Behind the Scenes of VFX Editing | A Talk with Scott Hill, ACE

By Chris Wells
Jun 27, 2024
9 minute read
A YouTube Video Thumbnail featuring Scott Hill




Welcome to the fourth and final part of our exclusive interview with Scott Hill, ACE, a renowned film editor with an impressive career in the industry. In this segment, Scott delves into integrating VFX in Bruce and Evan Almighty, including the iconic fast-typing scene, and shares his methods for maintaining an organised workflow using Lightworks.

Scott discusses the importance of cutting with performance in mind, adjusting edits based on VFX feedback, and the efficiency of using Lightworks for complex editing tasks. 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 one of the other kinds of things I was thinking of to bring it back to Bruce Almighty, especially on those experiences, was, obviously, there's a lot of special effects in that film, right?

Scott Hill: A lot of special effects shots.

Chris Wells: The one that I always remember was the bit where he's typing on the keyboard. He does it like really fast.


Scott Hill: Yeah. That one's quite easy. I was actually able actually to do the initial layout for that. I did it right in Lightworks.

Chris Wells: Did they get Jim Carrey just to type for a long time? Because I can imagine that.

Scott Hill: Oh, he types, and he types very fast. And then, you know, we're like, let's kick it up a notch or kick it up 20 notches. And I just sped it up. Those are the easy ones. But yeah, there are many different films where I'll do lots of visual effects.

Chris Wells: Were there ever ones where the visual effects altered the way you have to edit a scene, like once it comes back or you get it. I'm not sure about the order. I don't even know what the.

Scott Hill: Well, you know, number one, you go with the performance, you cut it. Whether it's all blue screen, green screen, whatever. Cut the performance, cut the scene, how you want it, how the director feels for the pacing and the timing, you know, the tempo of the scene. Send it out.

Once we start getting the initial temps back from the VFX house. That's it. Then all of a sudden, it's like, oh, I see, or they've added some different dynamic that we weren't aware of in the background or something, or it's like, oh, what if that happens here? Well, we need this to happen here. This cut needs to be moved over here. So then we'll go in and tweak tweak the scene. 

Chris Wells: Does that happen often? Is that something that like is it is common? Is that a common occurrence when you add a scene, and the performance isn't perfect?

Maybe it's on the green screen, or there's a CG character or something. It comes back and you're like, oh, actually, this is shifted. The whole dynamic of the scene.

Scott Hill: Well, in my experience, my limited experience at it, I haven't had that kind of major reworkings because we had a pretty good concept of what it should be because then we're giving, like on Evan Almighty, we were working with both Rhythm & Hues and ILM, and so the concepts were pretty close to begin with.

So we're just fine-tuning at that point. So it's like, oh, you know what? If this cut, we could do this if this, you know, move this, cut a little bit here, or if we get a moment here before this, it's like, oh, let's open that up just a second.

I've got a little bit of handle, but sometimes it's like, oh well, we went past the handles. We have to re-scan the shot, but whatever the case.

Chris Wells: If the setup of the joke is partly based on special effects, if you have a thing where you've set up a punchline, you set it up, and you have to imagine, oh yeah, and at this point, the CGI zebra comes in and does this or whatever, when you get it back.

Is that, like I was trying to kind of think, is that something that happens often where you're like, no, we need to trim it.

Scott Hill: Yeah, nine times out of ten, if it's a comedic sequence, it's going to get tighter.

Chris Wells: Do you find that you cut a lot of special effects frames, and then you imagine, like them in the CGI in the CG houses where they're like, "it took us an extra day to render those couple of frames you just cut out!?"

Scott Hill: Well, I mean, we get that with any VFX shot, and somebody goes, oh, I want, you know, one-foot handles or 16 frame handles like, well, that's all that work is going to get cut out. Why would I want to do that?

Chris Wells: For the audience at home, what does a 'handle' mean?

Scott Hill: A 16-frame handle is used, so the shot may be a certain length, but then I've got 16 frames that would precede the first frame, and then it's 16 frames after the last frame in the edit. So I could take it and roll the shot around, move it around, maybe start it a little bit earlier and end it or end it a little later if I wanted to lengthen the shot. Yeah. That's why you would want handles on things.

A lot of times, if you don't do your visual effects until after you lock the picture, then, you know, most visual effects houses are like, okay, zero handles because we're going to give you exactly what the cut is. That way, we don't have to do any more extra work on frames that are going to get cut out anyway. So yeah.

Chris Wells: Is there anything that you wish more people knew about with Lightworks or like features or things that you can do in Lightworks that, you know, you already mentioned the way the tracks come out.

Are there any other features or things that you wish more people knew about because, like, that's the kind of thing that's like, yes, this is what makes Lightworks so unique?

Scott Hill: Well, the whole idea of the frame counter at the end of the timeline, if you throw other tracks out of sync because you didn't open all your tracks up, if you were, say, extending a shot and oh, hey, that works great, then all of a sudden you get all these red indicators on the side of the timeline, going -20, -25, minus two, as you're going through and it's tallying how much every track is now out of sync. Which is great because sometimes you're in a hurry and you want to extend it. And then it's like, oh, okay, now I gotta clean that up.

So instead of other systems, you just write down, okay, I've added 25 frames here. Okay. So then I'll go back in and adjust all my other tracks for the 25 frames. Well, in Lightworks, it's like, oh, okay. Because I wasn't paying attention. It didn't open all my tracks up. I only open the one.

So now I had to go back and click where I wanted it to adjust. Oh here. Let's open it here. Let's open it here. Let's open it here. Click on the red you know button at the end of the timeline once. And all those tracks are adjusted where I want them to be adjusted and back in sync. It's, you know, a single-click fix done. All my tracks are back in sync. So that is a major feature that I love.

Asymmetric trimming is another topic nobody talks too much about. It sounds good when you see the list of things that Lightworks does, but nobody really talks about it.

So, let's say I've got a shot of a guy firing a gun. Let's use that as an example. I have the gun, the sound effect of the gun sunk up because I didn't use the production track because they were using, you know, they weren't firing real bullets. I've got a gunshot sound effect, and it's sunk to the shot. So, if I'm adjusting the shot. I can open up and say, I'm just rolling it. Well, I don't want to roll the sound effect because it's going to roll the sound into the trim and not be in the cut, so I can take and roll the shot. If I wanted to get the gunshot to fire quicker, but say, keep the length, but I can open up the sound effect so it doesn't roll, it just moves over.

Chris Wells: What's that called?

Scott Hill: Sliding. There's slipping and sliding. So then it would just slide backwards. Say if I'm rolling the shot backwards. I can't do that in other editing systems. Otherwise that's a two-step process minimum for most systems.

It's like so I've adjusted that. Now I close that, and now I got to go and then take that sound effect and manually move that, the same amount of frames that I've adjusted the other one because I can't slip and slide at the same time.

That's a very simple explanation, but it's amazing how it works here. It's an all-in-one process, and not many editors that I'm familiar with can do that in one.

Chris Wells: That's been one of the most fascinating themes I've noticed from our conversation today. It's all built around efficiency.

Scott Hill: Yes, time-saving time, because obviously making a film costs a lot in time and money. A lot of time costs a lot of money. And often, you are always finding ways to do things quicker, to be able to edit a scene quicker, to be able to, like you said, do slip and slide. You're adjusting right just to sound effect. Do that faster.

Chris Wells: So there's a two-part question about this one. What would you say I like the most efficiencies you found and maybe even some advice on like yeah, edit the scenes like this.

But the other thing is, has there ever been a kind of scene you have to edit where, no matter how many efficiencies you find, it takes the same amount of time?

Scott Hill: I'm going to jump back to an earlier thing you said about trying to be more efficient in cutting it faster because I don't want to waste the director's time, and I want to keep their attention, and I keep their focus on the screen as I'm cutting.

And we can stay in the scene without even losing focus, without maybe getting tied up in technical details, trying to open up tracks, and all that stuff. So that's one thing about moving faster, but I wanted to point out that just because I'm moving faster in the cutting room doesn't mean we're going to finish the movie sooner.

It affords me the time within the allotted budget to play more and experiment with scenes. So instead of having enough time to make one pass through the movie, oh, there's your movie.

Every scene we go through, "what if what if it did this?" "What if the character did this?" "What if we give this scene to that character instead of this one and make it about her instead of him?" So, it gives us time to really experiment and play instead of losing so much time in the technical aspect of trying to operate the software.

In terms of making a film like in the DGA, the Directors Guild has rules. If we're a union show here in Hollywood where the director gets ten weeks to do his cut after wrap, he's got ten weeks of post, and then we'll preview, and then the studio will get their notes. Since things. But in those ten weeks, if I can be more efficient, then we're not just doing one pass through the movie to get it. We're doing four or five passes through the movie.

Sometimes, you know, Tom Shadyac and I work pretty fast. I could get 15 different passes through. Although you're not specifically every single scene, 15 versions, it's like, oh, okay, well, "let's do this" or "let's do this", and we screen it. Then you go, "You know what, this middle section here, what if we tighten that up and then so we know the pass and do another version?"

So you get a chance to play. So it's not like you're going to finish the film sooner. I get more opportunities to work out options. So that's the speed aspect of it.

Chris Wells: That clicked so many things in my head. I think all that, honestly, Scott, is there's so much I could take out of this interview.

One of the advantages of having something like Lightworks as a piece of software is that you can use it quickly because getting that time back is inefficient. Right?

More time, like you said, to play. Yes. I think that shows. That's why you get a professional editor. If you are editing something, it's, you know, yeah, everyone knows how to edit. But if it takes you, you know, a day to edit a scene, but then it takes, you know, takes Scott Hill in the amount of time it takes me to edit one scene, you can edit ten different versions of it, including like, you know, let's just go crazy.

Let's do 100 cuts in one scene and made it dynamic like French New Wave. But those opportunities to play, I would say, is one of the most important things in the creative process.

Is there anything else you want to say to our audience at home before I stop this recording, Scott?

Scott Hill: My recommendation to everybody who wants anybody who wants to be an editor is to edit everything you can get your hands on. Just keep cutting. You can read about theory for the rest of your life. But until you get in there and start cutting up footage and putting it together and telling a story, that's how you learn.

Click here for part one of this interview.

Click here for part two of this interview.

Click here for part three of this interview.

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