Editors Jon Poll and Kheireddine El-Helou discuss actionable notes, specialty shots, transitions, how to handle super-groups in bins, and more.

Today, on Art of the Cut, we are talking with editor Jon Poll and additional editor Kheireddine El-Helou. They’ve joined us to talk about The Color Purple.

Jon’s credits include Father of the Bride, Bombshell, The Greatest Showman, Meet the Fockers, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, among many others.

Kheireddine has also been an additional editor on films like Father of the Bride and Blackhat, and an assistant editor on Power Rangers and Muppets Most Wanted, among others.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining me on Art of the Cut. It’s great to have you both. 

Poll: Thank you. 

El-Helou: Great to be here.

You had some pretty high-powered producers on this production — Steven Spielberg and Oprah. I edited for Oprah for 10 years on her show. Tell me about the kind of notes you were getting from above the director and how those were affecting you. What you were dealing with?

Poll: [The director] Blitz Bazawule was always incredibly open to collaboration with everyone. Certainly, with Oprah and Scott and Steven, it was always an open door.

One of the things we focused on was getting the movie in front of them as quickly as we could. It was two or three weeks into the director’s cut that we sent them the movie because we wanted to start showing it to people.

Scott and Oprah had some notes, but not quite as many as Mr. Spielberg. Spielberg’s notes were pretty much the best set of notes I’ve ever seen. They were actionable, they were practical, they were not development notes, they were things you could understand quickly.

They were very “filmmaker” kinds of notes, and we got a lot of notes in the very beginning. Then one time, he came in and spent about five or six hours with Blitz and me.

He couldn’t have been more generous. Amazingly, when he came in, he said, “I left my notes at the office, but let’s not worry about it. Let’s just watch the movie, and I’ll remember everything.” This is a man who’s watching a completely new version of a movie that he made.

It is based on the book, and it’s based on the musical. It was a very interesting thing, I think, for him to do that. He couldn’t have been more generous and collaborative with Blitz.

As a lesson for young directors or anyone giving notes, what are some of those things that you can think of that are examples of actionable notes and non-development notes?

Poll: Right before Shug arrives on the barge, there’s a scene with Shug and Celie where she comes down the stairs. She’s wearing makeup and this beautiful dress for the 1st time. Mister is there looking at his watch. He can’t wait to go see his girlfriend, Shug. Celie says, “Shug wants us to go on ahead.

She’s going to make an entrance.” We used to have a scene of walking up to the dock and being inside the dock, anticipating Shug coming and seeing her a little bit from their point of view. Spielberg said, “Why don’t you just go right from ‘Shug wants to make an entrance’ to her making the entrance?” 

We were always trying to do little interesting sound things, and we managed to get the timing of Mister angrily closing his watch with the prelap of the snaps from the guys on the boat with Shug.

He’d sometimes ask, “What are the tails on that shot? I’d love to stay with this character a little bit longer.” He would give specific little beats that he felt like, “I’d really like to stay with this character for a bit.” He’d ask, “Have you tried going over the shoulder and maybe throwing in an ADR line here?” He just knew how to construct a scene, obviously. 

The interesting thing about notes is that you shouldn’t expect people to give you notes that solve your problems. Notes are really a way of someone telling you there’s something not working for them.

They’re just gonna throw out, “Well, what about this? What about that?” Our job as filmmakers is to take those notes and think about them, what was going on for the person, and how do we solve that problem.

I love the idea that it was asked as a question: “What are the tails on that shot?”

Poll: A lot of his notes really were, “What about this? What about that?” It’s a very similar conversation that would happen if Kheireddine and I were sitting in a room going over a reel with Blitz. 

There’ve been a couple of iterations of this story: a book, a previous movie, and then a musical based on the movie or based on the book. Tell me about your research. Did you watch or read all of those things, none of those things, and why? 

Poll: Early on, I listened to one song from the musical. I started listening to Alice Walker read The Color Purple on Audible, which - it’s only a 250-page book - but she takes seven hours to read it.

I listened to that three times because I was just absorbing it, and the nuance and the way she would read lines gave me so much information about the character. That, combined with Blitz’s unique take on the fantasies and what this whole movie would be, really shaped everything for me.

I did ask Blitz, “I listened to one song from the musical, but I’ve heard your versions of these songs, and they’re very different. Would you like me to watch the whole musical?” He said, “Do you want to?” And I said, “I’d rather kind of stay clean.

I like having your vision of what this new movie is going to be.” Alice’s vision of what the book was was all my prep.

Did you rewatch Spielberg’s movie? 

Poll: I did way later in post. Obviously, I’d seen it years before. I think we were near locking the movie when I watched it. They’re different animals. This was a movie that we hoped would stand on its own and would work for people who read the book, and also work in a different way for people who had seen Stephen’s movie and in a different way for people who had seen the musical.

In my first meeting after getting the job. Blitz says, “I’m going to show you the movie.” It was 1,200 storyboards that Blitz had drawn himself. They weren’t conventional storyboards.

As he went through the movie, they were the moments that were important to him. And he had some VFX previs in there and all the song and dance numbers that he was shooting on his iPhone.

So it really was amazing. It was 2 hours, 15 minutes. I thought Blitz was just working while I was watching it, but he said, “I watched you. I can tell where you got emotional.

I could tell where you laughed.” He did that with every department head. One of the things about Blitz that’s so amazing is we all knew the movie we were working on. He was so clear.

El-Helou: We had Blitz’s pre-sequence in the Avid.

Did you ever use portions of it as a placeholder or not? 

Poll: In the very, very beginning, the first week or two, yes, actually, because I’m used to trying to fill things out as you get the movie going and put stills in and just so you don’t break the flow by cutting to black.

We tried that a little bit and then we quickly abandoned it. It became more distracting. But one of the things that was interesting is sometimes you work on a movie, and they send you all the storyboards.

Blitz showed me and all the department heads, but he never brought them to the set. He never sent them to the cutting room. He never wanted to reference them It was a way of him communicating what the movie was. It wasn’t something to stick to.

I noticed a couple of transitions and specialty shots that were designed with very clear thoughts in production of how to get from one scene to another. Does that handcuff you at all?

Poll: There were clearly shots that matched from the end of one scene to the next scene. Kheireddine, there’s one like that in a scene that you worked on. The transition from Give Me a Kiss. 

El-Helou: That was specifically designed from pre-production to production. That was one example of how Blitz’s vision from the very beginning to the very end was completely in stone because it really works perfectly. There was no need to adjust it. 

As far as other transitions, even if Blitz did have the idea, you always find little things that you can improve on - whether it’s timing or elevating it with sound design and working with the music.

One transition that I noticed that I wanted to know whether it was pre-planned or in post, was a great transition from Celie and Shug watching Flying Aces. The planes fly over the reflection of the piano. I thought that was great. 

Poll: That is a perfect example of the reverse. Flying Aces was always planned to be the movie. It’s a silent film with an all-black cast from the 1920s. Shug is taking Celie to show her a wider world.

Celie has never been in a movie theater. Celie goes into that fantasy. We push into the screen. It was always designed to just go from the movie to the set. It didn’t work as well as one would expect. Blitz had an amazing batting average on these transitions.

The hard part was we had to make the transitions that we came up with work as well as his. That was actually. I think it was Kheireddine and I and Blitz and Travis Dultz, our VFX editor, sitting in a room for about two and a half hours, all of us spitballing.

At some point, the idea came up: “The piano is like a mirror. What if we just start on that top shot - which was never the way that scene was going to start - and see the plane fly over and pull out?” I don’t think anyone was really sure it would work.

A couple of hours later, Travis showed it to us.

I was fortunate enough to have Ron Howard write the forward for my next book, and one of the things that he said, which I just loved, was that there are often problems that you have to solve in editing, and the great thing is when solving the problem doesn’t just Band-Aid it, but makes it better - more cinematic. 

That transition just seems completely natural, as if it had been planned, which is what you’re saying: “The unplanned one has to look as good as the planned one.”

Poll: Blitz and I, in the very beginning, talked about musicals in general. And we were trying from the get-go to do whatever we could to avoid the sometimes  inevitable feeling of you’re in a dramatic scene, and then we’re singing.

In my interview, I mentioned Walk the Line.  I said, “You may not want to hire me. Walk the Line is my favorite musical - the Johnny Cash film. I said, “The story is told on the stage. A lot of people don’t even call it a musical.” And now I sit here two years later, and it’s sort of, in an odd way, what we achieved. 

Every transition in the movie was analyzed and worked on. 

Kheireddine did so much sound effects work in the beginning. Julian Slater and Paul Massey worked on the sound and took us through the final mix. Most of those things came out of the cutting room through experimentation and trying to weave in music.

Julian had worked on Baby Driver. I’d worked with Renee Tondelli a lot. Julian mostly did sound effects and then mixed sound effects. Rene did a lot of stuff with Foley and Paul Massey, mixed dialogue and music.

You can hear so many isolated things like hammers and horse hooves at the very beginning of the movie. That’s in Blitz’s first pitch. We’re on the logos, and we’re hearing the horse hooves.

They’re syncopating, and they’re creating music, and then that takes us to the tree with the girls playing patty cake. We spent a lot of time on our transitions.

One of my favorite transitions, actually, that was never meant to be a transition, actually, was when Celie finds the letters from Nettie. There is this montage of her reading back the letters and kind of visualizing and seeing the world that Nettie is living in.

That actually used to be scripted, and the way it was shot was you were going into Celie’s imagination. Then she went back home, and she was hiding letters, and then she woke up the next day, and then we saw another imagination with another letter she was reading.

It was these individual scenes. I remember, early on, we were sitting in a screening, and you could kind of feel the audience moving a little bit. One thing that John pitched to Blitz about how we could be the most successful early on was to show the movie as often as possible. So, we had screenings almost every week. 

Early on in those screenings, you could feel that there was a rhythm missing there. We combined that area so when they’re in the African homeland, one of the tribe members whips down a piece of cloth that takes you into a new letter and a new story, and that was actually a Blitz idea, but it feels so in tune with the movie as far as the rhythm of the movie, and it creates a really cool transition. That’s one of my favorite moments that kind of evolved through post-production. 

Were there stems at all times for various pieces of music so you could do things?

El-Helou: Yes. We were working with Nick Baxter, who was the music producer on this, and we would get the song before they would film it, just for us to have it ready.

But even on the day of filming, they would sometimes change the song, or they’d explore an extended version or a shorter version. So once they were done filming, we would try to get that “bounce” back.

Then, once we had the stereo version of it, we would request additional stems. But it usually came from a Jon request. If Jon said, “Let’s try to mix the horns a little bit differently here … or even Blitz… Blitz wanted to start mixing the music in different ways.

A specific music request would have us dive a little bit deeper. But that request came for every song by the end of the film with Jon and myself. We don’t love a timeline that is super cluttered, so we wanted to have that flexibility, but we also didn’t want an insane amount of audio tracks.

We were also working in LCR in the Avid. We had our center channel and our left and right within the Avid. When you’re broken down into stems, then you’re also breaking down center-left-right. It can build up very quickly.

Jon, you’ve worked with Kheireddine on your previous movie, if not other ones. Tell me a little bit about your relationship and the work that he was doing.

Poll: I first met Kheireddine on the infamous Bruno. He was our PA, and he was 20 years old. I just liked Kheireddine from the start. Then I ran into him on one of the Muppets movies after he’d gotten in the union, and I hired him on a TV show that I was working on as an editor and a producer and a director, The Brink, a very funny dark comedy with Jack Black and Tim Robbins, He actually edited the episode I directed with me, and then I think we worked on seven or eight things.

There was a Vince Vaughn movie. There were a couple of other things. So we’d worked together a lot before Father of the Bride. Father of the Bride was great because Kheireddine is better at music than I am, and Reel 5 of that movie was a giant wedding with tons of music.

Kheireddine adopted that reel, and I think it was a great experience. The director loved working with him. And Blitz loved having Kheireddine around. There’s something wonderful about the geometry of three people in a cutting room. I’ve always found that.

And it’s always been really helpful. Having three people creates a different dynamic than a director and editor, who then may have two different opinions. It really creates more of a conversation, and Kheireddine was kind of in the middle of that at all times and had lots of opportunities to work alone with Blitz. 

I’m struck by the fact that you basically just said, “I just like hanging out with him, and most of the people that we work together like hanging out.” How important is that social aspect in getting a job and keeping a job as an assistant, for example? 

Poll: Every cutting room is different, and, you know, there are some cutting rooms where there’s like a real hierarchy. Early on, I worked in a cutting room as an assistant where the editor had come from New York, and worked with a very well-known New York editor.

I was told on the first day, “You talk to the apprentice. She doesn’t talk to me. Then you talk to me.” I thought, “Wow! Okay! That’s a different way of doing things.”

For me, we are all giving up a part of our lives to give to the art we’re working on. Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to create a family. I think that’s something we had with our core group of people.

I’ve been lucky enough to have it other times. I think we’re all good friends. The way Kheireddine was a PA is the way Kheireddine is as an editor, and you can see that in a person right away. Sometimes, you have a PA who thinks, “I don’t want to just get coffee. Why am I getting lunch?” When someone asks, ‘Could you get me a cup of coffee?’ it tells you a lot.”

Additional editor Kheireddine El-Helou

El-Helou: Jon has given me great opportunities, and I feel like my job is to help Jon however I can. Make him look good. Make Blitz look good. Make the movie look great. So I just try to give as much as I can. I love the collaboration process.

What Jon was saying about the team of the three of us, you’re able to get a lot done. You’re able to explore a lot more, and that conversation aspect, I think, elevates the movie.

To go beyond just the three of us, Jon and Blitz were also very inclusive as far as everyone in editorial. When we were in dailies, Jon would say, “Hey guys, come in.

I want to show you a scene.” It would be myself and Joe Binford, our assistant and our PA, Isabella Herrera, and Travis Dultz, the VFX editor. We would all sit in Jon’s room, watch a scene, and Jon would ask, “What do you think?”

It would be a conversation. Jon took every thought to heart and explored ideas based on our conversations. I think the movie just gets better when you’re able to have that process. 

Tell me a little bit more about what you did on the film Kheireddine: what your responsibilities were as an assistant and then as an editor as well.

El-Helou: I started as the first assistant editor in the very beginning. It was a matter of setting Jon up and getting editorial set up with our other assistant, Joe Binford, in Atlanta, and just making sure we were getting dailies to Jon as soon as possible.

I hadn’t had the chance to actually build that relationship with Blitz. That took time to sort of build that rhythm, but Blitz was coming in a lot during production. Some weeks, it was every day. Some weeks, it was once a week, but he was very active as far as coming in before a shoot or after a shoot.

We started to work on the director’s cut while we were still in production. When that happens, not only are you dealing with dailies, but you’re also helping Jon with the notes he just got from Blitz. So, my role was to facilitate a lot of that and help Jon get to his goals.

As Blitz was coming in, Jon was introducing me to Blitz or giving me that opportunity to work with Blitz and saying, “Kheireddine took a crack at something here. Do you maybe want to explore that with him?” Jon is the one who would set that up and give me that face time with Blitz.

From there, it was on me to prove to Blitz that I was in tune with his vision and that I understood what the movie needed. Obviously, it’s a huge thing to get the approval of Jon, but I still have to earn that sort of approval from Blitz. That happened towards the end of production.

We’d got in enough face time with Blitz that as we were going into the director’s cut, it was still Jon all the time, but Jon had at least built that relationship with Blitz where it became very collaborative, and it was a great opportunity.

Did you and Blitz have any discussions before the film started about what he wanted or his vision or what he was looking for you to do while he was off shooting? 

Poll: Blitz did his best to make sure that everyone understood what the movie was. Our very first discussion was the idea that, this movie has incredible hardship for Celie and Sophia, but the movie is not about that. We don’t shy away from it.

We don’t speed through it, but the movie is about overcoming that, and in order to do that, the important thing in the movie lies in the chemistry of these intimate, personal, elegant, and grounded - those were Blitz’s two words I heard on day one - elegant and grounded.

For a director, the most important thing is to know that the editor understands the tone and your intention. And if you’re in sync, of course you’re going to make changes.

You’re always going to make changes. You’re going to change takes, you’re going to do things like that. But I think early on, we all knew the movie we were making. I don’t think you could work with Blitz and not know the movie you’re making.

Director Blitz Bazawule and editor Jon Poll

A question about the macro pacing of the whole movie: Talk about the need in the first act to have things move along. First acts are always a little sloggy at first, right? But you do have to develop that loss and the relationship between the two girls. So, how do you do both? How do you have all this character stuff and sadness and relationship and move things along?

Poll: Well, hopefully we found it. Almost every movie I’ve ever worked on, someone in an audience or focus group says, “It takes too long to get going.” And then someone else always says, “It takes too long to wrap it all up. Why are there so many endings?” That kind of happens on almost every movie. 

We easily could have had a three-hour first cut. We did not because, two days a week, I was doing director’s cut notes. The rest of the time, I was cutting new material. 

I knew that Blitz could come in anytime, and I wanted to have everything there for him. Our approach was: “Yes, we don’t want a three-hour movie, but we’re never going to rush through anything. We’re going to let the important scenes play out.”

And in fact, a lot of the musical numbers are not as cutty as you’ll find in many other musicals today. There are a lot of oners. Certainly, the first act was probably trimmed more than the other acts were. The third act - when the movie’s really going and you’ve got these long musical numbers - we’ve set all that up, and it’s working, even though that’s kind of long.

And the beginning? Look, it’s hard. There are difficult things to watch, and the most important thing for us there was - besides establishing Celie and what she had to go through - was establishing the relationship between the sisters because two hours later - with different actresses - we had to feel like these sisters are reunited, and it’s kind of everything to them.

Even though most people have read the book, or seen the film, or seen the musical, we still get an amazing reaction when Nettie shows up at the final Easter dinner.

That’s how you know that your setup worked, right? Because the payoff works. 

Poll: We were careful about every frame, every moment so that we would have a movie that would be entertainment, a legitimate entertainment, but also have a lot of emotion and tell a difficult story.

But even though it’s a difficult story, it’s really a story about how Sophia and Shug combine to support and lift up Celie and let her become such a full person, which I think in this iteration of the story, she comes through as surviving and succeeding and thriving. She’s found love. She’s using her skills, and she opened a business.

 I loved the “Push da Button” scene.

Poll: Taraji P. Henson takes over the movie. It’s Celie’s movie, but when Sofia comes on screen, she takes over the movie for a little while. It’s like the baton is passed, and Shug does the same thing. So that’s probably the cuttiest musical number in the movie.

And it’s basically because she did so many different things that Blitz and I wanted to include. She just had so much energy. That’s a scene that we actually bothered executive music producer Nick Baxter for.

He kept saying, “We’ll do this later.” And I said, “No, we’re going to show people the movie. I’m showing Blitz the movie. I’m watching the movie. We’re going to do it now.”

El-Helou: The interesting thing with Blitz’s production style is he really didn’t lean on a B or C camera. It was there every now and then, but most of the time, A camera was the main goal. So there weren’t a ton of super-groups or anything like that.

If you have these massive super groups, it gets overwhelming, and sometimes you miss stuff. I think Jon is someone who’s constantly combing through the dailies, and it’s just easier if you just have it in a traditional A-B set-up.

Can you explain to people who are not used to super-groups or grouping? How the organization in the bin might affect the editor’s ability to find stuff or see stuff?

El-Helou: A super-group example would be that you sync every take and every setup of a song, so when you play it in the Avid, you can potentially be looking at 16 small images that are technically in sync, and it’s kinda cool, but it’s also a little overwhelming.

Poll: Some movies require that because there just is so much, or they shoot a ton of cameras. Every movie and every scene is different. 

When you’re organizing the bin for Jon to look at, has he asked for anything special?

El-Helou: We’ll typically just have the bin set up where it matches the production paperwork. Jon can use that as a reference because there are usually script notes and a description of what’s going on. I think that is the cleanest way for Jon to navigate the material.

Poll: I’m impatient, and I come in early in the morning, so I really just want it set up in alphabetical order clean. Keep it as simple as possible so I don’t have to move it around. Get it to me so I can start working. 

El-Helou: Also, we have been using “Scripter” as well.

Avid ScriptSync. 

El-Helou: Yeah, so we had someone helping us with that. That was easy for Jon if Blitz specifically asked, “Oh, in this part of the song, I’d love to find a different take.” You can get into the “Scripter” page, and Jon will have all his options there.

As far as looking for specific areas, was there anything in ScriptSync that you added beyond the lyrics to the song? I would think the only thing in ScriptSync is the lyrics to the song.

El-Helou: If there are specific action beats, we would write those in. You can also edit the ScriptSync page so if there are specific action beats that are helpful for Jon and seem like something that he’ll probably want to look at different versions of, we can write that in, or if it’s a dialogue scene, we’re always marking “alt” lines.

If a character is saying something funny that’s not scripted, you definitely want to save that and make sure that Jon can find it or go back to it later if it comes up. 

Poll: Part of Blitz’s process - he worked very closely with his script supervisors, there were two of them - and he told me that after they shot a scene, they would sit and watch all the takes or maybe all the ones that they thought they liked.

And he almost always picked a couple takes and said, “These are my favorite.” And that was always a good starting point.

It’s interesting that they watched it after the shooting because I find that when people are watching during the shooting, their choices are not necessarily good. 

Poll: But Blitz said, “Please look at these first and know these are the ones I like.” It was a different kind of process, and it was very helpful. There are so many different ways to do this.

You find yourself - when you’re working for a director - you want to work the way they like to work. Very quickly, I learned that Blitz needs to really assess things. We would go through a reel at a time most of the time.

We wouldn’t just watch a scene. But there were days where I would come in at 5 in the morning and then at 7:30 at night, I’d think I was ready to go home, but I got a call from Eden, Blitz’s assistant, and she’d say, “We’re going to wrap in a half hour. He’ll be in at 9:30.

And there were often times when he would show up in the morning if it was a split day and his call was at noon. So 9 am, he’d just walk in. What that really did for us is that he’s seen these versions of scenes.

I would just keep showing him the movie every time he came in. He said, “I don’t want to take notes at home and send you notes. I want to come in. I want to watch in real-time with you and then sit and talk about what we’re going to do with everything.” 

Sometimes I would surprise him, and he’d say, “Oh, no! You can’t do that! That’s my oner! You can’t cut that up!” But, eventually, maybe a few weeks later, Blitz would say, “You know that thing you did where you cut up my oner? Let’s look at it one more time.”

Because he can put it back… leave it in… often he’d say, “Let’s look at it for a couple of weeks.” The current cut of the scene I’m talking about is Celie cleaning. That’s in the movie that way. 

Celie cleaning started out as a oner?!

Poll: Yeah. There’s a little montage of five shots.

I totally remember that. 

Poll: It was a beautiful oner. I always thought [DP] Dan Lawson would shoot me for that. It was a minute and 15 seconds, and it took you all through the house. It was beautiful.

So Blitz started laughing as we were playing back the reel. I asked, “What are you laughing at? What’s going on?” He said, “I’m laughing at the fact that at one point in time, I told you, ‘How dare you?’”

Then there were some times when he said, “You can’t do this,” and I have a little rule: I’ll ask something once, twice, never more than three times.

What was important to him was the interaction and the discussion. The collaboration, to be honest. I had never heard this during production, but during a couple of the press Q&As, he said, “I can’t do what Dan Lawson does.

I can’t do what Paul Osterberry, the production designer, does. I can’t do what Fatima, the choreographer, does. I can’t do what Francine, the customer, does. I can’t do what Jon does - editing. I’m the conductor.

It’s my job to tell everyone what we’re doing and to keep the rhythm.” He’s being very modest in that, but he’s not wrong. We’re all there to service the movie. 

Part of an editor’s role is challenging a director. Kheireddine actually terrified me at one point by saying, “I’ve never seen anybody else challenge a director like you do.”

And I said, “Wait! what?” He said, “But in a good way. I think that is an important thing. I think it’s really helpful because a director always has what’s in their mind, and it’s up to them what goes in the movie.

If you’ve got a bunch of editors sitting around a table talking, they would all say, “The most important thing is that the director has a clear vision.” And the second thing that they would say is “a director who is open to collaboration and new ideas.”

Those are the two things that matter, and Blitz embodied those very well. It was never about his ego or his way. It was always what’s best for the movie.

Kheireddine, tell me a little bit about this idea of challenging the director and what you learned from that or how that terrified you because I do think it’s very important to push a director, and he should push you.

El-Helou: If a director comes in with a very strong vision - if maybe a scene isn’t firing on all cylinders - sometimes a director will reference the script and what the intention of the scene was and will go a little bit deeper into the way this all came about.

But sometimes it’s hard for a director to see where you’re currently at what the footage is, and what the scene plays as because they have a reference to the very beginning of how this scene came about.

Which the audience will never have.

El-Helou: Exactly, 100%. But to be fair to a director, I think it’s sometimes hard to have that clear vision. I think as an editor, that’s the opportunity where you can jump in and suggest, “I think there are ways to maybe address this or elevate this.”

 I’ve seen Jon be able to present alternatives that maybe don’t land the first time, but over time, the director will come back to it. It’s something that I think either Jon will remind them or they’ll remember.

It’s Jon’s “three times” rule. I’ve seen Jon pitch an idea three times after  hearing “no.” Every scenario is different, but it’s an interesting ability that an editor can really help a director get to the finish line. 

You’ve been around editing long enough at this point and have been in enough editing rooms to see that it’s a process. That there are scenes that don’t fire on all cylinders and that doesn’t mean that’s the way they’re going to end up in the final film.

El-Helou: We showed this movie a lot, and it did get better. We saw the comments afterward and the emotional impact that it had. It’s pretty amazing to witness it over time.

You mentioned a ScriptSync, or Scripter, as some people call it. Jon, where do you fall in using that? When in the process, is it a go-to tool? Are you more on the side of using ScriptSync in your editing with the director and not so much building a scene?

Poll: I’ve worked on a lot of comedies, and I think in a comedy it’s the most helpful because you also have written in all the alternate lines. It was helpful on this film, but I never really want to cut from that and just compare takes. I’d rather watch, take notes, know what I like, know what Blitz likes, and then just go with my gut and put it together.

It’s mostly good for me to go back through and check performances if I’m not sure of something. Blitz will say, “Just double-check. Is there something that’s a little more ‘this’ or a little more ‘that’? Is he a little tougher here?”

It’s useful in those circumstances, but honestly, I think on The Color Purple, there’s less leaning on it than on a movie like Meet the Parents.

El-Helou: I just want to give a shout-out to the crew that we worked with in editorial: Joe Binford in Atlanta, Isabella Herrera, our PA, and Dana, who helped out as well.

Then, in LA, Petra Demas, who was huge for us as well. And Stephen Rickert, Bernardo, and Kay Barnes, our PAs. There were just so many people that helped bring this movie together. Leslie was the spearhead of it all.


Poll: Our post-production supervisor. I think she pronounces it “Rodear,” and I pronounce it the French way: Rodier. Anyway, there was just a giant team that had a huge impact on this movie.

El-Helou: Just a huge thank you to all of them. 

Poll: Yes. Yes. We would not have gotten there without this extended family.

To get back to the editing, there’s a big dinner scene. Two of them, actually, and anybody who’s an editor knows that dinner scenes are a nightmare, multiple people, multiple eye-lines… can you talk to me about working through that scene?

Poll: This movie is unusual because it’s 2:20 minutes, and if you take out the credits, 2:10, and without the music, you’ve only got 65 minutes of dialogue scenes, and this is the longest dialogue scene in the movie. There’s another scene at the end that has a lot of people in it, but this is the one earlier in the movie where there are 8 people.

They’re all sitting around a table. This is a movie where there’s camera movement almost everywhere, but dinner table scenes are a little different. For me, it’s the most important scene in the movie because when you come into that scene, Sophia has just gotten out of jail.

The most vibrant person in the movie is mute. Celie is about to leave town. Celie has outed Mister for hiding the letters from Nettie. Harpo has Sophia there - his wife - but his girlfriend Squeak is there. You have to know at all times what all of those different people are thinking.

The first pass was: let’s really get Sophia’s backbone of the scene in. Then, I’d go back through the dailies and focus on different things. Celie didn’t have a lot to say until halfway through the scene, and I felt a lack of her, so I was trying to put in shots of her looking like she was worried: What’s going to happen? What’s Shug going to say?”  Just so you had the anticipation of it.

You had Old Mister just watching. Tiny things, like, can we get a little more agency for Squeak leaving? I think the last change I made in that scene was a little shot of Squeak looking at the door and then looking back before she gets up.

It was something I didn’t even know if other people would notice. Obviously, Blitz sees all these things and says, “Yeah, I like that.” “I’m not sure about that.” “I like that one.” Even Rene Tondelli, our sound supervisor, said, “I caught that one change that made such a difference. And in a scene like that, all those little reactions really make a huge difference.

Every single person is different after that scene. The whole movie changes. The surprising thing about that scene - and maybe the movie in general - is that there’s quite a bit of humor. 

Jon Batiste has a couple of great lines. Harpo has a couple of shrugs and eye rolls, like, “I can’t believe what Celie’s doing,” that gets a reaction. What I love about that is we’re not going for laughs, but this whole movie is about creating tension, and if you have a laugh that takes away the tension and releases it, you can then build it back up again. That’s what makes that five-minute scene work, besides all these amazing performances.

It’s very satisfying for me when that scene plays, and people are moved by it, entertained by it, and surprised by it. It’s just a scene I always looked at: How can this be stronger?

How can we make any of these characters stronger? Sometimes, you have a scene with eight people, and a couple of them disappear. I don’t think anyone disappears in this scene, even if they hardly have any lines.

I’m trying to keep everyone alive. I would hope that when that scene ends, everyone knows what was going on emotionally for each of those people. 

One thing Blitz told me later on that was one of his favorite things in that scene is that things would happen and I would cut to people having different reactions. So when Sophia comes alive - and she hasn’t said a word, she hasn’t lifted her head - and Squeak is the first person to just start chuckling, it plays as an innocent reaction.

Then you cut to Shug, who’s looking over at her, and so is Grady, like, “This is really strange. Why are you laughing?” Blitz said what he liked about that is it kept both possibilities of how a person would react watching the scene, in the scene. That’s the beauty. 

I love dinner scenes. They are very difficult to cut because they need more love than most scenes. There are so many different ways to handle them. 

Before I let you go, what’s an important takeaway for you from this film?

Poll: At the end of this whole process, I know this movie changed me. I learned a lot. It really did change who I am and how I look at things. And I’ve never felt so much emotion watching a movie, even all these times.

I feel so fulfilled now that people are seeing the movie and people who paid $15 to see it are having the same emotions that those of us who got to work on the film had. I’ve worked on a lot of great movies.

Comedies are great, too, but the way this feels at the end, it feels like we can all survive. If Celie can get through this, how can we not? 

Seeing how the story of The Color Purple resonated with a universal group of people in the sense that everyone was affected and felt the movie in a very special way in the sense that obviously, The Color Purple is very important for black culture, but when we went to show the movie to people who weren’t necessarily black, and we tried to find those different communities and see how the movie played.

It had the same effect, and the story just resonates in a human way. It has this really special human spirit of this underdog that rises and it was really rewarding to kind of see that happen.

Kheireddine. Jon. Thank you so much for your time. 

Poll: Great chatting with you. 

El-Helou: Thank you so much, Steve. Appreciate it.