Meet the Emmy-nominated Editor Melissa McCoy, ACE and Emmy-winning Editor AJ Catoline, ACE, of "Ted Lasso"!
Sep 17, 2021
Last month we spoke with Emmy-nominated Editor Melissa McCoy, ACE, and Emmy-winning Editor A.J. Catoline, ACE of the smash hit "Ted Lasso." Go behind the scenes with these super talented editors!
Melissa McCoy, ACE, first fell in love with filmmaking, and editing specifically, while a student at Western Michigan University. She then made her way to California and earned a Master’s in Editing from Chapman University Dodge College of Film & Media Arts. In 2007 she earned a coveted internship with ACE, which jump-started her career. In addition to "Ted Lasso," Melissa has also edited "Life Sentence" for the CW and the action-comedy series, "Whiskey Cavalier" on ABC.
A.J. Catoline, ACE, is from Cape Cod, Massachusetts and is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program. He serves on the Board of Directors of The Motion Picture Editors Guild and is a regular contributor to CineMontage Magazine. In addition to "Ted Lasso," his picture editing credits include "Speechless" (ABC), "Brockmire" (IFC) and "Black Jesus" (Adult Swim).
Gordon Burkell (GB) - This week, I'm joined by Melissa McCoy, and A.J. Catoline, the editors of the hit TV series, "Ted Lasso." When I watched the first season, the thing that stood out for me was the character development and character arcs. When you're editing you get different takes with variations on the delivery, how did you guys help mold these characters? Were there things that changed or evolved in the editing process?
Melissa McCoy (MM) - I think it was a discovery process for us for sure. When both of us came in, we weren't sure what the episodes were going to be. We had little glimpses. We had episodes one and two script wise when we started, but then when we started watching the performances, and seeing all the little nuances that the characters were doing the look that they were giving one another, the kind of the energy on set. They were discovering things in their scenes. And you could see, for example, when Jason would come in and say, “Okay, do a movement like this to sell this joke”, you could see all the work that they were doing. It really informed us as we were going. The characters deepened as they went along and they deepened for us as well. We just got more and more shades of backstory, and then when Jason came back from filming and worked with us, he gave us all these little nuggets regarding where he drew from the characters and what their motivations were and that helped us even further in the editing process. So it was really a discovery process over the whole season. When we got to the end of it all we had all episodes open so if we discovered something in one of the later episodes we could go back to an earlier episode and delve into that scene or that moment to try to build to a moment later on in the season.
A.J. Catoline (AC) - I think we realized quickly early on that this was more than a comedy. Ted is much more than a barbecue sauce loving country bumpkin. He has a lot of depth to him, a lot of pathos. We learn quickly that every character in this show has some underlying pain that they are not revealing, so there's a lot of shadow going on in the early episodes. We see it most immediately in Rebecca, played by the amazing Hannah Waddingham. There's so much pain that she's been through and she's so angry and a lot of her shadow is coming out sideways. She brought in Ted and she's trying to destroy the team. She's mean to Higgins and she's standoffish with Healy and the other members of the team don't know her. And so, it became like a very slow emergence of wanting to explore the footage and take our time with the moments in the script. When I started the job I thought it was going to be more of a sketch comedy show and then the scripts just got more and more fascinating as the season went on. Mel and I started off before the pandemic happened so we were editing at Warner Brothers so we were just next door to each other and to edit suites. So that was really wonderful. I could hear the music that Mel is jamming next door where we're trying to find the sound of the show and we would go back and forth like okay is this little scene in your show? Okay, then that means I have to make this scene. Just setting up little gems like Ted learning that soccer is a game that can end in a tie or drives. It pays up enormously in the finale when we sort of win with a tie, and then don't win with a tie. I think there was so much more to the show. We learned from Jason how he likes to pace comedy, he's always going for a joke. He's known for a feeling he wants us to take time with. He said to leave room for the inhales, leave room for the exhales. It makes our shows longer and that's the joy of working for Apple TV. We don't have a network clock where a show like this is going to be 22 minutes. Apple is a nine and a half hour comedy that is 34 minutes long. And in this season, they're going to get even longer. And so Jason taught us a way of editing of just being curious, as he says, Be curious, not judgmental, but allow us to explore and that's a great collaboration to have.
GB - How much of the humor comes from unscripted moments in the show?
MM - Not a lot, actually. There's a little and but mostly they are scripted.
AC - A good example is the coat rack in Rebecca's office that looks like a tree and Jason doing one of the iconic lines of season one, high fives the tree. And that shows his SNL goofball background. When you're searching for an improv moment, make fun of the set.
MM - Yeah, and I think a lot of the reaction shots are just maybe one take and they don't do it in the next and so you are really trying to find those reactions to what the jokes are.
AC - That's when continuity gets difficult, Jason likes to be shot at the end of his close up coverage so those improvs are not available to us in the master so we have to get creative. He did hit his head on the doorway, though, that is absolutely real. He mistimed that jump and cracked his head into the frame of that door. The set medic had to see him after that. But he stayed in character the entire way. Not too many unscripted moments.
GB - Now, we talked briefly about season two, the first three episodes were originally going to drop all together and then didn't. Now I heard that the writers had originally planned it to be a movie. How did that impact you guys?
AC - I'll tell the fans out there who are annoyed why the show is dropping all at once. If we had dropped all three episodes, we wouldn't have been able to give you an episode six. And we would have been dark because we're still just finished picture locking the finale, Episode 12. Last week, we're still a lot of visual effects in the show. We do not play soccer in front of a real stadium of screaming football fans. It is all added in visual effects by an amazing team. The sound team needs to work on it to bring you the full sound so that's why they're coming piecemeal. Standby you'll be able to stream them all at once very soon.
MM - Lots of people are working very hard to bring them to life. We want to release them all, but because we love them so much they need a little polish.
GB - You are both nominated for Emmys. Is there a scene or a moment that you think really stands out? What made it something you're so proud of?
MM - Episode seven is really a special one to me, Jason wrote that one and there's just so much going on. Sassy, Rebecca and Kaylee have their girls weekend. The guys are on their trip for the team. The away game where they've never beat these guys. So that's the setup. And amongst all that, Ted's dealing with signing divorce papers, and Keeley and Roy had their spark going. Then we meet Sassy, who's from Rebecca's past and that kind of sets the whole show in Motion. We have the scene in the locker room where Nate gives the motivational speech. There is so much in that scene. First of all, Hannah singing live is amazing. Then I had to build in Ted where something's not right with Him amongst this whole karaoke scene where Rebecca is coming into her own and you see a little bit of light of Rebecca's past of who she really is.She's got a lot of joy in her. Building that whole sequence with Rebecca singing and the team, kind of enthralled with her and amongst all this joy happening, we build in the sound design of Ted's panic attack starting and you see something's kind of going wrong. I put in a lot of jump cuts, you know, jump cut him out of the room, out of the bar. In post we added a visual effect to his footage, where we added the trails behind him, getting him out of that bar. Because we didn't have a ton of footage and we wanted it to feel like you don't know how long he's been out there suffering. At the end of that Rebecca is there to help him. So she's been singing and then she's out with him. I wanted to build that feeling that this could have been 10 minutes or he’s been out there and she's finished her set and came out and found him. That was a big set piece and a big pivotal moment I felt for the season and the episode that I needed to get right. So that was one I'm particularly proud of because all the juggling of all the pieces to put it together was a fine dance and everybody's performances were so amazing. There was also so much with the sound design and the visuals.There was just a lot going on and in such a small compact timeframe.
GB - When I think back to it, you don't cut to a reaction shot of anyone seeing him leave. He gets up and goes.
MM - Yeah, you stay with Ted once you get a panic attack. You're with Ted. That's a definite creative choice because you want to be with him, right? You're like, what's going on? You don't want anybody to notice.
GB - How about yourself A.J.?
AC - Episode 10 "The Hope That Kills You." That's just a beautiful title for the theme of the pandemic. And I think that's why the show resonated with so many people during the pandemic because the show provided some hope, a good feeling, a sense of team being together at a time when there was some much isolation and everyone was off on their own. So many of the episodes I had in season one were just beautiful and had great powerful scenes. Episode eight, “the Dart game”, a high stakes Dart game, let's Ted and Rupert Reed talk about being curious and judgmental. The reason I submitted Episode 10 for the Emmys was because it just felt like it hit. It was such a roller coaster emotionally. You have a lot of comedy in the show. So you have a lot of laughs especially up front with the team thinking about all these trick plays they're going to do and you think it's just a joke. But it sets up the lasso special at the end, which was just a remarkably hilarious comedic set piece. What happens with Roy, when he's chasing down Jamie, his ultimate Nemesis and is not going to let him score that goal. He just gives everything he's got to run down that field and to get that ball away from Jamie. He snaps his knee and he knows he's walking off the field for the last time and then he's alone in the locker room. I showed his background here. That scene just gets me every time I watch it, I still have an emotional reaction and the way he's alone and then Keeley comes to him and that's the theme of the episode. Ultimately, no one is alone. And we had to sit in that final wide shot where we could take a breath and see ruin. And I wanted to hold on that shot and then a little bit longer than you normally would, but just to let the audience have a chance to breathe because it's important. Jason always tells me this, leave room for the inhales and exhales of the show. So that there is a chance for the audience to think about what they've just seen and then we go into the most insane comedic set piece that I've had the privilege to cut. We reveal that all Richard needs a tie to win. Which is a great joke on the game of football. You watch 90 minutes of the game and 00 a match. Probably why Americans don't like it. And that's why "Ted Lasso" was created to introduce the game to Americans. And so the show goes back to its roots in this finale, where we're doing a spoof on American football and the cue that the composer's wrote there it's called American football. And it's seen where we just see this ridiculous play they get an amazing goal. And we see that's been set up so everything in the show is set up. So we set up the tie joke early on in episode one. And then we set up that Sam when Danny Rojas first comes into the field, Sam passes to him. And Danny does an amazing bicycle kick of the ball in and in Episode Six. And that's Danny's entrance to the team. And that exact same play happens in the finale. Sam passes the ball to Danny and Danny kicks it in in that great play. And the audience is on this high like oh my god, you've done it. You've won and you won with a tie. And then of course, Jamie comes back and takes the ball down the field and, and he does something that nobody expects him to do, something that he learned from Ted, he makes the extra pass. And that is what scores that goal. And that's something that Ted is teaching Jamie to become his best self. That is a pleasure for an editor, which is usually you build your scene with no music and you get the scene working. In this case, it was the reverse. Jason and I talked about using this Marcus Mumford rendition of you'll never walk alone, which was a song that resonated in the pandemic, especially in England, they sang it for the healthcare workers. We laid that song down and it was perfect for that moment. And we cut the picture to the song to the music so that's always fun for an editor when you go back to your music video editing days, I think that's when everyone realizes the magic. So that is a moment that was joyful for me. And I got the chills watching it and cried when I watched it on the network, we got notes like, "Oh my God, we cried." And that's a great note to get for a comedy. So the music really played a character there. And then of course, we go into the ending speech. And it's like no one in this room is alone. Remember, when you have times of adversity, be a goldfish, live in the moment and just go on to the best that you can. Because we exist in the crowd and present the losses in the past, and it's a great way to kick off the season. And all those themes are definitely delivered on in season two, about being your best self and, and living in the moment and being a goldfish. It was just a wonderful episode to cut. And I'm so privileged to have been given the opportunity to edit it. So I had no idea when I started the show that they'd be cutting a finale like that.
GB - You made Apple cry IS what you're saying?
AC - Yes, I made Apple Executives cry.
GB - Are the shooting of the soccer scenes against LED walls at any point? Or are the VFX more post composited?
MM - There's a green screen.
GB - Is there a scene that you left on the cutting room floor that was especially hard to cut?
AC - The writers were really judicious in writing the show. If you had producers who wanted to rush the show we probably would have done what we could to get the runtimes down. In the case of Jason and Bill Lawrence just having the vision and the confidence to know, we have a beautiful story here. Let's tell it, we put it all in and the shows are 34 minutes long. Nothing really left on the cutting room floor. Bill Lawrence is a master.
MM - I remember Jason would say, I'm gonna remember that joke for season two. It's a good joke, but it just doesn't work for the moment. I think that we got the episodes exactly where they needed to be. And so there really weren't any scenes cut.
GB - How long do you get for each episode to cut?
MM - We've been pretty lucky on this show. It's not like the typical network schedule, we kind of have a little bit of a luxury, but it's not because they block shoot the episodes, but then every once in a while they don't block shoot. So for season two, for example, I cut one, three and five, but four went after five. So there was a period where I was in dailies forever, it just didn't stop. Some days you don't get a lot of dailies, some days, you get a ton of dailies. So we got a little bit of a luxury in our editor cut days, just because we were never out of dailies. Things were coming in at different times. So it fluctuates. As the episodes grow bigger, they grow more complicated, we just needed a little bit more time. So every once in a while, we have an extra day to polish and get things together. So we were definitely grateful to Apple. I mean, we still have delivery dates, but there's some flexibility.
AC - I was gonna say you say there's two of us. And there's also our two assistant editors who are not with us on this call, but I will shout them out. Alex Szabo and Francesca Castro, we wouldn't be able to do it without them. And we have a visual effects editor this year. Frank, who's amazing, it really helped us out. We have a music editor Richard Brown who is nominated. So we have a lot of other people who really help us out with the schedule, which was tighter this year. We worked on Ted last season for about 10 months and did 10 episodes and this year, we've done 12 episodes in about seven months. Soccer is like editing, it's a game collaboration. And then because we've jelled and know each other, well, we were able to do more, faster. Traditionally, the editor has to get it together in about eight days, we kind of bounced around working on multiple episodes, and they have been very lenient with us. And then when we get in with Jason, he tries to get it done with us in about three to four days. He saves it, he always comes in, right up to the end of the deadline. He's like, well, that's what you get for working with an SNL guy. He's gonna tell you, we're gonna do it live, he's gonna take us right up to the very edge.
MM - And he's wearing so many hats too! He's doing press, and he was writing and acting, and then also doing notes. I mean, I would get 20 minutes with him on zoom when he was in his trailer in London of just broad thoughts and things. So, talk about a man of many trades. He really has the "Ted Lasso" vision for all three seasons in his brain and he is the keeper of a lot of secrets and ideas. He’s integral to the whole show. So it's really special in that way that brain trust is like the star of the show. It's a blessing and a curse. I think probably for him, but he has to be so involved, but the show itself is so elevated because of it.
AC - It's entirely his vision in his head. Working with Jason, he has this amazing vision and you're trying to help him get the vision out of his head onto the screen and that's a great collaboration to be in. He loves the term movie magic. You know what movie magic can we do to make this moment play better? And so we talk with him about the tools we have as editors,
with sound and music. When we're trying to get the shots to come together, we're splitting a lot of frames, where one side of it is a different reaction than the other side. And there's a lot of invisible work. Editing is an invisible art. I want to give a shout out to all the team on our show who make this come together.
GB - I have one last question for you guys. We've been stuck in this pandemic for quite a while and depending on where you are in the world, you might be stuck inside. So is there a show or movie you've discovered over the last year that you think people should check out?
MM - I just finished "Mythic Quest." It's set in the video game world but it's really kind of a dichotomy of film, a film set, as well as all the production, egos and attitudes that go into it. We really enjoyed that one. But the other one we really enjoy is Netflix, “The Movies That Made Us”. If you're looking for something that feels good and that will take you back to your childhood and I guess if you're of a certain age. They had a Back to the Future one And now I'm showing my son Back to the Future. It's just fun to look back at all the drama and the special magic that comes with those films that you love.
AC - I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin and so is Jason and we bonded over that. He loved "The West Wing." I went back and watched old West Wing episodes, and "The American President," I think it was the 25th anniversary of that film during the pandemic. I liked watching a more positive vision of American politics. That resonated with me. Ted is the opposite of the ugly American, he goes over to England with such hope. So going back and watching some of "The West Wing" episodes gave me some hope and inspiration that we can all get along. I would also recommend “Goodwill Hunting” too. It is such a great one to watch, especially in these times where mental health is so important.