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Post Production

ART OF THE CUT with veteran editor Ivan Victor on cutting “68 Whiskey”

Ivan Victor’s work includes editing the 2002 movie Jackass! among others. He has also edited TV series like The Tom Green Show, Jackass!, The Osbournes, Reno 911, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation, The Goldbergs, Baskets, The Muppets, Atlanta, and Cobra Kai.

Today we discuss his work on the Paramount Network’s 68 Whiskey.

This interview is available as a podcast.

(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)

HULLFISH: What’s the schedule like for a typical episode?

VICTOR: I dunno if I should be candid about this. (both laugh) it’s eight days for production and we are supposed to have four days after dailies but because our post calendar got crunched we occasionally get two sometimes three.

HULLFISH: That’s tight! When you’re getting dailies in every day, what’s that load like for a TV series like this?

VICTOR: It depends. There are anywhere from four and a half to eight pages a day. If it’s a big action sequence it won’t be as much. I gave up counting a while ago ‘cause it just depresses me.

I certainly will open a scene bin and see, “Oh, this scene has an hour and 10 minutes.”

HULLFISH: What is your process on such a tight schedule? Are you going straight to circled takes? Or are you truly trying to watch everything when you’ve got that much dailies coming in?

VICTOR: I try and watch everything. I have a process that I’ve evolved over time where it’s very easy for me to find every line I need. So I’ll generally watch the master first — to just see what the blocking is and what’s going to happen — probably the last take of the master. And then I instinctively go and check the other setups to see what the camera’s doing.

I’ll have an idea in my mind: “Master here. Maybe closer here. See if there’s a camera move to take us from one place to another.” So I’ll have more of an instinctive pass, to begin with. In each setup, I’ll watch every take. And then it’s a case of if there is time to refine everything.

ivan Victor 68 Whiskey
Ivan Victor in the cutting room of 68 Whiskey.

HULLFISH: When you’re doing that, is it easier for you to work straight out of the bins? Or are you a selects-reel kind of guy? How do you approach a scene?

VICTOR: How deep do you want me to get?

HULLFISH: Deep! I don’t know if you’ve listened or read any of the other interviews….

VICTOR: Yes.

HULLFISH: They’re pretty in-depth.

VICTOR: I have. I’m very locator-heavy, so my assistant editor will break down each take with line numbers. So I have a Dailies Roll and I will throw that on the source side and assemble based on those line readings and I then mark those up further so I know what the shots are. I know it’s a wide shot. I’ll know if it’s a medium over an over or if there’s a camera move or if there’s a rack focus, so as I go through I add detail so that when a director comes in and the showrunner comes in, if they say, “Hey, I’m looking for another take here.” I can really easily find the shots that are required, so it’s a case of just going through and adding detail to that dailies roll.

HULLFISH: Cutting in Avid?

VICTOR: In Avid.

68whiskey_101_pg_2794_rHULLFISH: I’m assuming you’re on too tight of a schedule to use ScriptSync?

VICTOR: I wouldn’t use it anyway even if we had a lot of time. I’ve used ScriptSync before. I find that with locators when I have time and as I’m going through with different people, I can add a lot of detail to the dailies roll, so if I’m working with the director and we’re going through takes I can add on that line number in that shot size: “director likes” or “second best.” And likewise with the showrunner.

So it’s very easy for me to know what are the preferred takes as I go through. Even though I haven’t used “Scripter” for a while, when I was working with it, I didn’t find a way that you could add that kind of detail to what I needed to really understand what the material is.

HULLFISH: You mentioned working with directors and showrunners and I’m assuming this is a typical process — like most TV shows — where the director is kind of a hired gun. You have to do what the director asks, but then the showrunner comes in and is really the one in charge.

VICTOR: We have a producer/director on this show — Michael Lehmann — who worked with Roberto Benabib before on The Brink for sure — and probably on other things. He’s certainly involved in the post process with his episodes and he also does watch the other episodes and gives his feedback to Roberto for what he thinks works/ doesn’t work.

So he is a presence. He directed five of the episodes, so obviously when he’s in prep and shooting he’s not as involved with post, but there are moments where he wasn’t shooting where he would come in and watch cuts and give feedback.

But typically with the other directors, yes, they’ve come in for their four days — however much of that time they would take — and then they move off to another show or another episode. And then it’s all with the showrunner.

68whiskey_101_pg_3468_rHULLFISH: Are you cutting all the episodes, or are there other editors?

VICTOR: There are three of us. I’m doing four. And then we have Joel Goodman who did three. And Scott Wallace and they’re fantastic. They’re lovely human beings and really talented editors as well.

HULLFISH: Do you get to interface at all with them and watch their episodes — comment on them? Do they comment on yours? Or are you guys in the weeds so much that you don’t get a chance to interact like that?

VICTOR: We like to watch and there are moments when I’ll call one or the other of them in and say, “I’m having a problem.” There was one scene — which will remain nameless — where the angles just felt really weird to me so I brought Scott in and said, “Just watch this.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of OK.”

I ended up resizing some shots so the eyelines matched and even though the eye lines were the right eyeline because of the angle of the shot it just fell off.

There was block shooting for the pilot and the second episode and Joel didn’t come on until the third episode, so Scott and I would show each other scenes — especially with music — to see if, tonally, the music was working. We did collaborate, though there’s not a ton of time to collaborate.

HULLFISH: Are you guys delivering on a typical TV schedule or is this mass drops of multiple episodes?

VICTOR: It’s not a typical TV schedule and it’s also not mass drops. Because it’s a broadcast show, we deliver as we go. But as the season has gone on we’ve had less and less time to deliver. It’s quite a VFX-heavy show as well, so drop-ins for that to happen quite late in the game. But fortunately, that’s not something I deal with.

68whiskey_101_pg_2109_rHULLFISH: So you guys are moving on after your episodes? On some shows, the editor goes into the mix. The editor maybe goes to the DI.

VICTOR: We definitely go to the mix. Our post-producer — Juanita Feeney — is one of those post producers that really respects the editor and the editing process and what she does with us is, she’ll supervise the sound and have us come in before the showrunner and the producer/ director come in so that we can just give ears. Most of the time sound makes everything sound a ton better, but there are other times when you come in as the editor and say, We had this in there and it didn’t make it in and sometimes there’s an eye-roll: “Oh, it’s temp love…”

We’re included in the mix because the showrunners heard the sound a certain way 15 or 20 times and there are certain sound effects that are important.

HULLFISH: Let’s talk about sound design a little bit while we’re on the subject. How extensive are you getting and what kind of tools do you have inside the Avid sound-design-wise, library-wise?

VICTOR: We have a very big library and our sound supervisor went up in the Black Hawk and got real helicopter sounds to use. What was very important for Roberto was — when we were in interiors — to really feel the base outside. We had some sounds that worked between the various assistant editors on the show but we also leaned on the sound supervisor to get really good Humvee sounds and good Blackhawk sounds and when we were in the Afghan village we have Pashto wallah that we use and so there was there is a very conscious effort to build the world outside the rooms.

68whisky_110_tg_0077_rHULLFISH: Got it. For someone who might not have understood what Pashto wallah means — Pashto is the local language and wallah is the indistinct sound out people speaking that in the distance.

VICTOR: Yeah. Who knows what they’re saying? “Pass the chicken” or “where’s the salt?” The chatter that you have in backgrounds in every scene. But it’s obviously the local language.

HULLFISH: I did notice the sound of the base itself. There were a couple of scenes in an office — like somebody getting reprimanded in the commander’s office and you can hear the helicopters and the Humvees and stuff going on outside the office.

VICTOR: Yeah. It’s important to feel that busyness because it’s not one of those shows where — like in Succession where you’re in a glass skyscraper and you can see New York outside so you know where you are. You’re in a wooden hut with very small windows. So it is important to keep that world alive.

HULLFISH: It makes the picture seem bigger than it is to have the sound.

VICTOR: Yeah.

68whisky_ep102_tg_0917_0498_rHULLFISH: Does the structure change much on these shows or are they pretty strict to the script?

VICTOR: There are obviously moments in stories that you can’t change. It’s more a case of when you cut from the A story to the B story. Or because we’re in a broadcast world the imperative about how you tell the story is based on how the numbers come in.

My understanding is that the really important thing is to keep people watching past 30 minutes because that’s when the numbers come in. Now obviously you want people to watch the whole episode but it is a business so we try and push our act breaks as long as possible which I’ve always leaned towards in TV anyway because if you’re watching a broadcast there are four minutes of commercials. That’s a long break from what you’re doing. So keeping people focused makes sense. But again you may feel as if, Oh it’s really lovely to stretch this story out over the course of the whole episode, but then if your job is to deliver ratings so that you can have a successful show so that you can do the show again, you have to look to the business side of things as well.

HULLFISH: I’m sure act breaks are structured that way. A cliffhanger before the break to encourage sticking with the show to see what happens after the break.

68whiskey_101_pg_3832_rVICTOR: Act breaks do change at points as well. But there are a lot of them where it’s not negotiable. So sometimes you will have a shorter first act because going out three scenes later just doesn’t have any tension. It doesn’t function as well, storytelling-wise.

It’s interesting to tell a story with built-in breaks as opposed to a story that plays all the way through.

HULLFISH: How close is an editor’s cut to the final?

VICTOR: Typically they’re probably like 80 percent in terms of choices of takes and shot size. What tends to happen with a lot of shows is you’re taking material out and then you’re moving scenes around. But if we’re not getting 80 to 85 percent of it right, we’ll never get on the air.

But a lot of the refining is in tone and pacing rather than “have you got the takes right?” There are times when you will dig in and there’s a certain performance that isn’t quite working, but it’s a low percentage.

HULLFISH: What about runtime differences between assembly and final?

VICTOR: Runtime for the broadcast episodes — the shortest is 40. I think we could go to 49 for the pilot. My first cut of the assembly of the pilot was 53. And most of the episodes are coming in around the 46-minute mark. So there’s not a ton to cut out.

07_group_070_r2-68-whiskeyHULLFISH: How much time are you getting from the editors cut to a locked picture going off to your vendors?

VICTOR: Maybe three weeks. But the directors have a much stronger guild than we do so they actually get four days. There’s some very loose language in the Guild contract that you have time to review your cut but there’s nothing that we have in writing that enshrines and protects our time when we have to turn over to the director.

So the director can get up to four days and then — based on the calendar — the showrunner will be in for half a day or a day for maybe three or four days and then it’ll go to a studio. Typically it’ll be a day to turn that around. The network gets a couple of passes and typically it’s a day to turn that stuff around for them as well.

That’s spread out because when you send to the studio they’ll typically take two or three days to give you notes. When you’re in the trenches of the show you’ve got dailies on another show. So you’re juggling between episodes.

68whiskey_104_pg_0315_rHULLFISH: When you are dealing with notes from the studio — obviously the showrunner is a little different relationship, you’re with that person, it’s personal, it’s their show — when you’re starting to get notes from the studio and from the network is the showrunner protecting you and the show? Or are you just saying, “Hey we just have to do these notes?”

How is that being determined?

VICTOR: One of the things that Roberto — the showrunner’s — especially good at is really getting to: “what’s the note behind the note.” Oftentimes you’ll get a note about the scene not working or you’ll get a note about wanting to be in a close-up. And it’s often not exactly what’s meant. There’s a subtext there that Robert’s very good at divining.

Occasionally you’ll get notes that talk about a rough edit or bad edit and I don’t take any of that personally because if you don’t know what you have to work with then sometimes you have no choice but to be forced into a certain cut.

Our job is to deliver this piece of work. Roberto protects certain elements of the show but he also realizes you have to make your network happy. He’s very good at divining what’s really being said.

68whiskey_106_my_2089_rHULLFISH: And what kind of notes are those from the network instead of the studio? What kind of things are you getting from them?

VICTOR: Oftentimes it’s about how we’re tracking a certain piece of emotion with a character or it could be that there are too many little quips and one-liners that undercut what the drama is.

There are other times when they feel like scenes go on too long — which is often the case because you need to write long in order to refine down and get these to flow well, so a lot of times they may be scenes that we really love but they just say, “We don’t need this scene.” You fight to maintain the elements of the scene that you need in order to keep the story going.

So oftentimes it’s just more a case of them saying, “the scene goes on too long” or occasionally characters who perhaps aren’t the favorites who play an important function in the show where it’s a case of just honing in on exactly what’s required from them.

68whiskey_103_pg_3142_rHULLFISH: You mentioned that you’re cutting on Avid. Have you cut on any other NLEs and are there advantages to one over another?

VICTOR: Way back in the day I did some stuff on FCP7 before they turned it into iMoviePlus. I goofed around with Premiere because I was possibly going to do a job on it. Am I agnostic in this? I think I’m agnostic in terms of NLEs because to me they’re just a tool. I know there are some people who say, “Avid is the best!” “Premiere is the best!” “Screw Avid!”

To me, because I came upon NLEs using Avid, it’s the one I know best. I love the simplicity of it and I feel like my creative process has been developed through using the system and how I discover new things and how it works.

I’m not super technical. I do know that in the past there were some problems with Premiere with file sharing because it doesn’t have the architecture the Avid it does — not only sharing media but sharing projects. One of the great things about Avid is that your assistant editor or another editor can have a bin open and work on a sequence, close the bin and it’s available to you.

I know at least a couple of years ago for Premiere that was a real problem. I’m sure they’re working on it.

68whiskey_105_fg-101319_rHULLFISH: They’ve come a long way. The new release has taken care of the collaboration and large project issues.

VICTOR: I worked on the pilot for Baskets and used Avid for that, but because there’s a lot of After Effects in Baskets and John Krisel — who’s the director and writer co-creator — he does a lot of that stuff himself. They moved the series to Premiere because it’s seamless with After Effects so I feel like there are some smaller shows and probably with like the younger crowd and more effects-heavy shows being on Premiere makes sense because you don’t have to export.

HULLFISH: How did you get this gig? How do you switch between TV shows?

VICTOR: These are all through relationships. With 68 Whiskey I’d worked with Roberto on Kidding. He was one of the executive producers on Kidding He and Dave Holstein who created Kidding — I believe they’re writing partners — so he was involved in post quite heavily and we had a lovely time working together on that show. And as I was chatting to him about future things he was doing he’d mentioned 68 Whiskey. When it was officially a go, he sent me the script.

68whiskey_105_fg-201166_rThe combination of how much I enjoyed the script and how much I love Roberto as a collaborator made it a pretty easy decision. Most jobs come through existing relationships or people recommending. There may be a showrunner looking for someone.

I did Lodge 49 — actually another editor recommended me for that one. So it comes from other editors, from other showrunners, and I have nurtured relationships with people at the studios, so I let them know what I’m available and they get in touch with me if they have stuff that seems to fit.

HULLFISH: The social aspect of being an editor is critical, I think. How important do you think it is that Roberto likes you?

VICTOR: I think it’s really important because you could be the best editor in the world, but if you’re difficult to work with, there’s not going to be a lot of fun.

Roberto was one of the showrunners who loves post the best. It’s the bit that he enjoys the most and he — like anybody who I think is smart — hires people that he wants to work with.

68whiskey_103_pg_4603_rI found that in interviews that you have with people or meetings that you have, they’ll look at your list of credits, but you’re really working out: “can we spend hours together in a windowless room?” I think it’s a combination of both. Ultimately, I think if you have two editors with similar credits, but this individual seems a little spiky or defended — and you’ve got someone with a different set of credits but you vibe with better, I think that will trump it all.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about ego and the editor. How do you navigate the tightrope of having a strong creative voice yet serving a director or showrunner?

VICTOR: Well I think that ties into what you’re talking about with personality. But from my perspective — I’ve thought about this quite a lot — I feel that we’re a collaborator in much the same way an actor is. An actor will have a certain notion of how to play a scene or what the character is supposed to be or what the moment is supposed to be and will play that. But when you get an adjustment from the director (a note about your performance) your job as an actor is to perform the way you’re asked to perform.

So from my perspective, the director may say, “I want to start on this shot. This is the way to start the scene.” I may feel, “Oh, we could start in a different way.” And while I’ll present that and if it’s not taken then that’s not my responsibility.

68whiskey_101_pg_0867_rI always like to present my assembly as close to the script as possible because the writer was spent all this time the director spent all this time. Even if I know there are lines that maybe I think are a little cheesy or don’t really work or a bit too expositional, I feel that — in terms of the process — they have to see what they wrote and shot to begin with.

Then as you move forward through studio and network (notes) ultimately the job is to provide the show that they’re asking for. So there are several scenes that I feel have been — maybe not necessarily ruined but certainly degraded by showrunner’s choices or studio network choices. But that’s my job. If, as an editor, you’re super-resistant to making changes or doing notes you’re not doing your part in what the process is supposed to be.

Likewise sometimes when someone will say, “I want to swap takes here” and you play through takes in a certain size and they say, “Yeah! Let’s have that one!” And you know it’s the exact same take you’ve had in. And you say, “Yeah! That’s a great take.” Sometimes say know, “Oh that’s the one that’s in the cut.” Other times they don’t. And it doesn’t pay to point that out.

An editor friend of mine had a mentor who was from Iceland and she had these Top 10 Rules of Editing for features and number three was “Always let the directors think that they are making the movie.”.

68whiskey_103_pg_3362_rHULLFISH: That’s some pretty good advice.

VICTOR: I’ve studied directing as well and it’s always much better if you can have someone think that they’ve come up with this idea themselves especially when there are egos around.

HULLFISH: But that means it can’t be your ego because it no longer looks like your idea.

VICTOR: Yeah, but I’d rather have a smoother day at the office as possible rather than you know get credit for something that ultimately, in the long run, is not that important.

HULLFISH: Exactly. Wise advice. Wise advice.

As I was watching the show it’s the typical thing of trying to balance storylines, right? You’re trying to figure out when to go from one storyline to another. Do you have any specific advice about — if you’re not simply going from the scripts choices of when to cut from one scene or one storyline to another — when do you think it’s best or are there any guidelines.

VICTOR: When in the process?

68-whiskey_103_pg_4898_r-1HULLFISH: When in the process but also WHY would you choose not to follow the script’s concept of how and when storylines intercut?

VICTOR: Sometimes it’s just to give you a break and separation. As we’re speaking, I’m working on the finale of 68 Whiskey and a group of people are out on a mission and the scenes were kind of stacked together, but cutting away allowed you to feel like they traveled further. There were two scenes back-to-back of these people walking in the wilderness on a quest and you just didn’t feel like they traveled very far because these two scenes were back-to-back even though we ended on one shot and came back on a nice sweeping vista of a rather different landscape.

By cutting away to another story, when you cut back, even though you’ve only been away for two minutes, you feel like these people have traveled a lot more. So those things reveal themselves to you as you watch the cut and you feel like there’s a pacing issue or the story can be told in a slightly better way by moving things apart.

HULLFISH: The opposite thing with intercutting is that it allows you to pick up the pace because you can’t cut out and speed up some actions or dialogue in a scene unless you go to something else.

68whiskey_102_pg_0648_rVICTOR: Yeah. I had a scene in the seventh episode where we’d ended a quite heavy scene and I’d gone to an establishing shot and then back into another scene with the same character that we ended the previous scene with, and it just felt laggy so I pre-lapped the dialogue and all of a sudden these two moments connected way better. It’s only a two and a half second transition shot, but just making it so that the dialogue from the following seeing came on the previous scene really helped the momentum and the emotion of what was going on in that scene.

HULLFISH: That’s a great pacing trick right there. Any other things you do when pacing is an issue?

VICTOR: If you just tighten the dialogue, obviously that helps and pre-lapping pretty lapping all the way through, because when there’s a difference in the sound cut and the picture cut. It keeps your brain entertained somehow. So I find that helps.

HULLFISH: So instead of describing a pre-lap as between scenes you’re talking about pre-lapping of dialogue within a scene?

VICTOR: Then, if someone says, “it feels like this scene is really rushing by,” you just take the pre-lap out — even if it’s very small; even if it’s a case of eight frames, a third of a second — to just give someone that tiny bit of thinking time makes the scene feel like it has an entirely different pacing to it.

68whiskey_105_fg-200011_rHULLFISH: I’m working on a scene right now that — as I was cutting it — I was thinking of this thing Walter Murch was talking about: Dragnet cutting? It’s just rapid and tight cutting between two people. Always being on the speaker and cutting to each person as soon as they start talking and cutting away as soon as they stop talking.

I was getting into that rut just because of the performances really and doing that pre-lapping of the dialogue definitely helped change the piece.

VICTOR: I can tell you this. Don’t tell anyone else. (both laugh)

If you’re pre-lapping, and you cut on a consonant it really makes the cut SNAP a lot more. If you’re cutting on a hard sound. The cut will have a lot more snaps than if the cut is made in the air or the gap between.

If you’re trying to pace up a scene, that could also help you as well.

HULLFISH: Another discussion I had with Walter Murch was about his pet-peeves. He says he never action-matches. That he only starts or ends a motion in a shot and then starts the next motion in another shot. I tend to match action a lot but it made me wonder, how many other people match action and how many people don’t believe in it. Or does your director like one or the other?

68whiskey_103_pg_3362_rVICTOR: I think you have a very different and subtle impact if you do that. If there’s matching action it always feels smoother. If the show size doesn’t quite match or there’s something not quite matching, it will cover the sins of something that’s not quite working. If there is an action that’s going on — even if it’s not exact — it somehow tricks your eye into feeling like it works.

And also it feels like it makes things move more quickly and you can stretch a moment out or you can compress it. If someone’s sitting down, if you’re having them sit between a wider shot and a closer shot, you can have them sit a lot quicker or you can make it seem more languid. So I think it gives you more ability to manipulate by cutting on an action.

Art of the Cut book cover
Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors

HULLFISH: It was wonderful to talk to you. Thank you so much for some great advice.

VICTOR: My pleasure. Take care.

To read more interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check out THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish or on imdb.

The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.


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Steve Hullfish has been producing and editing award-winning television since the mid-1980s. He has written six books, and edited four theatrical feature films (including two Number One New Movies in the US). He has lectured…
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