News Column

'Modern Family' editor Ryan Case talks Emmys, directing and getting ready for syndication

September 11, 2013


Sept. 11--Why you should know her: The Lynchburg native has worked as an editor on ABC's "Modern Family" since the show debuted in 2009. She won an Emmy in 2010 for her work during its first season and has been nominated every year since.

This year, she'll face off against editors from "30 Rock," "The Office," "Louie" and "Arrested Development" at the Creative Arts Emmys, which are held on Sept. 15, the week before the Sept. 22 televised ceremony. Highlights from the Creative Arts ceremony will be shown at 9 p.m. Sept. 21 on the new FXX network.


Case graduated from E.C. Glass in 1998 and went on to attend NYU, where she graduated in three years instead of four. Then it was on to L.A., where she cut her teeth as an assistant editor on shows like "What About Brian," "Carpoolers" and "Kath & Kim."

Then came "Modern Family," which led to more work.

Case has edited the pilots for cult comedy "Happy Endings," which ran on ABC for three seasons; Fox's short-lived 2010 series "Running Wilde;" and, most recently, Fox's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which premieres later this month. The comedy comes from the creators of "Parks and Recreation" and stars "Saturday Night Live" alum Andy Samberg.

"I heard he was doing a pilot and very much willed it into my life," she said in a phone interview from California last month. "I was like, 'That's the pilot I want to do.'"

Back home at "Modern Family," Case realized an almost lifelong dream when she directed an episode, "Future Dunphys," last season. She said she'll helm a few more this season, which begins Sept. 25.

Here's more of what she had to say:

So you've gotten four Emmy nods in four years. Does it ever get old?

"No. I think every year, my main thing is ... you have to wake up on the West Coast at like 5:30 in the morning to check the Emmy nominations. I'm like, one of these years I'm not going to get it, and I'm going to be upset. It's like getting up for a flight."

How, if at all, has your job changed as you've gotten to know the actors and their characters better?

"In some ways, it's easier, because you're just so familiar with the show. But, also our show has grown. ... It's evolved. In the beginning, it was very simple: Meet these characters.

"I'm actually going through and cutting a minute out of every episode I ever did for syndication [right now]. So I watched from season one until now, which was really fun. We've had to get more elaborate because the audience is so much more familiar with the characters. In the beginning, it was like, 'This is the first time Cameron has hung out with Gloria.'

"Now, it's fun, because they can do big episodes, like last year we did the one in the roller rink and the whole family was there and all kinds of crazy things were happening. You can do a lot more. For me, it's also a lot more complicated because it's a lot of things to juggle in 21 minutes."

I was going to ask you about the syndication process ['Modern Family' reruns will start airing on USA in September]. How does that work?

"They kind of left it up to me. It's just a minute out. The audience won't feel it ... [it's] just tightening where people won't notice. There weren't any cuts where I was like, 'Oh no!' But you do have to cut a whole minute out, which isn't fun."

Do you still edit every other episode?

"Yes. I think I've done 50 now. We're about to do our 100th episode."

You made the jump to directing with "Future Dunphys" last season. How did that come about, and what was the experience like?

"It was amazing. It was a dream come true. I've been asking to direct for a few seasons, but it was just them waiting to open it up for the crew. Last year, I got the opportunity, so obviously I was very excited. It was great. I've wanted to do it since I was like 8 years old. It was kind of a big deal. It felt very natural, and I knew what to do because I've been sitting and watching footage of other directors. I mentored with Fred Savage ... Gail Mancuso. A lot of amazing directors we have, so I could kind of learn all the things they do."

Directing is something you've wanted to do for so long. Were there any things about it that surprised you?

"There's always that underlying fear. I've wanted to do this my whole life ... but what if I don't like it? ... The minute I started doing it, I loved it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the details of it. Casting was so fun. I got to cast a lot of parts in my episode, because we had the whole Future Dunphys. ... Justine Bateman was in it.

"Going on location scouts was really fun. ... I never get to have control over those things. Sometimes I wonder why that choice was made, and it was fun to make it myself."

You also worked on "1600 Penn" last season, and edited the pilot for the upcoming "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." As an editor, what challenges are there when you're doing a pilot, as opposed to a regular episode of an established show like "Modern Family"? Are there any differences?

"It's huge. It's very intense because they have a script that they know they like, but they don't really know what that's going to look like. It's up to the director and creators and editor to make it look like a show and make it feel like a show. There's a visual language that you have to establish. Like, are we going to do flashbacks? If we do flashbacks, what is the device that gets us into the flashbacks?

"There's all these pilot conventions. ... You have to [make everything] abundantly clear in a pilot because the audience doesn't know anything.

"'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' is a cop show, but it's a comedy. We have to establish this is a comedy straight off. If we don't, it's going to test poorly because people don't like being confused. [So] the first shot of the pilot, we just decided to ... just go with Andy Samberg's face. And it worked because ... everyone who sees Andy Samberg knows, 'Oh I'm watching a comedy.'

"Then it's just making it as funny as possible. I enjoy it... but it's really tough.

When we spoke after your first nomination, we talked about how "Modern Family" was reviving the half hour sitcom. Since then, so many new comedies have debuted, many trying to capture that same magic. What do you think is the secret to the show's success?

"I think it's the writing and the cast. The writers on our show are all super accomplished. They all come from different places. They've all worked on so many shows I grew up loving: 'Cheers,' 'Golden Girls,' 'Just Shoot Me,' 'Frasier.' Shows that are part of our past. ... They've also all done shows that didn't go. Everyone who has worked in the industry for a certain amount of time, they know what to do and what not to do. They're all so smart. The writing is so clever. ... [And] the cast is crazy. It makes my job easier because they're all so good. It's this wonderful combination."

What was your favorite moment on the show last season?

"When the baby was born, it was very emotional. The pilot was about a baby being born into the family, when Lily shows up. [In this one] we got to do this really fun montage when Jay is doing the [voice over] at the end, talking about the baby. I got to go into old shows and pull clips, and really make it a big moment for the family. It was just such a beautiful thing."

What comedies are you watching these days?

"I can't wait for 'Eastbound and Down' to come back. I love it.. ... I think 'The Mindy Project' is really cute. And it's finding itself. ... I mostly watch dramas because I work on comedy all day. So when I get home, I want to watch 'Breaking Bad' and 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Game of Thrones.'"

Do you think you'd ever edit a drama?

"Yeah, I definitely wouldn't rule anything out. Right now, I'm looking to grow my directing career. I've been thinking a lot about that. Comedy is a niche that I really understand. I like comedies with heart, with a serious side."

Do you have any plans to direct other sitcoms?

"This year, I'm just going to do 'Modern Family.' I'm talking to agents about [doing others]. I have those hiatuses during the break. In the future, I definitely have big plans."


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