Interview with Hollywood Film Editor Scott Hill, ACE (Part 1)

By Chris Wells
Jun 6, 2024
9 minute read
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Welcome to part one of our exclusive interview with Scott Hill, a renowned film editor with an impressive career in the industry. Join us as we delve into Scott's journey, from his early days at USC film school to working on iconic films like Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, and Bruce Almighty.

In this insightful discussion, Scott shares his experiences, challenges, and the techniques that have shaped his career. Whether you're an aspiring editor or a seasoned professional, this interview is packed with valuable insights and behind-the-scenes stories that will inspire and inform your editing journey.

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Interview

This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chris Wells: Thank you so much, Scott, for coming on and having this chat with us, talking all things Lightworks and editing today. So if you could just for the audience at home, who may not know who you are, give us a little two-minute rundown of who you are, Scott. Who is this man I'm talking to right now?

Scott Hill: Well, hello. My name is Scott Hill. Film editor. I have no idea who I am, but I can tell you a few things I've done. Out of film school, I went to film school at the University of Southern California, USC here in Los Angeles, and out of that, through happenstance, I ended up cutting negative. And I had an office at Technicolor, and I was a negative cutter for too long. I spent a lot of time there but I made my way into editorial eventually and started out as an assistant editor on the TV show Law and Order a long time ago.

I was there a couple of seasons and then moved into features from there as an assistant editor, and I assisted a gentleman by the name of Don Zimmerman, a fantastic editor. Wonderful guy. Just I was his first assistant for eight years. And we did just so many movies and just loved them. Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Patch Adams, number of films like that.

I was to go on with him to do another film, Cat in the Hat, and that's when I got the opportunity to edit. Don had committed himself to Cat in the Hat so he couldn't cut Bruce and the director of Bruce Almighty, Tom Shadyac, who did Nutty Professor and Liar, Liar, Dragonfly, Patch Adams. Tom asked me to cut, Bruce Almighty. So that was my move into the chair.


Chris Wells: Wow. Was film editing the kind of place you always wanted? Was that always what you wanted to do? Was it just being involved in the filmmaking process? What was it that drew you specifically to editing?


Scott Hill: I had directed a number of films in film school, but then have written, and I've written screenplays and whatnot, but editing that just seemed to come more naturally to me. I would sit down and cut for other people film school. I would cut my own films. That just seems to come the second nature that that seemed to be where the real talent was.


Chris Wells: Was that a lot of the time, I'm guessing with film very like hands-on or when you started in like especially folks got like in school, as you say.


Scott Hill: Oh yeah, film 16 millimetre cutting our movie, all those and all that. So yeah. And going from there and cutting on film.


Chris Wells: So when you were editing on film, was it short films you made the editing?


Scott Hill: Yeah. I wasn't doing a lot of I mean, I was an assistant that was what I was doing. That's. And that was my that's where I really started out. I mean, I was I was cutting on film, short films, little things, commercials that, that if as an assistant, I mean, that's a full-time job.


Chris Wells: And what does being an assistant consist of?


Scott Hill: Anything the editor needs done. And that's, that's something that some people had a tough time with, even though I was my editor's first assistant, I would be the first one in the room. Fire everything up, get the coffee brewing.

So they're like, well, you're the first assistant. You know, you should be doing that. I'm the first one in the room. You do what you got to do. This whole hierarchy thing of. Well, I don't do that because I'm. I'm now the first assistant. I'm not a second assistant. Like. Yeah, no, we do what needs to be done.


Chris Wells: Definitely. And then so from that you then, you know, went in. So when you were working with Don Zimmerman, you were talking about so you were an editor in that. Yes. Was what was a day to day because you worked on them from quite a few films. What was that like a day-to-day as an assistant with him like?


Scott Hill: So a typical day because it's at this point I was hired, Don had hired me because he had moved to Lightworks, for the first time. It was on a film called A Walk in the Clouds with Keanu Reeves, 20th Century Fox. So he was putting on Lightworks for the first time. He was coming off film. He was a chem editor through and through. He that's that's his speciality. So I taught him how to cut on Lightworks, and I was teaching a bunch of people on hiatus from Law and Order.

I was working for a company in Hollywood that was teaching a lot of editors, and I was one of their teachers during my off time. So I taught Don and, you know, it was great story. I finished teaching him how to how to cut on Lightworks. And he just turned to me and he said, have you made your deal yet? And I'm like, what are you talking about? And he goes, well, I got this picture at 20th Century Fox. You need to talk to the had a post. I said, why? And he goes, because you're coming with me. So that's that's why you're going to be my Lightworks assistant. So just make your deal. And we're off to, And we shot in Napa Valley.

So he goes, you've got three days. We're we're on a plane to Napa Valley in three days. So I was like, oh, okay, here we go. So normal day. Starting with the second day, you get dailies. We were still you're shooting on film. So you you get your dailies, we're syncing on film, screening dailies on film. And then I would go and have and get that all prepped for tell us. And then we'd get at that time, we were, you know, three-quarter inch tape, and I would digitise it into Lightworks and prep everything for him to be cutting. So I mean, that's, that's the normal routine.

But essentially, you're looking at it a regular day. We were in maybe 8:30 in the morning to start. And then sometimes the lab would drop off film at nine. We'd be picking up mag (the sound), 8:30, syncing dailies, it'd be tough, like Liar, Liar were lunchtime dailies. So we had to have everything synced by 1:00 because then we were screening at 1:00. Everybody's coming in. Director, producers, whomever department heads are bringing, you know, carrying their lunches in to the screening room. And, and we're looking at dailies at 1:00.

So a little tough, those, days were challenging because we would get, some days where 40/50,000ft of film that morning. So we're synching if we had 40,000ft, that's 40,000ft rolls of film.


Chris Wells: And how much does that translate into time?


Scott Hill: Well, 1000ft is, 11 minutes and seven seconds. So, how does that work out?


Chris Wells: Wow! Yeah.


Scott Hill: And that was a typical day. That's just a day's worth of dailies. And so, day would end by 7:00 or so. There's other times if you shoot on film, we'd start to same time. But we wouldn't run dailies till after wrap. So if wrap was at seven at night or 7:30, by the time everybody got to the screening room, we'd look at all the footage. Depending on how much the director wanted to see. We could be there till 11:00. So. And that's a normal day as an editorial on film. That was a normal day.


Chris Wells: And I can imagine a lot of those films, you know, the cast, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams with Patch Adams you said and things. I imagine those ones, especially because those performers are very dynamic. They do a lot of different takes. You know, even on I remember on year they have like the outtakes and the kind of and you just see how different every single take something.


So I can imagine you know for you know, more dramas potentially. It's like they may have a lot of film to capture one moment and you really only looking for a like a couple of bits while with something like a Jim Carrey performance or a Robin Williams performance, you have like, oh, we have five hours of great stuff.


Scott Hill: Well, when you come up with a feature and you say their feature, your finished film is going to be maybe 7000ft long. We're shooting 1,000,000ft. That's your your ratio. 


Chris Wells: There's a lot of responsibility almost to show to, to get all of those performances and that footage to find the best way to show a director or the main editor, to see what kind of process do you go through to kind of show them, you know, or, you know, to give, you know, here's five great takes of this scene or's the best. What is the kind of thing that you would do that, and what would be your process to get to that?


Scott Hill: Well, for me, let's, let's use, Bruce Almighty as an example. So, Jim Carrey, one of the hardest working guys I've ever run across. Jim's fabulous. He would do we have one set up where it's the maid of the mist scene where he loses it on camera, while he's doing his news broadcast. So there's a scene there. We are almost a hundred takes.

So, you just start going through it, and I'll just. I'll just start looking at everything. And this is always something that I have found important. Even though most people are like, well, there's enough time in the day, but I want to see everything because you never know which take has the gem, you know, that that piece of gold that you're looking for could be in take 43. So it's like you've got to see them all. Some people don't look at all the footage. They just go to the last take and call it a day. You can't. You can't do that. You have to be more thorough than that. So I would go through them all, and then I just start whittling it down. It's like, oh, okay. Well, now that one, I don't like that one as much. So that that out another pass. There's another ten fall away another pass another 15. So I'm start getting now I'm starting to getting more and more specific about that's got a problem. That's got a problem. Okay. That's gone, that's gone, that's gone.

And I would whittle it down and to, a manageable select reel role and then just and then make my selects from there. Fortunately, that that one set up, by the way, was was always hilarious.

What was hilarious in the cutting room at the time was the director, Tom Shadyac. So he would look at stuff, I would put him, I, I taught him how to cut on Lightworks so he could cut a select roll. He would go to one of my assistant's rooms, and he would cut his own select roll because he knew 100 takes. So he would look at the scene. He'd give me some notes. Okay, let's do this and this. I'm going to go look at performances, and I'm going to make a select roll of stuff so I can see it. Well, first of all, after that, after that scene, he, you know, he came back in my room "100 takes! You made me look at a hundred takes!?" And I'm like, "Tom, you shot it!"


Chris Wells: So so just for the for the audience at home. What what is a select roll? How would you define the select roll?


Scott Hill: Select, in this case is, let's say, that example of 100 takes for a shot set up. Tom's looking to pick his best. So if he wants to whittle it down to, like, the best 10 or 15, he'll just cut a roll of just those takes. So that's a select roll. Just whittling stuff down to the best of the bunch.


Chris Wells: And then what happens to that select roll after?


Scott Hill: So he would make a select roll, he would make a select role on my assistant’s system Lightworks. We're all networked. So he would come in, he goes, okay, I made the roll. My assistant would send it over into my room, you know, on the on the computer. At that point, Lightworks had rooms and then we'd look at it and we pull it up and I'd look at the, the takes he chose and I'm like, oh, that's pretty good. Those are, those are great. Oh. By the way, I use this take for this line, and I use that take for this one. This line was this, take this. And he'd be like, you mean I went through all that? And those are the takes you already have in the movie? I said well, yeah!

Click here for part two of this interview.

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