The Making of Bruce Almighty’s Funniest Scene | A Talk with Scott Hill, ACE

By Chris Wells
Jun 20, 2024
13 minute read
A YouTube thumbnail, showing film editor Scott Hill




Welcome to part three of our exclusive interview with Scott Hill, a renowned film editor with an impressive career in the industry. In this segment, Scott discusses the challenges and techniques of editing an iconic scene from Bruce Almighty and the meticulous work involved in maintaining an organised editorial.

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.



This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chris Wells: So this is just a personal one. One of the very first scenes I ever saw as a young person in my developmental years of cinema was the scene in Bruce Almighty with Steve Carell, where he starts talking gibberish.

That has some of the best comedy editing I have ever seen. And I had this moment the other day where I was reflecting; that is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen. And then all of a sudden, I'm like, wait a minute, I can talk to the man that did it!

So I just wanted to ask very specifically if you have any memories of that kind of editing, that sort of getting that together, because that was a scene I always remember. And, you know, as an adult, being able to analyse it kind of a bit more. A lot of the genius of that is that when Jim Carrey starts moving his mouth one way, it matches perfectly with the sound that Steve Carell was doing.

And was that something that, like, they wrote down the exact gibberish so it would match? Were they in the same room and just kind of worked it out? Or was it something you had to find in the edit to get that timing right?

Scott Hill: They did try, but Steve had had improv so much, and then the shot with Jim in the control booth doing the controlling. He's separate. So they were both improvising at the same time or on the same day. It's not like we shot one side, looked at the film, and then had somebody else mimic what was done.

Now, that scene, probably one of the funniest in the movie, was an interesting challenge, editing, because it was so funny that the director, Tom Shadyac, decided that he felt the film was peaking too early. So how do we as oh, here's Tom's challenge. He goes, you think about this. How do we move this scene later in the movie so the film doesn't peak so early?

And, you know, that's one of those drop that bomb on me Friday night and then, you know, come into the cutting room Monday morning. So, Scott, what'd you come up with? But it worked out fine. We were able to rearrange and restructure that section of the movie so that we could just take and move it. I mean, it was. We're not moving it 20 minutes. It would just be too much. But we were still able to move it several scenes later and restructure the area so that the movie would peak later.

That's something about that scene. What I remember quite vividly about that scene as I was cutting in the cutting room, we were shooting, that scene at Universal, and I get the phone call in the cutting room. "Mr. Shadyac would like you on set with him." And I'm like, Jeez, here we go.

So I go down to the set, and they're shooting that scene. And so I'm sitting next to Tom, and we're, you know, behind the monitors and the whole sets in front of us and everything. And I'm watching it play out, and everybody is trying to stifle their laugh so they don't blow the take because the whole crew behind the camera, everybody's laughing, and it's hilarious.

The stuff that that Steve's coming up with. That Jim's coming up with. And so Tom just said, I want you just to see what we're doing here, just to see, you know, get some ideas on where this scene is going. So I'm sitting there for quite a while, watching it, and we finish it.

We finish Steve's coverage, and everybody's laughing and congratulating Steve on the brilliant improv. And Tom turns to me in the chair and he goes, I don't know how you're going to cut that, but I know it's going to be great. I have no clue how that's going to cut together. So good luck, and I'm anxious to see what you come up with.

Chris Wells: And how did you feel in that moment “I have no idea how I'm going to edit this.”

Scott Hill: I didn't, I had no idea. But you're looking at it, and you go, well, my first question was, there's so much great stuff, how am I going to get that incorporated in the scene?

So that actually tracks with the drama of what the scenes are about; how is that going to happen? And then I, you know, get Jim's coverage and see, and the Jim stuff is hilarious, and it's like, oh my God. So, I got to meld these two together. And as you said, make it look like what Jim says is what comes out of Steve's mouth.

Yeah. When you're given brilliant footage like that, then it's just then it's just on you as an editor to not screw it up.

Chris Wells: Yeah, I can imagine. That's a lot of pressure, though. There's so much gold. Did you did you find there was something...

Scott Hill: Oh, yeah. It's that I'm always feeling pressure. It's like, this has got to be gold from the outset, or I'm in trouble.

Chris Wells: Well, I can definitely say from an audience, it definitely worked because it's still something that I, you know, as a film I rewatched recently, but one it's always stuck in my head the way that that scene was done.

Scott Hill: Well, I'm very proud to say that when Tom saw the scene, the only thing he wanted to do was make it go a little longer because it's such a good laugh, and we added a little more at the end. But I'd say 98% of that scene is my first cut.

Chris Wells: Oh, wow. That's amazing because it is. And you know, the other thing I keep thinking about is that the scene is very dynamic. It's not he's just doing gibberish. He goes fast and slow and fast and slow. And was that something that you had to find in the edit?

Scott Hill: Yes. You want to build it. So it's it needs to build to a peak. It just can't start. It's like we talked about in terms of performance. You know, you can't go to a hundred and then hold that, that that just isn't going to work. You know nobody can. You just can't maintain that. Whether it's the tension in Jaws or laughing at Jim Carrey, you can't hold it. It won't sustain for a long time. So, personally, I believe in just in each individual sequence I wanted to build.

So, you know, each scene is structured like a movie. It's got a beginning, middle, and end, and you need it to build to that third act. And even if you're looking at a 2.5 minute scene. And that's how I structured the thing, I needed it. I decided it needed you start off, you set up the scenario, you know, show our our players and then let the let the madness unfold. And then you want it to build to a to a peak.

And that was one thing when Tom saw it, it was great because Tom's Tom's just roaring in the cutting room. He just loving it. And he's like, oh my God, this is great. I think we've got the footage to keep it going just a little bit longer. And and yeah, it was there.

So we found a way and Tom's like, let's try this and this and let's say okay, okay, let's see if I can make this work here and get from where I was ending it to where it could continue it and still build it and, and hit the peak for the scene.

And then that's what I've already mentioned at that point. Once we previewed it and it was, it was fantastic. Tom's like ‘the movies peaking too early. We need to move the scene later in the movie.’ And it's like, ‘oh, wait, wait, what? What?’ Restructure. Okay, here we go. Let's see if we can do it. And we did it.

We were able to do it. And then, by the time we, it was very early. Yeah. It was just it's so much fun. Jim was shooting back in New York or New Jersey. I think he was doing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So we took the movie back to show him.

So we screened it, and I think it was in New Jersey. We were in New York and then went to the theatre. So, Jim, you know, we sneak Jim into the theatre in the back of the theatre there, and it plays like a dream. It's just it's just great. Jim loves it because the audience is just losing it. And he said he has notes about certain things, and can we do this and then whatever. And then, in that scene with Steve Carell, Jim just turned to Tom and said, 'don't touch a frame.' That's done. It's done.

Chris Wells: So funny because I've only seen that film a couple of times, but I, oh, it's even the way Jim Carrey leans against the wall, and I'm like that he's trying to hide it, but he's still doing the mouth. And how things accumulate into that scene, being, yeah, that's good. That's such a great story. Thank you so much, Scott.

Scott Hill: We could bring it back and make it relevant to you, to what we're doing here. And say yes. The whole thing was cut on Lightworks!

Chris Wells:
Was there any particular advantage, I suppose, of editing on something like Lightworks? Or do you have a moment where you're like 'thank god I'm editing this on Lightworks!'

Scott Hill: I usually feel that way in every movie, that I'm able to cut with it. And I will admit that I cannot use Lightworks in every movie. So that's that's an issue that I'm still dealing with. But, especially when I get back to it, it's like, this is so nice. For me, it's mostly in terms of what tool I use. It's what I can get through work faster.

So I'm always very, cognisant of the attention of the director sitting behind me or someone sitting next to me, I don't want to waste their time. So I am trying to fumble through, open up trims and cuts and different and, yeah, no, I want to do it faster. Especially when the director gets into a train of thought about how a scene should be playing. I want to be able to cut it quickly and put it together while he's still even thinking about it.

I cut a movie and called Dance Flick at Paramount. And Damien Dante Wayans directed it. And then he had his uncle, Keenen Ivory Wayans, come into the cutting room after the first week in post like, “My uncle's coming in to help out." Okay, here we go.

And so I'm cutting with Damien and Keenan, and Keenan has an idea for a scene, and he's trying to explain it to me. It's like, well, I need it to go this and this. And so I'm like going with him as he's going. So by the time he finished his sentence about what he, how he thought a certain section should be structured and should play, I'm like, oh, you mean like this? And I just hit play, and it was done.

I've had it cut by the time he finished his sentence, and he's like, that's exactly what I was talking about. I was like, oh, then we were on the same page. So that's good. That's a good thing.

Chris Wells:  You use the console, don't you for Lightworks?

Scott Hill: Yes, I do, I use the console, it’s brilliant.

Chris Wells: And is that something you find you can move way faster?

Scott Hill: Yes. in the software. Yes, I can move. I can work much faster just for me. Some people say, yeah, I can move just as fast as a key with a keyboard mouse. Okay, fine. To each their own. To me, they're aspects of the console that the accuracy of, or even just shuttling through the footage, to the frame, you know, I can get it to a point to where it's playing the equivalent of perfect because I can run a frame and I can all of a sudden the sound will kick in halfway through, you know? So I know I'm halfway in the frame. I can hear the audio hit, so I know where, like, almost to the part from where the audio is starting to and then flying through it. I mean, there's so many advantages.

By the time I'm showing a director my cut, I'm working with many tracks. I may only I try to minimise the video layers. So, if I'm down to it, I will try to keep it around the three-plus effects tracks. So I may be working with by the time I've got all that put together, I may have, you know, six video layers, but I'm. But at that point, I'm also probably working with I'm like I said, I try to keep it minimized so I can move faster, but I'm usually working with 20 to 25, 24 I try to keep it, even numbers, the 24 audio tracks say six video layers.

The advantage of the console is that I can open it. So I want to make a change with the director, and I've got. So here I have 24 audio and 6 video tracks. There's a single button. I can open all my tracks at the same time. A single button hit the console. And it's not just cutting all my tracks at one point so I can move them. It's smart editing. It opens every track at a cut point. It doesn't like cut a sound effect or a piece of music at that point where the playhead sitting, it knows where the end of each of those tracks are.

So when it opens all those tracks up, it opens them up intelligently at the cut points. So then, and with a single thing, I'm open. Now. I can rock and roll and adjust the edit at that point, and all my tracks can stay in sync, and I'm not tripped chopping them all up, and I have to go back and get the false cuts out, you know, the. Yeah, it's a lot faster.

Chris Wells:
Do you find that it takes longer to edit a comedy when you have more, almost more options to deliver the joke or like, you know, there's it's a lot more delicate, maybe? What do you find? Delivering a comedic scene versus a dramatic one is more delicate or more complicated.

Scott Hill: In any case, it's about performance, so it doesn't matter. Comedy or drama? It's about the performance. With comedy, you. Yes. Setting up the joke is important because a punchline with no setup is not funny.

So, in that regard, you've got to work on that setup. Because if your setup is even tainted by being on the wrong person for the setup, then the setup, the audience, you know, may not land the 100% that set up. So when the punchline comes, it may not quite be as it may not be quite as funny because the whole audience didn't grasp that setup to begin with. So yeah, it's pretty important.

Chris Wells: This is a this is a very question for me. Do you ever find when you're editing, like, with multiple tracks, that you end up accidentally making a staircase.

Scott Hill: Oh, I've seen that a lot. 

Chris Wells: The number of times I've done and then I have to go back, and I'm like, come on, reduce it down, reduce it down. But do you ever find it is you? Or maybe you see another editor where, like, those habits kind of happen, and then you have to kind of.

Scott Hill: I see some things like that. I've seen some editors. I mean, everybody works in a different manner. And whether, you know, their video, their timelines look like the most advanced game of Tetris you've ever seen in your life. You know, everybody works on their own, in their own manner.

I like to be very disciplined with my audio tracks, just to make life easier for organisational purposes. It also makes my assistant's life easier when it comes time to turn over. But, you know, I'll restrict the production track to the first 4 and, you know, 5 through 15, or be, or five through 16, whatever will be sound effects, and then 17 through 20 or 17 through 24, it'll be music. So, I try to keep somewhat organised.

Chris Wells: Fantastic. So following that, are there any other disciplines that you give yourself to kind of make life easier for, you know, for whoever for your assistance, for the directors, for the producers? Are there any good habits you could instil in us as mortal editors to make this better in the long run?

Scott Hill: That's a good question. I don't know; for me, a well-run editorial is an extremely organised editorial. You can't have total chaos in editorial. For me, doesn't it doesn't really work because, you know, I started in, in film and working, working with Don Zimmerman on features with film. And you had to be able to say, if we have 1,000,000ft of film, I have to be able at a moment's notice to find one frame.

If Don turned to me and go, I need this frame. You have to be organised enough to know exactly how to get it as fast as possible, so that that kind of organisation really helps for me in the cutting room, so that everybody knows what everything is.

Now, in a digital world, you're talking about organising dailies, dailies, and bins. This is so assistants can deal with things daily. But then scene bins and how you're, your bins are organised. I mean, it sounds like the simple basics, but it's just keeping things organised and not just randomly. Oh, I just got all this stuff thrown in a bin. It's like, all right, so you're going to spend a good chunk of your time just trying to find what you're looking for, as opposed to cutting, or as opposed to recutting a scene with the director. It's not a good idea.

Chris Wells: Yeah. No, that makes sense. That was something that I always found. And I think especially with footage, because it's not like it's just a text document that you can search.

Scott Hill: Yeah. With, with AI technology coming to some point, I'm sure that will happen. But actually, you know, where's that performance of this actor doing the wink where it's extra funny? How are you going to find that?

Chris Wells: Do you mark a lot of clips? Do you have a lot of like, do you have like, you know, you have you take these bins and then you scene bins, and then do you also have favourite bins or use this take?

Scott Hill: Not per se, because that, to me, starts getting messy. If I do, I'll stay in all the footage for a scene in a bin or multiple bins, depending on how much footage there is. If there's a lot, you have 100 takes. The odds are good you're not going to fit in one bin.

My monitors are large, but they're not large enough to fit an entire scene that large or a very large complex scene. Yeah. You're not going to get it all. So it could be two, three, or four bins of footage. But yeah, within that bin, I'll either have alternate versions of a cut, or I'll just take them away in the bin for myself. It's like, oh, you know, because I'll do that a lot, and I'll take in. Oh, that's scene cuts. Oh, that's fine. You know, there's another way to do the scene.

And instead of waiting for the director to show up and we discuss it, I'll just cut it so I could have 2 or 3 versions of a scene or a section of a scene or whatever tucked away. So it's like, oh, how did that play? Yeah. That's okay. Oh, yeah. Well, how about this and play, you know, click it and play. Oh. ‘Well, that's an interesting approach.’

And, well then there's this one and, and the directors I've worked with have told me that's one of the things they appreciate is I'll do alt I'll do, because there's, you know, there's no single way to cut something. So, if there's an alternate way that might be better, I'll try it. You know, when I've cut dailies.

Click here for part one of this interview.

Click here for part two of this interview.

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