In cutting comedy, Modern Family editor Tony Orcena noted, “You have to remember, it always plays best, simple. It’s about finding a way to tell the story in an interesting way, but remember that the joke is king. You have to make sure the joke plays.” In his approach, Orcena admits that he goes through the first cut and takes out half the edits to find the clearest way to present the joke.
Modern Family centers on the extended family of patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), his sexy second wife (Sofia Vergara) and their two young children, and the families of his older children – controlling daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) and gay son Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). In shaping performances, Orcena keeps an eye out for moments – quick looks, a hand gesture – “those little flairs” where the actors are giving something extra.
Orcena loves the actors on the show and how each one of them brings something different to the ensemble. Since the popular show is in its sixth season, the characters are well defined as to who they are. “When I am looking at the dailies, I am looking for the take that feels like that person that I know,” said Orcena. “That’s what I connect to.”
Collaborating with the show’s writers, while making each story funnier, is Orcena’s favorite part of the process. “The work part is screening the dailies and putting a show together. Once it’s together that’s where the fun starts. You’re making it better, making changes,” Orcena said. “You’re having the big picture conversations, focusing on story points.”
Orcena edits 12 of each season’s 24 episodes. Because the show has been on the air for such an extended period of time, there is a comfort level in editing. This creates the challenge to find something that is interesting and familiar, but also a little different. “We’re at 100-plus episodes. When you watch it you don’t want to make it feel like this is something you’ve seen before,” Orcena explained. “That’s the thing you’re always thinking about.”
With “Connection Lost,” an episode entirely shot on iPhones, Orcena was able to do something different. “This was the first show I’d done on Modern Family where the whole thing had to be created in post. It was a fun and fascinating process,” revealed Orcena, who worked closely with John Brown and the VFX artists to create a new workflow for that particular episode. Although he had worked with Brown on similar creative challenges in the past, they had never done something of this scale – a full-length, 21-minute television show.
“I had to come up with a new way of editing. I had to forget everything I knew about editing,” said Orcena. “Clare is on the screen the entire episode, so if you wanted to change takes or take time out of a take, you had to find a really creative way to do that. You couldn’t just cut to someone else’s coverage. It definitely presented a whole new set of challenges.”
Postproduction took five months to complete, an unheard of amount of time for a single television episode. In order to stay ahead of the VFX department, during hiatus, on an off week, in the evening after cutting dailies for another episode, Orcena would shift his focus to “Connection Lost.”
“It was kind of like a stop and start thing,” stated Orcena. “Early on that was manageable because they had to create the entire OSX operating system. They had to make every web page, every icon. They had to design everything by hand.”
Once the elements were created, Orcena found that any spare time he had while editing the ongoing series, “got gobbled up by ‘Connection Lost.’” Although there may have been unexpected issues to deal with, because of the amount of time the team had to complete the episode, they were able to resolve any problems. By the time the show got to air, Orcena acknowledged, “Everybody involved was really proud of it.”