ART OF THE CUT with Billy Fox, ACE on “Only the Brave”

Cutting a feature film in Premiere Pro

Billy Fox, ACE, last spoke to Art of the Cut after he cut Straight Outta Compton. Fox’s other feature film work includes Hustle and Flow, Low Riders, Footloose and Black Snake Moan. His TV work is also notable, including the critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated work on Band of Brothers and Emmy-winning editing on Law and Order.

(This interview was transcribed with SpeedScriber. The entire interview was transcribed within 15 minutes of completing the Skype call. Thanks to Martin Baker at Digital Heaven)

HULLFISH: I went to go see the movie last night. It really flies by for a movie that’s two fifteen in length.

FOX: Goes by very quickly. The scenes are all kind of shortish which creates a kind of momentum.

HULLFISH: Do you remember how many scenes it is?

FOX: I wanna say it’s 150.

HULLFISH: You’ve done a bunch of movies with strong music in them — pop, rock, rap — and this movie is not a music movie, but there are some nice strong musical montages to rock tracks.

FOX: I find the shots that I basically want to use and I string them together without music, but at a certain point I attach the music to it and start tweaking based on the music. And adjusting the editing of the music, depending on how recognizable the song is. When I was doing my editor’s cut I was playing with a lot of temp music, and at some point Joe (director, Joe Kosinsky) and I felt, “Let’s lose ALL of the music.” We want to make sure the scenes are playing without music. And if they play well without music, then ideally, they’ll get better with music. We came to the realization, particularly at the end, that so much of it played better dry. It plays more emotionally when it’s dry. Music can sometimes be a support system. You feel more comfortable with music sometimes, and the fact that you would normally have music at this given point and you don’t makes you even more uncomfortable.

HULLFISH: Can you think of a specific scene that you played dry?

FOX: We did an experiment with the producers where we ran the whole movie dry. Obviously the scene in the bar had music because it’s part of the scene. It played really well and it allowed you to focus on the movie itself. It was very interesting.

HULLFISH: If you add music, the music sometimes gives things away.

The Granite Mountain Hoteshots overlook a fire in Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE.

FOX: That’s a big deal for me. Certainly the choice of music track is important, but even more important is where the music STARTS. I have a constant struggle dealing with composers who want the music to start too early. Basically, I feel that the scene needs to establish that it NEEDS music. Sometimes a composer will give you that extra music at the top, and the composer’s intent isn’t necessarily for it to start where he starts it, but so that you can bring it in early if you feel like you need it. But when you’re on the dub stage,  sometimes mixers will bring up the music as soon as it’s available.

HULLFISH: In an early firefighting scene, you leave the action for a while to show two druggies doing drugs on a couch. What was the thought process of that choice to bring that scene in at that time?… one of the druggies ends up being a central character in the movie — Miles Teller’s character, Donut.

FOX: It’s interesting because that was a scene that moved around a little bit. There were versions of the cut where the fire came to its conclusion before we went to the drug scene. But in testing, people felt that the movie got better when Miles Teller was on the screen and we felt that was a logical place to open up that fire. We didn’t move a lot of scenes around.

HULLFISH: That happens a lot with movies where the audience, or just you as an editor, realize that you need to get to a certain person or event earlier in the film. It’s not a question of shortening the whole film, but tightening between specific story beats.

FOX: In Straight Outta Compton, that whole concert sequence, which is about 40 minutes long… before that, there were other concerts, varying venues and little vignettes. Even the writers knew that where they were placed in the script was not really where they would probably end up. Those moved around continually. But in Only the Brave, not so much… a little bit of movement.

HULLFISH: I’ve had conversations — pro and con — about pre-lapping dialogue. You definitely did it several times in this movie.

FOX: Pre-lapping inside of a scene or between scenes?

Helicopter Hueys arrive to pick up crew at Chiricahua Mtn.

HULLFISH: Both, but I really mean between scenes — hearing someone speak from the next scene before you cut to the picture of that scene.

FOX: I like it. I think you have to be careful. What you have to be careful of is killing the moment of the outgoing scene. You have to give it enough breath. But if used well and the timing is right and if not overdone, it pulls you in. I know that there are editors that don’t like it. I think it would be easy to not do it, I just think it connects things up. In the old days, before digital projection and digital editing, it used to make it really complicated for reel changes but now it doesn’t really matter.

Screenshot from Adobe Premiere Pro of the “Only the Brave” timeline. (right-click on the image to open it at full resolution in another browser window.)

HULLFISH: Another show that’s using Premiere is Mindhunter. Do you want to talk about how Premiere worked for you?

FOX: I’m always watching out for better systems. In between projects, I’m always looking for what can make my next show better. And sometimes it’s as simple as just the speakers or the video monitors or my control surface. I’m always tweaking stuff. Of course, the NLE is something I’m always looking at. I’m always looking at systems that are better. I have pictures of me using a LaserEdit, CMX6000, LightWorks, Final Cut, Avid and Adobe Premiere The list keeps going. I’m always moving along.

I was keeping my eye on Premiere, like I was keeping my eye on Final Cut. For years and years I was watching and it wasn’t quite ready. And eventually it got to a point where I had to take a serious look at it. Adobe and I finally had a nice long chat and I said, “I think you have a very interesting system, but I don’t know why I want to use it. I have to be able to sell the decision to other people. I have to sell it to the head of post-production. I have to sell it to the director.” We talked for two hours and we never even turned on a system. Van Bedient of Adobe demonstrated a number of features that he thought were very cool. So then I talked to Joe about it and he was very into it.

Crew 7 in the burnt forest including Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale),Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch),Grant McKee (Sam Quinn),Andrew Ashcraft (Alex Russell), Clayton Whitted (Scott Haze), Garret Zuppiger (Brandon Bunch), Travis Carter (Scott Foxx), Anthony Rose (Jake Picking), Robert Caldwell (Dylan Kenin), Travis Turbyfill (Geoff Stults) in Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE.

Then I had a long chat with a team of about six people from Adobe: the product manager and marketing and myself. And I said, “I’m thinking of using your system. But I’m not interested in you just handing me a piece of software. I need your support. I need your support on a daily basis. I need bodies available to us.” And they gave us all of that. And I also said, “I have to have shared projects.” I had dealt with Final Cut without shared projects for many years and I know how to do it and you can do it and it’s fine. It’s just frustrating. It’s kind of a pain. I came up with this philosophy that I don’t buy a car without reverse. And as far as I’m concerned your editing system has to have shared projects. They said, “Well, funny you should mentioned that. We are developing shared projects.” They said we wouldn’t have it for the editors cut, which is fine, because I’m pretty independent at that point, but they said they would have shared projects for me by the director’s cut. It came right down to it and they delivered. The first version we had for the first couple of days had a couple of things we didn’t like and they fixed it immediately and it worked great.

If you compare it to the shared projects in Avid, it’s not as robust as Avid’s but that was version 1. Now at version 3, it is pretty great. It’s pretty amazing. Like any editing system, there are things you want to scream at, but largely it was fantastic. We had a great time with it. My assistant had never worked on Adobe Premiere before. He adapted very quickly and he loved it. For me it was straight-forwardish because it’s cousins to Final Cut. Once I got the philosophy locked in then I thought it was fantastic.

HULLFISH: What are you missing on Avid that you loved in Premiere?

FOX: A lot of different stuff. But probably the biggest one is that Avid is the world of constant stopping. Everything you do in Avid, you’re constantly stopping. In Final Cut – and Premiere’s even better – you’re in a world of constant rolling. You’re trimming while your cut is going. You have this momentum, and certainly you save time just because of that. I figure the time it saves me is roughly 40 minutes a day. More important than the time is the momentum. I’m adjusting this, I’m trimming this, and it just keeps on playing. So that’s probably the biggest. I’d have to think about it. There are things I really like about Avid. I think its trimming functions are very powerful. Premiere’s are actually very good, so it’s debatable which is really better. Avid is a really solid, powerful, beloved tool.

HULLFISH: I’d be interested in your take on Resolve, because it’s also very similar to Final Cut.

FOX: I know, because, as I said, I keep my eye on systems. I’ve been very impressed with it. Paul Saccone showed it to me and boy does he do a great demo. I wanna continue to learn. I’ve played with it just a little, but I know very little about it other than the demo. It seems great. I love some of the stuff. I spend so much time in audio,so Fairlight would be great. So I want to see how Fairlight interfaces. One of Resolve’s strongest things, of course, is its color correction. I love color correction and I very much like to do it. I love that process.

But on an editorial level and a sound level and even a visual effects level, I never have time for color correction. And what really intrigues me about Resolve is its collaboration and having multiple people in the same sequence at the same time. That would really be great for me to be cutting in my room, then an assistant’s in another room doing color correction and another is working on audio. That’s really powerful. Competition is good.

“Supe” Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and Amanda Marsh (Jennifer Connelly)

HULLFISH: Amen. Jennifer Connely’s character gets into a huge fight with Josh Brolin’s character at the horse stables of their house and the whole scene is played in a wide silhouette. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would play — because of the intense emotion — on close ups. I loved it. Tell me about that decision.

FOX: I don’t think there’s any coverage on that and there are only two takes. Both takes are really good, but the one that’s in there? The lightning in that shot is real! I was in Santa Fe, where they shot, for about a week, and the lightning was just beautiful.

HULLFISH: There’s a follow shot of a truck that has some amazing lightning in the movie too.

FOX: Oh yeah. Most of that is real. A couple are VFX. Our visual effects editor was with us, John Carr, who was on After Effects, and he was working with ILM. So he would send plates and he would do temp versions. It was a great working relationship. Having After Effects and having ILM and being able to do Dynamic Linking, which was particularly powerful, and not have to comp the files or do anything crazy.

HULLFISH: Let’s talk a little about all those fire VFX. It looked like the plate provided you with a good sense of the shot and then the fire was layered on top.

FOX: The very end with the big, big fire where the fire was getting closer and closer and coming at them? There was a lot of natural fire there. Surprisingly a lot. But there was tremendously more in the VFX. In the scene in Yarnell where Donut is stranded behind the dozer, there were a medium number of real fires going on around him. But the interesting thing is that you can’t just take a bush and add fire to it, because part of what fire is all about is the wind. The wind just goes racing through the valleys. You can’t add fire to a natural stationary bush, because the bush should be absolutely going nuts. So they had to replace all of the bushes. All of those are CG bushes. So we’d have to decide for each shot how fast the wind was going. So first they’d have to get the movement of the bush to match the wind speed, then they’d add fire on top of that.

HULLFISH: So on something like a drone or helicopter shot of a landscape that has no fire in it, does it at least help that you have the movement and the geography of the drone plate? And all you had to do was imagine where the fire would be?

FOX: A lot of times I thought there would be fire out on the horizon or further away from camera, and I didn’t know that we’d actually be traveling WITH the fire.

I wanna backtrack a bit. When I finished the editor’s cut and Joe and I started working, I threw something out as a suggestion. The bulk of the visual effects were in that final reel, so I suggested that we start with the last reel of the movie. Let’s cut the big fire. What that does is it gives ILM a start. Get’s them started maybe a month or two early. More importantly, that’s the peak of the movie. Let’s get that done. It kind of takes the pressure off. And it worked out great. It didn’t change a lot from that original first cut that Joe and I did.

HULLFISH: That’s fascinating that you cut the last reel first. Did that inform the editing of the previous — what? six reels? seven?

FOX: Seven. Yes. It definitely informed the earlier reels. It’s also really nice to know that you don’t have this giant monster waiting for you. I like to do that actually. Get the big thing out of the way. Also, you’re starting to learn the techniques of the movie and what the language is. Every show I do, there’s a language. There’s also getting to know a character better.

Working on this, I used the same template that I used when I worked on Band of Brothers. Which is, in this case, the war and the battle, or in this case the fire, are ultimately boring. But what’s more important is the characters and the connection and the camaraderie between the individuals. On Band of Brothers, there were scenes that I had to go back and re-edit, because I now know that character better. I now understand what makes them tick.

HULLFISH: So that’s really interesting for this movie because since you’ve edited reel seven already and — for example — the character of Donut is a totally different person in reel seven than in reel one, and knowing him like you do in reel seven would give you a different perspective on that character… The subtext becomes different.

Josh Brolin and Director Joseph Kosinski on the set of Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE.

FOX: Yeah. Correct. I’ve always wanted to sit with a director and go over the script and talk it through. “Let’s look at this scene. What’s the importance of it. What’s really happening.” I have my own interpretation, but they’ve been living with it for so long. So I’m coming in a week or two or three before they start shooting. They’ve been living with it for a year. They know the characters. I don’t. So I’m always playing catch up.

HULLFISH: Another complicated scene to cut must have been the bar scene with all of those people and the band and the stuff going on… the music.

FOX: Like any music scene where you’ve got a song going on. You got the song going on and if you make a trim, what do you do with the music? You want the music to end at a certain place, or you want to make a transition to where you’ve got Jeff Bridges back on camera when he’s performing. So sometimes you want to cut something, but you can’t because then you won’t be able to come back at the right time. It was a very difficult scene to cut. I almost spent more time on that scene than anything. It was hard.

HULLFISH: There’s a lot of people in the scene. There’s the geography of the bar and there’s the music going on the whole time.

FOX: You’re flying around the room. You’re telling different stories. You know there’s that scene in there with Taylor Kitsch’s character ‘Mac’ and the two girls? I thought, “I wonder if this scenes gonna last?” So we discussed it at a certain point, but there’s not a lot of girls in this movie, so we were like, “No, no, no. We’ve got to keep that.” Amanda’s character: Eric’s wife was such an important character and so pivotal to the movie’s success.

HULLFISH: You were talking about matching back the mix sound to the iso tracks. That’s kind of a pain in Avid.

FOX: My assistant sets it up in a way that’s the same way that I do it on Avid. You matchframe. Your source comes back to the mix and it pops out to six tracks. It’s definitely not as elegant as how FCP-X does it.

This is the first show that I’ve done in 5.1. Adobe has a little work to do on their 5.1. I think Avid is a little more advanced. FCP-X is a little more advanced as well. At the present time, in Premiere, I run 24 tracks.

I spend a lot of time with my sound. I would say 49 percent of my time. And dealing with music and dealing with SFX. My process is that I start out by dealing with pure dialogue and picture, nothing but dialogue and picture. At a certain point — almost to clear my head a little bit — I go into sound effects world. I just build a bed. Something simple. It lets me look at the scene, but I’m actually working on something else. I come back into dialogue and I go into trimming and at a certain point I go back to sound effects and start getting more specific. More hard effects. I’m continually playing this constant game of going from editing picture and editing story to sound and music and they’re getting better and better and they’re going back and forth

HULLFISH: And the sound and picture are informing each other.

FOX: They are definitely informing each other. Both sound and picture is completely checkerboarded, so that I can easily slice underneath. My dialogue is always tight, tight, tightly cleaned. So you can play dialogue only and it sounds great. I base the mix on the dialogue. I have my dialogue living about minus ten db, and then I mix music and effects to meet that. I love using a control surface for audio. I use this Avid mixer on Avid and on Final Cut and on Premiere, and it’s the best. It just makes all the difference in the world. And I use a Tangent Devices Ripple for color correction with Premiere. I don’t have a lot of time for color correction, but the way that the Ripple works with Premiere, with 20 seconds of work, I’m done and I move on. It’s just very elegant.

HULLFISH: And having grades that match from shot to shot makes the edits appear to be cleaner, right?

FOX: Yeah. It was nice, because I didn’t have to carry a color correction stem, which I hate. And when it came time to do the DI, Joe had spent so much time dealing with the color correction that he knew what he wanted. The colorist, Mike Soa, a great colorist,. Joe said, “Here. Take the output of Premiere, and this is what I want. We’ll make it better, but for the most part, this is the look. These are the tones. All those decisions were made.

HULLFISH: I’m assuming you weren’t cutting with camera original media.

FOX: We transcoded to ProRes. For dailies, we used NextLab from FotoKem, They took all of our raw files and made editorial files and made our output files and our distribution files. NextLab is a really great box. If you haven’t gotten a demo on it, you should really check it out. Worked fabulous.

It’s how we always worked, but I’ve always been frustrated by it because ultimately when you start getting effects back from ILM, they’ve been handed the LOG plates, the uncorrected plates, When you get in the visual effect, it doesn’t have the same color correction as the footage. Joe has corrected our dailies, so that look doesn’t exist anywhere. So you’re chasing a color correction and it’s a very time consuming pain in the butt.

So on our next project, the editing system will have the LOG files only. No color correction. We will add the LUT and the CDL (color decision list) not in the timeline, but through metadata, so when you’re color correcting, your color correcting through the LUT and through the CDL. So when you get the VFX in from ILM, you just put it in the timeline with the same LUT. We were receiving 20 or 30 shots every couple of days, so that was a lot of work to have to do manually.

HULLFISH: There’s a scene in the movie during the bar scene where Donut goes out to talk on the street and in the middle of that conversation, you cut back inside the bar for a moment — kind of through a window. (We are conducting the interview on Skype and I can see Billy makes a face.) What was that face for?

Director Joseph Kosinski on the set of Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE.

FOX: I always had a problem with that. I know it’s done all the time in other movies. But what do you do with the music? What do you do with the sound? I’m too close to it. For me, it just doesn’t feel real.

HULLFISH: So the purpose of the shots back into the bar was to see that there’s parallel action inside the bar with Jennifer Connelly that we need to understand when we come back later?

FOX: Yes. It was setting up that when Miles and Josh come back into the bar, Jennifer would be dancing with Steinbreck. It also helps you see that she’s worrying about her husband. It also helps to set up the scene in the car right after. It just keeps her alive. I completely get the need for it. For me it bumps a little.

HULLFISH: I’m not trying to point out a bump, but as a fellow editor, it was a place where I just thought that there must have been a discussion between you and the director or whether that was scripted. And if it was scripted, sometimes you have some latitude to decide exactly where in the scene it goes — though it has to be in a pretty linear story order.

FOX: That was scripted. Originally there were actually two shots back to the bar and we simplified it a bit.

HULLFISH: I don’t want to do any spoilers, so I won’t mention the reason or situation, but there’s some really powerful cross cutting when Donut is listening to his crew over the radio, that must’ve been very difficult and complicated: When to cut to him. When to cut back to the crew.

FOX: For example, when he hears the news of the crew going into the tents, he drops his head and I had that drop of the head in another place. There was some discussion of where exactly to put it. Hearing it through his eyes. The strange thing is that we have the real audio recordings from that real event. You can go on the internet and actually hear that radio call yourself. You can hear the dispatch guy saying, “We’ve got a plane coming around…it’s looking for you…” We built that whole thing based on the real deal.

At the BBQ at the Hotshots’ HQ, “Supe” Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin)

HULLFISH: You also have to deal with making the decision of the sound through the radio and the sound live from the people on the other side of the radio.

FOX: At a certain point, we couldn’t cut back any more. So from a certain point it all had to be on Donut. I looked at a lot of different coverage of Miles and it was most powerful to  stay on him and not do a lot of cuts. Especially the last bit. I think the whole thing is 30 or 40 seconds and there might be one cut. From the original cut it changed a little, but it didn’t change a lot.

HULLFISH: Anything specifically that you want to talk about from a technical standpoint?

FOX: There were a couple of things. We used OpenDrive. Have you ever used that?

HULLFISH: No.

FOX: OpenDrive is an SSD RAID solution. My understanding is that it was developed through David Fincher’s company. I cut a lot of films right here in my house, so we put the OpenDrive in the guest room. It’s in a rack. All these solid state drives. 24 terabytes and it’s loud and it needs a lot of air-conditioning, so we had to bring in a special air-conditioner. It’s really fast. I’m not sure that in our particular case that we needed that kind of speed. We were just pushing around 2K files. Adobe just finished a movie called Six Below and they were editing in 6K Raw.

HULLFISH: That’s Vashi Nedomansky, right?

FOX: Yeah. He taught me Premiere right here. He came in on three separate Saturdays and we had a great time. It was fun. OpenDrive was really a cool device. You should look into it. It was a good solution. And NextLab was particularly great. They built special edit rooms for us over at Margarita Mix in Santa Monica. We edited here at my house while they were shooting, then we moved to Margarita mix for the director’s cut and on. Very nice facility five minutes from my house.

Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) in Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE.

HULLFISH: Talk to me a little about your relationship with the director. You talked a little how you wanted to be able to sit down and discuss scene objectives but that never really happened.

FOX: I didn’t know Joe. My agent got me the interview. Oblivion is one of my wife’s and my favorite movies. We watch it all the time. We love the film. So I had an interview with Joe, and we hit it off. Joe is a very very mellow and incredibly bright guy. He likes that we don’t talk a lot about it because he wants me to just interpret it however I want to interpret it. I looked at the material in a different way. I came at it from a different angle. He likes to have a fresh eye on it. Fresh Perspective.

When you have an interview with somebody, discussing the film is only part of it. You may like that person and that person may like you, but you really don’t know their sensibilities until you start working together. In Joe’s case, we locked in pretty good. We’d both see something on the screen and I could see his head turn. And I’d just say, “Yeah. See it. Got it.” We wouldn’t even have to write down a note. Life would be good if I just kept working with Joe. Sometimes directors can be complicated. Mostly I’ve worked with really nice, bright, mellow guys.

HULLFISH: What was your method of collaborating during the director’s cut?

FOX: We didn’t look at individual scenes. We pretty much would go over a reel. We would look at a large chunk of the film. I would take notes and then he would just take off. His office was next door and he’d just go there and do other stuff. Sometimes while I worked, he would go re-examine dailies. And he would come in with a list of takes he wanted to try. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. Mostly it would. But I would work on my own for a while, then call him and say, “Ready for you. Come on back.” That was kind of the groove.

HULLFISH: Tell me your approach to a scene.

FOX: For me it’s important to have a point of view. I can’t cut a scene without having an understanding of what the scene is about. What’s the key objective? – even though it may be my interpreted key objective. What do we want to communicate or what do we want to say here? I can’t just cut something even if I have the script in front of me and there’s the dialogue. It has to be grounded in something.

As much as I absolutely love editing, the one thing I don’t love is building a first cut. For me I don’t spend too much time killing myself trying to find the right take. I look at a couple takes and if I can find one with no real mistakes and it’s good, I just do it, because at this point all I’m trying to do is build a scene with a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s there. It’s the whole body.

At that moment, whenever I edit that last chunk in, everything changes. I start molding. And I start working with the footage and I start listening to the dialogue and working with the energies. Where people are looking. Everything has to be very carefully motivated.

Once it’s feeling better’ish, I go back into dailies again. I start re-looking at raw footage and they take on a whole new color. I start seeing real subtleties. Little performances. Little things that I didn’t really see before. Now I see them because I’m now into the dynamics of the scene.

There was a day where I would spend a tremendous amount of time doing what I call a performance cut. I would string out every single line from every take and every setup. I don’t do that anymore. Very time consuming to do it. And I just feel that this process works better. I just mold it into the refined takes.

What I also do is I create a thing called my Golden Moments cut, which is not really performance-based. It’s a templated sequence I have which has leader. Everything is based on leader. Everything works with leader for me because it’s all timing and it’s all musical. And the leader sets up the rhythm. So everything I do, every little sequence or reel has its leader at the top because it sets me up, but I’ll do a Golden Moments where I have these little two second slates that say, one two three four, scattered onto the sequence. Then I go back and I start looking at the dailies. And I look for great moments. I see a great little thing and I see that it’s supposed to be at the end so I’ll move it all the way down to number 9. Or this is for the beginning so I’ll move it to number one. I find all these little little teeny tiny things that I would love to get into this cut. Maybe there’s 20 things in there or 30 things.

Now I try and see what I can put into the cut. And the thing I find fascinating is that these are all GREAT moments, but when I try to fit them into the cut, I’ll find that it’s stronger just to be on the person. And of the 30 really good moments that I’ve put in my Golden Moments, I’m lucky if I put in five. I couldn’t find a home for them. “Oh my God! That’s such an amazing shot!” Great. Let’s find a home for it.” And then the director sees why it’s not in. Sometimes you can see it in another editor’s work where they forced in all of the great little moments. I think the key thing that makes a really good editor is not what you edit in, but it’s what you leave out.

HULLFISH: I would worry about showing that Golden Selects reel to the director because they probably want to see all those shots in.

FOX: Oh, and they do. And I let them try. “Come on. Let’s do it together. Let’s try this one. Let’s try to put it in.” And they see, “Oh, right. You’d have to cut away from this shot and it’s so much stronger to just stay on that person.” So it’s a process. It’s a process of fine tuning. I work on it. I go off and do some sound. I can feel it’s getting closer and it’s getting closer. And the thing that’s the greatest is that you take one edit, one little thing and you trim it by one frame and the whole scene just goes (BOOM). It’s no longer a series of shots, it’s a window of reality. I keep drilling on it until I get to that place.

HULLFISH: That takes some faith in your skills that you can just knock out an initial cut that may not be great, but to understand that it’s a process and that eventually you will get it there. But not to be so discouraged by the first pass… to have patience and to understand that the first cut is only part of the process. Sometimes if you let an assistant cut a scene, they kind of freak out about those early decisions. But you have to realize that that first cut is only one small step in a larger process.

FOX: Exactly. It’s part of the magic When you do your job well, it’s the invisible art. It just looks natural. It looks like nothing.

HULLFISH: So many people think that that invisibility happens the first time you put a scene together.

FOX: Wouldn’t that be nice. I am incredibly neurotic in that — even down to cutting a oner — I start to think, “This is the scene I won’t be able to figure out.” But even at the rough cut stage when I see that it’s not pretty at all, there’s something in there, where I say to myself, “This scene will work. I know I can get it there. This will be great.”

HULLFISH: I saw a quote from the fantastic Carol Littleton saying the same thing. That she’s never sure that she’s going to be able to get some scene done… but of course she does. Thank you so much for your time and I really appreciate your generosity and wisdom. Have a great time with your project.

FOX: Thank you. Bye bye.

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

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


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Steve Hullfish

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 at NAB, DVExpo and the Master Editor seminars. He has edited on Avid since 1992 and was named to Avid’s first group of Master Editors. His client list includes: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, NBC, PBS, Turner Networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Cases” with Bill Kurtis for A&E, Jim Henson Home Entertainment, Major League Soccer, The Chicago Cubs, Wilson Sporting Goods and Exxon/Mobil.

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1 Comment on "ART OF THE CUT with Billy Fox, ACE on “Only the Brave”"

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Sergio
Sergio
Great article Steve! Would love to hear more about the actual step-by-step of working the LUT/CDL through metadata and not on the timeline as Billy describes. The graded proxies nuisance he brings up actually reminded me of the DP of Mindhunter talking here about preferring to monitor in LOG and not using Livegrades on set so as to not “chase his own tail”. Something similar may be the case here? Love this film! Truly powerful message about not needing guns to be a hero, and the power of connection and community. Really moving story couple with masterful filmmaking from one… Read more »
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