ART OF THE CUT with “Straight Outta Compton”‘s editor Billy Fox

Billy XCUBilly Fox, ACE has been nominated numerous times for Emmys for his editorial and producing work and won an Emmy as a producer for “Law and Order.” In addition to “Law and Order” he has edited “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” “Wings,” “Chicago Fire” and “Band of Brothers.” Beyond his impressive TV credits, he has edited several features including, “Hustle and Flow,” “Four Brothers,” “The Crazies,” and “Black Snake Moan.” Today, Art of the Cut is talking to him about his last feature, “Straight Outta Compton” which was nominated for Best Original Screenplay by AMPAS (the Oscars).

HULLFISH: To jump right in at the start, I loved the sound design at the beginning of the movie. How and why was that sound used?

FOX: That’s a good first question because sound is equally important to me as the picture editing. I spend an incredible amount of time and use a lot of tracks to support that and I believe in as polished and finished audio as the perfect edit. It is part of the edit. And so usually what I’ll do is start a scene and get it to a certain place where I’m relatively happy with it and then I go into a sound (room?) for a little bit and I’ll build the bed and rough out some specific stuff and then I’ll go back into editing and I do that back and forth a number of times so they kind of meet together at a completion. So much of it is the timing and the pacing – and whatever sound designs may happen at the end of scene dictate the pacing and rhythm going into the next scene. Because so much of the selling of the movie – to the director or the producers, then to the studio or network – is their approval, I want them to see something that’s as polished as possible. So sound is a hugely important factor in my editing.

HULLFISH: Did you start out cutting film originally?

FOX: No. I have never cut film. I came from an electronic background. I originally worked at a television station in San Diego, then I came up to Los Angeles, working at NBC/Burbank, New York, and then different edit facilities on-lining and off-lining.

SOC2HULLFISH: That’s exactly how I came up. The interesting thing to me is – with the expansion of non-linear editing – I assume you’re on Avid?

FOX: I had been cutting Avid, then I peeled off and cut on Final Cut for about eight years and then, just recently, went back to Avid because things are in such an upside down state. Avid is a good old truck and it gets the job done, but it is so far behind FCP-X and Premiere. Even FinalCutPro7… I think those are great systems.

HULLFISH: I co-edited my first feature, “Courageous” in FCP7, that was in 2010. Then “War Room” from last year we cut in Avid. Now I’m cutting an indie feature in Premiere. It’s working, but I haven’t gone out to DI with that yet, though that’s soon.

FOX: Premiere is cool. Actually, my wife works for Adobe, so she’s constantly asking, “Why aren’t you on Premiere?” I just don’t have a reason why I should switch. I have to have a reason. If I go to a studio or a director, I have to tell them, “This is the reason why it would be better for the movie to go to this NLE… this would be the advantage.” So she hooked me up with the product manager and he came to my edit room while I was on “Straight Outta Compton” and we sat for two hours and never turned on the system. It was just talk. And to make a long story short, I came away with five or six really powerful features that I could sell. Probably the biggest for me was sub-mixes in Premiere. Because I edit with my dialogue, effects and music and I run tons of tracks. But to be able to have a sub-mix of my entire effects track, or a sub-mix of all the dialogue tracks or music? That is HUGE. And no one else does that.

SOC3HULLFISH: I was going to ask about that since you said you were on Avid and sound was so important to you. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from multiple editors that I’ve interviewed for Art of the Cut is that there aren’t enough audio tracks in Avid. How do you feel about Avid’s audio capabilities? In their latest release they finally made the big leap to 64 tracks, but when you cut “Straight Outta Compton” you would have only had 24.

FOX: Yes, the lack of adding tracks is frustrating but it’s also horrible that you have to designate a track as either stereo or mono. It drives me crazy that you can only throw one filter onto a given audio track. You can add EQ in the filter, but if you want to add three different filters you have to mix it down. Avid owns ProTools! Really? The number of tracks drives me crazy. I’m normally running tracks and that’s a compromise because it’s an Avid thing. Four dialogue at the top, four music at the bottom, then all these effects in the middle.

HULLFISH: That’s exactly how I do it.

FOX: I need more tracks. And I have to designate four of them to be stereo and four to be mono. Well, what happens if I have more stereo? I’m always playing this game of changing effects from stereo to mono to make it work. Really not acceptable.

SOC4HULLFISH: I’ve heard people say, “Needing more than 24 track is crazy! Why do you need that many?” But the 16 tracks that you have is all the tracks you’re using as the picture editor, but then you start receiving mixed tracks from the sound editors and the music editors and you have to put those stems on their own separate tracks so you still have the original production or temp tracks available. And that’s not counting presence or surround ambience or any of that. So you can easily get well over 24 stereo tracks, and that’s being economical with it. I’m so thankful Avid has added 40 more tracks. They were so needed.

FOX: That’s where, in FCP7, I was normally running 24 tracks. Mono or stereo didn’t matter. Then when we would get further into post and we would get temp dubs stems – and as you said, the composer would be sending us music alts and sometimes they were six tracks wide, I would push out to 36 or 40 tracks. It was no problem at all. The other thing about Avid that drives me crazy is how user-hostile it is with surround sound. They’ve included it to a degree, but it’s your typical Avid way of Scotch-taping it in. It’s there kind of, but it’s pretty kludgy. It’s actually so awkward on “Straight Outta Compton” I didn’t really need surround, but I did want to be in “left-center-right” with dialogue in the middle. It just fought me so much that I bailed on it. I went back to an LT-RT. I do run it so that if I run a preview right out of the system I do it so that I have a center track. My dialogue is always in my first four tracks. It works but…

HULLFISH: Before we get into the art of the editing, which I really want to get to, you mentioned that there were about five things in Premiere that you really liked, that you could sell. You mentioned sub-mixes. What else?

FOX: One of them is – in FCP7 – I really loved the concept of Final Cut Studio with a suite of apps for sound, effects and color. In Premiere, they have Dynamic Linking.

SOC5HULLFISH: Yup.

FOX: I haven’t used it, but I love that concept of bouncing stuff back and forth between apps without a lot of exports is potentially very powerful, if they do it the way I’d like it. My issue with that linking is that I still need the original in the timeline somewhere so when we do the real “optical” (VFX handoff) we can hand it off properly.  So I love that concept of quickly doing more complicated visual effects in After Effects. I came from – in my on-line days – doing visual effects.

HULLFISH: So sub-mixes and Dynamic Linking.

FOX: Color correction is infinitely more powerful than Avid’s. Actually the color correction in FCP-X is excellent also.

I love color correction. I really enjoyed Color when Apple incorporated that. I even have a Euphonix color board sitting right in front of me. Unfortunately there’s only so much time in the day.

HULLFISH: I’ll have to send you my last color correction book, “The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction.”  To get back: sub-mixes, Dynamic Linking, color…

(can you write a toss to this comment regarding timeline continuously running.)

FOX: It’s a little thing but it’s a big thing and FCP-X does it superbly and Avid doesn’t do it at all, and this is the biggest thing that drives me crazy: on an Avid, when you hit play you’re locked out. You can’t scroll, you can’t do anything. In FCP7 you can. You can go over and look at your files, scroll the timeline, you can do almost anything. In FCP-X, I did this by accident, I was watching a scene I had cut in FCP X and a piece of music that I had cut in had volumed out, but the tail was hanging WAY out so I was just watching the timeline and I reached over and grabbed the tail and I just scooted it over – trimmed the tail – and the timeline never stopped. It kept playing. Then I started – in real time – moving titles around while the timeline played. This is fantastic.

SOC6HULLFISH: Premiere is pretty much the same way.

FOX: I figure I lose a little less than a day a week with an Avid. About an hour a day.

HULLFISH: Let’s get to the art of editing. I noticed that the opening scenes are longer shots… the guy pulling up to the drug house in the car, pulling the gun out of the trunk. When Easy walks to the drug house. The shots are longer. The tension starts to build. Then the cops show up and the pacing changes completely. You set up one pace with another pace. Talk to me about that.

FOX: Well, it’s interesting, that scene was a real fun scene for me to cut, because it’s a wonderful introduction to the Easy character. I liked being on the back of his head. You don’t really know who he is initially. To set the tone and to set the tension and to know that the viewer really doesn’t know what’s going on. “I guess it’s a drug deal, but…” And then to make that change when the battering ram comes around the corner then blasts through the door. It just changed the rhythm completely. It was fun. And it didn’t really change a lot from my initial cut. It’s very much the same.

HULLFISH: Was it a conscious thought to pace the first scene slower so it would contrast with the next scene being so hectic and fast? Or was it just about pacing each scene where they should naturally be without consideration of what would follow?

FOX: The pacing was dictated by the scenes themselves. Also, remember that the order of the scenes may not have come in in that order anyway, so I may have edited scene 92 then scene 26. So it’s all scattered.

HULLFISH: True.

SOC7FOX: We started shooting in August. I probably didn’t see a string-out of the whole movie until November or the end of October.

HULLFISH: While we’re talking about it, give me the rough schedule for the movie. When did principle photography start? When did it end? When did you have a cut to show to the director? When did you lock and go to mix and DI? And when did you get the gig?

FOX: My agent and I had been following this for a year or more. He was staying in touch with the producers. I really have admired Gary’s work before. I think he’s a very interesting filmmaker. So we started shooting the first of September 2014. In March of 2014 I get a phone call from my agent and he says, “The Straight Outta Compton” people – Adam Merims was the producer – and he said, “They just shot a bunch of screen tests with different actors and about four different scenes and they want to know if you’re interested in going over to Gary’s house and cut them together?” It was about 3 in the afternoon, and I said, “Sure. When do they want me to go over? Monday?” And he said, “No. They want you over there right now.” (laughter) So, I just said, “OK. Yeah!” And I went over there and edited with Gary for two nights. We edited until about 4 in the morning that first night and there were about 4 scenes and 4 or five different actor combinations, so there were about 30 scenes to cut. Adam figures this out so he brought over a couple of other editors. I was sitting at Gary’s dining room table on my laptop and there was another editor somewhere else on the other side of the house and a third somewhere else. The three of us started editing scenes. I got a scene to a place where I was happy with it and showed it to Gary and he says, “Whoah! You know how to cut this.” (laughter) I said, “I guess. I didn’t think of it that way.” So he tells me to keep going. So we had a really nice two days and told Gary I had a great time and said goodbye. I didn’t hear from them for months. I thought it had kind of drifted away and all of a sudden, three weeks or a month before shooting, I get a phone call and he says, “You’re in.”

HULLFISH: You co-edited, right? Were any of the other guys the guys that were in that house that night?

SOC8FOX: No, just me. One was Tom Cross who did “Whiplash” and he went on to “Joy.” So we start shooting on the first of September 2014 and it was about a two month shoot. Every director is different. I’ve done three films with Craig Brewer and he doesn’t want to see much. With Craig we would talk every two or three weeks. We talk if there’s an issue, or sometimes on the weekend. I usually send Craig an output of where I stand on a Friday and sometimes he looks at it, but more times than not, he doesn’t. He’s in the shooting zone and that’s cool. Gary is the exact opposite.  He wants to see scenes as quickly as possible. He wants the stuff he shot yesterday cut today, so we would output for him on a daily basis. We would post up to PIX (digital dailies system). It wasn’t that he gave me notes; it just fueled him and it gave him ideas.

HULLFISH: I was cutting on set and showing scenes shot in the morning before dinner to the director on “War Room.”

FOX: Somebody asked me if I preferred to edit on location or did I prefer to stay in L.A.? And I said, “I prefer to do whatever helps the director.” To me, it doesn’t really matter. I can argue either side. I think it’s better for me to be in L.A. because I can be more efficient. But it’s also nice to be near the director and get more inside. When I said I was hired only a month before the shoot, they’ve written the script. They have it so deep in their bloodstream They know its heartbeat. Oftentimes for me, it takes a while before I really start to understand  characters and arcs and all of the nuances that you don’t necessarily get on the first reading. So, whatever works for the director. They finished shooting after two months and I had two or three weeks to get an editor’s cut out. There was a lot of film. My editor’s cut was three hours and thirty six minutes.

HULLFISH: Ho! (laughs)

SOC9FOX: Three hours and thirty six minutes. It was three hours and thirty six minutes and it played. Yes, it did feel like a very long movie, but it was very enjoyable. I deliver the movie to Gary and we went to town. Gary would give me notes and then sometimes he would stay with me and hang in the back of the room and I would put on headsets and go through notes and sometimes he would just peel out. I would say, “Gary, I have enough notes here to last me days. Just go and I’ll call you.” At this point, Micheal Tronick wasn’t on board. So we did that for about three or four months and then the Universal saw it for the first time at a preview. We got a 98, which the studio was quite thrilled about and then we edited more and previewed it again. We were originally scheduled to lock picture and finish the mix in April. I talked to the head of post for Universal Pictures – Greg McRichey – and said, “You know this will never happen. You need to give me a drop dead date in the summer when we need to deliver because I can tell you we’re going to come right up against it. I think we hit theaters August 17th and he said, “Your date is July.” And I said, “OK, we’ll be fine.” We did another preview and got a 94. We were now sitting at about two hours and forty five minutes without credits. Gary, Cube and Dre loved the movie, but they didn’t want to cut it anymore so the studio brought in Micheal Tronick. Michael became kind of the studio editor, so to speak, but then he’d peel over and work with me when he was between doing the studio notes. Gary wanted to lock the movie at two hours and forty five minutes. That was a version he loved and I told him, “Gary, they’re never going to let us lock at two forty five.” Gary and I would work on scenes and spend a whole day working on a specific scene and we’d both be happy with the new version. He would call me a couple days later and say, “I was looking at the editor’s cut of that scene and the older version’s better. Put it back.” You know, before the movie started I was worried. I mean, with Dre and Cube, this is their story and they’re two powerful people at the peak of the careers right now and it could be a problem. But to make a long story short, they were fantastic. There were occasionally times when he or Cube would say, “You gotta leave that in” but they were very good about it. They both were very smart.

HULLFISH: I love to talk about the musicality of editing. Even when you’re not editing with music or to music or a so-called musical scene, there’s still phrasing and pacing and rhythm.

Please click “NEXT” below to continue reading the interview.


FOX: It’s an interesting thing. Because music is such a huge part of what I like to do, this film was an interesting challenge because it had what I think of as three layers: You have the NWA music and its edginess and what NWA is. Then you have a tremendous amount of “source:” the stuff that’s coming out of the radio and the stuff being played in the background and that sets the tone and sets the time and place. There’s nothing better than watching a scene and you hear that song and it takes you back and it completely puts a time-stamp on it and it’s a great thing. So the challenge is, “Where does the score sit and what is the voice of the score? What is the score going to be and how does it sit in so that it’s the right proportion to the other two big elements?” Universal was gracious enough to give me a music editor. I normally don’t have a music editor until the director’s cut. I pick all the music and I cut all the music. In this case, I don’t know if they saw it as an issue, but I had a music editor by the name of Jason Rudder – great guy – and we spent literally months trying cues, the right orchestration, the right organic-ness, the elements that would ultimately be the tone of the score throughout the movie. We struggled for a long time. Then we hit on some scores that fit. It was the choices that went through all the previews and what the studio saw and it served its purpose until the composer came along.

SOC10HULLFISH: I would assume that you are getting initial picture cut on a scene before you’re trying temp.

FOX: Correct. I would cut the scene to a certain place and even if I’m not done with the scene, I would have my assistant send Jason a cut so he could start chewing on it. Then he would send back three or four cues and I’d find something, “Oh this is cool. I LIKE this, but I don’t like this instrumentation down here.” And he’s so good that he’d take care of it. Part of it was finding that voice. Once we found the voice, things just fell into place. I like cues that are supportive of the scene but in no way do they tell you how to feel. I don’t like cues that lead the emotion and I don’t like cues that over-dramatize the scene. Hopefully, the drama is really coming from the scene. It supports the scene, so I’m not looking for any ginormous swells in emotional moments. If it’s not on the screen, you got a problem. I’m a firm believer of playing it dry. I lean towards no music.

HULLFISH: I love talking about music and temp, but I was going more for a discussion of the analogy of musicality to the cutting pace and rhythms of the visual editing itself. You can watch a scene and feel the rhythm and sense the phrasing without music at all.

FOX: There is a great clip from Orson Wells talking about editing. He quotes Carlyle saying, “Anything you analyze close enough turns out to be musical.’ It’s that old thing that I find so fascinating about music that you have a scene and it’s working up to a point, then it’s not working. So you work it some more until that part works. But if you don’t watch the whole scene when you’re fixing the end that’s not working, you can screw up the musical rhythm. Sometimes it only takes moving an edit by one frame and the rhythm is back. It’s like, when I do add a musical cue, very rarely do I start adjusting picture edits because of a hit on music. What I find fascinating, and I don’t know the real reason for this, as if you’re doing the editing on an internal music rhythm – music is not included yet – then you add what you think is the right cue, it’s amazing how often the edits just fall right in line. It’s as if you cut it to the music.  Not all of them, but a lot of them. Or you have to find another cue because the first one’s not working, but it’s too bad because the beats were hitting at the right place. But when you find another cue you find that the other piece works the same way. I don’t believe in being really on the nose with stuff – re-cutting stuff where I trim things so it hits the beat. Maybe on a scene change, if a swell is happening a little too early, but more times than not, I’ll adjust the music instead of the picture.

HULLFISH: In another interview I did, maybe it was Kirk Baxter, he said, if you cut the scene properly, there’s something about the mathematics that the music will work afterwards just as if you cut to the music in the first place.

FOX: That’s right. It has always been fascinating to me. You’re cutting to a rhythm – an internal music – and the mathematics work out.

HULLFISH: I did an essay on rhythm and timing and the internal clock that editors have to say, “This is when to cut.”

HULLFISH: How do you like your assistants to set up your bins for you? Do you use ScriptSync?

FOX: Funny about ScriptSync, I always wanted to try ScriptSync… but for some reason it never happened. It looks interesting though. Basically, every scene is in its own folder. In terms of how I like them to organize my world, I prefer my assistants give me media with just the one mix track inst

SOC11

ead of all of the production sound. My assistant sets it up so that if I’m editing along and I want to get back to the splits, I do a match-frame and match-frame again and all of the other tracks appear. But I prefer not having all those tracks with me all the time. They just get in the way. It’s kind of a pain. Another thing I enjoy having is that on each take the start of performance has a marker. And if there is a pick-up, it will get a mark. I can look at the t

ake and see how many versions are there and can quickly get to them.

HULLFISH: And how are bins set up?

FOX: I like Text view. Sometimes I keep it in Frame view, but I find that’s more of a pain. I used to use this technique: I would go through every take and I would literally do a per

formance cut: the same single line over and over from every setup and take. It was the most incredibly time-consuming thing. Lately I don’t do that anymore.

HULLFISH: You would do that? Everybody I’ve ever talked to hands that off to an assistant.

FOX: No. I would do it.

HULLFISH: What?!!! You gotta delegate, man! (laughs)

FOX: I know. But now I don’t even do that. I just go through the performances. How do I really cut a scene? Everything is printed, so I’ll look at all of it – circled take or not. Even if the director said he loved the last take, does it really mean that he loves every performance and every moment in th

e whole take? What does a printed take really mean? So I do recognize the fact that the director liked that take, so I’m conscious to see what’s good in it, but in no way do I feel obligated to necessarily use that as my money take. Building the first cut of a scene is probably my least favorite part of editing. Building the body: finding the takes that you kind of like even if there’s no rhythm to it, it’s just a performance cut and it’s ugly as shit, I hate that process. But once I have a body: a beginning, middle and an end, now I resettle in my chair and I go to town. I start working from the top and I know this is good and I’m working the rhythm of the scene and then I go to the top and do it again and again and then I work on some reactions. Then “Oh, I’m not liking this take now.” It’s just a process. I look at it like a sculptor where you just have a glob of clay and you add an arm and take a step back and then add another arm and I just build it that way. Now that I have a whole body with a head a body and two arms I can start finessing and that’s where the real magic starts. I don’t come away from dailies knowing what takes I’m going to use. My mind doesn’t work that way. I just start and the momentum will dictate what I should or shouldn’t do.

HULLFISH: Do you find that the most important part of just starting is finding that first shot? Where does the scene start? What shot does the scene start on?

FOX: No. Not necessarily. The eventual first shot often show it’s face later in the process. But I do have a neuroses, which is a wild one: Almost every scene I start to cut, for as long as I’ve edited, I think “This is the scene that is going to do me in. I’m not going to be able to figure out this scene. I won’t be able to do it.

HULLFISH: I think that’s every editor in the world. It’s a rough way to live.

FOX: I get a scene where I’m relatively happy with it and what I often times do is I go back to dailies and I create a sequence that I call “Golden Moments.” I go back into dailies and I just start to re-look at it with a different eye. Certainly I know the footage better. I know the scene better. I know the characters better. I’m looking at performances, but that’s not the number one thing. I’m looking for moments – that’s why it’s “Golden Moments.” It can be a head turn. It can be someone dropping their hand. It’s little beats that I really think are cool or interesting. I’ll come away with – depending on the scene – 20 or 30 little moments.

HULLFISH: Great!

FOX: Now I go back into the scene and I take those 20 elements and I try to put them in. I know, “This is great, where he turns his head…” and I try it, but I see that this is right when he says ‘such and such,’ so I can’t use it. Throw it away. And I find of the 20, I probably only use four or five, but that’s the way it works. You wish you could put in more, but you have to be true to the drama. Beautiful shots or interesting photography are bullshit if they’re ultimately taking away from the drama.

HULLFISH: Amen. Preach it brother.

SOC12FOX: So if you have a way to include some of them and they punctuate something or they somehow make a transition or they help you, that’s a good thing. But if it’s just a beautiful rack of a focus and it is just masturbation on the screen, get rid of it. Don’t need it. Sometimes the director will say, “Oh I had a great shot where the thing…” and I say, “Yeah, I know. I saw it. I tried to put it in and it didn’t work.” And he’ll say, “Come on, let’s try it.” I’ll sit there and try it and he’ll say, “Kind of doesn’t work does it?” “No.”

HULLFISH: Gotta kill your babies.

FOX: Some think that editing is the technique of wide shot to a close up to another close up to a wide shot and you pick the right takes and that’s what editing is all about. I don’t think that’s what editing is at all. I think to any good editor, that’s like breathing. You better know how to do that. If you can’t do that, you have no business doing it. An editor’s job is more akin to what a publishing editor is: how can we make the story better. You know?

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about story. In what ways does the editor help the film as a storyteller? We maybe give script notes, but how – with a cut – does the editor become storyteller?

FOX: Oftentimes in a script they need a certain line of dialogue that explains something or makes something clear so the story is sold. But now you’ve hired good caliber actors, who really know their shit, and it’s up to a good editor to realize, “We don’t need that line anymore because this actor was so good that I already know that information. We don’t need that line because the audience is crystal clear.” And in fact, by including that line, you’re slowing the story down and making it less emotional. You needed to have it at some point but you don’t need it now. I love the technique in editing where you eliminate a whole chunk and you think, “We can’t lose that, it’s so important” but you try and then you say, “Wow. A) I don’t miss it. and B) I get it.” That’s one of the fascinating things about storytelling in editing: how much you can communicate by saying so little.

HULLFISH: I saw a bunch of producing credits on your IMDB.COM page. Is your ability as an editor to be a storyteller what pulled you in to producing or is it some other skill set?

FOX: It’s another skill set. I had been editing on Law and Order for four or five years and an opportunity presented itself to become an associate producer and sit in the edit suite and work the edits with the editors and what I love about editing is the whole concept of post-production. As you said earlier, I love color correction. I love the dub stage. I love working with composers. I like that whole process because I think all of those parts are part of the edit. When I’m editing, I’m already thinking about the color correction and I’m thinking about how we’re going to mix it on the stage. And I’m thinking about how I’m going to communicate this musically and “at this moment I want this and at that moment I want that…” Working as a producer afforded that opportunity to take things to more of a completion. I was also interested on a business level and an administrative level to be able to run a post-production department, to be able to stay on budget, deal with the studios. I learned a tremendous amount about politics and how it all works. It was a great learning experience even though I don’t really produce that much any more. The tools I learned from that period I use daily.

HULLFISH: I do producing on a small scale and I find that my editing knowledge is critical to producing because you know what you need to have in the edit suite at the end of the project.

FOX: Correct. Correct. You know the whole scope of things. You know when something changes you have enough experience to say, “This is how much time that’s going to take and this is what we’re going to need and this is what it will cost and what we’re going to need to do.

HULLFISH: Can you look at some scenes and tell us anything about the editing of those? Your thought process? What makes them good? What the difficulties or challenges were?

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_04_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.

FOX: This scene was improvised when shooting. Gary shot a ton of material and deviated greatly from the script. I tried to build it in a way that things just start going wrong. And then it got worse and worse. It was one of those scenes that played better with no music. If music is added it actually takes away from the drama. Leaving it dry makes it more uncomfortable. Probably my  favorite scene in the movie.

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_01_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.

First time we meet Dre and first time we set up the family relationship. A delicate scene because it could so easily become melodramatic. I tried to keep the Mother hard but with a loving heart. Only wants the best for her son.

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_06_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.

Definitely embraced my news cutting experience. Embraced the hand held camera movement. Looked for shots that had focus issues to give more of an edge. I enjoyed cutting this scene.

Easy E boys in the hood

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_03_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.

Great scene. I used my experience from a very similar scene that I cut in ‘Hustle and Flow’. Same rhythms. I cut it with a serious tone and lightness. Fun.

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_05_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.

Keeps the energy going. A lot of this scene was cut by my assistant Adoma Firempong. Really fun and speaks volumes to the growth of NWA. A tremendous turning point in the movie.

straight-outta-compton-StraightOuttaCompton_Epk_FilmClip_02_h264_hd from Steve Hullfish on Vimeo.This scene went through a lot of changes. A one point it was possibly being lifted from the movie. But Cube felt it was important to show this viewpoint.

HULLFISH: Was there something that inspired you to become an editor? A film or TV show maybe?

FOX: My passion for editing comes from a love of film, old and new. A desire to tell stories in interesting and hopefully different ways.

HULLFISH: You’re probably a voting member of various organizations that have awards in the film and TV industry. How do you judge good editing? How can you look at 10 movies and determine the best edited movie or TV show?

FOX: That’s a very interesting question. My personal viewpoint on that is that I look for something that’s different. Most all the submitted work is good. But I look for the technique that’s a bit different. It’s what motivates me but may not be what everyone else looks for.

HULLFISH: Is there a standard or bell-weather test that you use to know that your OWN editing is good? A common quote is that “Art is knowing when to stop.” How do you know that you’re done editing?


Billy MS
FOX: I continually strive towards nurturing the cut until it no longer is a series of shots and cuts. But has become a real moment. As if you’ve peered through a window and your watching a real moment of life. It’s the moment I strive towards and still humbles me to this day.

HULLFISH: Any final editing wisdom?

FOX: There are many that I can mention. But the one that dictates my moves and decisions is to trust the film. Listen to the film. It will tell you when to cut. It will tell you when not to cut. Listen for the heartbeat and be true to the organic rhythms of the drama.

HULLFISH: Thanks so much for talking with me today. I had a great time discussing our craft with you!

FOX: Me too. There is nothing I’d rather discuss. Editing is a great craft. And a career where you continually learn. Thanks.

Read the other interviews in the Art of the Cut series using THIS LINK. And follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish


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Steve Hullfish

Steve Hullfish

Steve Hullfish has been producing and editing award-winning television since the mid-1980s. He has written five books, and edited two theatrical feature films (both Number One New Movies in the US). He has lectured at NAB, DVExpo and the Master Editor seminars. He has edited on Avid since 1992 and was named to Avid’s first group of Master Editors. His client list includes: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, NBC, PBS, Turner Networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Cases” with Bill Kurtis for A&E, Jim Henson Home Entertainment, Major League Soccer, The Chicago Cubs, Wilson Sporting Goods and Exxon/Mobil.