Today we’re talking with Melissa McCoy and A.J. Catoline, editors of one of my favorite shows – Ted Lasso on Apple Plus.
A.J.’s other work includes Brockmire, The Great Escape TV series, Breaking Point, La La Land the TV series, Charm School with Ricki Lake, and dozens of comedy and music specials.
Melissa McCoy cut the pilot episode of Ted Lasso and has edited Whiskey Cavalier, and has assisted on Grace and Frankie, I Love Dick, and CSI.
This interview is available as a podcast.
HULLFISH: What was the schedule like?
McCOY: I started on the pilot in August and we wrapped out in June — for 10 episodes.
They shot everything in London. We were just our own little island for a while, which was kind of great. We had a lot of shows built up by the time they all came back. And then Jason went and shot a movie. It was an indie, so it wasn’t that long. It was a month, right?
McCOY: So we spent that time with Bill getting the shows down in time because they were very long. Episode 4 was about 48 minutes or something. For a while, they wanted to get the shows to 28 minutes — which felt really ambitious for everything we were trying to do in these episodes. I don’t think we hit a 28-minute mark on any show.
Jason just wanted them to be what they needed to be, which I really thought was a great freedom going into it because sometimes you have to like cut really funny things, and we were able to have the luxury. Apple allowed us the freedom.
We had all of the episodes so we knew where the show went. We could say, If this happens in episode 9, we could tweak something in episode 1. We could pop around to anything. Nothing was really locked so we couldn’t change things — even up until the last second.
We had a luxurious schedule.
CATOLINE: Then, of course, the pandemic extended everybody. We had to move home and that slowed things down a bit because you can’t keep the same schedule that you’re had on the Warner Brothers lot that you’re now doing in your home office or your living room.
The interesting little tidbit of this show — for those who haven’t noticed yet — is the very first shot of episode one is the same as the last shot of Episode 10 in terms of framing. Jason did that by design like two perfect bookends. So when I was cutting 10, I could go back to 1 and check and make sure that it matched. That was a nice hidden easter egg.
HULLFISH; I was going to ask about delivering the shows either one at a time or as a group because that does make a difference in your ability to better foreshadowing something that happened in episode 3 and that’s going to pay off in episode 7 and so it’s really cool to be able to actually watch and have edited episode seven and go back to three.
McCOY: We did that a lot between each other too. I would say to A.J., Hey, this bit is cut out of 3 and I think you have a reference to it in 4.
CATOLINE: My episodes rippled based on what Mel was doing.
McCOY: And vice versa. Sometimes even the littlest things can fall through the cracks like this little beat of Beard and the chess girl. That comes up a few times, and sometimes that was in and sometimes that was out.
CATOLINE: And the Greek chorus of the bar kids — Mel would ask, “Do they come in in your episode or not?” Because that affected how they appear in the next episode.
McCOY: It was kind of fun in that way. I’ve never worked on anything that was so entwined between episodes. It made it more like a family. We were in it together. We only missed one thing in the whole series. In episode 9, Jason sets up a punchline that’s supposed to be answered in episode 10. The punchline is, “Hey Coach what’s the sound that a British owl makes?”
The question is never resolved in episode 10. We had a scene — a oner which was a walk-and-talk of Ted and Beard walking to the stadium before the game and we just didn’t have time for it. We had to cut it and that’s where that’s answered. So Twitter went nuts. They wanted to know: “What is the sound a British owl makes?” The answer is “Whom. Whom.”.
HULLFISH: What other collaboration did you guys do between the two of you?
CATOLINE: It’s more about style, right Mel. Listening to music and getting a musical sense. Mal really spent a lot of time on that opening pilot which set the tone I think for the pace of the show and how the music would be used, so I was always coming into Mel’s bay listening. We were always jamming great tunes down the hall — The Who and The Stones and The Kinks. There was so much British sound to the show.
I was listening to a lot of what Mel was doing and we would just confer every day. The first couple weeks, Mel and I realized, This isn’t a comedy we’re working on. This is different. This is deeper. This is not just a sports comedy. So we were just talking with each other about how do we approach these scenes?
McCOY: In the beginning, we were on our own a little bit. I’m getting in these scenes and I wanted to spend a little more time. The style didn’t feel to me like a “30 Rock” or something where you were right on the joke. There were a lot of those awkward pauses and a lot of people figuring each other out so you wanted that space.
Everybody’s trying to figure out Ted. I feel like Ted comes in and puts everybody on their back foot, so it wasn’t really as fast as people might think a Jason Sudeikis comedy would be.
I think by episode 3 things were gelling and we can be quick-cutting when we need to, then take a step back when we go to the more dramatic scenes. So we found that rhythm together but we also shared the football action scenes.
There weren’t a ton of actual football scenes so sometimes we’d ask each other for shots from each other’s footage. A.J.’s assistant would make me a bin of football stuff that A.J. wasn’t using at the moment. Then I would need to know if that changed.
CATOLINE: We have this character named Danny Rojas. He’s the guy who always says, “Football is life.” He doesn’t come in until episode 6\, but he’s a good soccer player. It’s amazing that the actors actually were good athletes. Phil Dunster plays Jamie, There’s one shot in a wide and he kicks this goal which curves into the top of the net and that’s not a visual effect. That actually happened.
There’s a scene Mel had to use in that opening soccer montage that we use to open the show. Mel had to take this shot of Danny but she cropped it so it’s just his feet.
McCOY: And we had to change the color of his cleats too because he had these iconic cleats. I only needed it for less than a second.
HULLFISH: I have to correct you. They’re not cleats.
CATOLINE: Oh yes!
HULLFISH: Sorry.. that’s a reference to a joke in the show.
CATOLINE: I actually got a note that an actor accidentally said “offsides,” plural. It’s “offside,” singular.
McCOY: There’s another in the pilot where Jason says win or lose and the reporter says “Or tie.” But Twitter pointed out that nobody in London would say “tie.” It would be “draw.”.
HULLFISH: You were talking about that idea that the editing is not always super-rapid patter.. There’s a great little thing that happens a couple of times where people are kind of stunned into silence around Ted. Like when Ted asks the groundskeeper his name and the groundskeeper says, “Nobody’s ever asked me my name before.” Then, of course, you would think that he would say his name, but he doesn’t. And so everybody just looks at each other until he says his name.
McCOY: Then later in that same hallway he’s with Rebecca. It was a little moment that I just loved that we were given the space to explore. Rebecca was talking about her ex-husband and they were in that hallway, looking at the pictures of her husband with all these women. She’s trying to lead him in for her first act of sabotage in front of the reporters, but he stops and he says, “I’ve heard about that. How are you doing?” And she stops. Cut to Ted. Cut back to her. And then cut to Ted. She is trying to figure him out. It just sets up where we go with the whole season.
I really love that we can just play those silent beats between them and the subtext of all that’s there. I loved those little non-verbal reactions.
CATOLINE: And that’s what Bill and Jason were really good at. When do we really pace the comedy and when do we hang out in those long awkward pauses? Ted is an optimist eternally, but he brings out the best in people and he’s patient. He waits for it.
Those pauses are key — where you’re watching the other people change because he gives them the space to have the confidence to be their best selves.
HULLFISH: There’s another character thing between the two coaches — Beard and Ted — where you know that they have this great long relationship and they know each other really well, so a lot of times they just say something and then you just sit with them thinking about it. I love the fact that in those silences you really see their friendship.
CATOLINE: Absolutely. And that’s real. That’s Brendon and Jason going back to their improv days in Amsterdam where they were playing FIFA soccer and thinking of the show.
HULLFISH: Mel, from the beginning of this conversation, it sounds like you’ve worked with this producing team several times. A.J., I was looking at your IMDb page and it seems like Brockmire has similarities with this.
CATOLINE: Absolutely and I suspect that’s maybe why I got hired for this show. Jason mentioned that when we were cutting we were watching a lot of sports shows — Friday Night Lights and I think Jason brought up Brockmire, and he said, “Oh that’s right. You worked on Brockmire.” Brendan also suggested Sylvester Stallone’s “Escape to Victory” which is a great story about POWs in World War II who use a soccer game to escape captivity. It’s a great film.
We were always thinking about other sports comedies that this show could be. But knowing that this show is not a sports comedy. We’re telling a different story. But certainly that language — and we had to figure that out in episode 10 because we’re showing you an entire game in about five minutes, so we had to think of a technique to keep showing you the scoreboard and the passage of time so that it felt continuous but we were moving quickly through a game.
So there are times where the show did have to be a sports comedy.
HULLFISH: Mel were there any advantages to you having worked with the producing team as long as you had?
McCOY: I think so. I work really well with Bill. I get his fast pace and he does things like — your first couple rounds the notes will be on a script. So it helped to know his whole process and then knowing “The Bill Schedule.” You just get in the Bill frame-of-mind. You work when Bill’s ready to work. He’s also pretty laid back. It’s a go-with-the-flow thing.
Bill is funny and “heart” at the same time. I think that’s what this show had in spades. I knew when I read the script — because you get to that end scene and there’s that phone conversation Jason has with his wife. They scripted in the music cue at the end. They even said in the script, “Please listen to this song as you read it.” And so I did, and I thought, “Oh! This is very serious.”
And I actually went back and reread the pilot with that in mind. We’re going to get to the end and have a really real moment, so I don’t think we can let the comedy get so broad. We’re gonna be a little bit real here.
It didn’t scare me when I was getting the dailies in for that because I knew Bill knows funny and he knows how to land funny amongst drama. I just need to get these scenes into the best shape possible, and even if it’s a little bit long, Bill knows how to get time out of a scene like nobody’s business.
You may think you have something cut tight? Bill is a genius in the editing room in that way.
CATOLINE: It’s because he’s a writer I think. That what I loved. I had not worked with him before but I loved Scrubs. He gives notes on the script which — to me — shows that he is a writer and he is paying attention to what was written and that’s why I feel it’s so important that our first cuts deliver the script that they’re expecting and then we can build from there.
But there are always so many tangents and improvs and versions. My versions bin has so many possibilities because there are so many ways it could go. Because he’s a writer, he can come in with a piece of ADR that can join two parts of a scene and move it along. It’s really amazing. Also, I was pleased with how much he did come into the editing on this. Even in the dailies, we would see him joking around with Jason at the end of the take, so he was very involved and they had a rapport that you could see that carried through to the cutting room. So yeah I really appreciate it.
HULLFISH: So you were cutting in LA while everyone was shooting in London?
McCOY: We were in L.A. and then everybody else was in London.
CATOLINE: Supervising Producer Kip Kroger went over to London and he was our link between the show and he was our immediate boss in post. We cut all these previs sequences for all those soccer action scenes. Kip got us a bunch of animatic previs to cut with and then based on that we were making changes to that and then he went over to London and showed everybody — this is what we need to film — in the most blinding freezing cold British rainstorm, Kip was representing post out there in the field all wet.
McCOY: I think we had two days to record all of the soccer for the whole season. There are some insert shots of fans but when you have those big wide shots — that’s all the VFX.
CATOLINE: That was a great process.
McCOY: They didn’t have a lot of time. Episode 5 was one of the first big episodes with football footage. I spent a lot of time on YouTube. Kip and I would think — “If we do this TV angle when we’re in the bar, then we don’t have any of that crowd.” So we were trying to find ways to make it look very realistic to how it would appear. And also eliminate VFX shots.
It was funny with episode 5 — when I first put it together I had very real footage for half the show and then — we for a long time because the football was one of the last things they shot — it was like a mixed media art project, There was previs, stock shots and sometimes a player would kick it to somebody from a different team in a different game, but it was doing what I need it to do. I was pulling stuff off of YouTube. At one point somebody was watching the cut and said, “Was that Messi?”
I was just trying to get the beats down so we could know what the story is and also give them something to look at. So VFX was basing some of their previs off of the YouTube shots.
When my assistant and I first watched the cut we were enjoying it and when we got to the football I think it was the hardest I’ve laughed at anything. The previs of the Ted Lasso character looked like out of a video game. He had aviators and a wife-beater shirt on and they put the name over the top of them. I was wiping away tears.
CATOLINE: Editing wise Mel brought up something. There aren’t a lot of close-ups in soccer because it’s hard to anticipate where the ball is going. Initially, when we cut the previs we were using a lot of close-up angles and it wasn’t realistic. We had to back it off and do it in a wide and then find a way to have a transition to some other shot to then go close in on the field. So there was a TV world going on and a cinematic world happening in parallel.
Having that previs did help. And we pulled a lot of stuff from YouTube. There’s a great trick play that happens in episode 10. An homage to a corner kick that was one of the craziest plays in soccer.
HULLFISH: I cut a car racing movie and there is a crash in the movie that’s pretty pivotal and they couldn’t afford to shoot it for real. It was an indie. So I built the entire crash sequence using different YouTube clips… a sequence of four or five shots — sometimes from different race cars, like a NASCAR car would be at the beginning of the sequence and it would crash into a dirt car and then a Formula 1 car would flip over. But it was built so that we knew the pacing and the angles and sizes of shots and that way it was easier and cheaper and faster to animate.
I wanted to get back to something Mel talked about which was the idea that this is not just a comedy. There are great touching moments. In the pilot when we cut to that wide shot of Ted in his room, as soon as I saw that wide shot for some reason I knew something was up. Do you have a different approach to one of those dramatic scenes than the comedy scenes? Do you have to get out of your funny Ted Lasso headspace?
McCOY: Yeah. Jason is just phenomenal in that scene. I couldn’t get over how “in it” he was. I watched the dailies so close. I really was feeling what he was feeling at that moment. In that scene at the end, we talked about when to go into a close.
I had a very wide. It was also really hard to cut because it’s all him. I have other angles but it wasn’t like I could cut to another person.
HULLFISH: I just want to interrupt — for the people haven’t seen it — it’s a phone conversation, but you don’t see the other side. You don’t see his wife talking.
In the script do you even know what she’s saying because in the pilot he’s just listening and you hear nothing of the other side of the conversation? It’s all with his face that you know what she’s saying.
McCOY: Right. That was how it was scripted. So in my mind, I was watching his face and I was thinking, “What is she saying?” I was trying to time that out. And of course, we cut out some lines in there as well. Figuring out when to be wide. And I had a medium. And then I had an A/B of 2 close angles — one “shoulders” and one “head.”
Jason and I had a conversation about a cut I was able to make to eliminate a few seconds and it was a great beat change. I was an assistant on the show called “I Love Dick” which was Joey Soloway from Transparent and she was big on beat changes.
She wanted to see the beat change. So there’s a part in the phone conversation where you know something’s up but then he says, “I love you.” Then there was a silence and he says, “That’s what I AM doing. I’m giving you your space.” I felt like that was the moment where the audience knows and he knows.
He’s going into this conversation trying to be upbeat” and it gets just a little more serious there and that’s why I chose to go into that tight. That’s why I wanted to go to that tight on that moment — punctuated. There were two lines that we were able to cut out and get right to that moment. We were able to make a neater back-and-forth to make the audience know what was happening. We made that the beat change and the emotional turn in the scene.
Things like that are things I think about when I’m cutting drama. The emotional shifts in the scene and the dynamics between the characters. I really think about whose scene it is or how these two are affecting each other. I’m very big on watching the reaction shots of the other person. I really spend a lot of time to see how that conversation is affecting the other person.
I spend a lot of time just watching the dailies and trying to come up with the emotional beats of the scene. Like, “This line feels like THIS on them.” “This is the perfect reaction to THAT.”.
CATOLINE: The show has a lot of that hidden drama. Jason Sudeikis and Brendan were on a recent podcast where they talked about the hidden themes of grief and shame and vulnerability in the show. Ted is coming to the show with a lot of his own grief and shame as he’s actively breaking up with his wife. He’s going through a divorce and we see that in that phone call.
There’s a great moment in episode 6 where Rebecca is sitting with Sam and Sam is encouraging her to come to the seance later where they expunge the ghost that they think is cursing the team. He tells her, “Miss Waddingham, it’s your team too.” We’re on Hannah’s face there where you can see the movement.
Ted has a great speech in episode 8 — the dartboard speech — where he gives that line: “Be curious, not judgmental.” He also reveals in there that for the first time — and he just kind of drops it in a dart game — that his father died when he was young. We cut to a close-up of Hannah listening to that speech and you can see it in her eyes and her face that she’s really empathizing with Ted — that he has a lot of pain in him. And so it’s those moments of finding that perfect reaction — both for drama and for comedy.
McCOY: Sometimes you create a performance. I didn’t feel that with this series at all. It was almost too much! That’s such a gift.
CATOLINE: Jason is so intuitive. He’s very tuned in to what the other actors are doing. He’s really almost the show’s overarching director — even on set it feels that there are many scenes that he is directing.
Jason is very intuitive to those reactions and I love doing reaction pulls. It becomes a puzzle of how we want it to arc and build. The cast is stellar on this show.
HULLFISH: Did Mel edit 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and A.J. was 2, 4, 6, 8, 10?
CATOLINE: Yes. Then we got to collaborate on episode 4 because we were finishing that show at home during the pandemic and Mel came in to help finish out a lot of that.
They just let us figure that out. Mel was working on the pilot. So I took episode 2.
McCOY: They did give us that option in the beginning because they cross-boarded. Episode 1 was shot by itself. Episode 2 was shot by itself. Then episodes 3 and 4 were shot together.
CATOLINE: We could have flipped at one point, but then I wanted to cut the finale since Mel cut the pilot. It doesn’t end the way you think it’s going to end and there’s a definite roller coaster there.
Our music team was amazing. Marcus Mumford who was composing this and also Tom Howe and our amazing music editor, Richard Brown. When the music comes in, it becomes like another character and it’s following these beats that we’ve laid out and you just feel the “feels” and it’s quite a roller coaster.
HULLFISH: I often have asked editors who’ve worked on very dark material, How do you do it? How can you cut Saw 3 for 12 months?
You guys are in the opposite place. So many fans are saying, “This is the show 2020 needed.” It must have been wonderful to be in this place for 10 months.
McCOY: For me, this show couldn’t have come at a better time. The summer before I booked this show, I went through chemo for lymphoma and I actually found out I was cancer-free after the pilot. It was lifesaving to me to be on this show of positivity and just working through a difficult time in your life and finding that you can still do the comedy but still have very real things going on in your life. It very much mirrored what was happening in my life, so in that way, it was a joy.
I worked on CSI for five years and I thought, “If I have to work on another dismemberment scene I don’t know what I got to do.” I really made a conscious effort to go to comedy after that because I just didn’t want to be in that violent space all the time. So I’m so happy that I was able to have this positive shining light.
CATOLINE: And what a great crew we had. My assistant Alex Szabo and Mel’s assistant Frankie Castro. Katelyn Hollenbeck our post supervisor. We had these two different experiences — being all together and getting to talk about the footage and what was resonating with us. And then to have to go off into our own homes where we were all so isolated — but still having that that camaraderie and that and that connection.
The show felt very perfect for the times. It absolutely was a joy to cut.
HULLFISH: Any thoughts on the technical aspects of going to remote editing?
McCOY: We did that so fast! Kip came in and said, “We should just have the drives ready just in case.” That was like a Wednesday and our assistants — Frankie and Alex — they got our episode on drives. Some had been locked. So episodes 5,7, and 9 were on a drive for me.
CATOLINE: Then I would open up my sequences and see little things off-line. Then I would realize, “Of course, because I stole that shot from Melissa.”
McCOY: A.J. and I are both a little technically savvy so we weren’t like lost in the woods. If somebody sent us a piece of media we knew how to get it on-line. It took a little bit figuring out Zoom. We tried Zoom. We tried Evercast.
I had to remember to send my sequence to my assistant every day. If she did any sound work I just asked her to get it to me by 8 a.m. She would work later in the day and if she got it to me by 8 a.m. I could render, rebuild titles, and then she’d send me any sound she added.
We weren’t tunneling into an Avid that’s hooked to a Unity — which I know a lot of people are talking about now. So it’s basically like you’re in an office, you’re just at home.
CATOLINE: We were our own little islands.
McCOY: We were just on hard drives, so we couldn’t just walk away at the end of the day. We had to be very mindful of who’s working with which sequences so that changes didn’t get undone. That was a little stressful. For season 2 I hope we can do it where we tunnel in.
CATOLINE: We were ahead of the curve. I remember going to Warner Brothers to get my things. I had a sense that we weren’t going to be coming back. So I wanted to borrow a pair of speakers. I got permission. I got there and it was like a fire sale at the lot. All these editors were loading ProTools systems into the back of their cars and people with monitors and desk chairs. Security usually is guarding the lot and they’re just watching this happening.
But this is what we do. We make it work.
Warner Brothers Studios spent decades building this fiber fast network and suddenly they find the whole studio hitching a ride on home residential internet speeds.
We were running the spotting sessions from our home — going over to London. We had 12 people sometimes on those sessions. It’s a different editing experience. Usually, you’re in a room and there’s some distance between you and the producer. He’s on the couch. But now, there’s this constant eye contact back and forth watching on Zoom, so it builds a closer relationship with the people you’re working with and you’re much more zoned in.
Transitioning virtually was eye-opening.
HULLFISH: So if I was going to come on to the editing team on Season 2, what are some of the things that you would tell me about the way you do things or things I’d need to know?
CATOLINE: I think: keep an open mind to see all the possibilities. You start from a place to build the show and keep all those versions and all those options and these quirky looks at the ready because they will come back to save you later.
McCOY: They’d have the joke as-scripted, and then they would have alt jokes. Jason would look over and ask, “Wait. What was that other joke?”
They had written all of the alt jokes down. Sometimes we went scripted and sometimes we went alt joke. Anytime they had a run like that I would just dupe my sequence and re-figure for whatever the joke was.
I like having those alt bins at the ready so you can just go click click click click click. By the time you’re finishing stuff, you’re kind of running low on time.
HULLFISH: When you did an assembly or an editor’s cut did you always go with the scripted?
McCOY: I always went with what made me laugh unless I could see in the dailies that they really worked to get this joke right, then I’d know it was the one they wanted to see… unless that alt REALLY made me laugh, then I’d go with that.
CATOLINE: I think Jason and Phil appreciate that. Keep an open mind and also have trust in your instincts as an editor when you’re reacting to this material for the first time. Usually, that first reaction is where the comedic gold is, or the dramatic inspiration.
I think Mel got these notes too — often Jason and Bill would ask to take something back to the director’s cut, which is largely what the editors cut is. So there’s that sense that your instinct was correct.
So keep an open mind and have faith and trust that you’re probably gonna nail some things right away because you’re going to feel it. When you feel that strongly it’s hopefully correct.
McCOY: Also have a reason for why you’re cutting the way you cut because Jason loves to ask that question. “Why did you do this?” And if you had a great reason sometimes he’d say, “OK. Keep it how it is.” Sometimes it was a discussion, but it was always just from a place like Ted Lasso. Jason’s like that when you work with him. He’s very open to your ideas but he also has very specific ideas as well, so it is very collaborative.
CATOLINE: My sense of this was that Jason was much more involved in post than on his previous projects. He was very involved in the editing and I think he really appreciated the power of non-linear editing and the tricks that the Avid could do. He joked that we could do movie magic with FluidMorphs to pull up the pacing. He was very impressed with even the temporary visual effects that we could do. So he has very much an appreciation for the power of editing and how the performance can change.
HULLFISH: Thank you both so much for joining me.
CATOLINE: It’s an honor to share with the Art of the Cut listeners. I love your blog. It’s so insightful to the process of what editors do. Thank you.
McCOY: It’s been a great joy to go through it with everybody.
The first 50 interviews in the series provided the material for the book, “Art of the Cut: Conversations with Film and TV Editors.” This is a unique book that breaks down interviews with many of the world’s best editors and organizes it into a virtual roundtable discussion centering on the topics editors care about. It is a powerful tool for experienced and aspiring editors alike. Cinemontage and CinemaEditor magazine both gave it rave reviews. No other book provides the breadth of opinion and experience. Combined, the editors featured in the book have edited for over 1,000 years on many of the most iconic, critically acclaimed, and biggest box office hits in the history of cinema.