Felicia Livingston’s editing credits include the TV series, All American, You, The Red Line, The Flash, Supergirl, and American Crime. She had previously assistant edited on Rizzoli and Isles, Sleepy Hollow, Hawaii Five-O, Smallville, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
There are very few people of color in editing, and fewer still women of color. I hope the hiring practices in the industry become more inclusive and certainly work to that end myself. I wanted to spotlight Felicia – who is a black female union editor – to shed some light on this disparity, but as you will soon hear, like all of the other guests on Art of the Cut, she has lots of great editing and career advice.
HULLFISH: I want to start the conversation by understanding your background and why you wanted to become an editor? Why you felt like that was a path you could walk?
LIVINGSTON: I actually got in the business on — I’m going to say a fluke — but it wasn’t. Like all of the other people that come into the business, I fell in love with films as a kid. Staying up late. I fell in love with The Story of Ju Dou and Hang the Red Lantern when they were playing on Cinemax and they actually used to play really great foreign films but they were played after midnight. So I got exposed to all these great foreign films. You know Christoph Kozlowski — the Red, Blue, and White trilogy.
So I fell in love with these films and I really wanted to explore this. When I graduated college I just wanted to see if I could, so I just packed up and moved out here. I didn’t know anybody. I just sent resumes. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t even email. I sent faxes from Kinkos.
somebody at Wolf Films got my resume and said, “Come in. We have a post P.A. position.” And I met Arthur Forney (head of Post-Production) in person. That was the first time I saw a person of color in editorial. I got the job.
At Wolf Films, there’s this long hallway where all the Law and Order films were. Now it’s all the Chicago films. As a post PA, I could go to each room and talk to these editors — Douglas Ibold, Dorian Harris, Monty DeGraff, Hibah Frisina Schweitzer, Randy Roberts — all these amazing editors who would say, “Come in and just watch.” And I would sit on the floor and I would just watch.
That’s how I knew I wanted to do this. That’s how I fell in love with editing — sitting and watching these people work. That’s how I learned.
HULLFISH: DeGraff is a gentleman of color, correct?
LIVINGSTON: Yes. Monty DeGraff was there. There was also an assistant editor there named Anthony Scott who was also a person of color. There was another PA, person of color, Sean Taylor. To me, I felt like I was at this very safe place. I was surrounded by people of color. Just didn’t think about it.
It did not hit me that I was the only FEMALE of color. That never occurred to me. Monty was lovely. Arthur was just one of the smartest men I have ever met and he — every Monday — he would call us into his office and say to me and Sean, “OK. What movies did you watch this weekend?” That was our Monday.
So we were encouraged to watch movies. You had to watch movies because neither one of us went to film school. So that was our film school. What films did you watch? And we had to be able to summarize the film.
So every Saturday morning I would get my five DVDs That was my weekend because, by Monday, I’m going to get quizzed. That was my first introduction. And it was honestly just luck.
HULLFISH: Lots of people just kind of lucked into editing.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. All these editors, their doors were open. I would just sit and watch. And I remember at the time — because I was insecure — thinking, Man, maybe I should go to film school. Another editor, named Leon Ortiz-Gil who still works there, said, “You don’t understand. You’re in the best film school that you could ever have. What you’re learning you will not get at film school. The contacts that you’re making, you will not get at film school.”
He said, “If this is what you want to do, this is the best school that you will ever have.” He was also blunt with me. He said, “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a very hard-knock road, but you can do it.” Those words I still hold to this day. And he was absolutely right.
HULLFISH: Do you think he was telling you that as a black person, as a woman, or just because it’s a tough industry.
LIVINGSTON: Both. Leon is Latino and he knew how hard it is, as a person of color, also as a woman and also he had years of experience and he just knows. He was just a very Godfather figure, that just kind of looked out for us.
It’s odd that when I look back on it, it never crossed my mind that I was the only female. We had women of color who were post supervisors, but editorial? I didn’t feel like I was alone because I had these great men there.
It didn’t hit me until I went to the next job and I was the only woman and only person of color. That’s when I thought, “Oh! This is the real world.” My first job was a little bit of a being in a bubble. It really did set the groundwork for me and helped me. I will give all credit to that first job.
HULLFISH: I want to talk with you about the art of editing, but I do want to touch on the idea of race and sex.
There is one way to look at it — which I think is a false narrative — like “Oh! I’m colorblind! I don’t see the color of people’s skin and everybody is the same.” But the other side of that is: Why is it valuable NOT to IGNORE the color of a person’s skin but to think of it as an asset?
LIVINGSTON: I’ve heard the adage: “Oh I don’t see color.” Which we know is wrong. It’s wrong. You do,
The key asset for me is: there are certain things that — as a black woman of color — that I was got from my mom that a lot of people just don’t have. If you have a character — for instance, on All American — it’s about an African American football player who plays high school football for Beverly Hills High and he’s from South Central.
The scenes that I love cutting the most are the scenes with him and his mom telling him, “You need to be careful when you’re on that bus going to Beverly Hills or when you’re in your friend’s car and they’re driving a nice car because you’re going to get stopped just because of your skin color.”
There is that undertone of fear that — as a person of color — you just have. I was telling a white friend, when you go into work, you get in your car and you go to work and you go to the editing room. As a person of color, there is the added thing of, “I just hope I get to work without getting stopped today.” And if you’re coming home late — because we all work late — we’re coming home sometimes at 1 or 2 in the morning. I’ve done it many times.
It’s not just, “I just want to get home so I can go to sleep. I’m tired.” I’m just trying to get home so I don’t get stopped. That’s a whole other mental mindset that is added on to your day with all the other things that you have to do with the job. I think that is the asset that a person of color has to deal with. I’m sure that you just don’t think about it.
Every time I see a cop car driving I tense. I slow down. And that’s just me trying to get to work. That all being said it doesn’t mean that people who aren’t of color can not edit predominantly black-themed or Latino-themed projects. The storytelling is still the same, but the difference is that editors listen. That’s the key. Just listen. They understand the story. Everyone does. That process is still the same. No matter what project you do. But being able to listen to the director or the showrunner and say, “Oh this is what you have to go through?” That’s the difference and that’s an asset that innately a person of color already has.
HULLFISH: Not to make it a pun — but your experience colors your editing when you’re cutting that scene.
LIVINGSTON: Yeah. It does. We all have different experiences. As a black person, my black experience could be totally different from what another black person’s experience could be — depending on where you grew up. I grew up in Texas and then went to college in Louisiana, so I know some things (laughs).
HULLFISH: The last two movies that I cut were predominantly black casts, predominantly black stories and it would be interesting to see how that would be colored by having a different experience — having the experience of being a black person instead of coming from my experience.
LIVINGSTON: You’re able to feel what the characters are going through because “Oh I’ve gone through that.” Looking at the dailies you remember, “This happened to me.” You’re really able to relate to it. We all want to relate our characters.
HULLFISH: I like to think that all editors have a certain sense of empathy that allows them to say, I don’t have this experience of being this black person but I can certainly cut the scene because they’re a human being. I’m a human being. I can do it. But there a subtext that YOU might understand that I wouldn’t.
LIVINGSTON: I would definitely say it’s a subtext. You probably know that black parents have to have “The Talk” with their black children. When I was young it was never characterized as “The Talk” with my mom. It was just, “You have to be very careful. You can accomplish anything and everything you want. It will be harder.”
That is something that — it doesn’t matter if you’re black. Asian, or Latino — as a person of color you just kind of innately have that. It’s just something that your parent has told you. It is that subtext that you bring to projects. You mentioned that you were able to cut those black-themed films because you brought your humanity when you’re cutting. This doesn’t negate that. That’s the same thing that we all have in common — just trying to bring that humanity to your process.
HULLFISH” Mm-hmm. I’m sure there are scenes you’re cutting with people of other races and that doesn’t make it impossible to do.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. We all cut things where we have no relationship to the character. In season 2 of You I was cutting this dude who is a serial killer. You’re not supposed to like this guy. But as I’m cutting this character — it’s disturbing, yet I’m having fun. I don’t relate to him whatsoever, but I could see that there’s a little bit of humanity that you’re putting in.
HULLFISH: I think of that from the actor’s standpoint. Actors who play villains always try to find the humanity in the character.
LIVINGSTON: Yeah. It comes back to the humanity and it’s just part of our job as storytellers because you have that. You have to. To find humanity in the footage so that an audience can relate to that character.
HULLFISH: You edited the pilot of the TV series, The Red Line which, ran on CBS last spring. What made that special?
LIVINGSTON: That was my first pilot, so I think you will always remember your very first pilot — really being thrown into the deep end of the ocean. So there that aspect of it.
The other aspect was working with director, Victoria Mahoney. She was very much a filmmaker. Her vision was just astounding. Her director’s cut was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. When I got the footage on that first day — because you’re already nervous — then I opened that first bin and looked at that first take I could see that there was something different. It’s just kept going — getting better.
It was a joy working with her on that director’s cut. I specifically say “the director’s cut” because — as we all know — once it gets past the director’s cut phase and it goes to the studio, network it’s drastically different, especially on a network show.
That experience was very collaborative and I had so much fun working with her on that. When she came into the editing room, she was so gung ho in her film knowledge.
HULLFISH: Another film school.
LIVINGSTON: Every time I work on shows like this, it’s all film school to me, and I enjoy learning so much. If I ever get to the point where I feel I’m not learning then, 1) I shouldn’t be working on that show, or 2) it’s time for me to leave the business.
Honestly, even on very difficult shows, you look back on it and say, “At least I learned THIS.” Even if it’s that you’re learning how to deal with the showrunner, or how to manage your team, or how to protect your editorial team. You have to take a little bit more culpability and I think for me that’s where I’m at right now.
Learning new editing techniques new ways storytelling, I love everything about that. Even jobs that you take just to pay the bills, those are the jobs that I found that I’ve learned the most.
HULLFISH: When you had that beautiful Red Line footage come in, did that make it scarier or less scary — that you had such great footage to work with?
LIVINGSTON: It was terrifying. I remember asking friends — editors who I worked with before — “What do I do? I don’t know what to start. It’s so gorgeous. I want to use everything.” One editor told me to go with that feeling. “It’s OK to say you don’t know how to cut this scene.”
The minute she said that a weight just lifted and I could actually sit and really pay attention to what’s happening.
To finish my editor’s cut and sit back and watch it, for me, having that footage and being able to watch it as a viewer, I think that’s really key — if you are able to do that as an editor.
HULLFISH: What is a trick or a key — or is it just a mental attitude — to be able to watch something like a viewer? While you’re thinking about that, I’ll give you an example. One of my recent interviewees said that they export it is a Quicktime and take it to another TV where they don’t have any control, and that helps them separate themselves.
LIVINGSTON: That’s actually what I do. I export it and I usually watch it at home where I have no control whatsoever and I’ll take notes. When I used to sit and watch the cut in the editing room I was always tempted. I couldn’t JUST watch the cut. I had to change things.
HULLFISH: You gotta touch the keyboard! You have to!
LIVINGSTON: You’re just itching to get started. So now I have my assistant export it. I bring it home. I watch it at home. That was actually the biggest key for me because you see things differently, especially if you’re doing a big VFX show or action sequence, you can see where the rhythm is. You can see if it’s working or not. You can see if the music is going and you just see if you’re feeling it.
Watching at home helps me to watch it as a viewer and not in an office space with beautiful speakers, beautiful monitor. Watching it at home your TV is how the average viewer will probably watch it. You see things a little differently.
HULLFISH: You had some great mentors. Did you pick up your approach to a blank timeline from those people? Has it adapted or evolved?
LIVINGSTON: Adapted. When I was an assistant I would just watch the editors that I worked with and watch how they would approach the blank timeline. Watching them and having worked with several different editors, it just kind of morphed over time. When I got the opportunity to edit, it was just a blend of all of these different techniques.
It was also just diving in. You can just try to do all these techniques and the next thing you know your day is gone. That’s especially terrifying on your first day of editing, so you just gotta dive in.
HULLFISH: What’s your current approach? What techniques do you use?
LIVINGSTON: When I open the bin — it depends on what it is — if it’s a big action sequence, I will have my assistant organize the bin in frame view, organizing the takes in blocks by action. If it’s a lot of takes — the director has covered ad nauseam — I will break it up into two bins because sometimes it’s a little terrifying having all those frames looking at you. It makes it a little easier to tackle.
If it’s an action sequence, it’s organized blocked by action.
HULLFISH: So, for example, if it’s two characters and they’re in a fight, you block the section where they’re up against the wall over here. That’s one section of the action.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. So that’s one section. If that’s the first action, I will have that first, then the second action is all the takes of the character being thrown out of a window.
HULLFISH: Next they fall onto the floor.
LIVINGSTON: I would just have all of that, then at the very bottom of my bin — if it’s VFX — I have all the clean plates. I like to have all the clean plates lined up at the very bottom of the bin.
By blocking it out — with TV and the crazy schedule that you’re that under — that helps me to remember the action. I don’t have time sometimes to have my assistant do (ScriptSync). As I watch the sequence I make what I call a visual line script with locators.
For me, it’s a memory technique that helps me remember what the action is, and so I’m actively engaging in the footage. I make markers as I watch and that’s what helps me know where everything is as it’s blocked out.
Then if there’s dialogue, I will usually have the dialogue in another bin. Depending on what it is, I sometimes tackle the dialogue first then just use slugs for the action parts. Then I close that dialogue bin. I don’t even look at it. Then I would just focus on the action and make sure that the rhythm is right.
I cut it dry. I give that first pass to my assistant to do sound effects on and then I would go back and just refine it. I don’t put any score — temp score or anything in it till the very end.
If it’s something with plates where you don’t have anything — sometimes you get animatics or previs. A lot of times you don’t have it, so. I cut in the plate. I will try to have the VFX assistant do a temp (postvis) If they have the assets. That will help me with my timing. If we don’t have the assets to do that, then we have to build it out and time it all with sound effects.
So if we have storyboards I will just cut in the storyboards and that’s how I time the sequence. I’ll cut in the storyboards over the plate with picture-in-picture, small in a corner.
And if it’s just dialogue, I line up the setups. I just dive in and I watch all the dailies. I prefer to start watching dailies from the first take instead of the last of a setup, because I like to see the progression — seeing how the actor gets to where they’re going.
Sometimes that first take or first two takes — there’s something very raw….
LIVINGSTON: Very fresh. But by the time they get that last take, they figured out everything and it’s perfect, but that first take was a very fresh look emotionally, and I like to keep that, and then I build my sequence that way.
HULLFISH: I’ve heard a lot of people say that they go for reactions in early takes because of that. The actors seem less surprised. They give a more honest reaction.
It’s interesting everybody’s got a different technique some people watch front to back, some people watch back to front.
It doesn’t sound like you’re a selects reel person.
LIVINGSTON: I actually do selects on action sequences. Doing a select reel actually helps me on action sequences. If it’s an emotional scene with actors and they’re doing a lot of crying and doing a lot of takes, I will do a selects reel on that as well. I do it mostly on action sequences. That helps me infinitely.
HULLFISH: You mentioned VFX and VFX plates. I watched a scene from The Flash with King Shark — which was an episode that you mentioned — you had to have gotten the VFX and animation much later. Are you cutting in just a plate and having to imagine a shark coming to a window? How do you know how long to sit on just a VFX plate of a door with a window in it?
LIVINGSTON: That was literally just a plate. There’s a scene in the King Shark episode where he’s fighting Flash in the middle of the street. For that scene, we actually had an actor on stilts in a black suit, so you have the actor looking up at this guy and the script supervisor’s saying the lines of what King Shark is supposed to say. So that’s how the actor — Grant Gustin — was able to get the eye-line correct.
There are other scenes where King Shark storms through a building and that was just a plate. So I just cut in the storyboard. I just had to time it out. There’s the house. There’s the roof. Time it out. You’re just basically cutting storyboards and you’re animating the storyboards.
HULLFISH: By saying that you’re timing it out, you’re imagining how long the action is gonna take?
LIVINGSTON: You’re literally imagining the action as is happening. So for instance there’s a scene where there’s a big chase over the water. Those are just all plates. That’s all just stock footage. So as you’re cutting it, you have the storyboard in the corner and you just — “SHHHOOOO” — I’m literally making a noise like that. Very rudimentary but it works. That’s how I would get my timing. Then I give the sequence to my assistant.
My assistant at the time asked me, “How did you figure this out?” So I make the sound effects with my mouth again. And he said, “Oh! That helps!” So he was able to cut the sound effects to what I did and that’s how I did the first cut on anything if I have to cut a plate.
HULLFISH: You were talking about your assistant putting the sounds into a scene that you’ve already cut. That would also possibly affect your pacing when you hear what they did because the sounds changed the visual sense of pacing.
LIVINGSTON: The sounds change the flow but that’s also very helpful because when you get it back with the sound effects in, you don’t need to put music on it. The sound effects are such a beautiful bed of sound. You can place an entire action sequence without score whatsoever — just have those sound effects and that will build up tension.
When I get that sequence back it does affect my rhythm and I can see what’s working I can see what’s not working. Then I’ll adjust it. I’ll refine it, make it tighter, or realize, “Oh, I need to stay a little longer on the shot because it’s not enough time to get the action across in a plate.”.
HULLFISH: Trying to get those timings perfect can freeze you. Can paralyze you when you’re cutting. So you have to realize that it’s a process. I’m gonna change this.
LIVINGSTON: You’re gonna change. It’s a total process and it’s ever-evolving till it finally airs or it’s finally released. You are constantly changing. You’re constantly refining. You’re constantly adjusting, and that’s OK. That’s what we do. That’s honestly what we do.
If you think “Oh this is it. It’s perfect.” No. It’s never perfect. Constantly refining.
HULLFISH: Was that something that you had to learn, or that you saw modeled for you by the editors that you worked under? To know that it is a process? That was a very hard thing for me to realize that my first cut wasn’t going to be my last cut, which sounds crazy, but I had to learn patience.
LIVINGSTON: Yeah. It is something that you don’t think about. Learning patience is very easy to say, but it’s actually very difficult to do. I learned it just sitting in the room with showrunners as an assistant editor, taking notes. That’s a huge film school. I encourage assistants to sit in the room with the editors and take notes. So for me sitting in the room and seeing the ever-evolving process and then seeing the editor — after the showrunner left, or the director leaves — take in those notes and continue to refine it. And it’s never stopping.
So I knew when I finally became an editor, I knew my first cut is not going to be the final cut. It’s an ever-evolving concept. You can have a showrunner who has a totally different vision for a scene because they’ve written it in their head. They see it differently.
HULLFISH: They know parts of the story that the editor doesn’t know necessarily — that haven’t been scripted or they might be on a wall in a writer’s room — but you don’t know them.
LIVINGSTON: You’re working on that one episode. But you don’t know the total arc of the entire season.
HULLFISH: I want to talk about a strange thing — which is room size. You mentioned the fact that you were in those rooms for the showrunner notes and I’ve talked to other editors that say, “It’s kind of a shame the rooms are so small and you’ve got to cram so many producers into the room that the assistants can’t be in the room during the notes.” It sounds like you were. Talk about the importance of those notes in your education and your growth as an editor.
LIVINGSTON: As an assistant I was lucky that — even in small rooms — the room is packed and I’m standing in the door sill, taking notes. All the editors I worked with said, “You’re in the room.” It was not even a question. So I had to figure out a way — even if I was sitting on the floor right next to the editor’s chair, looking straight up, I had to figure out a way to be in the room.
So when I became editor — no matter what the size of the room — I had like 10 writers in the room, showrunners, it was insane, very intimidating, but there was still room for my assistant to be in the room as well.
Then I’ve had very small rooms where there hasn’t been room for the assistant. I strongly say, “Look. You have to be in the room. If you have to stand in the doorway or you’re sitting in the doorway or in the hallway, you need to be is some type of earshot to hear the showrunner.”
I have worked on shows — specifically on You and on All American — where, as the showrunner is giving notes, I’ve seen the showrunner turn to the assistant to look at them to make sure they had a note. They’re talking to them and that is what you want. You want that extra set of ears.
HULLFISH: You want an extra set of ears and you also — because you’re trying to grow or elevate or help an assistant — you also want the showrunner to know the assistant — their name, their face.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. Have to know their face. That makes the showrunner more confident as well. And to trust that the assistant. And that’s how the assistant is learning as well.
The technical part of the job — pushing buttons? — people learn that at school but that is just such a small aspect of what we do because it’s all in here.
The other aspect is communication with the showrunner, with the director, with the producer. They don’t teach that in film school. You can’t articulate that. I wouldn’t be able to articulate how to do that. That’s why the assistant needs to be in the room. You need to be able to see and learn that aspect of the job.
HULLFISH: I feel like we need that song from Hamilton — I want to be in the room where it happened.
LIVINGSTON: I might have to make that my new ringtone.
HULLFISH: There was another episode that I watched of Flash that was a musical. Tell me a little about cutting that and some of the difficulties or what you were able to learn as that was going together.
LIVINGSTON: It was actually one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my career. I’m glad that I had it because I realized, “Oh my god! I really do love musicals!”.
I had never cut a musical before. We’ve all cut montages, but that’s totally different. With this, we had to figure out a way to cut these sequences. I think it was five songs. There were two original songs.
One of the assistants on the editorial team had worked on Pitch Perfect — the very first Pitch Perfect, so I asked him how he organized the dailies for his editor.
Because there was so much planning on that episode — there were months of planning, just for the songs. We knew about it months ahead of time, so everybody was preparing for it. We had the 2-pop on every take. We had earwigs. The two leads had worked on Glee. They knew what they were doing.
We had people that actually knew what they were doing. I didn’t. I figured it out. My assistant, Chris Oakes, lined up all the dailies in one big sequence. Like a visual ScriptSync.
I had all of the takes of singing would be stacked, so I would have sometimes 24 video tracks on a scene — all in sync because of the 2-pop — to the song, which was at the very bottom on a stereo track. That would be its own sequence, so I would cut from that musical sequence of the song and I would cut that into a selects sequence.
HULLFISH: You were using that as a source?
LIVINGSTON: Yeah. That synced sequence was in my source monitor so if I wanted to see all of the takes where he’s singing the line “Baby” I could go to that moment in that song and I could toggle through all the video tracks and see all the camera angles for him singing what was covered for that line — see all the extras, all the dancers.
Cutting the first song was a little clunky because I was still working out the flow, but by the time we got to the last song we had it down. If there were four lead singers were on tracks 1-4. Then if there were dancers they would be on the next tracks. So that’s how I organized and that would be my source, and I would cut all the musical sequences off of that.
I was also just calling friends and asking if they knew anyone who edited on Glee. We’d get all these tips and we just figured it out. It would have been nice if we could have had time to ScriptSync everything, but this worked.
HULLFISH: Was there any discussion of why not to use multi-cam?
LIVINGSTON: You can use multi-cam. On some takes, I think we had seven cameras. So on those, I could see the multi-cam for that specific line, but to do that for all of the takes and set-ups was just impossible. This was just the cleanest way for us and for me to do it.
Because the director and I had worked together on some crossover episodes that season, so by the time we got this musical episode, we knew each other. Multi-cam was an option, but I just found that for the needs and how much footage the director shot — because it was still on a normal insane episodic schedule.
HULLFISH: Which is what for those shows?
LIVINGSTON: Nine days shooting schedule. Anywhere from two to four days editor’s cut. Four days director’s cut. And then you have about a week for a producer’s cut. It’s usually anywhere from two weeks to maybe three weeks for VFX, so you can kind of refine there.
I did have several episodes where I had one-day turnaround. It just depends on that schedule.
HULLFISH: And once you get through the producer’s cut — even though you’ve got those weeks of VFX — are you on to another episode and kind of jumping back and forth at that point?
LIVINGSTON: Once I get through the producer’s cut, even during studio and network notes, I’m usually on another episode, so it’s not unheard of to be working on two episodes at the same time because VFX come in and they’re cut in by the VFX team.
You still have to look at it and refine it and give your notes and make sure that it’s what the showrunner wants.
HULLFISH: Earlier in the interview you alluded to the fact that you loved the director’s cut of The Red Line and then it becomes something else right? In TV the director goes away and you have a new allegiance. You have new politics. You have a new collaboration. Talk to me a little about how that works — that transition from director to showrunner.
LIVINGSTON: TV is a showrunner’s medium with a director coming in. You only really have four days working with them to cut their vision of the episode. Then when the showrunner comes in, the showrunner is not just thinking of THAT episode. They’re thinking of the entire show and how this one little nugget is going to fit into this entire theme of this show.
You know, when the showrunner comes in, what they want. So that actually informs you when you’re cutting your editor’s cut. For me a lot of times when I’m cutting my editor’s cut — having worked with a showrunner before — I know, having worked with them. they really like THIS. They like this style. I try to do that and maintain that in the editor’s cut before they even come in.
Sometimes the director — they have a different vision — then when the showrunner comes in, they’re telling you what THEIR vision is. So hopefully you’ve mitigated some of that workload a little bit early at least that’s what I try to do.
HULLFISH: When you’re working with the director and you know what the showrunner is expecting or what the show style is, if the director pushes against that what do you do? Do you try to inform them that they’re going off in a bad direction, or do you say, “Let’s do the director’s vision?”.
LIVINGSTON: I do the director’s vision. It’s their cut. They may be bringing something that you’ve never thought of before. Let’s just do the vision. A few times I have said, “I’m not sure this is going to fly. I’m just letting you know… but we will do it.”.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about bringing up assistants or if someone — a person of color, a woman, a female person of color — is interested in becoming an editor, what is your advice? Do you encourage it?
LIVINGSTON: I absolutely encourage it. Right now is actually a beautiful time in that you’re seeing so many people get in this business. There are so many avenues. Streaming, online. It’s not just the three networks where everyone is just fighting for that one job.
There are so many avenues. There’s room to let people in, especially people of color, especially women of color.
I’m sure that you saw Monty’s interview on Facebook and I have to admit when I saw it and read it I was actually shocked how little representation there was. I did not know it was 1 percent. Then thinking about it even more, realizing that if blacks are 1 percent, the percentage of black women is less than .5? Maybe .4%? That actually really shocked me.
Letting assistants come in — opening the door for them — and I have to admit it — full disclosure — I need to do more about that. The job is the same. We all can do this job. I think it’s a beautiful thing to have more women.
And it’s surprising to me because when film started — in the silent film era it was all women. Female directors, female editors, screenwriters. It was a woman’s medium. It’s odd that it changed.
HULLFISH: I talked to Walter Murch about this and he had an interesting take on it. Walter said that the difference was, early on, they thought this is a great job for women — being editors — because it’s kind of like a sewing machine and you’re just cutting stuff together. It’s like putting together a dress.
His feeling was that when sound came in, it became like an engineering job more than an assembling job. Men took over when it was deemed to be technical and men have to do it. Of course, that’s not MY opinion — nor Walter’s — just how he thought the history played out. My daughter is a total STEM girl. She’s in medical school. I know the science and engineering part is totally in a woman’s wheelhouse.
Many of the giants of our profession are women, of course. Verna, Thelma, Anne Coates, Sally Menke, Dede Allen.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. Having those women before me, I thought, “Well, of course, I can do it.” But I’m still shocked by the extremely low representation of a woman of color, a black woman of color. There is only a handful of us and we actually really don’t know each other. You have Kelley Dixon — who is just kicking ass. I’m such a big fan of hers. Joi McMillon. These are just really great filmmakers.
Terilyn Shropshire — I heard about her because I was a fan of Love and Basketball. “Wait! There is a black female editor that edited Love and Basketball and she’s been in business for over 30 years.” She was an assistant editor on Twin Peaks.
When a show is looking for somebody, a post-producer will usually have their list and it’s usually men — and you may have some women sprinkled about — but they’re usually going to bring in people that they’ve worked with before which is sadly a….
HULLFISH: Self-fulfilling, Catch-22 prophecy.
LIVINGSTON: It really is like a Catch-22. So many times when I go into an edit room on the first day, I’ve had male assistant editors — not mine but other male assistant editors — walk into my room and challenge me.
And I never looked at it and they were challenging me as a black woman, I looked at is that they were challenged me as a woman. “You got this job as a woman. Can you really cut? You have to prove to me that you can cut.”
I’m already the editor and I have to prove to this assistant editor — who has this attitude, “I should be cutting by now. I’ve been an assistant editor for two years.” Really? I’ve been an assistant editor for over 10! Do I have to prove it to you?
HULLFISH: I’m assuming there are some young black women in film school right now wondering what they should do. What advice do you have for them to get to the point where you are right now where you’re cutting and you’re in the editor’s chair?
LIVINGSTON: Don’t listen to people tell you what you can and what you can’t do.
I think that for me was the biggest thing. Having people tell me, “You can’t be an editor.” Or “You’re not good enough.” I’ve had that before. You have to listen to yourself and not let anyone dictate your life and dictate where they think you should go.
It’s possible that I didn’t listen to those people because of a maybe a little bit of naivete a little bit of ignorance, but to know that if you want to do this, who has the right to tell you that you can’t?
If you want to do this, learn whatever you have to. If film school is right for you, then Godspeed. You go to film school. If it’s not, and you’re able to get in the business, Godspeed. You get in the business and you learn whatever you have to and you talk to as many people as possible.
For me, I was incredibly fortunate to have worked at Wolf Films and had that exposure to all those great editors in one spot. I do realize that a lot of people do not have that.
Just continue to trudge forward and don’t listen to someone telling you who they think you are and what they think you could be.
We all have insecurities. I’ve seen people think that they’re giving great advice but it’s coming from their own insecurity and not realizing what that person is going through. This person may hear this information and interpret it through their own lens and it may crush their soul.
HULLFISH: And how did those people get into the industry?
LIVINGSTON: You have to be dogged. What’s great now is there’s so much information out there. There’s the ACE intern program. I didn’t even know about the ACE intern program when I got into it. Knowing about what programs are out there. Researching Motion Picture Editor’s Guild. Do the research and find out where you want to go.
Just send an e-mail. You don’t know what will happen. You honestly don’t know until someone says “no.” That’s honestly how I got into Wolf FIlms, because I thought, Well, I haven’t heard anything. Until I hear “no” I just kept calling. I would just call, “Hey, have you heard anything?” That was literally what I was doing.
HULLFISH: Some guy at Wolf Films was like, “Just hire her for God’s sake! I can’t take any more phone calls!”.
LIVINGSTON: She’s annoying! That’s really what happened. We just hired you because you seemed as you wanted it more than anybody else. And I did!
HULLFISH: Final question. How does ANYONE in post — PA, second assistant, first assistant — distinguish themselves once they get that job to move up the ladder?
LIVINGSTON: You distinguish yourself by putting in the work and that doesn’t mean you work for free — you don’t work overtime for free or anything like that. But you distinguish yourself putting in the work. By listening. By showing your editor that you understand not only the basics. Cutting in sound effects IS a form of storytelling. Understanding THAT process.
But also asking questions. Being in the room as much as possible. Asking your editor, “is it OK if I just watch you cut a scene?” That how I learned. I just watch editors cut a scene and I watched their hands watching how they move. That was the biggest learning experience for me.
Even if it’s cutting something on the side on the weekends. If you’re staying late you’re cutting something. You take a scene that your editor’s cut or you take a scene before your editor’s cut it and you cut it. Then you give it to them and get notes. That’s the first step in the storytelling and editing process. You cut a scene.
Sometimes, editors, we get into our own little bubble and then we forget that I’ve got to give notes on this. This is important to this person. You give notes to them so that they can continue to grow. And that’s how you’re starting to mentor.
HULLFISH: Do you feel like those people do have to SAY that they want to be an editor? I just talked to somebody that said, “I’m not going to bring somebody up and help them become an editor unless I know they want to be an editor.”
I assume that everybody that is an assistant wants to be an editor, but I have heard of people that WANT to stay an assistant for their entire career. When you think about it, they’re really two very different skill sets and job functions.
LIVINGSTON: For me personally I don’t really ask that. I have worked with somebody who said, “I’ve been around a long time and I’m very comfortable being an assistant editor.” I respect that. But I always make that assumption. If you’re working for me, I’m assuming you want to be an editor. I want to try to do whatever I can to help promote you — to help you grow.
I worked on a show where this editor was so proud that he had two or three assistants bumped up to editor. Many editors have great pride that their former assistants are thriving and working as editors now. That’s what you want.
HULLFISH: What many prospective assistants might not see is that they do NOT have to be great editors. They need some technical skills. They need great people skills and the biggest thing about getting hired is that you have to be perceived as a person that we want to be around 12 hours a day five or six days a week.
HULLFISH: You’ll get the job.
LIVINGSTON: Absolutely. Honestly, that’s 90 percent of the job in my opinion.
Question for you?
LIVINGSTON: I’ve read your books. You’ve interview SO many great editors. Who is the white whale for you? Who is the one that you have not interviewed?
HULLFISH: My white whale. There were several interviews I really wanted to land. For a long time, it was probably Thelma Schoomaker. That took about three years to finally connect with her. Anne Coates was another big one that I tried to get for a long time and finally got. Walter Murch is obviously an icon in the film editing world and I was really happy that I got to meet him in person for our series of interviews.
I’d say that even from the beginning of Art of the Cut, the one person that I really wanted, but figured I’d never get, is Marcia Lucas. She seems to like to stay off the radar, but I’ve seen some interviews with her and I would absolutely love to talk to her. If anybody out there knows her, please help me. Let her know I don’t want to harpoon her. Just interview her. And Felicia, now that I’ve added you to my interview list I can move on to Marcia.
LIVINGSTON: Thank you. You’re very kind.
HULLFISH: It was such a pleasure talking with you. I really enjoyed our conversation.
LIVINGSTON: Thank you so much. Thank you for reaching out. As I said, I’m a big fan. I will continue to read your books and I’m very honored that you reached out to me. Thank you.
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.