Post Production

Art of the Cut with Sidney Wolinsky

artofthecut On this installment of Art of the Cut, Sidney Wolinsky talks about cutting some of the top TV shows on television. With 33 episodes of “The Sopranos” plus episodes of “House of Cards,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Walking Dead,” and “Sons of Anarchy,” not to mention his most recent projects that include “Extant,” “Strain,” “Ray Donovan” and “Power” Wolinsky has plenty to talk about.

 

Hullfish: I was just looking at your IMDB page and I noticed you cut an episode of  The Sopranos that was mentioned in a book I just read called “Difficult Men” about the showrunners of this latest “golden age” of TV. The episode was called “College” and it features a pretty graphic strangulation scene by the guy that’s supposed to be our protagonist. The network was terrified that it would drive away viewers and make people hate Tony. I’ve edited things where I toned things down to “protect” the reputation of either the protagonist or the film or TV show. But that strangulation scene was pretty merciless and went on for a long time. How do you approach such a controversial and pivotal scene to not just the story of the episode, but the franchise itself?

Wolinsky: Yes. I remember that. My thoughts are the same as when I cut any scene.  You look at the script and the material and you figure out how to use the material that’s shot to convey what the scene’s supposed to convey whether you’re strangling somebody or whatever. Usually everything has its own logic. The little internal story. Tony got him face down on the ground and used a wire to garrote him. So that’s a little teeny story within the story that you have to tell logically… make people believe that it’s happening. Omit the stuff that doesn’t make it seem real and use the stuff that makes it seem real. The scene’s supposed to be graphic and horrifying and you have to believe the guy’s being choked to death.

Hullfish: Do you remember anyone asking to cut down the scene so it’s not so graphic? Or feeling like that yourself?

Wolinsky: I don’t remember that specifically. Like most editors, when you do a scene like that the first time, the first cut, you lay it on pretty thick, then you look at it later and say  you don’t need quite that much. Then the director comes along and says, “I think we can lose that and still accomplish the same thing.” You go through a process of doing it. I do remember in fact that we were using a lab that wrecked some of the film – destroyed some of the film – and I would have had more, it would have been a longer scene. I don’t know what the coverage was, maybe the legs kicking, I have no idea what I lost, but that scene was one of the only times ever I can remember a lab actually destroying film.

Hullfish: How critical is it for you to act as a steward for the actor’s performance?

Wolinsky: That’s the most important thing of all. I mean – well, maybe not of all, there are all kinds of things that are important – but the performance in terms of A) that you want to believe that this actor is the character and not an actor acting is important. So that’s what you look for. A sense of authenticity.

Hullfish: How do you go about – when you’re going through dailies – you watch maybe two or three takes of multiple camera angles and when you are doing that, what are you looking for in terms of performance? Do you mark things? Or do you just remember moments in your head?

Wolinsky: I used to take extensive notes and stuff, and I found as I cut the scene that there were so many other factors other than just noticing a little thing. You’re making decisions on what angle to use, what size of shot, who to be on, all that stuff, so I usually pick a take to start cutting with – a take of each set-up usually and start cutting using those takes, unless I made a note of something I particularly liked or wanted to include or thought was valuable. And as I went through and hit a spot where I wanted to be on a certain angle and that take wasn’t working, I’d check the other takes of that angle and if none of those worked, I might change how I cut that spot. Then when the scene is finished I’ll often look through it and make other adjustments and then I’ll review all the dailies to see if there’s anything that I missed. Especially, if I used a master in a certain spot, looking at the other masters to see if there was possibly something better. It’s sort of a sifting… sort of a continuous evolution process.

Hullfish: On your most recent show that you cut, what were the time frames you were working on? As far as editing through the shooting process, how long was that? 7, 8, 9, 10 days?

Wolinsky: The most recent show that I’ve done was called “Power” for a cable network called Starz. The shooting schedules there were about 10 or 12 days. And I would show the director a cut maybe four or five days after we finished shooting and the director contractually has four days, in this case they were pretty generous with the directors and sometimes they took five or six days with me. After that, the airdates were very far off so it took weeks or even months before I finished the producer’s cut and the network’s cut. So it was a show that started shooting in September for a June airdate, so we were never working hard up against airdates and there wasn’t the kind of urgency that there is if you have airdates that are looming.

Hullfish: I’m interested in those director’s cuts with four or five or six days. How much of that is dealing with their notes and how much of it is someone sitting in the room with you giving you firm direction constantly in person? Or is it based on the director?

Wolinsky: Totally dependent on the director. On some shows – the Sopranos – primarily, for the first five seasons or four or five seasons, the directors lived in New York. We were cutting in LA and I would get notes. I would send cuts to New York. I would get notes and send cuts back and sometimes, depending on who the director was, like Alan Coulter who directed College and a bunch of other things with, sometimes we’d literally be on the phone and he’d press play and I’d press play on my DVD player at home and he’d talk through the show. It really depends. Some directors will come in and want to be there all the time. Watch you do everything. Other directors come in and run the show and give you notes. Go away. Come back, look at the note fixes, ask to look at a few takes here and there, and go through that process a few times. Other directors will never come into the room even if they’re in LA. So it’s totally depending on the director and how much work he wants to do. Some directors I literally didn’t get a note from. It really depends on them and how much they want to participate and HOW they want to participate.

Hullfish: Talk to me about those days you get to spend before you deliver that director’s cut. You were talking about looking at a scene, deciding what you’re going to do with it. But you’ve got to be moving fairly quickly to get through the amount of scenes you need to get through in four days. I mean, obviously you’ve got the shooting days as well to cut.

Wolinsky: I may not be totally up to camera (meaning he hasn’t edited all of the scenes that’ve been shot by the end of the shooting schedule), but I keep going, pressing forward regardless. So the four days afterwards I’ll cut whatever outstanding scenes there are and then I’ll put the whole show together and look that through and make a whole bunch of notes and then go through the show and make a bunch of changes. Some scenes I’ll say “I really missed the boat on that one. I better go back to the drawing board.” As I said, it’s a process of continually refining, from dailies all the way through delivering the show. It’s continuous refining. As you do one set of notes, other problems become clearer. At first you’re working at the scene level, making the scenes work and then you’re working at the episode level, making the whole episode work.

Hullfish: You’ve edited features. Do you find that the amount of waste – stuff that doesn’t make the final cut – is tighter on TV series than it is on features?

Wolinsky: I haven’t done that many features. Recently, hardly any. It depends on the director. On the amount of time they have. I had Soprano episodes that might have been 80 minutes, my first cut. And they ended up as 55 minutes or something.

Hullfish: That’s exactly what my question is.

Wolinsky: The same is true for the show I just finished. I had some very long episodes that ended up needing to be cut down. It comes down to the script ultimately, depending on how much cutting the showrunner will do on the script before it goes to be shot.

Hullfish: I’ve cut two features and the features I’ve read about or talked to other feature editors about – it’s not that unusual to be 20% over the length on a first cut. So your first cut on a two hour movie would be two and a half hours and that seems to be pretty typical.

Wolinsky: Yeah. I would say that’s pretty standard now on television shows as well. The shows that are on much shorter schedules, a seven or eight day shoot or something, that have to end up at 44 minutes, maybe there’s less material because you can only shoot a certain amount in a certain amount of time.

Hullfish: Talk to me about your process on those shows that are running too long. Do you start working by yourself to get it cut down, or are you waiting for the showrunner to make those decisions on how to get it to time?

Wolinsky: No. I usually when I’m doing my cut, my only concern is getting everything cut as it was written and shot and I don’t worry about the length thing. Typically a director wants to see everything they’ve shot. So there’s no upside to saying “We don’t need this scene.” Really, until the show’s finished shooting, I don’t know how long the show’s gonna be. I frequently get asked to give the script person or producer an estimate of the length of the cut scenes versus what the script continuity person is estimating, so they can see how long they can project the show to be and sometimes they’ll start throwing out scenes…omitting scenes from the script because they feel like they’ve got too much. But it terms of myself, I cut everything that’s there and show that to the director. At that point, depending on the director and the showrunner, the director and I may start trying to cut it down. And at some point it’s handed over to the showrunner and that person will start getting it to length. Even the cable shows, they usually can’t be longer than 58 minutes or something like that.  They’re made for a one hour slot so it’s very unusual if they go longer than that.

Hullfish: On the stuff I’ve done, there are hard decisions about whether we’re having to cut entire scenes or whether we’re cutting big chunks of individual scenes.

Wolinsky: It depends on the show. On the Sopranos, David (Chase) basically did not want anything dropped. So I just worked with the directors on perfecting the cuts of what was there and (Chase) did all the work of dropping entire scenes or parts of scenes or whatever. In the last show, on “Power,” or even on “Ray Donovan” before that – on “Power” the director and I would work together. Sometimes there were scenes that clearly weren’t working and didn’t have a lot of story content, or it was story content that was handled in other scenes as well, and you’d say “Do we need that scene? No. Let’s get rid of it.” And other times you look at a dialogue scene and realize that you could cut half the dialogue out, and you start doing that kind of stuff.

Hullfish: Do you get a choice of assistant editors? What are some of the things that you have assistant editors prep for you in terms of note taking or laying out the dailies?

Wolinsky: The assistant editor prepares the dailies. Nowadays, everything comes in as a file. But my assistant will usually check sync on all of the dailies before giving it to me and slip it if it’s off. And organize it as I like it organized in bins. In terms of other stuff I have the assistant do, I usually have the assistant cut sound effects and hopefully cut music if that person has that skill.

Hullfish: Describe to me how you like your bins set up.

Wolinsky: I like them full frame. And I usually like everything set up alphabetically. I’m not that wild about special organizations. That’s pretty much it. Depending on how much material there is my assistant will organize it where each line will be a set-up, but if there’s too much material, I say, “Just fill the whole screen and make sure it goes left to right and I’ll figure out where the set-ups start and end.”

Hullfish: One bin per scene I’m assuming.

Wolinsky: That’s the ideal, even if they have to be pretty small clips, because I don’t like scrolling up and down. I like to see it all at once.

Hullfish: That’s interesting, so not list view. I’m assuming you’re cutting on Avid.

Wolinsky: Yes. Not list view, but frame view in Avid.

Hullfish: And does the assistant chose a representative frame for the thumbnail, or do you like the slate, or what do you ask for?

Wolinsky: Usually they go past the slate to the first frame of action. Though when I have a B camera or multiple cameras in a grouped clip, I like to see the slate so that stands out and then individual cameras after that.

Hullfish: So you have your assistants group multi-camera footage for you. And do you find yourself editing those as multi-camera a lot?

Wolinsky: Yes. Absolutely. And the other thing I have my assistant do for me is set up the ScriptSync ™ if there’s time. And as you know, ScriptSync is pretty labor-intensive, so when I only have one assistant I’ll just select specific scenes where I think it will be valuable for me to have in ScriptSync. And if I’m lucky enough to have a second assistant, I’ll get the whole show set-up in ScriptSync.

Hullfish: That’s just how I did it on my last show. We had one assistant – Kali Bailey – and so we picked the complex scenes to do in ScriptSync and then the other ones we figured we didn’t really need it for.

Wolinsky: Yeah. And usually I won’t use ScriptSync for my first cuts.

Hullfish: So what are you using it for then?

Wolinsky: Well, after I’ve cut the scene – and as you said, if it’s a complex scene with a lot of set-ups – it makes it so much easier to go back and look at stuff and say “What’s available for that line or that piece of action?” and so when I’m reviewing the material myself, it’s incredibly helpful and when I’m working with a director or producer it’s REALLY helpful because I can immediately go to that line and say “Let’s look at the other takes or the other set-ups.” But by not first-cutting, I take the pressure off my assistant by not needing to have him or her have the ScriptSync ready immediately. I can say, “When you get a chance, sync this scene and when you have it, I’ll be able to go back and check it out.”

Hullfish: Do you bother having them put a locator on “action” or what else do you have them do?

Wolinsky: I have them put a red locator where there’s an internal pickup, like if an actor screws up a line and they start again. And if they start a take within a take, then I have them put a yellow locator, so I know that’s the start of an entire new take within the take.

Hullfish: Because people are starting to just roll right through things without stopping the camera.

Wolinsky: Right. They just say, “Go back to the first position” and start going again. And then when you have ScriptSync, they can break those takes apart and actually see the second iteration of the take and that can be color coded so it pops out.

Hullfish: Do you find yourself pulling separate audio and video for takes, like I find myself liking the way a set-up looks and then loving the delivery of a line from another set-up or take and then figuring a way to sync my preferred audio take to the preferred video take. Is that something you do?

Wolinsky: I do that frequently. I’ll even take a word reading or something and pull it out.

Hullfish: This is largely a factor of shooting stuff out of order, but while they’re shooting, are you trying to edit sequences together at all, where three or four scenes together, or are you waiting for all of the scenes to be shot before you start putting scenes together in any order?

Wolinsky: Usually, there’s enough film coming in that I don’t have time to start putting stuff together. So usually I don’t put stuff together. If I run out of stuff to do and I have a whole run of scenes that I can put together, I’ll put them together and start working on transitions between scenes, but that’s really a function of how much work I have to do. Ultimately you have to put it all together, but usually there’s no time during the shooting schedule to do that.

Hullfish: I noticed that you edited a few episodes of “House of Cards” back to back. That’s a little unusual for television because the editors usually alternate episodes. So with three editors, you’re cutting every third episode.             

Wolinsky: It was really sort of an oddball situation. They cross-boarded two episodes at a time and had the director shoot two episodes at a time, so they shot 20 days straight for two episodes and each editor would cut both episodes at the same time because obviously you were getting scenes from both episodes and the directors would come in to do director’s cuts on both episodes. Yeah, that was sort of an unusual situation. I don’t know a lot of people – even friends that I have that have worked on a lot of shows that have cross-boarded usually shows one and two would be divided between two editors and you’d get scenes from your show the next day or you’d divide up the dailies based on what show it was for. But this was an unusual situation.

Hullfish: I saw that your credits go back into the 70s. What do you think of this latest crop of television – this so-called second or third Golden Age of Television? How do you feel about the stuff you’re able to work on now compared to in the early 80s?

Wolinsky: I’ve been lucky to work on some really great material. I didn’t really work on any series before The Sopranos. I was really lucky.  I did an episode of Miami Vice.

Hullfish: So compare for me, you might not want to, but what’s the different between editing an episode of Miami Vice and editing and episode of The Sopranos? Practically speaking.

Wolinsky: God, it’s like apples and oranges. Even to the extent that Miami Vice was on film and it was at Universal. It was very different. But in essence it’s the same thing. You’re getting scenes that are written and shot and you r cut them and you put them together but it was just, the whole Miami Vice thing was an odd situation. The episode I cut, the show was too short and I sat around for weeks while they thought of something to write and send the director back to Miami to shoot another scene. Michael Mann was in charge of the whole thing, so that was similar and whatever he wanted he got.

Hullfish: What’s your take on the ascendency of the showrunner?

Wolinsky: There is always somebody in charge. It’s nice to be on a show where there’s a showrunner who’s running things and is in charge and it’s not divided up and there’s a unique vision of the show.

Hullfish: Do you find that people pigeonhole editors, like they pigeonhole actors based on the previous work you’ve done?

Wolinsky: There’s no question about it. That’s absolutely true. You’re a comedy editor – I mean even in features – you’re a comedy editor, you’re an action editor. Absolutely, without question.           

Hullfish: Yet you’ve got some really family friendly stuff on your resume early in your career, then the next thing is The Sopranos. Do you make a conscious effort to work on something so it will get me out of a pigeonhole?

Wolinsky: No. I rarely get to say whether I get to edit a certain project. I mostly hope that somebody wants me to edit his or her project. Mostly that’s the way it works.

Hullfish: Well, you’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of great projects, so that’s a good thing I guess.

Wolinsky: Yeah. That’s great.

Hullfish: I am interested in that idea of getting things to time. The first feature I cut, Sony had a contractual agreement that the movie would be no longer than 2 hours, yet the first cut of the movie was 2 and a half hours long. On the last one, there was no time agreement, but we knew, watching the first cut, that it was just too long. You look at individual scenes and they all play well, but when the whole thing is laid out, you feel like it’s too long.

Wolinsky: My feeling is always that there’s stuff that can go. And really, I’m always amazed at the writer’s mind and I’ll be blown away by a writer or director who will say, “We don’t need that scene because the next scene or the previous scene says the same thing.” And I’ll go, “Holy Cow, you’re right.” Because sometimes I don’t see that stuff, and this could even be the person who wrote the script. And they may have been aware of it the whole time and might have liked something in the scene and often the decisions you make are not that hard when you become analytical about what the story is and what the information you’re trying to convey. They look at the scene and say, what is it saying and how is it forwarding the story.

Hullfish: How much do you think of yourself as a writer in that way? Or not.

Wolinsky: Well, I think I am, but I often wish I had the level of analytical skills of thinking about it that the writers have, to be quite honest. That’s their whole job is to be sitting in that writers room and beating out the story. I think they have a mindset, not that other editors don’t, I’m sure that there are other editors who are better at it than I am. I have no doubt about that. But it is a collaborative process, and I’m always happy to be working with somebody who can contribute that level of thinking. And what I can contribute is to say “OK, I think we can do this, and I can make it look like it was written that way all the time.”

Hullfish: That’s the key.

Wolinsky: Often, I know on The Sopranos I’d have a long scene and David (Chase) would want to drop a whole lot of dialogue and I’d think to myself, “How the hell am I going to do that?” You work and work and you find the material within the scene to make it look totally seamless. Often that means lines on people’s backs (having lines spoken without seeing them speak) and things like that. It’s a collaborative process. My feeling is that taking time out is ultimately not a problem. You get down to a point where it probably will be, but little by little you start seeing stuff like that. It might be the tenth time you’ve looked at it and you say, “We don’t need the end of that scene.” Or “We’re getting information there that’s revealed in the next scene. Why are we doing that? It’s more interesting coming in the next scene.” It gives the next scene a purpose.

Hullfish: How do you feel – I was just watching the “College” episode of The Sopranos that you cut and thinking about the pacing of things. Where there’s breath and where there’s not breath. And to me, it always seems driven by performance more than pacing for the sense of pacing. I don’t know how to put it.

Wolinsky: Pacing has to do with your judgment within the scene and from scene to scene. And is it all performance? I don’t know. It’s personal taste. I tend to cut stuff really fast and then people tell me to slow it down.

Hullfish: I have a lot of promo and trailer experience, so I tend to cut things too fast too. The same thing happens to me when I get to straight narrative, dramatic stuff.

Wolinsky: Then I go, “Gee, it’s so much better now.” I try to think twice when I pace scenes. Sometimes I’ll pace it up and look at it and look at my old cut and I think, “What the hell was I doing?” And I’ll put it back the way it was. That’s what you’re doing the whole time. Making those decisions cut by cut. How many frames do I leave on the end of this line and so on and so forth, and how long do I linger on this shot? Nature of the job. It’s not governed by performance it’s governed by your own judgment really.

Hullfish: I’m always trying to figure out for myself what is driving my sense of when to make that cut.

Wolinsky: There are so many moving parts, you know. As I said, you’re cutting the scene and then you’re putting them together and what I find is that the first time I put it all together and look at the whole show, I see all kinds of things that I didn’t see within the scene, I’ll say, “Oh boy, that goes to fast or that goes really slow.” It gives you a whole different feeling of the pacing of the scene when you’re looking at it continuously with the other scenes.

Hullfish: When it’s in context.

Wolinsky: Yeah.

Hullfish: So is that a lot of what you’re doing in that four day period after the shooting has ended and before you start working with the director on his cut?

Wolinsky: Yes. Very much so. Very much so.

Hullfish: But you’re making those cutting decisions, those trims and pacing, not based on the fact that you’ve got an 84 minute episode when you know you can’t, but purely on the basis of how you feel about the cut?

Wolinsky: On the basis of making it play. You want to make it play. It may be too long, but you want to make it play without taking stuff out. By “play” I mean you don’t want people to think, “God, when is this scene going to be over?” Ultimately they may say that because it’s just written too long, but the first time you watch it you aren’t thinking that. It’s sort of a judgment call as you’re working.

Hullfish: Is it interesting to you to see the differences in the notes you’re seeing early in the process and the notes you’re getting later – because you’re working through multiple levels of approvals. Especially the director’s cut and the showrunner’s cut. Talk to me about your sense of those changes and notes or how that improves things.

Wolinsky: Maybe I’m just naive, but I feel that stuff just keeps getting improved. I always like to work with the director extensively. They’re a new set of eyes and they theoretically had something in mind when they shot it. And they have a whole other way of thinking about it, so that person and I can together bring it to a point beyond where I can get it alone. The director and I can bring it to the next level. Then if you’ve got a smart producer, they’ll see other problems in there that you can solve. Even when you bring it to the network, there’s a lot of disparaging of network notes, but my point of view – and maybe I’m too naive or giving them too much credit – but I figure at least this is another set of people looking at the work and saying  “Gee, I didn’t understand that and maybe this would be better this way.” And often these network notes are really good and you say “That’s right. That thing doesn’t work.”

Hullfish: The network is more removed from the rest of the creative process, which is sometimes a very good thing. They are not as heavily invested or myopic.

Wolinsky: That’s what I mean. I just feel that the problem with television is that everybody has a dog in the hunt or a horse in the race. So with all their good intentions they still have their own special interest where in a feature where you’re previewing it with a bunch of people in a test audience, you’re getting a totally legitimate reaction. But you work with the people you work with and sometimes the network executives are pretty darn smart. And yes, they’re people who haven’t seen it, they’re looking at it as a somewhat disinterested viewer.

Hullfish: With some of the series you’ve worked on does it get somewhat easier to cut once you understand that universe of the show you’re living in, or doesn’t that really help?

Wolinsky: I think my skills have developed. The longer you do stuff, the more comfortable you become and the more you develop strategies to do stuff.

Hullfish: But between episodes 3, 6 and 9, is 9 easier to cut than 3? Your experience has only improved by two months over the course of an extensive career. So your skills haven’t improved that much, but you’ve come to learn the show better or understand the characters better.

Wolinsky: In such a small time period, I’d say no. It depends on the script. It depends on the director. It depends on the actor. It depends on all kinds of factors. I think within a specific nine month period of cutting a certain show there are a lot of challenges. Some things feel easier than others and some don’t. It’s a show-by-show thing.

Hullfish: What do you think are your strengths as an editor? What do you like to do? Like you said, you might have an assistant cut music if that’s one of their strengths.  What do you find that you like to do? Are you the advocate for the integrity of the story or do you like cutting dialogue, or do you prefer to cut action? Is there anything like that at all?

Wolinsky: I don’t think of it that way. I feel like I try to keep an open mind all the time, certainly about notes. I feel I can be imaginative in terms of solving problems, because sometimes you get these problems and people give you notes that are very vague and you have to figure out, “Well, how can I accomplish that with what I have. What are the elements there that is bothering this person? Sometimes people are very specific, but what they say doesn’t make any sense in the specifics, but I can figure out the problem they’re seeing and sometimes fixing the problem they’ve identified doesn’t really mean changing the specific things they’ve put in their notes. So it’s up to you to think, “What is bothering this person? And let me see if I can figure out a way of solving that problem, not exactly the way they’ve told me to, but that will address the underlying issue they’re trying to get to.

Hullfish: I remember coming up against audience notes on something I cut that they didn’t like an entire character. They wanted the character eliminated. And we watched it thinking “This is really a likeable character. What is wrong with these notes? And we finally figured that the entire problem was down to a single gesture and a single spoken line from the character. And when we cut that gesture and line, the character tested well in subsequent screenings.

Hullfish: You talked about problem solving skills. Think back to one of your last projects, something fresh in your mind. What was a problem that you needed to solve where you came up with a solution?

Wolinsky: I could actually go back to that “College” episode of The Sopranos (edited in 1999, more than 15 years before this interview) I remember that pretty well. We didn’t cut down the killing at all, but various things were done to modify that. Like I think David (Chase) wrote a scene where the guy that gets killed tries to hire somebody to kill Tony, which makes him less sympathetic. And there’s a scene where Tony goes and observes the guy in a hot tub with his family and his kids and we decided on either losing it or cutting it in such a way that you didn’t see the kids or the family in order to not make him a sympathetic character.

Hullfish: So you would know he had a family, but you didn’t dwell on the family. It’s not always the killing scene that is too much, it’s the things that lead up to the killing scene that causes the killing scene to be too much. Can you think of other problem solving, like when David (Chase) asks you to cut a lot of dialogue. And you think, “How do I do that? How do I maintain the flow of the conversation when half the scene is cut out in the middle?”

Wolinsky: Well, often you can make the conversation flow but the problems are that people are in entirely different positions in the room. That’s the problem.

Hullfish: Can you think of any creative problem solving about how you did that?

Wolinsky: Really it involves looking at all of the takes and all of the out takes and the B-negative. Trying to create some kind of staging where you can bridge that. Looking at the staging of the scene and what you’re dropping and how you can make it look like it is continuous action. Sometimes it’s cutting away to somebody, sometimes it’s a piece of b-negative where the character went right instead of left. He was supposed to go left and he went right by mistake, but if you use that take, that gets you out of the screen direction problem you have. Sometimes you flop a shot for the same reason, for that screen direction problem. Sometimes it’s pre-lapping dialogue over somebody’s look. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. Not to sound too non-PETA. And that’s the key to editing.

Hullfish: Absolutely. You never know what’s going to get you out of a jam.  How are people finding you? Or how are you finding work? Do you have an agent?

Wolinsky: Yeah, I have an agent. I have people that I work with that sometimes call me for work.

Hullfish: Do you do things beyond the series that you’re cutting? Do you cut spots? Do you do other work?

Wolinsky: No.

Hullfish: Are you looking to become proficient on any other NLEs? I know dramatic television series work is almost 100 percent cut on Avid.

Wolinsky: I cut “House of Cards” on Final Cut Pro.

Hullfish: That’s right, because that’s a Fincher project and he’s a Final Cut guy.

Wolinsky: Right, so that was a condition of employment. That was the second time… I did another series a few years before on Final Cut. I’m not a big fan but you learn the tools. The most important thing is knowing what to do. You figure out how to do it with the tools you have. I hear people are starting to use Adobe Premiere. I heard they cut “Gone Girl” on that.

Hullfish: I think that is true.

Wolinsky: And when I was at “House of Cards” Kurt Baxter was cutting a Calvin Klein ad on Premiere and Adobe literally had all their engineers in another room doing stuff, working on the program.

Hullfish: To make sure that it went well.

Wolinsky: For obvious reasons.  So maybe Adobe Premiere will be the next big thing. But I’ve cut on Avid for many years and I like it very much. I could complain. People complain about Avid a lot and I have over the years, but ultimately I find that it’s the most sophisticated programs I’ve worked with.

Hullfish: What complaints do you have? What’s your number one issue with Avid right now?

Wolinsky: I can’t think of any specific issue. There are a couple of little bugs that have never been fixed, but apart from that, it’s been incredibly stable. I was cutting on 7 – the highest point release of 7 – and it might crash once a week, if that much. Final Cut crashed hourly. So, compared to the old days with Avid, it’s incredibly stable. I don’t understand all of the assistant stuff that much, so I can’t speak to the really highly technical stuff, but in terms of the editing tools and the ability to do editing stuff, I’m very happy with it.

Hullfish: And how long have you been cutting on Avid?

Wolinsky: Since 1992.

Hullfish; Same with me.

Wolinsky: They did not have the 24 frame software at the time.

Hullfish: Was that transition to Avid a transition you were happy to make? Looking back on it, from cutting film to cutting on Avid is a huge improvement, or do you miss it?

Wolinsky: The hardest thing for me was cutting electronically period. The first system I worked on was Montage. Then I actually started cutting on Avid because I was doing a movie of the week and I couldn’t find a Montage in Hollywood to rent, and a friend of mine, Steve Cohen, suggested it and I found one place that would rent Avids and the producer discovered that it wasn’t any more expensive than a Montage so he agreed to it and frankly it was so far advanced from the Montage that I could play a whole act of a movie of the week without stopping. I thought, “Well, this is it.” Montage was based on seventeen Beta decks cuing up and going with computerized control, so you’d have to tell it to play from in to out and often it would say, “Can only play two and a half minutes or will have to substitute 75 pieces of black.” With the Avid I could literally play an entire 10 minute act of a movie of the week without stopping. Then I’d have to change all the drives and put in a new set of drives, but nevertheless it was a major improvement. Since then, I’ve cut just about everything on Avid. I’ve never cut on film again.


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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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