Editor Kate Sanford, ACE, has been working as a professional in post since 1987 and has been in the editor’s chair since 1994. Her credits include “Sex and the City,” “Brooklyn Rules,” “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Show me A Hero” and – most recently – HBO’s “Vinyl.” Her next project is David Simon’s “The Deuce” starring James Franco. She’ll bART OF THE CUT with Kate Sanford, ACE editor of “Boardwalk Empire” and “Vinyl” a panelist at the Manhattan Editor’s Workshop “Sight Sound and Story” event, June 11.
HULLFISH: Tell us a little bit about the schedule for an episode of “Vinyl?” How long were they shooting? You were getting dailies and then how much time did you have to cut? And then they’d go into on-line. Give us the nuts and bolts of it. Is it different from a network TV schedule?
SANFORD: Longer. Yeah, the schedule for “Vinyl” was vastly extended – much more so than even the most liberal cable schedules. A network schedule is pretty rigorous and then cable allows for a little longer because you probably want to get most of the episodes finished before they go on the air. This was even longer because we were really trying to figure out what the show was. They started to shoot episode 2 about a year ago and Tim Streeto began editing. I started with episode 3 and we finished in March. So, it went a full 9 months for me and I only cut four episodes. Tim cut five episodes. Each episode shoots for about 12 – 14 days and, like most shows, we have 2 more days to get our editor’s cut ready. So, that’s maybe three weeks in total, and then we invite the director of the episode to come in and work with us. That is typically four or five days and that’s a DGA mandated amount of time and we honor that. Occasionally, directors will waive their right to come in but we had all of our directors really involved on “Vinyl” except for Carl Franklin, who had a movie to go to, and that was episode 9 for me. We only worked together during production a bit and then through email and notes over the phone. So it’s usually about three weeks of cutting and then a week with a director and I would say, typically, two or three weeks with the producers before it goes to the studio, which is HBO. After that we wait for notes and that typically takes a week or so. In this case, on “Vinyl,” it took even longer. So by the time we got notes back I was already well into dailies on the next episode or even the director’s cut. So, there was a lot of overlap on “Vinyl” and almost all episodes were open and unlocked at the same time.
SANFORD: On the one hand, it was very exciting, just Tim Streeto and myself editing the remaining 9 episodes, and between us and all of our really creative directors and producers trying to figure out what the style of the show should be. Alongside that, David Tedeschi was cutting with Marty (executive producer Martin Scorsese) in a different location. They were finishing the pilot. So when we came on to start “Vinyl” a year ago, we were invited to see the pilot in progress. They hadn’t finished cutting their first pass yet and they showed us about half of it. But because it wasn’t finished everybody had a little bit of a different interpretation of what to do with the tone and the style of the show. So, I feel like Tim and I spent much more time finding consensus among our many producers than we normally would have. We had our showrunner Terry Winter and we had our executive producer Allen Coulter, both of whom we’d worked with a lot on “Boardwalk Empire.” Then we had Mick Jagger, who came in as a guest visitor at one point but really was on tour pretty much the whole time and would give notes through his producer Victoria Pearman. All of our notes really came through our showrunner Terry Winter, including HBO notes. So, it was not only a creative project, finding the balance of style, music and drama, but also trying to find consensus among all of these different producers and all of their ideas. Ultimately, Martin Scorsese was our creative tie-breaker, if you will.
HULLFISH: It sounds like collaboration wasn’t so much with the director as with some of the producers and the other editor on the show.
SANFORD: The directors, they really give it their all. All of these people are really working at the top of their game and they’re bringing all their creative faculties to bear. We, as editors, really do enjoy the benefit of that collaboration. It’s really a mini movie. And because we have some creative leeway and it’s HBO, our schedules are not so regimented. Sometimes directors stay a sixth day sometimes even a seventh day. When Allen Coulter directed his episodes, he was our executive producer and he did three out of the remaining nine so he would get even more days. So, we really had a very intense relationship with each director. But then like all television shows, that relationship has to end. They move on to do something else and then our primarily relationship is with the showrunner and executive producers.
HULLFISH: Let’s talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of actually editing. How do you approach viewing dailies?
SANFORD: I’m lucky enough and I think I’m old enough that I learned kind of old school in the days when the whole crew watched dailies together. I had that experience as an apprentice where I would sync dailies and I would bring them to the crew at lunch time and we’d watch them. The director and the editor would sit together and they’d whisper. Of course, back then, we only synced the selects, right? So, there weren’t quite as many dailies to watch, but it still could be an hour or more. So, I was trained to do that and I really do try to sit down and watch all the dailies. I have a piece of paper. I always have a pen in my hand because even if I don’t write anything, the pen sort of just keeps me focused. (We are on Skype and Sanford holds up a pen that has been in her hand.) I really try to watch all of them. Especially at the beginning of the episode, I watch from start to finish. If I don’t have time, I’ll go to the selects first, watch those in order, and then I’ll back-track and I’ll watch the others. I’ll watch with the script supervisor’s notes –the lined script and facing pages- next to me. I’ll always look at what the script supervisor wrote and cross-reference that opinion with my own. What I’m trying to do is find a sense of taste. I’m trying to understand how those decisions were made on the set. I’m looking at paperwork to find clues. I’m looking at the performances to find clues and the development of the performance and the development of the blocking to find a pattern. People say, “Why don’t you just look at the last take to see where they ended up?” That could be a cheat but I think that there is a lot of value in the first take sometimes. It’s fresh. Sometimes, they get a great take in the middle and they keep going for some reason. So, I really find that the best take could be anywhere and I want to make sure I’m thorough and I see everything. I feel a really big responsibility to watch everything. What’s really scary is, sometimes I’m the only one watching, right? The director doesn’t have time to watch everything. The producers definitely don’t have time to watch everything. Maybe my assistants or the post-producer are watching but they’re skipping, they’re getting an overview. I may be the only one putting eyes on everything. So, I really want to know and I want to be able to report back when the director calls. I want to have a meaningful conversation about what I think about the footage. The hardest part is to keep calm and have a fresh mind while watching, so you’re open to the next take and you don’t get bored. What makes me feel? What makes me react? What did I respond to the very first time I saw it?
HULLFISH: I talked to Joe Mitacek, the editor on “Grey’s Anatomy” and he was talking about his interesting technique. Nowadays with digital, they’ll roll right through twelve resets in a single take and he said, “I actually don’t just jump to the next start of action. I listen to what the director is telling the actors in between resets because it’s a great clue for me.”
SANFORD: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, that is a huge clue. I’ll reach over to the mixing board when the director comes in and whispers something to an actor and I’ll be like, “Oh my God, what’s he saying?”
SANFORD: I’ll turn up the lav mic to try to hear that secret information. My other secret weapon is that I make friends with the script supervisor. I want that person to be my eyes and ears. He or she is on the set taking notes for me and so I want to have a good rapport with the person, not only to ask, “Can you extrapolate on a note here?” but if I’m stumped, let’s say, or if I’m confused that there are four different ways to start a scene that all seem equally interesting, they can help guide me. Let’s say the director shot a big wide master, and then a crane that comes down and finds a character in the first line, and then there’s an insert start and then there’s a character who turns into their shot–a number of things that could equally be interesting ways to begin. I’ll sometimes call the script supervisor and say, “Can I buy a clue? Can you give me a little hint here?” Like, what happened on the set? Or if there’s a problem, obviously. If an insert wasn’t shot, before I talk to the director or a producer I’ll call the script supervisor and say, “Can you tell me what happened?” Because I don’t want to say something before I know if there was a conversation and that the director did not want to shoot an insert – didn’t feel it was necessary -and then I have to step back and put the scene together and say, “Yeah, I think we need it.” Then I’ll say to the director, “I understand it was a choice,” and in my most diplomatic way I’ll say, “Take a look at it, what do you think? I’m concerned that maybe we don’t see that quite as much as we should.”
HULLFISH: Makes total sense.
SANFORD: Sometimes they can help me by saying, “It’s okay, The director intentionally wanted a time jump.” I’ll say, “Oh, okay, great. Perfect.” Or they’ll say to me, “Yes, that didn’t make sense. We had an enormous argument. They shut me down and we had to move on.” I’d be like, “Okay, I got the situation.” So, when the director comes in I’m armed with enough information to be as diplomatic as possible to help solve the problem.
HULLFISH: Well, what you’re talking about is a huge amount of social engineering and political wrangling, which I think is critical. Talk to me a little bit about that. You’ve are a very experienced editor and you don’t get to be experienced by pissing off the wrong people. Tell me a little bit about how important it is to be able to socially engineer your way with a director and a producer and not make the political missteps.
SANFORD: Yeah, you have to be very careful as an editor. Like I said, you’re the one watching all the footage so, if you notice something you feel could be a problem, you have to know when and who to tell and in what order. I also learned that as an assistant for my mentor, John Tintori. He now heads the grad department at NYU and he was very good about collaborating and knowing when to say something and when not to say something. So, before I even got into the chair, I understood intuitively and I understood explicitly that was definitely part of it. So, that being said I think that you know… Yes, You’re not you’re not going to get to have the kind of successful career that you hope to have unless you are a very patient and empathetic and social person. Social in terms of a one on one relationship. That really is the most important relationship and maybe the most important component to being a successful editor period. You know, I think it’s going to be partly based on your creative skills and a little bit of technical ability and a great deal of tenacity. But ultimately, once you get into a position where you have an opportunity, I think it’s going to be your patience and your interpersonal skills that are going to determine whether you’re going to be successful and that director/producer and set of people who want to collaborate with you again. The most important part of the collaboration is being supportive, right? Just being patient and supportive and in a way, allowing the artists to express themselves. It can be a very difficult and intimate experience to be with someone who’s trying to express their creative vision. Your job is to take all that energy from them, all of their emotion, all their passion, and all their creative resources that they have hopefully put into the footage and help weave that together and help them express their feelings and their ideas in a way that’s going to communicate to other people. It’s really, really tough. One thing about television is that you get to do that in little stages. So, you get to do that in an intimate way with one director and then you move on to a producer and then with the producer you kind of collaborate together on incorporating the other notes that come in from the studio. So, it’s not all one kind of big event. (laughs) …like for a year, in a room.
HULLFISH: I completely concur. The director-editor relationship is so one-on-one and it’s so extended that if people don’t like you, you’re not going to get that call. You’ve got to be the person in the room that somebody says, “I want them on by my side.”
SANFORD: Right. And you really have to be on their side. I guess I don’t want to overstate that people do get very passionate. It’s not only your job to manage the footage, it’s your job to manage the feelings in the room, and to make sure that the director and producers feel like your room is a safe place for them to express excitement, frustration – even, anger at themselves – anger at the process … and together you’re going to work through it. There is just going to be a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity in that room and you have to be the person that they trust to manage it. At the same time, it’s your job to be somewhat critical of the material, so, you have to figure out how to have them trust you, how to be one hundred percent on board with them. Make sure you communicate that you understand the story that they’re trying to tell and that you believe in it and frankly, that’s hard to fake, you really have to believe in it. So, hopefully you can get on a project that you really can put your heart into and that you can believe so that you can believe it together- but you don’t have the privilege of being quite as emotional as the rest of the team. So, it’s your job to absorb all the ideas and thoughts and feelings, put them into action in a kind of a coherent pattern through the film that then needs to be communicated to other people. The communicating to other people part, I find, is really interesting because a lot of times the director feels like he’s got it or she’s got it and what sometimes is very hard is to say is, “I understand what you want to say and I understand these are the patterns that you want to build but I’m not sure it’s communicating exactly what you want to express. Can we try this? Or what about that?” What you want to do ultimately is have a relationship where they can trust you and they know you’re not criticizing them personally. Hopefully, if you have that relationship, they’ll say, “Okay, let me see it another way.” Right? I’m very respectful of the script and the dailies process. Not only watching, but I want to put together a complete cut as scripted the way the director intended with every single beat in the scene. I don’t believe that you can cut corners unless you have a really deep understanding with the director and the shortest schedule imaginable. Otherwise, I think that it’s only fair to show them what they shot.
HULLFISH: All right, I get it! (laughs) I’m laughing because I’ve talked to multiple editors about this and it’s just one of my failings. When I’m cutting, I’m like, “This line is never going to make it in the final movie, I might as well just cut it now” and the director is like, “Where’s the line? Why did we start twenty seconds into the scene?” I’m like, “Because, the first twenty seconds don’t matter.” (laughs) Lesson learned.
SANFORD: It’s hard. I find in a long-form narrative I sometimes lose trust, especially with very sensitive directors, if I don’t show them the whole scene. And actually as an assistant, I remember observing an exchange where my editor cut off the beginning of a long crane move. It was just taking too long. It’s never going to make it in the movie, but the director was really offended. So, having seen that, it kind of planted the idea that you have to be careful. Of course, they worked it out and of course, the scene was restored and of course, (laughs) it probably got cut later, but as an editor, you’re always ahead of the director. That’s your job: to be ahead.
HULLFISH: As you said: It’s that trust factor. If you lose that person’s trust because you cut off the beginning of that jib shot. It’s gone.
SANFORD: Yeah. It’s important to be very careful with that. I’ve worked with Terence Winter for six years on “Boardwalk Empire” and “Vinyl” and before that I edited a movie that he wrote, so I’ve known him for a really long time but I can see where he gets a little rattled, sometimes if I’m collaborating with the director and the director wants to cut out too much. So, we’ve worked out a shorthand way of prepping him to watch the director’s cut and I will privately say,” Listen, this scene got truncated a little bit, we lost a couple of lines here, just want to warn you.” So, everybody’s different in how they want to watch your assembly or director’s cut before they get a turn to collaborate with you. I can read the frustration. So, try to be careful. I tell my students, “What’s really important is get every beat. It’s okay if it’s too long. You have plenty of time to shorten it, but if you shorten it first, the director won’t have a chance to see what you’ve seen. Let them catch up.”
HULLFISH: As a fifty three year old that’s been doing this for thirty five years, I guess I should take your class.
SANFORD: (laughs) But every client is different and every director is different, right? And that’s not always true. If you have a network show that has a formula and a rhythm and you have a director come in who directs it a certain way, as an episodic editor, you may know the rhythm and the shorthand of the show much better than the episodic director. You really do work for the producers and it just depends on the project. It may be your job to put that into a format that has a quicker pace where every beat isn’t kind of extended the way that they shot it and performed it. So, project to project, you have to also be very sensitive and smart and evaluate what your job is. On “Vinyl” our main job – for Tim Streeto and myself – was keep open and keep trying and keep recutting because nobody really knew exactly what it was yet.
HULLFISH: Since we’re talking about “Vinyl” and about pace. What is informing pace in this TV show? There’s a chaos to it. There’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude to it. Talk to me about what is informing your pacing and rhythm for a scene.
SANFORD: Well, the first week or so I was there, Terry did say to us -and I rarely get an edict or style bible – “We don’t want this to be a static period piece. We don’t want this to look like ‘Mad Men’ (which we love). We don’t want this to look like ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ We don’t want that pace. We want this to be really fun and paced up.” In the writers’ room they had posted some big cards saying: “Funny. Sexy. Rock and Roll.” But we deliberately set out to make something that felt different than ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ Some people think that was really slow, I hope it wasn’t too slow for everybody, but I think it was very specific.
HULLFISH: With ‘Boardwalk Empire?’
SANFORD: Also, we’re all such huge fans of Scorsese, so, we’ve all tried to absorb his rhythms and strategies. Naturally, we’re looking to those types of rhythms and trying do fun little jump cuts and use music, the way that he’s traditionally used music to score scenes and punctuate moments and make it fun and make the music kind of jump out as the score. And then, we’re also looking at his “Vinyl” pilot every once in a while. We had that initial screening and then a couple months later, we see a little bit more and a little bit more. So, we’re seeing the playful way that these – what we call, “Interstitials” – musical performances that aren’t really anchored to any particular reality but kind of going between scenes- comment emotionally and how that is being used. Later, we started to incorporate those into our shows as well. Some of those musical sequences were designed and shot later so that every episode would have at least one. But we were kind of told, “faster, faster” and then we would cut and then the notes would come back and many of the notes would be: “faster” …
SANFORD: “Cut faster”
HULLFISH: I find it fascinating that one of the things that informed your pace and rhythm was knowing Scorsese, his feeling, his sense of some of his other movies and some of the things he’d done. Talk to me about sculpting a performance or finding a performance as you’re watching dailies because you can really alter the way two actors interact between each other. You can choose a temperature of performance that’s very different. You are sculpting those performances and finding them as you’re editing.
SANFORD: I find that there were very few actors who needed a great deal of help. Steve Buscemi knew who his character was. He certainly didn’t need any help. The only help that he needed was pacing because his lines were often delivered quite slowly. And we did get notes too on ‘Boardwalk Empire’ that we wanted to go faster. I also find that when you cut somebody faster, they seem smarter. So, with his character in particular, we did try to have him respond a little bit quicker, be a little faster, so that he seemed like he was always smartest guy in the room. Bobby Cannavale is brilliant, and he was directed in the pilot to have a more grounded performance and then, once he fell off the wagon, he had a whole other side to him that we explore and kind of went back and forth in the series. But for performance, I really take my cue from these tremendous actors. I worked on Show Me A Hero before ‘Vinyl,’ and Oscar Isaac never had a false note. The only thing that we were doing was controlling the timing and pacing of his scenes. That being said, there have certainly been actors in projects over the years where I’ve had challenges and I often find that cutting down their scenes and lines helps a great deal. With some actors less is more.
HULLFISH: Do you ever split screen, if you’re trying to tighten a performance when on a two shot or ‘over?’
SANFORD: I don’t know about a two shot but certainly over the shoulder. Over the shoulder splits, I’m sure there are one or two in every single episode and I think that’s just become standard practice at this point. But actually, I know other editors who do very detailed time warps within their shots to get rid of little pauses and stuff like that. I would say sometimes there are some secret joins in some of Marty’s pilot shots that we’ve seen.
But, I don’t really do too much of that detail work, I try to do it by cutting and I use the digital tools that are available. Most of them can be accomplished in the Avid or in the on-line. We have an in-house VFX department. That is such a luxury. On ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and ‘Vinyl’ we have a brilliant VFX department headed by Lesley Robsen-Foster. I’m so spoiled that if anything doesn’t quite work I send it down the hall and it comes back perfect- a shaky shot, a boom shadow.
HULLFISH: Talk to me about Project organization. How are you setting up the projects? How are they setting up your bins so that you’re ready to work when you sit down?
SANFORD: We’re on Media Composer, we have ISIS-shared storage, so that’s great. Each episode has its own project and within that I like to have each scene broken down into its own bin. I like to work in Frame View. I don’t write any descriptions in the bin, I just like to look at the thumbnails. It helps me a lot. I like to sort of move the thumbnails around and think about them and I also use the script a lot. I know a lot of editors don’t care about the lined script. I love it. Again, it’s another graphic representation for me to get an overall snapshot of how much coverage there is.
HULLFISH: Are you talking about lined script that the script supervisor made or are you taking about the lined script in the Avid Script Integration?
SANFORD: Not Script Integration (or Script Sync as we used to call it.) That is a luxury that we cannot usually afford even on a giant show like ‘Boardwalk’ or ‘Vinyl.’ If I were a real diva I might demand it but it’s not something that I’ve grown up with. So, I find I would rather make my way through a scene and use my assistant to do creative work rather than spend their labor on Script Sync; to cut scenes for me; to cut sound; and to get them creatively involved. Because if they’re doing ScriptSync, that’s all they’re doing. I did a pilot one time, with Kathryn Bigelow directing, that didn’t make it on air. It was for HBO and I thought it was really good. I had a scene with eight or nine characters at a dinner party with three cameras floating around for each take and it was one of the few times in recent memory where I thought, “I’m lost.” I realized I could use ScriptSync to help me, and we had someone come in for a couple of days to assist with that sequence and put it in ScriptSync. I wanted to make sure I really knew where to find every option for every performance. But mainly I like my assistant to actually do sound work and creative work for me. I’ve worked with a wonderful assistant, Eric Lorenz, for years now. We’ve also shared credit on a few episodes. I like to do a rough sketch of the sound in a scene and say, “Can you fill in the crowds? I need a police siren coming in here. I need someone shouting there. Can you get some of the people in our post group to do some A.D.R. in the other room, screaming?” So, help me bring this scene to life.
HULLFISH: You’ll get along great with Kelley Dixon (“Preacher” pilot editor) who I just interviewed because she said the same thing: “I don’t want to have them doing ScriptSync. It’s just too much work. I want them learning their craft and helping me more.” One of the things you just mentioned is sound design. Talk to me about how important sound design is in selling the visual edits that you’re making?
SANFORD: If you don’t get your scene smoothed out – if you don’t get it to play properly with sound – I don’t think it’s going to communicate. Now that we’re on Avid for fifteen, twenty years, there’s a minimum expectation that the appropriate sounds will be there. So, I think the bar has gotten higher than ever. I think it’s incredibly important. Honestly, if you hear (room) tones bumping or cutting out, they’re going to get thrown. So, you absolutely do not want to deliver a scene or present it until it’s up to that standard. When I work for David Simon the standards are two or three times higher than that because his work is based almost exclusively on sound design and not on music. So, there’s often diegetic music. There’s music in a bar or music playing in a car or something like that but there’s almost never score. For instance, in “Show Me A Hero,” (HBO) the crowd was a character in that mini series and we had to put as much layering and as much screaming and get it to be as loud and as crazy and specific as we could before David would feel that the scene was going to work.
HULLFISH: Talk to me a little bit about music. We can talk about ‘Vinyl’ specifically but even just score. Where does that fall in? What are you using for score? How critical is it to you? I’m assuming you’re not editing with score but putting it in later. You tell me. Talk to me about score and music
SANFORD: Well, in ‘Vinyl,’ it’s the Scorsese model. So, that school is source music, whether that means that it was playing in the room and then it gets louder and expands and grows to fill the scene or the other way around. Let’s say music is playing in the scene and then continues – this way you can pull score from one scene to the next and it can be anchored by something real that people are listening to. There’s another way that we use score, which is that it’s just playing. It’s just sort of scoring the world, no one’s necessarily listening to it. It’s not coming from the radio or a record player but it exists and it’s just score and I think that’s been established as a convention that we all accept that and we – the people on the show – love it and I think a lot of the audience loves it too. It doesn’t seem weird or crazy anymore. It just seems like that’s one of the ways that we make films and television. We worked with score this way on Boardwalk Empire too. On other things, like movies, when we’re not scoring in that way I will work with temp scores from other films and try to get the tone right so that a composer can come in and we can start to have a conversation about creating an original score.
HULLFISH: How are you determining where you’re going to pull temp score from?
SANFORD: Just tone. I don’t necessarily stick to one composer. If you know you’re going to be working with Alexandre Desplat, you may pull his music to present but I don’t necessarily do that, I find things from any place that have the kind of instrumentation and the tone that I’m looking for that is in support of the scene and I’ll just use pretty much anything that I think works.
SANFORD: And I have a drive with a library of other composer’s scores from everywhere. When I have a break, like now, I’ll try to get all the CD’s out of the boxes and digitize them and add to the library.
HULLFISH: I try to find other movies that the genre and style of the overall movie is similar. If I’m cutting a serious family drama – an interpersonal movie with a father the son -I’ll temp with “In Pursuit Of Happyness.”
SANFORD: Right. So, you’re looking into similar genres, first of all. I’m working with my son right now on a documentary. Some of it is set in China, Korea and Japan. We are looking at other movies that are set in similar locations that have the kind of instrumentation that will support that regional feeling. When I worked on a romantic comedy, “Management” which was a Jennifer Aniston movie, we found other tonally similar films, so, “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” was a score we went to quite a lot.
HULLFISH: So, you said you were working a little bit with your son on a documentary. Is there anything specific that you have to say about editing documentary as opposed to editing episodic television?
SANFORD: It is so much harder. It’s so hard.
HULLFISH: The current project I just started is a documentary so that is not what I want to hear! (laughs)
SANFORD: My son is cutting it now and he worked with an editor for almost a year. I’m advising. But, what’s really hard is to keep on point and remember what your movie is about because it could be about a million different things. You could go on all of these different tangents. Because it’s not scripted, it’s just harder to keep focus, I think. It always feels to me like, “Oh My God, there’s just so many stones unturned. What if we miss something? What if we miss this gem?” So letting go is a lot harder for me.
HULLFISH: Back to “Vinyl.” Can we talk about a few specific scenes that the studio provided? “Clark introduces Disco.”
SANFORD: One thing I love about this scene is that I think it’s fun, I think you’re rooting for him, but I’m really excited that from the conception of the scene to its execution, it held. The idea was, that there would be suspense. We knew that Clark was bringing the song, so, the audience already has the information of what the song is. We’ve heard a little bit. We haven’t heard it full but we’ve heard a little bit. We’re rooting for Clark. We don’t know what’s going to happen at the Disco. Are the dancers at the club going to accept this? So there’s some suspense. And the idea behind it, when we had the tone meeting with Carl Franklin, was we wanted the end to be an exuberant triumph but we don’t want it to look like a broad comedy. We want to communicate that people are dancing, we want to communicate happiness and satisfaction, but we don’t want to oversell it. It shouldn’t be every single person in the disco dancing in unison. So, I think he was really successful in getting a lot of shots that are kind of behind people where you you start to see the dancing and it’s hidden a little bit. You see people’s arms emerging, you see movement, and then you see the group noticing. Clark and the D.J. and Jorge start to notice and it builds and builds but it doesn’t build into every single person in the place dancing. Hopefully, we succeeded so that you can accept the excitement of the triumph but it’s not embarrassing.
HULLFISH: What I took from this scene, looking at as an editor, was that the difficulty, which I thought you did great, of how do we get from “Oh, this song just killed the vibe in the room”, to slowly, slowly, slowly, “acceptance.” But you can’t take too much time, right?
HULLFISH: So, the pacing of when is it that feels right to start seeing people dance and how exuberantly should they be dancing… You also mentioned earlier about score going into the next scene and that happens here.
SANFORD: Right, we use songs that way to score the show and to connect scenes because these are big ensemble dramas, right? So, we have to keep a lot of plates spinning; a lot of characters alive; and just by bringing the end of the Disco over the cut to Richie in his office that connection is made. And there’s a cut in the music, there’s no more vocals, it’s just a drum beat going, you know, chunking along until it trails out like that. So, as picture editors, we also do a lot of music editing to help tell the story.
HULLFISH: To be able to make that music edit, did you have access to instrumental stems or did you just have to cut to a totally different part of the music to make that edit happen?
SANFORD: No, I just cut it. We do the heavy lifting in terms of how the music is telling the story with images and then we hand it over to our music editor and she cleans it up with the stems or a more detailed transition if necessary.
HULLFISH: The next scene is “Nasty Bits get signed.” What can you tell me about that scene?
SANFORD: The creative way we use music is really exciting. We use it as performance, we use it as interstitial, we use it as score; but there’s this very technical part of it too which is that, if you have a performance that is filmed, in conjunction with dialogue, there is a lot of technical expertise that you need to have under your belt to be able to weave around the dialogue and have the music make sense underneath it. Especially if you want to vary the pace of the dialogue. So, if you have the Nasty Bits song or even that very first song – the way that it was filmed, it took a certain amount of time for that song to play. The dialogue that’s happening while they’re listening to it took a little bit longer to perform because we wanted an extra look. That means the music needed to be stretched. So, if you actually listen very carefully to the music track, you’ll hear an extra couple of measures looped under there and that extra technical aspect makes “Vinyl” really exciting and very challenging. This particular sequence had 3 separate songs that needed to be reconciled with the dialogue which was a part of the scene too. So, the dialogue was commenting on the music that was playing in the foreground, then becoming background music, and going back and forth between those two things and reconciling where you were in the music so that the dialogue could comment properly on what you were seeing and hearing. So, that can be very hard and it can be microscopic and technical when it comes to music editing but I love that. I love doing it and it’s really fun and I’ve got a time code window up there to help me. So, I know where I am in the music if I’m adding or taking away a couple of measures here and there, and then I know how to get back.
HULLFISH: Great, that’s fascinating and that’s very complicated.
SANFORD: It’s really complicated. So, we had “The Sniper Song” in the beginning of that sequence and then we had The Nasty Bits start and they’re doing their Kinks cover song which they think is going to be terrific and then Richie says, “This sounds like everybody else,” and then they have to stop playing and he walks off. Then Jamie has to run up and throw the bottle and say, ” No! Play the other song!” and then they start playing the other song. We as the audience see the other song just a little bit and then we go downstairs to see that Ritchie hears it, then we go back upstairs for more of the concert. At that point we had to make a decision: How much of the song were we going to hear before Richie came back up and then when were we going to have the really orgasmic explosion of music that all of our characters and our audience are gonna experience? We moved around the timing of that sequence a little bit because the way it was scripted, that explosion happened before Richie came back and delivered his lines, “Your boys are back,” and then “sign the band.” We broke that up a little bit and recut the song so that Richie says his first line, then the climax with all the slo-mo and the audience going crazy happens, and then that informs Richie’s decision to give the order: “Sign the band.”
HULLFISH: Got it, It makes sense. Then finally, we’ve got “Richie and Zack gambling.”
SANFORD: So, this scene was very difficult because it was one of the few scenes that included a lot of improvisation. Ray Romano is playing drunk, he’s slurring his words and he’s getting into this kind of intimate exchange with Richie and he was wonderful. So, in every take, he did something different and it took a different amount of time and it was just a matter of making my way thru the scene. Making it a manageable length, basically. The continuity was not good and in every performance the register of his voice would change. So, that’s when it gets very difficult. Sometimes he’ll go off book and kind of be shouting and the shouting is very hard to cut with the intimate whispering. So, finding a way to get from the highs back to the low whisper and back to the crazy. His shouting and everything just took a lot of work.
HULLFISH: Kate, thank you so much for a really informative interview. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
SANFORD: Me too. Thanks for including me in the series.
If you want to hear more of Kate’s editing wisdom, she will be a panelist in the upcoming Manhattan Editor’s Workshop “Sight, Sound and Story” roundtable in New York City. To read other interviews in the Art of the Cut series, check THIS LINK and follow me on Twitter @stevehullfish.