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Finely Sliced: Katie Cali on Why Editing Is About Perfectly Timed Moments

Los Angeles, USA
Editor at The Den Editorial shares how manipulating and controlling a story excites her, and why her editing style is like organising a dinner party

Katie Cali is a commercial & video editor for the independent editorial house The Den Editorial. After attending art school at Illinois State University, Katie found her creative outlet in editing, ignited by a passion for bringing out raw emotion in stories. Now based in Los Angeles, Katie has worked on projects for many global brands including Beats by Dre, Apple and TikTok. 

LBB> The first cut is the deepest: how do you like to start an editing project?

Katie> The beginning of a project is where ideas for the edit begin to form and take shape in your mind.  It’s important to sit and screen all the footage - even the outtakes in-between for any possible moments to use. It’s also nice to hear what is said on set after takes to get a full grasp of the footage. After screening and pulling selects, I then compare what I liked to the script notes and what the director called out… and I put those takes on a layer of their own so in the editing process I am organised and can refer back easily.

LBB> Non-editors often think of editing just in technical terms but it’s integral to the emotion and mood of a film. How did you develop that side of your craft?

Katie> Having the ability to manipulate and control a story is really exciting to me. Translating raw emotions into a visual piece is what I love most about my job. I love a good story and developing what is important about it - whether it be a good laugh or a moment in time. I’m constantly inspired by the shows and content I watch, and develop that into my own craft. 

LBB> How important is an understanding of the mechanics of a story?

Katie> It is so important, especially in the comedy world. You have to find the perfect pitch of comedy and effectively portray a feeling. It’s about perfectly timing moments… sometimes being snappy and sometimes just spending time with a shot so that feeling lands.

LBB> Rhythm and a sense of musicality seem to be intrinsic to good editing – how do you think about the rhythm side of editing, how do you feel out the beats of a scene or a spot? And do you like to cut to music?

Katie> Music and sound effects are so important to an edit as they naturally set the pace and tone right from the start. I take a lot of time and care in picking out the music I am going to work with when I start an edit. 

The music can determine edit points, so it has a great impact on your piece and how edit decisions are made. I often use it for rising tension or adding a good dropout moment to help punctuate the story. 

LBB> Tell us about a recent editing project that involved some interesting creative challenges.

Katie> This happens and you have to ask yourself, ‘what is this piece trying to say?’ I recently gave my input on an edit where the tone was just completely off… and it was just a matter of having the wrong music on the edit. This goes to show how important music is to an edit and the process. 

Like every project, you have to be patient and trust your instincts. Focus on what the story is about and go through the edit step by step - when you get to the moment where it’s all working, it is such an exciting relief. 

LBB> In the US we know that editors are much more heavily involved across the post-production process than in Europe - what’s your favourite part of that side of the job?

Katie> I love being involved with the creative process all the way through. I am very particular with my edits so I like to see them through finishing to make sure the colour and mix compliment the piece. It drives me crazy if something is off, so I’m a bit of a perfectionist in that way. It’s genuinely exciting seeing your piece polished & come to life at the end.

LBB> In a sentence or two, can you describe your editing style?

Katie> My editing style is a lot like having guests over for dinner - you take your time and pay attention to every detail to make sure everything is perfect before they come in - and then it’s go-time with the team.

LBB> Can you explain the impact that someone’s style of editing has on a project?

Katie> It’s so important to have the right editor on a project because they create the pace and control how someone feels watching a piece. You want someone with a personality and style that’s on the same page as the director and creatives, which is why our industry dates-around to meet people who are the right fit for their projects.

LBB> What’s harder to cut around – too much material or not enough? 

Katie> I would personally rather have too much material than not enough. While too much can be overwhelming, as you dive into the project it can end up being just the right amount that you need. Editing involves a ton of decision making and asking yourself ‘How can I fix that?’ and ‘How can I make that better?’ - so it’s best to have options to experiment with.  If you end up with not enough material, you just get creative and find ways to have fun with the footage to create what you need.  

LBB> Which commercial projects are you proudest of and why?

Katie> An edit I recently had fun with is a TaylorMade commercial. I loved playing with the build of the pacing conversationally. 

LBB> There are so many different platforms for film content now, and even in advertising, something can last anything from a few seconds to a couple of hours. As an editor, are you seeing a change in the kind of projects you’re getting from brands and agencies?

Katie> Absolutely. Some projects are straightforward commercial work, while other projects are a package of commercials and social media content. More often than not, I’m making a few promos under ten seconds for the social promotion of the main piece and brand. A lot of great work is just for web as well because there isn’t a constraint on length. 

LBB> Who are your editing heroes and why? What films or spots epitomise good editing for you?

Katie> I have to go with Dann Cahn. His editing was deliberate and evoked emotion with smart edits. ‘I Love Lucy’ is where I first fell in love with comedy and film - and what drew me to this career at a very young age. 

LBB> How does editing in the commercial world differ from film and TV?

Katie> Whilst my work is mostly in the commercial world, I love taking on episodic projects and long-form work to switch it up creatively and challenge myself as an editor. With a commercial, you have 30 seconds to tell an entire story cohesively - which is a different challenge from long-form, where you can let the story play out in full, but you have to figure out how to keep it interesting. Neither is easier than another. 

LBB> Have you noticed any trends or changes in commercial editing over recent years?

Katie> In comedy commercials, I feel like jokes are less obvious and over the top - they feel more honest. That being said, I’ve always found dad jokes and things that feel weird to be the funniest!

LBB> Do you have any tips for young editors starting out right now?

Katie> My advice to young editors starting a career in post is to be patient and be confident in yourself and your talent. Make yourself visible by doing great work, no matter what the task is. Set goals for yourself and make connections with people you look up to. 

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