Post Production

ART OF THE CUT with Fred Raskin, ACE on editing “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood”

As an assistant editor to the legendary Sally Menke, Fred Raskin, ACE, worked on both of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies and created a working relationship with the director that launched him from assistant editor to the coveted editor’s chair with Django Unchained, though he HAD edited projects for other directors prior to Django.

Fred has worked – solo or as co-editor – on films including Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Guardians of the Galaxy – 1 and 2, Fast and Furious AND Fast Five.

Today, Fred and I discuss his work on Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

Fred Raskin, ACE, in the cutting room of Hateful Eight. Photo courtesy, Wm. Stetz.

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

HULLFISH : Let’s talk about the diegetic (http://filmsound.org/terminology/diegetic.htm) music, or the beds of music and sound and radio and TV content that the characters are listening to — or that you would imagine are filling their space.

RASKIN: The entire movie — to some extent — is a product of Quentin’s memory of that era. And one of the things that is foremost in his mind was that everyone listened to 93-KHJ — an AM station that played the rock music of the era. He wrote into the screenplay that the deejays from that radio station would be — to some extent — the narrators of the movie. Them introducing the songs and coming out of them and even the way they read the commercials was all going to be part of the soundscape of the movie. He actually got ahold of a 40 CD set that was just all of this KHJ material from 1969. And he listened to all of it. And I had to have my assistants catalog it all so that when he would say, “OK I want to use this song which is from this date with this deejay” we were able to pull it up. KHJ is as much a character in the movie as any of the people.

HULLFISH: Did you find that you needed to edit picture to that audio material or were you trying to edit mute or were you adding the audio later? What was the timetable of including those soundtrack pieces?

RASKIN: When I’m doing my assembly, Quentin really does not come into the editing room during production. He just remains focused on shooting the movie. He literally had to come into the editing room twice during the entirety of the five-month shoot. So when I’m doing my assembly I generally am working without music. He’s very good about not telling me what songs he intends to use because he doesn’t want to have the experience of watching it for the first time to find that I’ve used the song in a different way than he had intended. Sometimes he knows — down to each verse — what he wants to see at what point, so seeing something that’s off is going to throw him and he’d rather see it silent and then put the music in later.

But sometimes he would shoot with a particular song playing in playback and if that was the case then I had a pretty good sense that that was a song he was intending to use. And when I knew, I would use it and usually wouldn’t be too far off from what he intended. But for a lot of the stuff, I didn’t know, so generally when I had assembled something dry, when he came in, we would try putting the music in against it and then make the adjustments so that the rhythms of the edit matched the song. But if it was something where I knew what the song was ahead of time then I would use that. It was kind of cool. There are probably more jump cuts in this movie than in any of his previous movies and a lot of that comes from cutting the stuff in time with the music. That allowed us to get away with things that I don’t think we would have had they played dry.

Quentin Tarantino directing a scene from ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: One of the things I noticed with some of those tracks is that often the background audio cut as if the character was listening to it in their car and so if there was a picture cut there was also an audio cut. It wasn’t like a traditional music montage where the music continues under the picture cuts.

RASKIN: Yup. Cliff’s drive home is probably the most obvious example of that. We’re collapsing a relatively long drive home and one of the ways that we had to tell that story is by hearing a different song every time we cut to a different part of his drive. For me, as I was working on the movie, I got used to the rhythms of the way we had cut those songs and they almost formed their own new rhythm. I’m sure on first viewing it’s a little bit more jolting, but I kind of fell in love with the way we transition from one song to the next.

HULLFISH: You mentioned jump cuts so let’s talk about that. The most obvious place that most people are going to remember them — I think it’s even in the trailer — is where Rick….

RASKIN: … has that freak-out in his trailer after he blows his lines.

HULLFISH: Yes.

RASKIN: That was always [Quentin’s] intention for that scene. That is sort of a rarity in the Tarantino pantheon because that’s a scene that was actually pretty much entirely improv-ed. Quentin had spoken with Leo about what he wanted the scene to accomplish and he gave him the main beats that Leo had to hit. And then he said, ‘OK, I’m going to shoot this from one angle.’ They ultimately ended up doing four takes of it. It’s all from one wide shot inside the trailer and each take Leo kind of did his own thing but found those particular beats that Quentin wanted him to hit. Then — stylistically — Quentin refers to it as his Taxi Driver sequence. There was really no way to put that together other than jump-cutting it — unless we were literally to just hold on a shot for five minutes of a guy freaking out. But I think the jump cuts give you a good feeling for how frustrated Rick is in that moment. I’m really proud of that sequence. The jump cuts tell the story. They contribute to the comedy of the scene, like when Rick says “That’s it! No more drinking!” and then we cut right to him taking a sip from his flask.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in ONCE UPON TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: The other part to doing those kinds of jump-cut sequences — not only do you have to be conscious of the material that you want to have the audience hear, but you also need to kind of choose where there are going to be big visual jumps. Like from the left side of the trailer cutting to the right, or sitting than standing. Talk to me a little bit about constructing that if you can remember.

RASKIN: We occasionally would use big sound effects like door slams or him kicking the table as a cut point. There weren’t really any rules in terms of what we could get away with. In general, I think it tended to work better when Rick wasn’t in the same position. When he’s jumping around from one end of the frame to the other it just adds to the insanity that the character’s feeling. We kind of found the beats that we were going to use, strung them all together, and then found the rhythm by watching it through and feeling, “OK, we should lose a few frames here” and played it back until it felt like “All right. This is working. We like this.” We tried a few different versions. There were a number of different beats. We watched the whole thing back and felt like, “All right. This is doing everything that we needed it to do.” Then you play it for an audience whether that’s my assistants or an actual test audience and then you find out whether it’s working or not. In this case, everybody responded really well to it.

HULLFISH: There are other jump cuts, too, right?

RASKIN: Yes. The other thing about that trailer scene — since I went into it discussing the music-based jump cuts — is that there is no music under that scene.

Another series of jump cuts is when Roman and Sharon are driving to the Playboy mansion and Deep Purple’s “Hush” is playing, we were able to collapse their drive through the use of jump cuts. It was a combination of slow-motion and 24fps and we found — certainly with the slow-mo — using the jump cuts was just a really cool effect.

Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

We have the moment where Jim Stacy introduces himself to Rick Dalton which is a weird example. That was a scene that played out in one take and we wanted to collapse it and Quentin said, “This is my homage to the Brian De Palma movies of the late ’60s — using the jump cuts in this way.” So I said “OK.” He’s pretty firm that there are no rules. Even though plenty of people would look at that and say, “What are you doing? You can’t do that.” Quentin will just say, “Eh… I did it.” The real joy to working with him is that he knows everything that’s come before and he uses that knowledge to great effect. He knows what’s going to work and what isn’t, and certainly there’s stuff in this movie that people are going to be bothered by, like the fact that like we hear from a narrator very early on in the movie and then we don’t hear from that narrator again until the last act of the movie — that’s something that I’m sure studio execs would have issue with. And he just says, “I use the narration when I need it, and I don’t think the audience has any problem following that.”

HULLFISH: You’ve referenced Taxi Driver and Brian de Palma movies. I think everyone knows that Quentin is a big film aficionado. How much of your interaction with him relies on you having his level of film references that borders on the encyclopedic?

RASKIN: It’s an interesting question. In order to do the job, probably not so much. In order to converse with him about it, a whole damn lot. Nobody is going to be up at the same level as he is. If you ever want to feel like you don’t know anything about movies, spend 10 hours in a room with Quentin Tarantino. So you’ve got to roll with it. He’s going to talk about movies that he expects you’re going to know and you’re gonna hang your head in shame and say, “I haven’t seen that — but I’m going to.” But the truth is that he knows what he wants and he’s very good at explaining what he wants. And then we can execute it together. And then it’s just if you’ve edited movies before you kind of understand how you’re gonna refine it to make it work. Certainly, my experience at doing the job helps but I don’t think I needed to have as encyclopedic a knowledge base as he has in order to pull off something like that.

Margot Robbie BTS in Columbia Pictures “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

HULLFISH: I’m trying to remember the story from our last interview. Your love of movies helped you land the editing job — seeing movies at the arthouse theater that Quentin owns and talking to him at that theater?

RASKIN: No. Not exactly. I met him because I was an assistant for the great Sally Menke on the Kill Bill movies. I assisted Sally on the two movies that she cut prior to Kill Bill and so she brought me on to Kill Bill. We didn’t see him at all during the production on that movie and that was a LONG production. If memory serves, it was about eight months. And when he got back from shooting he came into the editing room for the first time and we would have lunch together — at least initially. Once they really got into it, Sally and Quentin would be in the room together hunkered down. I’ve come to understand what that’s all about!

But whenever the opportunity arose, we would just engage in conversation about movies and I think he very quickly had a sense that we were kind of kindred spirits. And I WAS a regular at the New Beverly — that’s the theater that he now owns. But long before he owned it I was regularly going there to check out revival double features. After finishing the Kill Bill movies I would just randomly run into him at that theater or at various parties and whenever we’d see each other we’d talk about whatever we’d seen recently and so he kind of kept me in mind so that when they did their rough-cut screenings of both Deathproof and Inglourious Basterds he called me up and invited me to his friends and family screenings — which was a tremendous honor, really exciting. There’s not really much more thrilling than getting a call from Quentin Tarantino saying, “Hey, I want you to come and see our first cut of my new movie.”

HULLFISH: I talked to another assistant of Sally’s — Phyllis Housen — and she said her job on Kill Bill was conforming the Avid cut to a film cut so that Quentin could watch Kill Bill projected on film.

Leonardo DiCaprio star in Columbia Pictures “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

RASKIN: That’s correct. Kill Bill was actually a weird situation because that movie was shot three-perf Super 35mm so you couldn’t actually conform work picture. We had to do a film-out of the entire first cut and then whenever changes were made, more film-outs had to be done and those film-outs had to be physically cut into the initial film-out. But all of the movies that I’ve worked with Quentin on as editor have been shot four-perf so that we’ve got work picture printed off the negative that can be conformed based on the Avid cut so that we can do screenings in 35mm, or, in the case of Hateful Eight, 70.

HULLFISH: So he’s still doing screenings on film? On Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, you guys were screening on projected film? Not just for audience screenings, but kind of every day?

RASKIN: Yeah. We definitely did dailies screenings on film. That was for probably the first half or so of the shoot. They always fall off at a certain point. It was every day or every other day when the shoot began. At first we went to FotoKem to screen, but then we built a screening room downstairs at our production office that could hold about 70 people — something like that. The whole crew and cast were invited. But then as we got into post whenever we finished a scene I would turn it over to my assistants to have them start conforming it so that when Quentin wanted to screen it on film we had that option. We didn’t do it that often as we were putting the movie together. We screened what — at that time — was the first two hours, which really only went up through the scene where Rick meets Trudi — the little girl on the porch of the saloon on the set of Lancer. We screened all of that with Bob Richardson on film. So it was cool because we’d been looking at the Avid for so long and then to get to see it on 35mm — there was an extra level of period authenticity to see it projected on 35mm. In general, when you’ve finished a cut, you want to screen it right away and that’s not really possible when you’re conforming film. There’s at least a one day lag time and then you also have to think about opticals and titles. So we were definitely forced to screen digitally sometimes when we needed to watch it right away. We were cutting on Avid DNX 115, so it looked really good projected, but it wasn’t film. We did eventually end up doing at least one of our test screenings on film and that was pretty amazing.

Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt on the set of ONCE UPON TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. (woman in shot: ELISE NYGAARD OLSON)

HULLFISH: When you were screening dailies on film, was that the first time you were looking at the film or had you looked at the film in Avid before?

RASKIN: In general I had watched it on the Avid. When the first day’s material came in, I wanted to see it on film, so I watched it on the KEM, but as more material came in and my time was more limited I would watch one take for each set-up on the Avid so I kind of had a sense as to how he wanted the scene to come together and to make sure that we had everything we needed, but honestly there was never a time when we didn’t.

HULLFISH: The reason why I ask that question is because I’m wondering how you were dealing with looking at dailies on film — or when you were with Quentin in the screening room were you getting notes? How are you keeping track of notes? Just by the scene and take numbers?

RASKIN: My assistants’ built daily rolls and we knew what takes were on it. They had a FileMakerPro codebook that would spit out a screening notes page that had room for about six takes on a page and it would have the scene and take number and the camera lens. Any information that might be asked for while we’re in the dailies screening. It also had a little space for me to write notes and for the most part, what I would do is I would sit next to Quentin and anything that he laughed at meant he liked it and I would note that. Sometimes he would say to me, “Here’s what I’m thinking about this.”

There was the scene in Lancer where Timothy Olyphant rides up on his horse and the camera follows him and ends up on a shot of him framed over Scoot McNairy’s gun belt. Quentin wanted that scene played entirely on that shot, but he also shot coverage on it and we watched the coverage in dailies and Quentin said, “Listen, I think I’m probably just going to hold on that shot in the movie, but when you do your assembly, use the coverage because I’m curious to see what that version of the scene looks like.” So there’d be things like that that he would bring up during dailies screenings. But honestly, the most important thing was: what does Quentin laugh at, because that is almost invariably what he wants to see in the movie.

BTS – Leonardo DiCaprio and Quentin Tarantino in Columbia Pictures “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

HULLFISH: I love that idea that you just pointed out which was: he can see in his head what the single shot looks like, but he’s interested in seeing the coverage version, so you cut the coverage version knowing probably it’s never gonna make the movie but you still have to do it, right?

RASKIN: Seeing it play out as one shot? Well, anybody could do that. But looking at the coverage was going to take more time. And I have to say that when I did that, there was one thing that I really liked in the coverage version, but ultimately it just wasn’t as cool as letting it all play out in one shot, so that’s how it is in the finished movie.

HULLFISH: Tell me a little bit about the process: the way a film changes over time; what those decisions are; how easy it is as an editor to kind of unlock your brain from what you’ve already cut to what the film COULD be…

RASKIN: My assembly for this movie was not short. It was about four hours and forty-one minutes long. So there’s two hours worth of movie that didn’t make the final cut of the movie. We knew going in that there was some stuff that wasn’t going to make the final cut of the movie. And I think when Quentin came into the editing room, he had a pretty good sense as to what a lot of that material was. Not all, but a lot of it.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

I think when we got it down to — I don’t want to call it a director’s cut, because I think the director’s cut is what’s in theaters right now — but when we got through the first pass with him working with me I think at that point the movie was hovering somewhere around three hours and twenty-five minutes and we kind of knew the goal was approximately two hours and forty-five minutes. That kind of felt like what the length of the movie should be. But when we ended up at close to three and a half hours we were both not quite sure how we were going to get there. (laughs)

It was a process of watching the movie with an audience and the more times you watch it, the more things you notice. We did something on this movie that we hadn’t done on the previous ones. When we finished a cut we would watch it silently at high speed and take notes of anything that we saw that we thought would be a good cut, without having to watch the whole thing at speed. It just helped us come up with ideas for cuts. And that turned out to be very effective. We came up with some good stuff that we were able to lose by doing it that way.

But I would say probably the most significant cut that we made involved the Lancer material. In the screenplay, there were four Lancer scenes. In the finished movie, there’s only two. And it’s the middle two that were kept. The first and last scene we ended up dropping. But the way it was designed you actually get the story of the Lancer pilot episode over the course of this movie. Every time you go to Lancer, you get a little bit more of the story and you can actually follow that story.

Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt on the set of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

One of the neat concepts that he had is that, if you’re paying attention, this is another thing you get to enjoy. But we found as we were trying to get the movie down — and just kind of watching the movie – that if it didn’t have to do with Rick, Cliff or Sharon, it wasn’t integral to the movie. And in the case of both the first and the last Lancer scenes, they were kind of getting in the way. You just wanted to get back to Rick and Cliff. So that was a big concept that Quentin had that is ultimately not really represented in the movie.

Initially, the fourth Lancer scene was Rick rehearsing his lines. The movie takes place over three days: two in one weekend in February, and then the third on a Friday in August. The second day actually ended with Rick rehearsing his lines for that final Lancer scene. It was actually a really beautiful scene — one of the best pieces of writing in the screenplay — but it was Quentin himself who said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think we have to cut that scene. We have to cut it because we’ve already accomplished what that scene was intending to accomplish.” When we see what is now Rick’s final Lancer moment — when Trudi comes up to him and says, ‘That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life,’ and he is overjoyed, Rick has accomplished what he set out to accomplish that day. He’s delivered the performance that he was hoping he could deliver. So that aspect of the story was done. We were kind of all of the feeling that once you got past Spahn Ranch it was time to wrap up the second day. So let’s drive them home and get them watching “The FBI” together — just Rick and Cliff together as two buddies and then that’s going to be the end of day two.

Leonardo DiCaprio star in Columbia Pictures “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Once we lost the fourth Lancer scene, then it became clear that since we’re not actually following through on that storyline, we probably don’t need the first scene either. It was great conceptually because you kind of got dropped into this Western world without knowing what it was. You were introduced to Timothy Olyphant and Luke Perry’s characters in this Western and you didn’t know what you were looking at. It was disorienting but in a really good way. And then when the scene comes to an end, we see Sam Wanamaker — the director — come in on his on his crane and yell “Cut!” and then we see Rick and Cliff arriving on set in the Cadillac. Now that’s just a moment unto itself. Originally. they showed up and Trudi noticed Rick arrive.

But once we realized we weren’t going to use the end of the Lancer story there seemed less of a point to have the beginning. So it really just became about Rick’s performance within Lancer. Keeping the movie focused on Rick and Cliff.

HULLFISH: I’m really interested in those structural changes.  Other than dropping two hours worth of material, were there any other structural changes? Because otherwise, you’re kind of following things linearly. Like you said: it’s day one, day two, day three.

Quentin Tarantino and Margot Robbie on the set of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

RASKIN: There were minor things. In Quentin’s original concept — despite the fact that you’re essentially cutting between three different characters: Rick, Cliff, and Sharon — in his original concept we would have stayed with each of those characters for a good chunk of time. We weren’t cutting back and forth between them that much. If you’re with Sharon, you’re with her for 20 minutes.

There were a few things that ended up becoming a little modular. For example, the scene where Jim Stacy introduces himself to Rick originally came right after the scene on the porch with Trudi. But we felt it was going to be better to have some time after that scene — let that scene sink in — so we moved the Jim Stacy scene to after the scene where Sharon picks up a hitchhiker on her way to Westwood. So there was some slightly modular stuff. Just a few things kind of moving around a little. There’s nothing that was massively reordered. And the flashbacks actually came exactly where they had always come. That’s scripted.

HULLFISH: The interesting thing in that restructure you were just talking about is that I feel like that happens a lot when you drop significant portions of a movie. Then pieces that were never meant to be joined are now adjacent and when you see them together you can immediately see that there needs to be some time between those scenes so you have to pull a scene from somewhere else to break them up again — or maybe create a montage from the deleted scenes to break them up.

RASKIN: That’s true, but we also had a really happy accident happen by scenes that came together because of lifted material. The Jim Stacy scene is intercut with Rick’s fantasy about being in The Great Escape. The last shot of The Great Escape scene is Rick as Hilts, The Cooler King, walking away from the German commandant and the framing matched exactly with Sharon crossing the street in Westwood. We cut straight from one to the next and have the music carry over and it was just a really nice happy accident.

HULLFISH: When you’re intercutting multiple storylines, were they always scripted so that the cut from one storyline to the other was the same as it ended in post?

RASKIN: Not always, but a lot of times — yes. A lot of it was scripted the way it plays out in the movie. The scene that happens in the third day where Marvin calls Rick “Two words: Sergio Corbucci. Nebraska Jim.” That scene originally happened at the end of the second day. But we were kind of feeling like we don’t want things to be that positive for Rick at the end of the second day. Let’s let the second day end not necessarily knowing what the future holds for Rick and then we can get into it when we get into the third day. Although it wasn’t scripted that way when Quentin came into the editing room he had a pretty good sense that that’s what we were going to do with it.

HULLFISH: Were you trying to edit the scenes that were actually part of TV shows like a ’60s TV show would have been edited or were you just cutting them the way that you would cut the rest of the movie?

Brad Pitt stars in Columbia Pictures “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

RASKIN: Probably more the latter. The one thing that Quentin had everybody who worked on the movie watch was the actual pilot for Lancer. He knew going into the movie that he was treating Lancer like “this is my third Western” after Django and Hateful Eight. So he wasn’t going to direct it like a TV Western. He was going to direct it like a Quentin Tarantino Western.

Initially, there was kind of a fake-out. When Lancer first comes onto the screen, you don’t know what you’re looking at until you realize that it’s a show, so it had to feel like the rest of the movie. If we saw it and it was 4:3 format, you would have instantly known what it was. But when it came to the Bounty Law episode I really just kind of went with my gut there and then obviously Quentin came in and worked with me to refine it. It was initially a little bit more cutty in my editor’s assembly, but Quentin is very good about restraining me. So, no, there wasn’t a conscious effort to emulate the cutting styles of ’60s TV shows, but I think that, as with all of Quentin’s material, the footage dictated how it was going to be cut.

The truth is a lot of what made it feel so perfectly period was Bob Richardson’s cinematography and the musical choices.

We had a running thing going for all of the media in the movie — which was mainly Bounty Law and the 14 Fists of McCluskey — that those would all be scored by Bernard Herrmann. There’s a lot of pieces that he wrote. Actually, the “14 Fists” music is the score that Alfred Hitchcock threw out for Torn Curtain.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star in ONCE UPON TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: I didn’t know that!

RASKIN: Yes. I believe that was the last movie that they worked on together. Hitchcock was really not happy with Herrman’s score for that and he threw it out. But Elmer Bernstein re-recorded it and so that’s what the “14 Fists” music was. Initially there were three cues that Herrman recorded himself and our music supervisor — Mary Ramos — got ahold of those initial recordings and when we’re at Spahn Ranch and Cliff is walking down the hall toward George Spahn’s room — or what he hopes is George Spahn’s room — the music coming from the television set is one of those initial actual Bernard Herrmann recordings of the Torn Curtain score. It’s “scource.” it’s creating tension but it’s supposed to be coming from the TV.

HULLFISH: You mentioned the VO. In the single viewing of the movie, I missed the early VO and I just caught the VO that was at the end of the film.

RASKIN: When Rick introduces Marvin to Cliff when they’re sitting at the bar. Rick says, “This is my stunt double, Cliff. My car’s in the shop, so he gave me a ride.”

HULLFISH: Now I remember! Then the narrator says, “That’s not why he needed a ride.”

RASKIN: Exactly. That’s the one time that we hear from the narrator in the first part of the movie. I think as scripted there were a couple of other times that he appeared, but for various reasons, we ended up dropping them. Quentin just said, “They’re going to understand it. They might not like it, but they’re going to understand it.”

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star in ONCE UPON TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: That’s one of those interesting things with a director-editor relationship. Did you try to pitch him or say, Why don’t we try to find some things for the narrator to say in the middle or do you just say, “Hey, it’s Quentin Tarantino. I’m leaving this alone.”

RASKIN: No. We did try a few things. There were a couple more that were scripted but ultimately we just didn’t need them. It’s kind of like the narration in the Hateful Eight which also kind of comes out of nowhere. For some people, it doesn’t work. And I understand. It’s jarring. We haven’t heard from this character before. Who is this person? But it’s how Quentin chose to tell the story. This is not a guy who’s afraid of breaking the rules. Look at this movie structurally and if ever there were a screenplay that did not conform to the Syd Field screenwriting rules it’s this one.

The first two hours of the movie are virtually plotless. There’s sort of the storyline: is Rick going to be able to pull off the scene? Beyond that, there’s not that much. You’ve got the specter of the Manson murders looming in the distance, that does hang over everything and provides you with a ticking clock during the first two hours of the movie and then it comes into play in a serious way in the third act. It is a very “not traditional” movie and it’s only a filmmaker who is as familiar as Quentin is with what has come before who can say, “OK, I’m going to throw all of these rules away. We’re just going to do our own thing.”

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in ONCE UOPN A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: It’s really an interesting idea that early in the movie you get to see Charles Manson and then your brain kind of says, “Oh, wait a minute. I see where this movie’s going.” And that carries you. So did you guys play with where that revelation of the Manson family landed?

RASKIN: No actually. The Manson stuff was always kind of where it is, mainly because the scene in which Manson shows up at Sharon’s house is something that actually happened. Manson saw Sharon which is why Manson knew that movie stars lived there when he sent the killers out on their way. It had to happen before Sharon went to Westwood. It couldn’t really happen anywhere else. You see the Manson girls at the beginning of the movie before they cross paths with Rick and Cliff. I don’t think the entire audience is 100 percent clear that that’s the Manson family at the beginning, but you figure it out over the course of the movie.

HULLFISH: As you guys were trying to finalize the length of the film were there other places that you felt like we’ve got to get to this moment for the audience earlier?

RASKIN: I mentioned cutting the Lancer stuff. There was one other pretty major cut in the movie, which is the Musso and Frank sequence was originally a much longer sequence. I want to say my assembly was something in the realm of like 28 minutes — something like that.

Al Pacino stars in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

HULLFISH: For people who aren’t quite as familiar with the movie as you are, you’re talking about the scene with Pacino where he’s talking to Rick about needing to go to Italy.

RASKIN: Yes. And you see cuts to the different media that Rick has been in. That sequence was originally much longer. And it was this giant thing that you had to get past before the movie could really get started. We realized pretty early on that that was going to have to change. It needed to be more of a scene that felt like it was part of the movie and hit the key beats that we needed to hit in terms of setting up Rick as a character and setting up his place in this world. And once we had done that then the movie could get on its way. We knew we had to get through that faster than it was originally envisioned.

HULLFISH: That must have been a tough call for Quentin to cut down Al Pacino’s scene by 80 percent.

RASKIN: The main goal while we were editing the movie is “what’s going to be best for the movie?” not “what scene am I so proud of that I need to show off my writing ability or my directing ability?” It was always just: “what does the movie need?” He was ruthless making this movie and editing this movie — finding what it was. Obviously having a movie that is relatively plotless for the first two days in which it takes place doesn’t hurt matters any. He knew we had to get it down to a reasonable length. I know that two hours and forty-one minutes might not feel like a reasonable length to some people but when you factor in that we had to cut out an entire feature in order to get it there — it was a job.

HULLFISH: I’m sure it was.

RASKIN: One of the things that I really love about the movie is that people perceive it as being so different from his other movies. There really isn’t any violence until you get to the end of the Spahn Ranch sequence. That’s not actually true. It’s just that all the violence is contained within these films within the film. You do watch a guy take a flamethrower to a roomful of Nazis, but because it’s under the guise of being within this other movie, it doesn’t feel like it’s real violence.

So we actually got to have a lot of action beats that people don’t even really notice or regard as action but that’s certainly what they are.

Brad Pitt stars in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

Then the whole Spahn Ranch sequence I think is something that I didn’t realize until the dailies came in — obviously, I’d read the screenplay — but it wasn’t till I was seeing it play out in the dailies that I realized Quentin was doing something that he really had only done before in Kill Bill. With Kill Bill, the whole point of the movie is that he’s telling the story by hopping around from genre to genre. It wasn’t until the dailies came in on the Spahn Ranch sequence that I realized, “Oh, all of a sudden we’ve entered The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it resembles Daniel Pearl’s cinematography.

We’re there with the family and who knows what’s going to happen? He’s directing it like: is Cliff going to survive this sequence? And if you know anything about the history, you know there was a stuntman who was murdered at Spahn Ranch. Cliff may not be making it out of this movie alive! One of the interesting things about playing with both real-life figures and fictional ones is that the audience knows and expects what’s going to happen to the real-life figures, but the fictional ones? Anything is fair game. If the sequence works, hopefully, you’ll feel a sense of dread about what Cliff is walking into.

I also give credit to our sound editors and mixers on that sequence because like they really leaned into the whole Texas Chain Saw Massacre with all the weird sound effects as the Manson family kids are peeking out of doorways and watching Cliff as he arrives. Even Cliff walking down the hallway with the creaks in the wood. It plays out like a horror movie.

Beverly Hills, CA – Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Producer/Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino and Margot Robbie seen at Sony Pictures ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Photo Call in Beverly Hills, CA

HULLFISH: One of the things on my list to ask about was the sound design on that Spahn Ranch stuff because it’s great.

RASKIN: That’s also a byproduct of when I was putting my assembly together I had no idea what Quentin intended to use for music there. Maybe his intention was going to be, “We’re gonna put all this creepy music in.” But I have to put it together dry. So I really relied on the sound effects to create the tension and the suspense and the horror. So our sound editors — Wylie Stateman and Leo Marcil and Harry Cohen — they really came up with great stuff for that sequence that served as music.

HULLFISH: Did the sound team deliver any of that stuff to you early, during production or for early screenings? Or were you coming up with sound effects and design for your first cut completely by yourself?

RASKIN: Midway through production, Leo Marcil, who is one of Wylie Stateman’s sound editors, he joined us in the editing room. One of the things that I learned working on the Kill Bill movies is that Quentin gets very attached to the sound effects that he’s been hearing. I’m laying this on him, but actually, we all do.

HULLFISH: Temp love is not just music. Temp love happens with sound effects too.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.

RASKIN: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that I started doing on Django was — as soon as we finished a scene, we’d get it over to the sound editors so that they could cut more realistic sound effects, so that the good stuff would make its way into the movie, as opposed to my crappy library temp stuff. So on this movie, there were certain things in particular that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull off with my library.

The two big things were Spahn Ranch. How do you create tension solely through sound effects? The other thing was the sound of the Hollywood backlot. Specifically when Rick is shooting Lancer. Because I had this idea in my head that when Rick is doing the scene and when the scene gets interrupted that we were gonna hear a change in the backgrounds. Our sound team did an amazing job pulling this off. I have to give credit to Mike and Chris Minkler for the way they mixed it. When we’re in the world of Lancer you’re hearing — if you look on the floor you see the shadow of a ceiling fan and they’ve put in these whooshes for that ceiling fan. You’re hearing a fully sound designed Western movie.

Then you get to this point where the music just drops out and the sound effects start dropping out and it just gets totally dead and Rick says, “Line.” Then you hear the script supervisor from off-camera give him the line. The sound team came in and made that work and it really didn’t fully work until we were on the mix stage. They just really nailed that. And when the scene starts up again all the sound effects come rushing back in. I just love what they did with that.

HULLFISH: I love that story, Fred, thank you so much for spending time with me I really appreciate it. It’s always great to talk to you.

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

RASKIN: My pleasure. Take care.

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

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.


Support ProVideo Coalition
Shop with Filmtools Logo

Share Our Article

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…

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of