Frame of Reference with Editor Ryan Case

Ryan Case has been an editor on Modern Family since 2009 when she cut the pilot episode, and Is now about to start season 4. Ryan sits down with us today to give us her thoughts on the whole editing process.


What got you interested in editing?
When I was 8 years old, I decided I wanted to be a director. I made little movies on my parents’ camcorder and I soon discovered that I could hook 2 VCR’s together to edit the footage. From then on, that proved to be my favorite part of the process. I later attended NYU film school and studied all aspects of filmmaking. I actually didn’t take any specific classes in editing but still loved editing my own projects the most. I decided it was definitely the path for me.

How did you get started in editing?
When I graduated film school, I moved to Los Angeles. I did various jobs – logging reality shows, assisting in editorial for animation, working at a trailer house – but learning a lot about editing on the way. I eventually got a few jobs as assistant editor, all the while editing comedy shorts for friends and acquaintances to learn and hone my craft.


What is your preferred NLE(s) of choice? Why?
Avid. It’s what I learned on and what makes the most sense. At NYU, we learned on film to start so it’s the best translation from that as well. i also love the Script Sync tool.

Give us a run through of your editing process
On our show, they typically shoot a 5 day schedule – Monday through Friday. I get my dailies the following day and strive to keep up with camera, cutting all of a previous day’s footage. They usually shoot 2 cameras simultaneously so my assistant editor syncs those up into groups and puts them into Script Sync. I then watch all the footage for every scene and take meticulous notes on a legal pad. I look for the best performances and camera moves and hopefully large portions where I won’t have to cut too much – a great quality of our documentary style. I also love finding improvised bits or unexpected reactions from our actors to add to the scenes. I usually end each day with at least a first pass on each scene shot and then on subsequent days revisit those passes to tighten and make necessary changes as the whole show takes shape. Then I assemble my editors cut, adding sound effects (with the help of my assistant) and music – to send to the director. The director has 2 days per the DGA to give any notes before I invite the writers and producers in to make any changes they want and to get the show down to time. It’s a really fun collaborative

What tips were you given that was really helpful?
Along the way, I learned the most by doing. It was often very helpful to work on more amateur projects that were shot rather poorly as that requires you to do a lot of editing trickery to make it great. I’ve also been fortunate to work with some brilliant writers, producers, and directors and that has greatly contributed to my skills. Any time an opportunity presented itself to work with or near someone I admired, I jumped at the chance.

How organized are you?
I’m a very organized person but I prefer to concentrate that on the edit and in the Avid rather than things that don’t really matter. It is most important that my edits look neat and as seamless as possible. If you saw my notes on the legal pad, it often looks like the diary of a mad man. I just kind of write it as a process and have this crazy system that only I understand of starring takes. I love for my project to be very organized though – Script Sync is great for that and my assistant editor is very neat, which I appreciate to no end.

Can you work without a script, finding the story and building it on your own?
I actually once edited a pilot that was mostly improvised – like Curb Your Enthusiasm- with only an outline as a script. It was a great learning experience for me, because it gave me a lot of say in the storytelling. I prefer working with a script though and letting the improvised elements become a part of the whole in a more controlled fashion. I trust our writers with most of the storytelling and help them to make changes to that in the edit alongside me.

What is your favorite film? Favorite Tv show?
I don’t have one favorite film but I’m a huge David Lynch and Woody Allen fan. My favorite TV show is Breaking Bad.

What style of editing have you done? (Narrative/Documentary/News/Corporate/Wedding/Etc)

I have concentrated in narrative editing.

If you could meet any editor, who and why?

Mary Sweeney – she did a phenomenal job cutting some of my favorite David Lynch films and I’m sure she has some off the wall stories.

What advice can you offer to get through complex edits?
Patience is key. It takes a lot of meticulous experimentation to get the timing of a joke to work just so. You just have to try a million options and really watch a scene or maybe even part of an act over and over a bit obsessively to make sure the rhythm is right and
everything is working.

Which plug-in(s) do you find most useful? Why?
I’m not big on plug-ins. Script Sync is about as fancy as I get.


How does the director-editor relationship work for you?
It depends on the director but I really enjoy the dynamic between a director and an editor. I love a director who really knows what he or she wants but is also open to different ways of editing it. I like someone with a specific visual style that I can easily pick up in the footage and execute but that also is flexible and favors comedy and story over visuals when necessary.

How do you deal with problem clients/directors?
Everyone is valuable to the process in their own way. I try not to ever see someone as a problem per se. As an editor, you’re often the mediator in disputes between directors, writers, and producers. It’s very important to be open to trying everyone’s ideas, because
honestly, you can’t know something won’t work until you’ve tried it. It’s just important to remain calm and not let your feelings interfere if someone is working you in a seemingly unpleasant way. You never know – it could lead to a great end!

What’s your overall philosophy about editing?
I think the best editing is often undetectable. In comedy, clarity is very important. If an audience feels discombobulated or confused, they aren’t relaxed enough to allow themselves to laugh. You can have fun with visuals and be stylish but it’s often most effective to make a scene feel as natural and familiar as possible so that an audience can
fully enjoy it and follow the story. Ironically, some of my favorite scenes are one shot, carefully chosen. Comedy is all about timing so knowing when to maintain an energetic pace and when to stop and let a joke land is key. You basically have to trust in yourself and know what’s funny and how to get that on-screen.

Name one thing that you would tell an aspiring editor
Don’t give up and know what you want. If you want to do something badly enough and just follow your gut, there are many paths to a career in editing. Just make sure everyone knows what you want and do anything you can to hone your skills so when that opportunity comes, you’ll be ready.


You can catch up with Ryan on twitter or check out this interview she did about Modern Family.

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