Post Production

ART OF THE CUT with Billy Fox, ACE on editing “Dolemite is my Name”

(Thanks to editor Simon Smith, I realized that we just passed our 200th Art of the Cut interview with Zombieland: Doubletap! Man, that’s a lot of work! Hopefully, you’ve read them all.)

Billy Fox, ACE, was nominated for Emmys for his work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Band of Brothers. He won an Emmy for Law and Order. His filmography includes, Only the Brave, Straight Outta Compton – both of which were the subjects of previous Art of the Cut interviews – Footloose, and Hustle and Flow, among many others.

Today, we’re talking about his most recent film, Dolemite is my Name.

This interview is also available as a podcast.

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


FOX: It’s a great character study of a guy who relentlessly and ruthlessly has faith in his ability and no one is going to tell him he can’t achieve what he wants to achieve, and that’s the overarching drive in the entire movie. That’s what Eddie communicated with his devotion and his admiration with Rudy Ray Moore.

HULLFISH: You told me earlier that it was really important to lay the foundations of that first reel.

FOX: It’s the way it just happened that we did the reel break that in the first reel, you basically lay down the foundation of all your key characters and the core theme for the movie — which, as I said, is the relentless drive of Rudy Ray Moore — and placing him in his situation and the beginning process of his taking the first step to the next level. In that first reel, you get to know Rudy and all of the characters of the movie are just pretty much laid out.

It’s something I’ve always admired in a Pixar movie — that most of them at least do this very very well — they lay the foundation of the entire movie in that first 20 minutes and you are invested. You’re committed to the characters. You get a clear idea of what’s going on and where it’s going — or kind of where it’s going — you hopefully don’t know too much. It’s the foundation that pulls you through the rest of the movie.

HULLFISH: Do you feel like you needed to copy the original style of the movies on which this is based?

FOX: Well that’s an interesting one because it’s something I struggled with a little bit almost before we started shooting because in watching the first few movies — particularly the first one — I was looking at the style and rhythms that that movie had and was wondering, “Are we going to be doing something similar to that?” And I didn’t know: should I change my editing style when we go into a remake of a given scene? And as it turned out, it really became a non-issue because of the fact that — within a scene of the original movie — we’re not just in the scene. We’re behind the camera. Wesley Snipes, the director, is making a comment. So it’s very rare that we’re “in a scene of the movie — the original movie — for any duration of time that would give me any opportunity to necessarily duplicate what Dolemite really looked like in the rhythms of that original movie.

HULLFISH: I watched a scene that I was able to get from the studio of Wesley Snipes acting as the director. He’s sitting in front of a camera filming an FBI bust. Instead of having to protect the actors from looking bad, you were trying to REVEAL that the “actors” were bad.

FOX: Exactly. That is the one scene that you’re in the scene long enough that it allows you to show that it’s a kind of a bad movie. I did alter my timing a little bit because there were two or three moments where I would open up edits so the pauses would be just a little too long and it brought just a slight sense of uneasiness and of course the way that Eddie threw the guy into the trunk and the punches, punctuated by Wesley’s reaction to those activities was just perfect. Just great. There was plenty of stuff to deal with between Wesley and the varying characters that were watching.

HULLFISH: You kind of want to cut to Eddie a little early so that you saw him hesitate before he says his line.

FOX: Exactly.

HULLFISH: And then you’ve got to come out of that strange pacing, right?

FOX: Back to somewhat normal. Yeah. It was another interesting factor in the editing of this because I don’t do much comedy. In fact, I do virtually no comedy. So it was kind of interesting for me to understand: how is this going to alter how I cut? And what I discovered in getting into the story and getting into the rhythms of the Dolemite character in this story as I viewed it — it’s not a comedy. It’s a drama — or one could say “a lower case dramedy” about funny people, and funny things happen. So the bottom line is that I really didn’t have to shift how I’m editing or how I necessarily function. It’s pretty much the same. A little bit, but not night and day.

Right now with Craig, we’re doing Eddie’s next movie. We’re doing Coming to America, and that’s much more of a pure comedy. And that’s definitely a different style, and so that’s taking me to a different rhythm and a different way of looking at things.

HULLFISH: Very interesting. You worked with some pretty strong personalities in front of the camera before. Does it change things in any way? How is it working with Eddie Murphy?

FOX: Well it’s interesting because I’ve always admired Eddie and admired all of his movies and I just love his character and his humor. I was thoroughly impressed. He is an amazing professional who totally knows his lines and his timing and makes an editor’s life very wonderful because his performances are very distinct and jump from performance to performances is relatively easy, even if he makes variations of a performance. He’s very impressive. I found that — in fact — he’s so impressive that he raises the bar for all of the other actors because they’ve got to come up to him. He’s Eddie Murphy because he is Eddie Murphy and he justifies it.

HULLFISH: The last time we spoke was for Only the Brave, which you cut in Adobe Premiere. Tell me a bit about the technical aspects of cutting this film and what NLE you used this time.

FOX: Only the Brave was my first one on Adobe Premiere and we were the first show to use their new shared projects functionality at the time and I just felt very comfortable with Premiere. I did Only the Brave with it. Now I have done Dolemite and I’ve moved over to Coming to America on Premiere.

I like the interface. I like the visual interface, the actual editing interface, the sound is very strong. For me, at least, it’s a very comfortable NLE and I enjoy it. I enjoy Avid. I enjoy Final Cut. They’re all different. They all have different flavors and advantages and disadvantages. Each project I look at and look at what’s needed for that project. This one seemed to fit very nicely for another Premiere project. We’re halfway through shooting Coming to America and it’s been great. We’re having a great time.

HULLFISH: How are you dealing with media? Proxies? Editing in 4k? How are you collaborating across computers?

FOX: That’s a little bit more my first assistant Jamie Clarke’s department more than mine, but we do finish in 4K. On Dolemite — because it was a Netflix film — their requirements are that we not only do a 4K, but we also have all of our VFX that need to be done in 4k. And also it was an HDR. For Paramount we’ll be doing the mastering in 4K but our VFX — from my understanding — are going to be 2k and it will be in HDR.

In terms of our dailies, editorially I believe Jamie is using ProRes LT in 1080. We’ve had great luck with 1080 — it certainly looks great in the room. We have a big monitor and everything looks fantastic, but when we go to preview — pushing out to a big monster screen — it looks like a million bucks.

HULLFISH: That’s nice. What about audio? How are you monitoring? LCR?

FOX: I’m doing LCR. On Only the Brave I was doing it in full surround, but the surround — because the room is not that giant — the rears, even though it filled the room, it just wasn’t needed. So we decided on this show to just be LCR, and it really makes a difference to have that nice center track for your dialogue. And then for a preview, we will definitely go through a temp dub and make it a surround.

HULLFISH: How is it working with Netflix? It’s such a behemoth in the industry now.

FOX: Right. They definitely are. As I was telling Jamie when we were about to start, I said, “There are a lot of firsts for you and me. Certainly, your first time dealing with Craig Brewer, the director, and my first dealing with Eddie, but it’ll be an interesting experience to see what it’s like to work with Netflix.” Neither of us had done one before and it was a great experience. We had a ball.

The traditional studios — because they’re so established and because they have done product for virtually a century — they have their way of operating and sometimes the studios justifiably have their way of doing things, whereas Netflix seems a little more open. If a filmmaker wants to do a certain thing a certain way it becomes the choice of the filmmaker.

The process itself is virtually identical in terms of what I would do for Paramount or how we would process for Netflix. But it’s a little more stringent — if that’s the right word — at Netflix. They’re a little more open. But each studio is a little different. It depends. It depends on where you’re doing it. But it was very enjoyable.

HULLFISH: This is a director that you worked with before, right?

FOX: Yes. Dolemite is our fourth movie and then Coming to America is our fifth.

HULLFISH: Talk to me about this longer-term collaboration with this director. How did this start? Is it nice to be back in the saddle with him?

FOX: Well it is definitely great to be back in the saddle. Craig and I have worked together for a little over 15 years. Basically I received a phone call from John Singleton. He was producing a film called Hustle and Flow. And I had been recommended to John by a dear friend by the name of Paul Hall, so John decided to call me and said, “Are you interested in doing this film?” They sent me a script. They had already started shooting and I flew to Memphis and met Craig, and we’ve been working together ever since.

Craig is a really interesting guy. He’s very sweet, very even-tempered, humblingly bright. His writing is beyond spot-on and he’s very clear with his vision. He knows what he wants and he knows how he wants to do it.

I think — fortunately — because we don’t really talk a lot, particularly during shooting, I just started editing and I don’t even know if he liked what I did or not because he really wouldn’t make much comment. When we’re shooting I don’t even send him scenes. I send him scenes occasionally. Sometimes he looks at some of them. More times than not, I think that Craig has a supreme confidence in what he wants and he knows what he shot, and he doesn’t necessarily need to look at a cut to know that it’s all there. Very rarely do I ever call him and say, “I’m missing something and I need you to pick up a shot.” It’s just this side of “never happens.” It did happen once in Dolemite, where I did call him and I said I need a particular shot and he responded that he wasn’t sure we needed it. And then when we were in editing, it did come up and he says, “Oh, I guess I should have shot that shouldn’t I?” but that’s the only time it’s ever happened.

And in Coming to America so far we’re shooting a lot of film and the coverage is there. The coverage is very solid. Astoundingly solid. And then when we move into the edit room and we’re joined at the hip, he’s a delight to work with. We work. We have great conversation. We don’t really argue much about stuff. Sometimes we’ll have differences of opinion, but it’s not that big of a deal and we kind of move around it and sometimes he listens to me and more times than not if Craig wants it then that’s of course what we’ll do. But it’s a very comfortable relationship, just like you said.

HULLFISH: Tell me about that collaboration. You said you’re joined at the hip. Is he really sitting in with you so much of the day, or is he kind of dropping in, takes a look at stuff? How does that relationship work?

FOX: Well on the other three movies — with Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan and Footloose — we edited right here on the desk that I’m sitting at right now, at my house. When we were in director’s cut and beyond, he would come in every morning about 10-ish and we would start working, and we would work till 9:00-10:00 at night. And he would be with me pretty much the whole day, with very few exceptions.

On Dolemite, It was a little bit different for the first time because he was one of the producers and directors for the show Empire. So he would come over, we would spend a number of hours together, and then he would either peel over to Empire for half the day or be gone for the entire day. But that worked out fine because I would have notes. I certainly had things I needed to do and we just kept the machine running. So it became a new animal. I think that on Coming to America he will be with me more because there isn’t an Empire this year for him. I’m sure he’ll be in the edit room back to the old way and be there pretty much the entire time.

HULLFISH: What was the schedule like? When did you go into production and when did you start your director’s cut? And then I’m assuming you wrapped up fairly recently.

FOX: No, we didn’t actually. We started June 2018, shot through the summer and we went into director’s cut. I want to say we almost finished the director’s cut before Christmas. Then we went into previews. We had two previews. We got 90s. 93 and 97 or something, and then we locked it up and then we mixed. The end of the mix was the end of March. So the film was finished seven months ago.

This next one is a similar schedule. We’ll finish about six months or so before the release.

HULLFISH: So they gave you some time to jump over to the next production?

FOX: Yes exactly. And actually to enjoy a little bit of summer and spend some time with my wife and the family and the kids.

HULLFISH: You mentioned you get to go off to a lovely retreat in Italy.

FOX: Yes we did. We had a great couple week holiday in northern Italy. And it was a great break. It was really nice. I’m ready to go back.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a little about temp score and how that related to the real tracks you got back from your composer.

FOX: The temp was an interesting one because of the oddball nature of the movie. It was difficult for me to find the right temp score. Normally on everything I ever work on, part of what I do, months before we even start, is I’m looking for temp score. Score that fits rhythmically and emotionally more than anything to what I feel the movie is.

I don’t do a lot of discussing it with the director. I just start using it. There have been some amazing challenges back on Straight Outta Compton. Universal was nice enough to give me a music editor —Jason Ruder — the first day of shooting and we spent literally months trying to find the sound or the flavor of what that score should be.

But on Dolemite, it was really a struggle and I couldn’t find anything. On the emotional scenes, that’s relatively easy, I guess. But on a lot of the other stuff, it was hard and I was talking to Craig one Saturday afternoon about it and he says, “Have you tried Hustle and Flow?” I said, “That’s a damn good idea.” So Scott Bomar, the composer, sent me all the tracks and I started dropping them in and it was like butter. It just dropped and it was the right feel. It had a heaviness when needed and it just worked great. And as it turned out, we ended up using Scott to do the score for Dolemite. We used some other things — some other cues — we had a lot of source (music), but Hustle and Flow was the foundation for a lot of the music in Dolemite.

When we moved into the final, I went back to Memphis with Craig. Craig lives in Memphis and Scott Bomar lives in Memphis and we went back for a week and it was just an amazingly, incredibly wonderful experience. It was wonderful to be back in Memphis. It was great to be working with Scott and it was great to be working with the musicians that Scott Bomar put together, which were basically a lot of the key characters from Isaac Hayes’ original band — Willie Hall who was the famous drummer for Shaft….

HULLFISH: And he’s the drummer in the Blues Brothers.

FOX: Exactly! Exactly! Just to be there is what was just amazing. I set up an edit room in a sound recording booth, so it was totally quiet. We would be scoring scenes and then sometimes we would see something we need to shift, so I would do an alternate cut and Jamie would grab that file from my desktop, make the change and then send the reels right back to Scott and it worked fantastically.

The whole experience of being in Memphis and doing those scores at Scott’s studio and then we moved over to Royal Studios which is a very famous studio in Memphis and mixed there for a few days, was just the highlight. It was the little cherry on the top of being exposed to these amazing humblingly great musicians and see how it all came together. It was wonderful.

HULLFISH: So cool. Did you have any favorite scenes or scenes that were difficult? Something that stands out in your mind that provided a challenge?

FOX: Yeah, there are two. One was particularly challenging and one was just particularly fun. The one that was really fun to work with and challenging was the first time that Rudy sat down in his living room and turned on the tape recorder after he had recorded the street people and he started to carve out what the Dolemite character is. And there was a fair amount of footage there. And just to put together kind of a montage of him playing that and then playing back that bite and then Eddie taking that bite and starting to very slowly mold the character of Dolemite and discovering who the Dolemite character is. There was a cut earlier that was a little bit longer, and I did like that a little more. But there’s an energy that we now have that moves through that scene. But that was a fun, fun scene to do and I really like that scene.

The other one is when we first meet Lady Reed. Actually, we meet her in the previous scene and then she’s sitting having a drink in a bar and Rudy walks in and they have a great conversation, and that scene for me is just magic. It’s magic because it feels so real. You really feel like they’re getting to know each other and she’s not wanting to show her cards and not showing who she is and then slowly during the arc of the scene she starts to expose herself and becomes a little more vulnerable.

The photography — the DP of the movie is Eric Steelberg — and that scene just is wonderful. It just has these wonderful imperfections of kind of a light flash and stuff that’s not perfect and it makes the scene just more human and real and I love that scene. I always enjoy watching that scene.

Within reason, I like a good moving camera. I like motion. I don’t like it when it’s too excessive, but I like a little light flare that comes in a corner. I don’t necessarily like it if someone’s head moves in and moves out — that kind of thing — sometimes I’ll crop that out or sometimes I’ll even do a visual effect to paint it out, but if it’s not distracting to the emotion if it keeps everything moving forward sometimes something can happen on a side — can even be a light flash — and it will help you pull yourself across to the next cut. It’ll motivate the cut to some extent.

HULLFISH: Could you comment on this scene in the record store?

FOX: That was an interesting scene because of the character that comes in the door — the homeless person. There was some concern that he may not be good or working out well. And so there was a concern. “We need to cut the scene we need to cut the scene fast.” So I cut it and I called them and said, “I think this guy’s great.” I sent the scene back to Craig and they loved it. Whatever issue was there for whatever reason all went away. The scene was a little bit of a challenge because you mentioned dealing with the improv of some of these actors, and he was one of them. Mike Epps was another one who would improvise a bit.

Particularly with that character walking around the record store and oftentimes saying lines in different places, it was a little bit of a challenge to make it all work, but it worked out just fine and it had great energy and his “button” at the end of “a man named Dolemite” just couldn’t be more perfect. I mean, that’s like the launching of the movie right there. That’s where it all kind of kicked in.

HULLFISH: So you’re talking about improvisation. You also mentioned how prepared Eddie was. Was he NOT doing a lot of improvisation?

FOX: Eddie does alts. He will do a scene with an alternate ending or an alternate line. Does he improvise? He doesn’t improvise a lot. He’s pretty true to the script, but along those lines, we’re working on a scene for Coming to America — the barbershop scene — and Craig had them in the barbershop before the scripted page just improvise a little minute-long open where they’re just talking. Where they’re just going back and forth and back and forth. It’s not scripted and I cut three different versions of it. So I’m not sure which one Craig will like, but it’s great. It’s really great.

HULLFISH: What about the scene “Story meeting?”

FOX: That scene where Eddie’s kind of laying out what he wants him to do and giving him some key points of where he wants the story to go for Dolemite had a certain challenging quality — certainly when someone’s crossing the room and somewhat improvising but they’re kind of playing off of each other. That scene was fun. That scene was just great, great fun and I also had a great time because of the photography. The camera motion was augmenting certain points in a certain way that helped me a lot. It should have been a hard scene to cut and it actually came together pretty easily.

When we did our previews — I found this fascinating — at the very beginning of the movie Eddie he tilts up from the record and he’s talking — when we cut to Snoop Dogg he doesn’t even say anything and the audience goes crazy. Every single time people see Snoop Dogg and they’re applauding.

HULLFISH: So I heard you had a pretty cool screening room on this film.

FOX: Well there’s a little backstory to that. Craig loves to show the movie to people when we get it into a pretty good shape and so oftentimes in previous movies I’d have pages of notes I need to get through and all a sudden Craig would say, “So-and-so is coming by! Can we watch the movie?” And then, of course, I’m shut down for two-and-a-half hours. So as they were finishing production I went to Netflix and I said, Is there any way we can set up a little theater? And they said, “Sure.” So we put in a copy of Premiere with a big screen and surround speakers and it was absolutely wonderful.

So Craig comes in after photography and he says, “Oh this is great. We’ll use this all the time.” And we did. We used it constantly, but when he walked in he looked at it and says, “No, no. This has got to be a Rudy Ray Moore Theater.” So Khaliah — who is our post P.A — set off on decorating this in what Rudy called in the movie — even though the line has been extracted — when he’s talking about setting up his new studio, he says, “I’m gonna be moving in here and I want to get a red couch with red carpeting and a red bed with red bedspread and I want it to be red on red on red on red.” Well, unfortunately, we lost the “red on red on red” line, but Craig said I want to make this theater “Red on red on red on red.” So the walls were all of these sparkly long red tinsel kind of things that were falling from the sky, and then we had red things all over the place. You walked in this room — it wasn’t a very big room — you could only put about five people in the room — and it was fantastic.

I don’t think I even have a picture of it. Now I’m gonna have to go to Paramount and ask for a similar thing for Coming to America because it’s going to come up. Can we get a room to be the theater? Because, boy, was it used. Sometimes we had three screenings in a day, so it was extremely helpful.

HULLFISH: So that screening room had its own Premiere system on shared storage so you could keep working?

FOX: You could do editing in there if you wanted to, even though there was just one monitor and a keyboard, but it was a full Premiere system, so if I made a change in my room, instantly I could just walk down and look at it in the “red on red on red” Rudy Ray Moore Memorial Theater.

Screenshot from the Adobe Premiere timeline, courtesy Bill Fox, ACE

HULLFISH: Did you ever use that theater for your own personal screening?

FOX: I did. I find it fascinating that I can cut a scene or a reel. I’ll work on it and work on it and I’m sitting by myself and it’s fine. If one person is sitting in the room, it feels entirely different. And then the other thing is if I walk down and look at it in the Rudy Ray Moore Memorial Theater it just feels different. It’s not that I actually go back and change anything per se but it’s a different read and it’s very helpful.

HULLFISH: I totally understand that.

FOX: When we were working on Only the Brave — this is totally tangential — we were mixing at Skywalker and you would mix on one of their dub stages and when you’d finish a reel, you would just walk down the hall and you would go into the Stag theater — this giant 300 seat theater — and playback the reel and it was great. I wanted to do this every time! And then you’d go back into the dub stage and make whatever changes you want to make.

HULLFISH: Did this bigger-than-life kind of character that Eddie is playing affect your approach to the editing or the style of editing?

FOX: Not really. It didn’t affect it per se other than it was captivating. It wasn’t how big it was that no one can ever say no to him. And if he does say no he’ll find a way to get it done. And I think that’s the force that pulls you through the movie. The odds were against him.

HULLFISH: We always discuss as editors the idea that we’re storytellers and that you’re always storytelling when editing. Can you think of a specific instance or some little moments maybe even a detail where you think I am telling this story through editing?

FOX: Well the first one that kind of pops in my mind is some of the montages. The montages are taking you through a journey — for example — the first time he’s selling the record. He’s selling it out of his trunk, and it’s a journey where all of a sudden he becomes a little more successful and all of a sudden he’s starting to generate some sales and then all of a sudden he’s back on the stage and I love doing those.

There’s the arc and story that editing is within a dramatic scene — like the Lady Reed scene with Eddie at the bar — but to tell the story through a montage is just fun and it keeps that drive going and it kind of crescendos up to a point and pushes you on to the next chapter of the movie.

HULLFISH: You talked about how this movie is set up in the first 20 minutes of the film and Pixar does something similar. Did you have to do a fair amount massaging to get that to happen within 20 minutes?

FOX: It was definitely longer at one point. When I first start I don’t have reels. I just have ginormous 50 minute reels.

I don’t concern myself with breaking it into reels, because I always get used to reel changes, and then when you rebalance a reel or rebalance your reels, plural, I’m always screwed up for a long period of time and in fact, sometimes I NEVER recover from what that original reel change is. So I like to delay.

So as far as what you were speaking of, that was just how it worked out and that’s how this movie has been. It’s been a little bit of a blessed movie. There were very, very few crises. There were very, very few political issues. The movie came together very — I don’t want to say easily — but it just found its place. You felt that it was a pretty good film even from the very beginning — or somewhat from the beginning.

The way that first reel happened, it wasn’t any effort. It’s just the way it happened and it just so happened that it fit within a given 20 minute reel. And it worked out perfect.

HULLFISH: For people who haven’t edited a feature, I would really love to talk a little bit about this idea of balancing reels that some people might not be familiar with. I have the exact same feeling that you do when I set up reels. There’s something about rebalancing reels that throws me off afterward. Could you explain what balancing and rebalancing mean and entail?

FOX: Balancing basically comes from the old film days when you had to build reels that lived within twenty-two hundred feet — which is about 20 minutes — and you’re allowed to go a little above that — I think it’s 22 minutes. But for all intents and purposes, you need to break the film into 20-minute reels.

And particularly in the film world, it was a challenge because you couldn’t do a reel change in the middle of a scene. You couldn’t do a reel change that had music across that reel change. You ideally couldn’t do a reel change that had dialogue with pre-lap or post-lap. So there were all kinds of restrictions, and boy, were they a pain in the butt. And then the studio would yell at you if you were at seven reels. They wanted it at six reels.

Well, now that we’re in a digital world, that need has kind of gone away even though you still need to push out to film in some instances. When we did Only the Brave, it came down from the studio that they didn’t care what length the reels were, and I said, “That’s crazy.” Let’s say it becomes the biggest film in the history of movies, you’re going to want to push it out to film and then what are you going to do? You’re going to have to go back into the editing world and rebalance the reels? That’s not going to happen.

So I still live in the world of balancing the reels as if it’s going to go to film. Now in the case of Dolemite, it did go out to film. We didn’t make a lot of prints. I think we only made four prints, but we did push out to film and we did it at FOTOKEM. Then I went last Tuesday to Quentin Tarantino’s theatre on Beverly and they showed it on 35mm and so it was great to see Dolemite in 35mm and it looked great.

HULLFISH: The idea of rebalancing things happens because if — at the assembly stage — you’ve got a two-hour 40-minute movie and eventually you get it down to two hours, obviously you might have a reel — especially the first one — that maybe started at 20 minutes and it’s now 5 minutes.

FOX: Right. And that’s when you have to rebalance. So I live in the world of fifty-five-minute reels for as long as I can because it just is a little easier but it also becomes a little cumbersome pushing around an hour-long reel. It’s doable but it’s just a pain. So what I try and do is delay the first time I break it up into reels until — not quite the last minute, but pretty close.

Then what happens is you balance the reels and everything’s looking really good. Now all of a sudden the idea is: “Let’s take this scene and move it over into what would be reel two.” Oh great. Now I’ve got a short reel on reel one and I an over-the-top reel on reel two. So I have to take the beginning of reel two and put it on the end of reel one. Well, maybe you can’t do that because that’s got a music cue that goes across. And so it’s always this pain-in-the-butt.

HULLFISH: You mentioned that you still break into reels in case you’re going out to film, but I find that it’s largely a vendor thing. Your composer, your sound guys, the colorist dealing with the DI… they all want reels. So it’s just a methodology for breaking things up into bite-sized chunks.

FOX: It’s also beneficial for when you’re mixing so that if you’re in reel one they’re still working on reel two and they’re making changes on three, now you’re working on two, they’re making those changes in reel one — they’re able to bounce back and forth and be working on other stuff while you’re working on the reel that you’re working on. In theory, if you were in one big two-and-a-half-hour reel, that would be difficult.

HULLFISH: Anything else?

FOX: I wanted to give a shout out certainly to Craig and he’s just the greatest. If anyone gets an opportunity to see him in an interview or come see him chat, he is captivating and fascinating to listen to and he’s just such an interesting person.

Then the writers, Larry and Scott, wow! It felt like it was a Craig Brewer movie but you know they did it. Working with Craig I think they did a particularly great job. And Scott Bomar as the composer. The two producers — John Davis and John Fox — were just supportive and always there for us and really gave solid, solid notes.

Then we had Scott Hansen come on board for a couple of months because sometimes Craig likes to take a scene and just like for example, the movie-making scene at the end that’s kind of crazy, I had sketched out parts of it but he and Scott sat in a room and pounded that out for a couple of weeks and that was really helpful because it allowed me to keep pushing through.

And then Jamie, my first assistant, he too kept the ship going through the water and I oftentimes throw him some very challenging technical requests and he listens and he walks away and then he comes back and he goes “OK you got it.” He was great.

HULLFISH: What’s a kind of technical thing you’d be asking of him?

FOX: Well when we did Only the Brave, there were like five things we did. We were using a new storage solution called Open Drive. It was the first time we’ve ever used Premiere. I think it was the first time we did a 5 1 environment. We were using a 4K HDR monitor that we were dealing with, and, we were doing Next Lab from FOTOKEM which was fantastic. There were just a lot of things that we had not dealt with before and it got to a place where we were doing so many new things on that show that there were like two or three other things I wanted to do and I said, “OK, enough! We’re gonna save those for the next show.”

Jamie is very talented at looking at those challenges and finding the best way to make them realities. It’s really great.

HULLFISH: How much of that workflow did you pull over from Only the Brave to this one? I know we talked about that storage solution on Only the Brave.

FOX: We haven’t used Open Drive since, but we have called Coming to AmericaDolemite 2.0” because from the camera to where we’re doing the DI, virtually everything is pretty much the same workflow.

HULLFISH: And that’s probably very helpful for both you guys just not to worry.

FOX: It’s been very helpful. On Dolemite, there were a couple of weeks where we were still setting up some new things and getting it going. This one we were pretty much going full speed from day one. It made a big difference.

HULLFISH: Awesome. Billy, I so much enjoy talking with you.

FOX: My pleasure. Thanks so much.

HULLFISH: Good luck with Coming to America.

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

FOX: Thanks. Appreciate it.

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


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…