Post Production

ART OF THE CUT with Pete Beaudreau on editing “Queen and Slim”

Pete Beaudreau has been editing features since 2001. He’s best known for the films Beasts of No Nation, The Gambler, All is Lost, My Week with Marilyn, Margin Call and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness.

Pete has also worked on episodes of the TV series Maniac and The Affair.

In this interview, we discuss his latest film, Queen and Slim, with director Melina Matsoukas.

This interview is also available as a podcast.

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

HULLFISH: What was the schedule like?

BEAUDREAU: I was actually just looking at call sheets to try to remind myself because it happened pretty quickly. I did a pilot with (director) Melina Matsoukas last summer. I think we started shooting in August. We did a pilot for FX. And that’s where I met Melina. And we worked on that pilot basically until she left to start prep on Queen and Slim. She left to start prep in November (2018). I think I stayed on and finished that pilot around Thanksgiving (2018.) But I knew when I finished that project that I was going to do the film with her.

My agents had essentially said, “You should do this pilot. The pilot’s just a pilot, but what you really want to do is get on this feature.” So I sort of had that in my mind — that the feature was sort of like the bigger prize — and I liked the pilot, too, and I really liked the people that we did it with. But it was really to get to know Melina and get to know how she worked and how she liked to work. At that point, I hadn’t read the script. I had just been told what the script was about.

And then, towards the end of working on the pilot, we had a very awkward formal meeting where I was given the script and then she came to the editing room where we work every day and we were like, “OK, so let’s have a meeting about this movie.” Because she was meeting with other editors, too. And I loved the script. I thought it was really great. I thought it was really illuminating and really humanizing. I thought as a white person who doesn’t have to deal with the terror of being pulled over, what that could morph into and how that can completely end your life for no reason. I thought this is a really important story because it’s a story that’s more important for certain white audiences to get than it is even for African-American audiences to get because I think that African-American audiences see themselves in the story. I would like a white audience to see this movie and think twice about what people are going through.

Melina Matsoukas, Director/Producer, and Lena Waithe, Writer/Producer, attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

I was really moved by it. I thought it was just I was great. I’m a big fan of Daniel’s. We had seen Widows recently, and I knew Daniel from Get Out and I knew (writer) Lena Waithe’s work a little bit from some of her shows. And at that point, I knew that I really liked Melina, so I was really psyched. I thought it was gonna be a great job.

At the time, I was living in Brooklyn with my family. I got home from L.A. around Thanksgiving, we packed up our house, packed up all our stuff and moved to L.A. the middle of January. I think production started a week later.

The first week of production was in Cleveland. According to the call sheets, it looks like it was a thirty-seven-day shoot. Pretty decent shoot for a modest budget movie, and then there were, I think, three days of second unit stuff, mostly car driving, car shots, some drone photography. A lot of that stuff was missing during production.

Actually the first week’s production in Cleveland was during a polar vortex. And so I didn’t get the first week’s dailies until they got to New Orleans. It was essentially too cold to get the footage out of Cleveland.

They had gotten one batch of footage out. It wasn’t enough complete material to cut a single scene. It was just, drips and drabs of different things. And then I think they were just suffering so badly shooting at night in the polar vortex that the priority of getting the film on a plane to get back to Burbank to process — they were just not worried about it. So it was on production’s 8th day that I got the first dailies that I could actually do something with.

(from left) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

And it was challenging because what they had shot was the scene with the police officer. That was the bulk of what they had shot in Cleveland. I think they shot it over the course of one long night. And then there were a few pickup things that they had done that week.

Because of the way that the schedule was structured and because of the cars that they had access to and how long they were going to hold the cars for, they basically needed to know by Friday morning if they missed anything — if they needed anything picked up — so I basically cut that police altercation scene on that Thursday and handed it off to Melina. Melina was really happy with what she had and then picked out a few things that she wanted to pick up. But I was eight days behind on the shoot the whole time they were shooting.

They shot a lot of material and they shot a lot of sort of complicated sequences. And it was very difficult to catch up. I hate the feeling during an assembly of falling far behind. The further behind I get, the harder it is for me to keep on top of the dailies that are actually coming in.

So I start getting calls from set, “Hey, is there a focus problem here? Do you have enough material for the scene? Do you have this or that?” And I’d say, “I’m doing stuff from last Monday. I’m still trying to clear out the backlog.” That is just always really challenging. The most challenging part of the assembly is just staying on top enough.

HULLFISH: When you’re that far behind, do you try to do something where you’re editing differently or you approach the material differently so you can get through it faster? Like, looking at the dailies differently?

BEAUDREAU: I try to, but I find that it’s not helpful to the process, which is just the process that’s ingrained in how I have been cutting for at least the last 10 years. I just have to work faster. And that’s kind of how I make up the time.

I’ll use the alarm on my phone and set 90-minute goals during the edit day. I’ll say, “OK, at this point in the day, I have to finish these scenes and done rough sound then pick music for this scene.” It keeps me focused and it keeps me on track. I do an internal schedule for the day just so I stay on track. I actually made up pretty much all the time by the end of production.

There were two scenes that were really difficult to put together. The dancing scene in the juke joint and the protest/sex scene. Those were really challenging to put together.

I’d spend three days on the dancing scene and then I just put it to the side and then I would just blast through four dialogue scenes and make up some time. And then I would go back to the dancing scene and see stuff a little bit differently. I’d have some distance from it. Scan through the dailies a different way and spot some new material.

I had to do that with both of those scenes. I think I went back to both of those scenes two or three times each during the course of the assembly.

I’d pretty much caught up to camera. I had maybe a day of dailies that were coming in that I needed to cut, and then the second unit car footage started coming in and it was tons and tons and tons and tons of stuff. So that totally blew out my schedule. I thought I was in really good shape and right at the end I had hours of car footage.

Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

HULLFISH: You mentioned that during the polar vortex, that they didn’t want to ship the film out or couldn’t ship the film out. Was it film?

It was. They shot 35mm. Melina was really adamant about shooting film. I honestly don’t know how I feel about shooting film.

HULLFISH: Do you think that shooting film kept the quantity of dailies and coverage down or were you just getting a ton of stuff despite the fact that it wasn’t digital?

BEAUDREAU: I was still getting a good amount. I was definitely getting a good amount of stuff. All of the car driving second unit stuff was done at the end of the shoot digitally because it’s just so time-consuming to stop, change a camera, put a different camera body on, reload a mag, while you’re trying to do drone photography or car rig stuff. It’s super time-consuming.

My memory of it is that a lot of that stuff at the end was shot digitally. I was not pleased that I was getting so far behind because we were shooting film. That was not making me happy.

HULLFISH: Because otherwise, you would have been getting stuff through PIX or something every night. Instead, you’ve got to wait for a shipment, then processing, scanning…

BEAUDREAU: It took 3 days from the day that they shot before I would see it. I would always prefer to have the time during the assembly to get the film into the best shape it can be.

(from left) Goddess (Indya Moore), Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

You don’t have a second opportunity to show the film to the director for the first time. It can be crushing. It can be crushing for the editor AND the director to screen an assembly that’s half-baked. It can be hard to recover from in terms of the trust that you need to actually finish the film. My preference is always going to be: “get me the dailies as soon as possible.”

HULLFISH: It’s a really interesting point that the delay can cause trust issues. I can totally see that. You have to work so quickly so that she knows what she needs to cover. Then your first assembly is not where you want it to be and it doesn’t make you look good.

BEAUDREAU: Part of the mystery of the assembly is seeing what is important to the director through the footage that’s coming in. And as more footage comes in, the spotlight is getting larger in terms of what you’re tuned in to spotting and what becomes important for you in terms of how you’re selecting shots. How you’re even structuring individual scenes and then transitions between them.

One of the things I really liked about working with Melina on the pilot was that I could tell that our tastes were really similar. Our senses of pacing were really similar. Our tastes in performance were really similar. So I had confidence when the dailies were coming in that I was at least putting it together in a way that she had envisioned. Or at least it wouldn’t have been so far off the mark of what she had wanted.

I always think that there’s some amount of your own personality that you put into an assembly that the director isn’t looking for or isn’t expecting, and that’s part of the creative process. You have to bring something to it. Otherwise, you could just be cutting together a storyboard. I want to have that time while I’m going through the footage to make sure I’m sort of picking up on all those clues.

Daniel Kaluuya as Slim in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

HULLFISH: There are quite a number of scenes that played beautifully without music — places you might expect music to be — and there was great sound design underneath of them, just ambient room sounds. Talk to me a little bit about choosing music and when to not put music in.

BEAUDREAU: Melina would prefer the assembly to have no music in it — or as little music as possible. I think I maybe chose two or three pieces of music from the assembly because montage-y scenes or sort of big stirring sections don’t necessarily stand on their own.

Shooting it and cutting it only sort of gets you so far. Clearly, the first temp piece of music I used during the assembly was for Slim having his head shaved and Queen’s braid being taken out — the sort of crosscutting of those two scenes. Slim standing, looking at himself in the mirror. I’d taken a cue from If Beale Street Could Talk.

They were getting closer to each other at that point in the film. They were being transformed. Even though the ice wasn’t breaking with them together, it was like this sort of dual emotion that they were going through independently. And so I just thought it needed a super-strong piece of music that was basically going to push you into that next scene.

The next scene is like a really tender scene where Slim talks about his doubts and if they’re gonna make it, and Queen opens up to him about her mother being killed by her uncle. So that was a place I used music. I’d done some temp music for the sex scene and the protest and I’d done temp music for the end of the film when they get to the runway.

And then in terms of how we started building in music during the director’s cut, Melina’s got this incredible music background of the work that she does for music videos and she has really good taste and she listens to just a ton of music. She was basically pulling in the source music and just trying a bunch of stuff.

She’d play stuff on her laptop and we would just hit the spacebar and just see how stuff was feeling. A lot of stuff came in through Melina. Our music supervisor was Kier Lehman. He gave us a bunch of good stuff and also just gave us stuff that got us talking and gave us ideas to bounce more stuff off of.

At some point, Melina showed the film to Solange Knowles, and she gave us a bunch of ideas — really, really cool source music ideas, some of those, I think, are actually in the movie.

We were working with this guy named Fam Udeorji who does music supervising for all of Donald Glover’s shows, and he gave us a bunch of great stuff — that really cool New Orleans bounce song that’s playing when they get to Uncle Earl’s for the first time. Fam came to us through Motown. Motown was going to release the soundtrack. So we had a pretty deep music team for all the source stuff.

I had not worked on anything before where there were artists coming to the cutting room to screen scenes or to screen the whole movie, and then they would go away, and then a week later we’d get a song. And the song was for a scene. And then we’d try that song in that scene and maybe it didn’t work in that scene, but maybe it belonged someplace else.

Melina is a huge fan of stems. She’s never met a stem that she didn’t like. So they’d recorded all the great music. Melina would say, “Send us the stems.” We’d take the stems and recut the music. We spent a lot of time on the music. It was a big part of the process. And then in terms of the score, we just had this really simple temp score that I put together and it was a couple of cues from Widows, the Steve McQueen movie. We’d actually used a couple of cues from Jonny Greenwood’s score for You Were Never Really Here, which is a movie that I saw and I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it stuck with me. There’s something about that movie that really stuck with me, and when I was racking my brain to try to find interesting music, I listened to that score and it was incredible. There’s just a bunch of incredible stuff in it. So we used that for some of the more hopeful scenes when it felt like they could be getting away.

There were a couple of cues from that score we used and we had some tension-y bad stuff that we had built out of a bunch of different things. Some stuff I’d taken from Arrival. I think I took some stuff from Sicario. Some stuff from the TV show, Ozark. It’s got a great score that you can easily build other music pieces out of because it’s really sparse and a lot of it’s percussive and it’s got strings and you can kind of build a much fuller piece of music out of that. We were really kind of light on the score. We didn’t really go that heavy on it.

HULLFISH: That was my impression. That it was a lot of diegetic or source music. You mentioned the first time they show up at her uncle’s house. There’s a great transition I would love to hear you talk about. There’s a transition where it’s score and then it kind of transitions to being diegetic.

BEAUDREAU: Yeah. That we played with a bunch of times and in a bunch of different scenes. We sort of fake it in the Avid just by doing reverbs and then bringing out the reverb — starting dry and then adding some reverb to it.

Our sound mixers and our sound designers are really good. Our sound mixers were Frank A. Montaño and Jon Taylor. They have incredible ears and they’re really smart about backgrounds.

We had a quick mix at Universal at the Hitchcock Theater and it felt like we were just barely making it through the mix. There were so many ideas that we were trying, and also just a lot of cleanup. It’s hard to get good sound when you’re in cars. It’s a lot of process trailer stuff. Process trailers squeak and rattle and make all kinds of noise.

HULLFISH: Definitely!

BEAUDREAU: It can be hard even with a week of pre dubs and a week to clean up. Once you start getting the score in, all these other elements start coming together, things unravel and you got to put it back together quickly. When we went to the premiere at the Chinese theater in L.A — I’d never been to the Chinese theater before — the premiere was only a week and a half ago and it sounded so good.

We talked about how to transition music — how much of it to be source, how much of it to be score. They did a really good job of making all of those source and score cues really seamless.

We were happy with our temp score and we had been very specific about where we placed those cues so that when it came time for music spotting — our composer was Dev Hynes — who’s a rock star. He’s not just a composer. That’s not what he usually does, but he’s incredibly talented and really smart.

And we had a map basically of all the cues. Our music editor — Joseph DeBeasi — and I sat and made a cue list that was basically where we were using the music, where it came from — where the temp was from — and then what the temp was DOING. What I liked most about our temp was that it was fairly neutral music. There were only a few places where it was really commenting on what was happening.

Lena Waithe, Writer/Producer, Dev Hynes, Composer, and Melina Matsoukas, Director/Producer, attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

There was something about that that gave the film a little more realism, we weren’t trying to milk every moment with the music. In some ways, we were using it to distance the audience. In some ways, we were using it to almost distract the audience — so that they’re not quite aware of what’s happening.

One of the things that I think is most successful about the movie is that it sort of plays on a mythological level. Like a mythic journey. It has a dreamy quality to it.

I remember at the first public screening we did — a friends-and-family screening about six weeks into the director’s cut just to get feedback — just to see if we were getting in the right place. Often, you can just feel the room. You don’t need to ask a bunch of questions about whether things are dragging or whether anyone’s lost. You get it from just sitting in a crowd. And at the end of that screening, it was really disorienting. People felt a little disoriented.

I thought initially maybe it’s not working right. But I think the disorientation is that it’s a lot of archetypes working together. It’s based in reality, but in some ways, it’s really fantastical. I think it’s just far more rewarding than we thought it was going to be. It really packs a punch.

HULLFISH: It was not what I was expecting when I sat down and I loved what I saw. It was almost like a tone poem. There’s obviously this very strong thread of this escape from the original inciting incident of killing the police officer that you see in the trailer and getting away, but beyond that, it’s really character and feeling and emotion that was not what I was expecting to see. I loved it.

(from left, centered) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Before we get away from the music, I wanted to ask this one thing. You mentioned that dance scene. There’s a cool audio and music transition from dancing to this monologue that happens after the dance. Can you talk about that?

BEAUDREAU: How that had been scripted and cut in the assembly was: they had the full dance at the club. They get back in the car and they’re driving away and then they have this dialog where Queen talks about what she’s looking for in a man and Slim talks about what he’s looking for in a woman.

The scene had a beginning, middle, and end. It started with some kind of cute banter in the car. And then it got a lot more serious. But there was something about it that just wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite working.

I think those lines are really resonant for people — the lines Queen says — “I want someone to kiss my scars that I never knew I had and nurse the wounds they leave behind” and that is not easy dialogue to try to deliver. It’s definitely not easy dialogue to deliver when you’re sitting in a car and you’re sort of like looking out the window and Slim’s driving and he’s looking over every once in a while. It’s not magic.

That dancing was working really beautifully, and Melina was suggested, “Can we just pull that dialog up and then transition directly into the car for Slim’s half of the scene?”

The music transition was everything. If you could handoff from the band in the club to a piece of score in a way that felt sort of transformative or magical, it sort of paved the way and you could have her talk about anything. You could really set the stage for something really beautiful. And that was a place where — I think the temp score there was Widows.

(from left) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, back to camera) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

It worked great and it became this really moving moment and it became something that we went back to and we used later when they’re walking with Junior. We take their voices and take the dialogue of the scene and get some distance from it. Partly it makes it feel like it’s a bigger story when you’re layering dialogue like that.

It was really tricky, too, because we wanted to use Queen’s lines from the car and they had car noise all over them. We ADR’d it a couple of different times and tried to get the performance back to where we had in production and it just never worked. So there is some car noise under that and it drove our sound mixer — JT — crazy.

HULLFISH: For those who haven’t seen the film or maybe don’t remember that moment. It’s exactly what I thought. I hate to say this but I’m an editor, so I watch things. And I thought, “I bet those were two separate scenes and they decided they were gonna pull the dialogue up into that dance scene.” It was so good. I love that transition and that moment, but I figured that they were two separate scenes that you had pulled up like that.

And then the other one that you just mentioned is the scene where they’re talking about being immortal. And so Queen and Slim are out for a walk with Junior and it’s not quite done the same way as the dance scene, but the lines are not synced. Why are they not synced?

BEAUDREAU: For me, it made the lines land better when we could see faces and be very specific about who we are seeing on each line. There were losing light. It was shot as a walk and talk. Those images that we have — that we end up incorporating into that dialogue — were all shot at the end of that sequence and at the end of that day and they were just kind of grabbed — like the shots of Queen and Slim sitting on the riverbank and Junior looking at them. All that stuff just had great light and they were losing light. They were just grabbing a bunch of stuff. I think the idea of them was going to be “Use two of these shots and then transition” and then you’re back to them at the garage trying to see if the car works.

We didn’t have a lot of screenings prior to picture locking, but there was a real feeling that what Junior does at the protest was really out of character for the way Junior was set up and also sort of out of left-field for the movie. There was a feeling that Junior hadn’t been set up well enough. What Junior does at the protest is just so shocking, and I just thought if we could get those lines to land in the same way that Jodie’s lines landed in the juke joint when they were talking about what they wanted in a partner, I thought “We could get a little bit more meaning out of Junior by showing him being so enamored of them and laying in some of that very heavy dialogue about what it means to be immortal and what it means to live forever by becoming infamous.”.

HULLFISH: By not having him say those lines in sync dialogue, in that walk and talk, it definitely gave it a very different weight.

BEAUDREAU: Yeah. And it allowed us to sort of tease out those moments a little bit longer and give them some support.

I think Junior takes the wrong lesson from them.

HULLFISH: You mentioned the protests with Junior. Did they shoot the consequence of that action or was that never shot?

BEAUDREAU: We did not. There was a bit of Junior getting tackled that we had taken out. It sort of contributes to this weird, dreamy out-of-place, out-of-time feeling when you’re left on Junior’s face and Junior realizes that he’s made a huge mistake, but that it’s too late. We thought that that was far more powerful of a way to land on.

Daniel Kaluuya, Flea and Melody Ehsani attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

And then there’s a line of dialog when they get to the Shepherd’s house that people seem to lose. Flea — Mr. Shepherd — basically says, “That young man was killed.” And it leads to the dialogue of his wife saying, “Did you make him do it? Did you put him up to it?”

I think it’s enough to know what’s happened to him.

HULLFISH: Well, it also makes — I think it makes that scene much more powerful that the audience doesn’t know what happens to Junior either until Flea says that line.

BEAUDREAU: One of the things that other people have asked, so I’ll tell you, that the sex scene and the protest were written as intercut scenes in the script. There’s a progression on each side — there’s a progression to the lovemaking and a progression to the intensity of the protests. And so there were a few places where we could shift back and forth, but I think we settled on the most logical hand-off.

I think it’s a really challenging sequence. I spent a lot of time working on it, Melina and I talked about — could we split it? Could we take them apart? Do they have to be together? And we decided that we couldn’t split them because we don’t have any scenes in the film that are not with Queen and Slim. It felt strange to cut the protest out entirely. It felt strange to have the protest start but not have a resolution to it. And I think the sex scene on its own, I think it would just be very hard to watch the intensity of the sex scene for the amount of time that we have.

With the intercuts we’re buying ourselves all this leeway to have more time on both sides.

HULLFISH: Together was super powerful. I couldn’t imagine it split up or one without the other.

Those handoffs are the big thing, right? Where do you handoff from one to the other?

BEAUDREAU: I think the footage tells you. The way that I cut that sequence — because I really struggled with it — was that I cut as far as I thought made logical sense in one section. And then I would think: “There’s no more story to tell at the protest right now, so I’m going to go to the sex scene.”

And then, for the sex scene, I didn’t want it to get too far too fast. So then that gave me the breaks to go back to the protest. The protest has Junior’s march and chanting. It has the cops throwing the tear gas and then beating protesters. Then it has Junior making the decision to confront the cop. Then it has the cop dialogue. Those beats are sort of discrete. They’re not really meant to be jumbled together.

It’s just the feel. It’s just where you’re at in your storytelling. Mostly because you know what’s happening on Queen and Slim’s side, the hard decisions are what’s happening in the protest about how much to show in the protests. How much to accelerate the violence and the protest? That’s informing where you make the cut-back decisions.

HULLFISH: Can you think of specific scenes that played with no music? Are there any specific scenes you can think of?

BEAUDREAU: I never envisioned music for the inciting incident with the cop. I just never thought it needed it. We went with a very naturalistic soundscape.

HULLFISH: I’m thinking about conversations between Queen and Slim in various locations, whether they were on the road or in a field or in a house where you’re just hearing the sound of that location. Quietly. You’re not hearing any music, which I love.

BEAUDREAU: It’s the same idea that went into how I chose the temp music which was that I wanted the temp to be really neutral. So it’s a continuation of that idea. The dialog scene between Queen and Slim after her braids are taken out and his head shaved and they’re in the bed and Uncle Earl’s — that scene, just didn’t need it. It played so much nicer in the silences.

I always thought of it in terms of charting where they were even just getting to know each other — forget about their romance — but even just getting to know each other and start to speak to each other as people. And that was a place where I think music just puts all of this emotion into a scene that just…

In that scene in particular, because they’re in the very tentative first steps of getting to know each other and to like each other, I just thought that scene just played so great without it.

(from left) Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) in Queen & Slim, directed by Melina Matsoukas.

HULLFISH: Those scenes also had great room presence. Like, you felt the house around them. Although they were just laying in bed, it could’ve been dead silent. But you felt — audio-wise — the rest of the house. Did you have something to strip under there? Or did you just leave that to the sound guys?

BEAUDREAU: In the off-line cut, we had some difficult audio there. There are a bunch of EQs on because there was a bad hum from the room upstairs, and so we had done distant crickets. They’re in New Orleans and we were trying to get some of that in there. We did the background. The beginning of that scene starts with the argument between Earl and Naomi. They actually have that horrible shouting match and he knocks her out and then she goes after him. He has that meltdown tantrum in the hallway. We played the audio of that confrontation for a long time under their scene and then put in the sound of her stomping off and the door slamming.

And then because that’s happening and neither of them wants to be in that room and they’re both so uncomfortable. They’re lying in this bed. They don’t know each other. Their appearances were just totally transformed. When that door slam happens and all you hear are the crickets and an occasional car-by outside, you’re just kind of relieved for the silence. All of that yelling and shouting and fighting, I think paves the way for you to have a quiet moment. But it was always really important to feel like they were in real places and that the world was real. We were very conscious of what the locations should sound like.

I felt this really strongly on Gore’s Verbinski’s movie.

HULLFISH: (The last time Pete and I spoke was after he edited The Cure for Wellness with Gore Verbinski).

BEAUDREAU: You’re really just killing yourself on your temp sound mix to make it sound like a real-world — a living world. You’re doing tons of EQing and ‘verbs and pulling in sound effects from all these different places. You’re cutting five different music scores together to make one single piece of music. It has to be presentable to anyone that watches the movie and they feel like they’re watching a movie.

Then it gets sent off to the sound team and they have so little time. They don’t actually have the time to listen to the work you’ve done — listen to your tracks, listen to where you put your sound, the types of car sounds and door sounds and any of that stuff. Then you show up at the temp mix and all of your sounds are different.

HULLFISH: How much does that affect your sense of the movie when that complete change happens?

Lena Waithe, Writer/Producer, and Melina Matsoukas, Director/Producer, attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

BEAUDREAU: It can be hard because our sound guys always called it “temp love.” They’d just say, “Oh, you have temp love.” And I think that — to some extent — we did. And to some extent, we knew the movie a thousand times better than anyone else did because we’d been living with it and designing it for months before anyone else had had a chance to see it. It’s very hard to say that it’s just temp love when you actually innately feel what the scene should be because you’ve been living with it because you designed it to be a certain way.

HULLFISH: It’s purposeful. You did it purposely, and so therefore when it’s not there anymore, you feel like your very specific creative decisions are missing. That exact thunderclap at the exact moment was for a purpose. Or the crickets to feel like New Orleans.

BEAUDREAU: Yeah. I always try to hand off a really good map and the map has all the peaks and valleys and it has everything it needs, but it should just sound better. Take what I did and just make it better, but don’t use the same sounds — like use better sounds.

I always find that so jarring in a temp or on the stage. It’s no one’s fault. It’s the way the schedules are built. Schedules are just built to not give sound enough time. They don’t have enough time to sit and listen to your tracks — even to do spotting.

We did our spotting session — gave good notes — but then it’s: “Here are our files and the temp is in two weeks.” They take your notes and they just rip them up and throw them away. On these smaller films, it’s very hard to give all the departments all the time they need. It’s tough. But I think that we ended up in a great place.

Our sound is really strong and our score is really, really strong.

All of the things were coming in very, very last-minute. We would mix a whole reel and then get the music for it two days later. We’d go back and re-mix the reel because our composer was on a European tour. He worked for a couple of weeks, then he went on tour for four weeks and then rushed back to L.A. and tried to finish the score. It was very down-to-the-wire.

It’s a huge credit to Melina that it came out like it did because she’s really, really exacting. She very much knows what she wants. What I like about working with her is that she lets me help her figure out what she wants.

By the time that we were deep into the discussions with composer and music spotting and all that stuff, we could say, “Emotionally, this is what’s happening. This is who the cue is about. Music is about this character here.”

We really had a hard time getting the music right for the last scene on the runway because Daniel’s character is going through so many different things. You need the hopefulness as they’re driving to the airport. You need a bed of tension that comes in when the cops come in, and then you need some sadness when Queen is shot. You need something that makes Daniel pick her up and we had really tracked all of those beats in our temp score: “This sound is doing this and this sound is doing this and this instrument is doing this.”

You know it so well, and then when you’re working with a composer and you’re getting stuff back it’s just not right. Why isn’t it right? It’s only when you go back to what you’d been working on for months and you think about what each piece is doing that you know why it’s right. And then you can get the vocabulary together to be able to explain what you need.

Melina is just an incredible creative partner to be able to work with because she’s super-open to suggestions. Once she trusts you, she really trusts you implicitly. She’s one of those directors that just brings out the best in your work because they support you so well. It’s great when you get a relationship like that. You feel like, “Oh, cool. This is another one. I got another one that I can come back to and we can do this again.”.

HULLFISH: Was your collaboration similar on the pilot to the film or did your relationship change — or the way she collaborated change — because of budget or time or schedule?

BEAUDREAU: It changed on the film because the director on a pilot doesn’t have the ultimate say. Tv is the producer’s medium. It’s the writer’s medium. And so, on the pilot, she got the cut where she wanted it to be. She was very happy with the changes that we were making. But at that point, she’s just not in the room every day anymore because it’s not her role.

On Queen and Slim, it was totally different. In her relationship with Lena, she’s got a sort of built-in showrunner collaboration, except it’s not just Lena saying, “No, no. It’s my show and we’re done.” They have a great working relationship. They’re really good collaborators. And they had final cut on the movie, which was incredible.

And because Lena is a showrunner — it’s basically her job — because Melina’s work experience has been on TV and in music videos, I think she transitioned into features much easier because she had Lena as a collaborator who can fulfill a showrunner role. But also, I think she let Melina really run the show. It was cool to see their collaboration. It was cool to see how they work together.

HULLFISH: There are some really interesting edits when they’re talking about, “Do you want to be state’s property?”.

BEAUDREAU: It’s a little bit dissociatives with the idea. They’re standing at the back of the trunk. They just locked the sheriff into the trunk and he says, “He could’ve helped us” and she slammed the trunk. It’s like sort of an out-of-body experience for him. We’re running lines out-of-sync. We’re showing a very emotive look on Queen’s face and just confusion on Slim’s face. We did it to be really disassociative.

At all of our public screenings prior to picture-lock people would say, It’s great. “You just have to fix that where they’re talking and their mouths aren’t moving.” But Melina said, “I love it. I think it’s important.” In the sound mix, we had done some very subtle stuff just filtering and EQing her voice so it sounds a little “‘verby” like it’s in his head. That was the idea behind that. Just to try to get into Slim’s head a little bit.

There’s another interesting scene I want to ask you about. They pull into a gas station and there’s a long shot of the back of the truck. And it’s quite a long shot of their dialogue played from behind them following the truck into the gas station. Can you talk to me about that? And what was the effect you were looking for?

BEAUDREAU: Melina had this feeling that the car coverage was going to be very “samey.” It was going to be a lot of shot/ reverse shot. A lot of reflections on their faces. You can only be inside the car so many times. She wanted to just be along for the ride. She wanted it to feel like the audience was just along for the ride, and I think you get that feeling. You’re with them, but you’re not really with them. You’re sort of watching them. Because they’re talking about how many views did the YouTube video have and Slim asking, “How long do we have before the helicopters are following us?”

I think it just gives you this feeling of pursuit. This feeling that they’re being chased. And it’s the first time we have daylight in the movie, so I think it’s just sort of nice to be with them and not funneled through a traditional shot/reverse shot.

HULLFISH: So often you don’t play dialog on faces. And I’m really interested in that idea of when to play lines on and off. Can you think of the specific shots or scenes or do you have a philosophy about that?

BEAUDREAU: I’m not even aware that there’s a lot of dialogue that’s not being played on faces.

In certain places, the reaction is just more important than the giver of the information, and I think that because it’s such a deep character study, there are places where I just want to see someone process information, and so a lot of times I think that’s what it comes down to for me.

It’s not always the information that’s important, it’s how a character takes it and how they interpret that information, and you get that out of reaction shots in a way that you can’t get out of just seeing someone speaking. Particularly for an actor like Daniel, because his eyes are so revealing. He can do very small movements, but you get much more out of what he’s feeling just by seeing his face. I think it just came naturally out of the way the scenes are structured and the way that the information is being delivered.

HULLFISH: Please don’t take this defensively: after the climax of the movie, we spend quite a bit of time wrapping things up. Did you have discussions of: “Let’s do this sooner or maybe we end on the climax?” Were there any structural discussions about the end of the movie?

BEAUDREAU: Yes, there were. We had this very interesting reaction from our early screenings and also our preview screening where we had real audiences watch the movie for the first time. The white part of the audience was very, very upset at the runway. The black audience was very angry. That was universal. White people were crying and black people were mad — really, really mad. And so we couldn’t end the movie with people being mad. (laughs)

We did discuss different ways of handling it. It was scripted that there was going to be a news report at the end. And the news report is where you learn what their actual names are. That informs the mythology of it.

You didn’t even know what their names were, but you loved them and you really got to care about them and you hoped that they made it — and you didn’t even know who they were. That, I think is really important. I thought it was also good to see Uncle Earl again, even though he’s a smaller character. There’s just so much tragedy in that family. So I thought it was important to see him. There was some discussion of — but Melina never took this discussion seriously — to end after the funeral.

HULLFISH: I heard an interview with her that the guy that betrays them — there’s a shot of him in that last sequence, too. He was supposed to be a white guy.

BEAUDREAU: Oh really?

HULLFISH: Yeah, there’s a DGA podcast of her talking about it.

BEAUDREAU: It’s bringing up a lot of interesting and really passionate critiques online. We’re reading a lot of stuff that people are upset that Junior kills a black cop and people are upset that a black guy gives them up. It’s something that Melina and Lena were really passionate about.

There’s this idea that once you put on a uniform, it doesn’t matter what color you are, you’ve gone along with the philosophy of how people are treated. There was also a question about whether you could have a movie where two different African-Americans kill two different white cops? Is it too much? Is it too on-the-nose? Is it too much what you would expect to see?

The same with the end, with the character that gives them up. It’s something that they really thought about and really weighed as many options as they could to try to figure out the right way to do it. And what was right for them. The script is a very singular view. It’s very much Lena’s vision. Lena and Melina. I don’t want a credit Melina with any writing because it’s really Lena’s script, but they made all the decisions about what race those characters should be. It’s all intentional.

I always joke about the ending of the film. I said, “We don’t want to go like Lord of the Rings. We don’t have three or four endings.” We want to have it end strong and have it end in a really good way.

I think the way that the runway worked out was better than I thought it was going to be. Daniel’s performance is so strong. He’s really great. Jodie’s great there too, but after she’s shot the way that Daniel’s face just transforms and then the decision to pick her up and walk towards the cops feels way stronger than it is on a piece of paper when you read the description of what’s happening in the script. It’s transformative what happened with the performance there.

And so I think that there is a sense that that scene is so final, but it was never written to be final. It was written as a step in the progression to get towards the end. The legacy section — the kid wearing the shirt and pasting the picture up on the wall — that was in the script. Watching the newscast was all in the script. We didn’t cut a single scene out of the script. There were a few that we tried to — and we tried different ways of shortening stuff — and a lot of it stuck, but some of it didn’t. There were a lot of different ways that we tried to change things, but the ending was really the ending that Lena and Melina had envisioned for it. They felt so strongly about it. It’s really hard to try to sway them.

HULLFISH: The audience needed that time.

BEAUDREAU: I think so. I think so. I think you need some time to process. I think there is something hopeful about their legacy that ending on the runway or ending at the end of the funeral, there’s no hope. And so I think you kind of need all of it.

HULLFISH: I’m not criticizing. I sat through the entire credits because I just couldn’t get up at the end of the movie… I couldn’t leave the theater.

BEAUDREAU: Audiences have had really, really strong reactions to it.

Daniel said that he was doing press junket screenings. The press had just screened the movie and he would walk into the room to start the interview and he there is no applause. No one was smiling. Nobody was happy to see him. Most of his screenings with people that have just screened the movie? The interviews are very hard to start. It’s hard to start talking about the movie.

HULLFISH: Yeah, I could see that. I can totally see that.

BEAUDREAU: It casts a really strong spell. I think there’s something really amazing about it.

HULLFISH: It’s an incredibly powerful film and it’s not what I expected watching the trailer.

BEAUDREAU: There’s more going on than you can capture in a trailer. There are far more layers to it.

HULLFISH: Right. Exactly. Pete, I’ve kept you for a very long time. I really appreciate your great insights into the film. Thank you for cutting it and thanks for talking to me.

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

BEAUDREAU: Thanks, Steve! It’s always good talking to you, man!

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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