Editor’s Note: They are leaders. They are inspirational. They are mentors. They are visionaries. They are, quite frankly, badasses. They are our 2020 REEL WOMEN. During Women’s History Month, you will be able to meet these incredible personalities in Advertising, Entertainment, Media and Production. Get ready, they are making “Herstory.”
Editor Catherine Bull graduated from NYU’s Tisch School Of The Arts and went on to become the first female manual elevator operator at First Edition/Composite Film. Catherine learned everything she knows about editing from Gavin Cutler and Eric Horowitz, and after living in NYC for 16 years (and San Francisco for 1) Catherine moved to LA and began working at award-winning post house Spot Welders in 2008.
Catherine specializes in unscripted documentary-style commercials, as well as visual and music-driven projects. Campaigns for such clients as Nike, Google, Apple, Facebook and Ford have garnered international awards and Super Bowl acclaim. Catherine’s documentary short film credits include collaborations with Chris Wilcha, Lauren Greenfield, Terri Timely, and Lance Acord. Catherine’s work has been shown in museums and festivals worldwide. That’s kind of badass.
Aside from editing, Catherine is an advocate of funding for the arts, elderly care, and dismantling white supremacy. Catherine digs Vans shoes, enjoys a champagne-friendly happy hours, and prefers watching movies at the cinema over doing so at home.
Here is some of Catherine’s amazing work:
What Did You Originally Want to be When You Grow Up? When I was little, I wanted to be a “Raccoon Lady.” I loved animals, and drawing, and I remember designing a house with a Raccoon Room. So, Architect/Raccoon Lady? That sounds like something out of David Lynch, so I’ll go with that. I liked the discipline and focus of writing, I still do, but I don’t remember ever feeling like I had a story to tell.
How Did You Get into Editing? I didn’t even know being an editor was a career opportunity. I went to NYU and studied theater, but by the time I was a senior I was so sick of theater people that I never seriously considered pursuing anything in that industry. I got an internship at a commercial editing facility in exchange for college credit my senior year, and they hired me when I graduated.
I worked my way up from apprentice editor; the company, First Edition, had about 12 editors on its roster, so it was a great place to get a lot of experience quickly.
Who Were Your Mentors? At First Edition and then later at Progressive Image Group, I got to assist two of the most creative, intense, and fun editors in NYC: Gavin Cutler and Eric Horowitz. Nowadays I find most assistants don’t hang out in the room while an editor is working, but I would just sit and watch everything they did, every key they touched, every editorial experiment they tried.
I learned how to use the Avid as a practical tool, but also so much about creativity, storytelling and narrative structure (as well as how to handle clients). Since I didn’t go to film school, this was my hands-on education.
Name Your Biggest Achievement: I’m not sure I can pinpoint a specific project, but I really value the relationships that I’ve made, the collaborations with directors of course but also agency producers and creatives.
Our industry is so intense; there’s so much money at stake and the deadlines are always so tight, and that pressure can kind of force you to create this deep bond with the people you are experiencing it with. I love that my job has provided me with some of the most meaningful friendships I’ve ever made.
Biggest Disappointment: I hate how the commercial industry has changed. Everyone is stressed out because the budgets are so much smaller, while the output has multiplied: in addition to TV spots, you now cut social content, web films—there’s so much more to be done, in so much less time. And agencies don’t have the travel budgets to camp out like they used to, so there’s less camaraderie.
Name Your Biggest Pet Peeves: I hate it when the cat goes in the litter box the second after I’ve cleaned it. I hate servers who take away your drink when there’s one sip left. People who look at their phones after the movie’s started! Dailies that you can’t sync because they didn’t jam-sync the audio and no one thought to clap at the start of a take! When there aren’t any takes and they just let the camera roll, but there are multiple cameras and everyone turns them on and off at different times! Egomaniacs!
Predictions for the Advertising and Post-Production/VFX Industry over the Next Decade?: Gosh. I wish I were that kind of visionary, to look into the future and see what it will be. It’s probably why I am an editor: I can look at the footage you give me and intuit what it wants to be, but I can’t create (write, direct) a story from scratch.
My hope is that our cell phones mutate into something less invasive from an advertising standpoint, or even from a daily-life standpoint. But that seems like a fantasy and I’m sure AI will just find new places to insert itself like in all those sci-fi movies and TV shows where information hovers on holographic screens or is implanted in our retinas.
I might be part of the last generation that objects to the invasion. It would be fair if users could be compensated for the mining of their data, but that is surely a fantasy
Name a Job You Had that Would Surprise People: Elevator Operator.
ALSO READ: Ashley Ford, eightvfx exec producer
What Advice Would You Give to Women Considering a Career in Your Field? Don’t have children. I’m joking, of course. But I have a young kid, and I’m a single mom, so I could talk at length about how to balance work and home: it’s not possible. One will suffer.
All the successful working mothers I know either have stay-at-home husbands or can afford reliable care, and struggle to assuage the guilt they feel for not being there to tuck their kids in at night. You have to make tremendous sacrifices to continue your career at or near the same level that you maintained before you had children.
For creators out there, I would encourage them to not be afraid of imperfection—by which I mean that the final product will of course be different from the pristine image you have in your mind due to the compromises you have to make just to bring art into the world. It can be paralyzing; I know when I was younger I always struggled with the idea that everything had been done before, and better, and that the thing I wanted to make would never match the idea of it I had in my mind so why should I even bother?
It turns out that kind of thinking is fatal. Avoid it if you can. The process is as valuable as the final product, and there will be so many happy accidents along the way. Embrace the process.
Lastly, fake it ’til you make it!
How do You Define Creativity? I associate originality with creativity. The ability to imagine unpredictable solutions.
Do You Talk to Yourself? All day long. I sing to myself too. And whistle. I don’t even realize I’m doing it half the time.
What do You Wish You had More Time for? Sleep. Stretch. See movies. Watch dailies. Experiment before I have to show the first rough cut. Hang out with friends. There is never enough time to listen to podcasts.
What Inspires You to be Creative? I find a lot of creative inspiration when my brain is not actively seeking it. I have vivid dreams, and in the early days of a project, screening dailies and thinking about what the edit will be, stuff often gets worked out through my dreams.
Then almost every night I wake up around 2 or 3AM with a song stuck in my head, and I’ll wind up cutting to whatever music I’m obsessed with in the middle of the night. On a personal level, I love to sew and crochet, so I always have a project or two that I’m working on. It really relaxes my brain to come home at the end of the day and do something with my hands; I hate looking at a computer screen after I leave work.
I don’t know if it’s inspiration so much as a compulsion to stay busy and be productive, but in the meantime it’s like I’ve tricked my brain into thinking I’m not using it because my hands are doing all the work, and then my brain has the freedom to surprise me with what it’s been doing while I haven’t been paying attention.
Like how a crossword puzzle might seem impossible when you first look at it, then if you put it aside and come back to it later, all of a sudden you know a ton of answers. Your brain worked on it while you were not thinking about it. It’s crazy.