Cover Story: 'Wilfred'
Issue: September 1, 2012

Cover Story: 'Wilfred'

SANTA MONICA — The hit FX comedy series Wilfred, the network’s highest-ranking debut sitcom last year, tells the unusual tale of Ryan Newman (Elijah Wood), who is suicidal until his neighbor asks him to look after her dog, Wilfred. 

Ryan — and viewers — see Wilfred as an Australian man (series co-creator Jason Gann) in a dog suit; everyone else sees Wilfred as a normal dog. Manipulative and prone to certain unhealthy vices (drinking, smoking, being naughty with stuffed toys), Wilfred nevertheless becomes something of a mentor to Ryan, who begins to live life on his own terms. The second season of Wilfred aired this summer.

Richie Edelson cut both seasons of Wilfred from production offices in Santa Monica, sharing Season One editing duties with Christian Hoffman and Season Two with Grady Cooper. The editors worked closely with showrunner David Zuckerman and executive producer Randall Einhorn, who directed most of Season One and all of Season Two’s 13 episodes. Their main directive for every show: that viewers see everything from Ryan’s perspective.

“It’s imperative to keep that in mind at every stage of the process — writing, shooting, editing,” says Edelson. “The story is told from Ryan’s point of view: He’s the only one who sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit. How to sell Ryan’s experience is decided mostly during shooting — does this shot or angle reflect what Ryan would have seen? But in editorial we also have to be concerned about whether shots play into the mythology of the show.”

For example, Edelson needs to keep an eye on “how the other actors react to Wilfred because they don’t have any visual cues to support the fact they’re seeing just a normal dog. You don’t want to have a shot of a guest star looking at the dog talking.”

Despite those conceptual constraints Edelson says he has “a lot of free rein. There are a lot of different rhythms and pacing to play with, a lot of different directions to take things to shape Ryan’s experience.”

Wilfred shot on Canon EOS 5D and 7D cameras for Season One and the first half of Season Two. After hiatus, acquisition switched to Nikon D800 DSLRs. 
“Randall [Einhorn] and DP Brad Lipson shoot with three cameras at all times so there’s a lot of coverage,” Edelson says. “We’re so fortunate to have the cast we do; Elijah and Jason are so good together, and Randall gets a lot of two-shots of them from the side. A lot of times you just want their performances to play out in a natural way. Randall also shoots a lot of dirty over-the-shoulder coverage so each character is in the frame. That keeps Ryan and Wilfred connected, and it gives a more naturalistic feel to the editing process — it’s easy to connect the geography of the scene and follow the emotional flow of the scene.

“In the one-shot ‘couch beats’ in Ryan’s basement, which act like tags to each episode, the performances of Elijah and Jason are so on that you don’t want to cut away from them unless there’s a reason to do so,” he adds.


Edelson, who previously cut reality-based shows such as The Osbournes, Top Chef and Project Runway, as well as episodes of The Office and MTV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger, and Cooper cut on Avid Media Composer 5.5. The cameras’ memory cards are transcoded by Red Sky Pictures, then Avid XML files are ingested into the Media Composers where the editors do a low-resolution offline. Their assistants conform the show at DNx115 resolution. Color timing is handled by HTV Illuminate; final color tends to be a matter of enhancing the look established on set and finding the tones to reflect the material. “There’s no one color style,” says Edelson. “It depends on the scene, such as warm and rich tones for exterior footage during a psychedelic trip.”

The editors use the Avid ScriptSync software option, which Edelson calls “a real time saver. I watch all the footage anyway, but in the later stages of the game rather than search for a line I can just click and get all the takes I need. ScriptSync saves a ton of time on my end.”

Due to scheduling issues Edelson says Season Two found them “crossboarding multiple episodes at a time, so we would get dailies from three or four different episodes each week. That meant we wouldn’t have a rough cut for weeks due to waiting for production to shoot remaining scenes. It was an interesting way to solve scheduling problems but made it challenging to absorb the material as a whole.”

Season Two of Wilfred featured more VFX shots than the show’s debut season, which was shot largely on location. Now greenscreens behind the doors and windows on the set are composited with background plates actually shot from the house used in Season One. Other VFX shots include head replacement to create a preferred take; removing frames from a dream sequence to give a jumpy, unsettling feeling (Edelson accomplished that in-house); a split screen for a no-animals-were-harmed shot of Dobermans chasing cats; and frisky composited live-action squirrels. Many VFXshots were created by Almost Human. 

According to Edelson, a lot of time is spent in the offline getting the mix, audio levels and sounds just right. “The way you manipulate sound can really color your edit,” he notes. “In the episode where Ryan has panic attacks, his sister’s baby seems to be setting them off. When we hear the baby crying we had his sister’s voice shift to a distant reverb to pull her back away from him.”

He and Einhorn are “obsessed with music,” he admits, and he’s encouraged to dig deep in his library for temp tracks to hand off to composer Jeff Cardoni. The doggie dancing episode gave Edelson a chance to use more source music than usual; a big production number finale was recorded in a studio with full strings, brass and bass. Mixing is done at Gray Martin Studios.

“What I love about Wilfred is that it’s a blend of a lot of elements,” says Edelson. “There’s a lot of dark humor, then you get an absurd production number,  then dramatic and psychological issues.

“It’s fun to play with the pacing and rhythm to make the dark jokes work one minute and slow emotional moments work the next. It takes a lot of finesse to make those transitions successful, and I love the challenge.”