transcripts that tell them who was speaking, what they said and exactly where on the tape they said it. We shave hours off the production process."
Many of the interviews seen on TV pass through the Transcription Co.'s seven Beta cam, 60 VHS and half-dozen digital video decks.
Tapes are transcribed in various formats: Some are word-for-word transcripts only of what was said, others are continuity scripts, which include sound effects and actions taken by those speaking, and there are "as-broadcast" scripts of unrehearsed and unscripted shows.
"Just like General Motors doesn't make tires, production companies don't make transcripts," Brownstein said. "There are certain companies the industry depends on. We're lucky enough to be one of them."