If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the hit ABC series Modern Family, it’s that Phil Dunphy and his family love their iPhones, iPads and Macbooks. Also, even the worst family problems can be solved in a very convenient 22-minute window, but right now the most important lesson is that the Dunphys and Pritchetts are just as hooked on their Apple-based products as the rest of us techno-slaves. In fact, they’re so loyal to the Apple brand that the February 25 episode, “Connection Lost,” was shot entirely with iPhones and iPads to offer us the unique perspective of a truly modern family that is always on the go.
The episode begins with a familiar story, as Claire and Haley are fighting about something (probably boys or her future), and Claire is trying to get in touch with her daughter through her laptop before her flight takes off. From there, everyone in the family chimes in to help find Haley, while presumably dealing with their own issues. The unique idea comes from Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan, who has found it difficult to keep up with technology as his own daughters grow older.
“I have two daughters at college, and we do a lot of FaceTiming,” Steve Levitan, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, said at a Q&A session last week on the Fox studio backlot when asked about the episode’s inspiration. “One day I was on my computer, and I had some emails open, and some websites, and then my daughter showed up. But I couldn’t only see her, but I could see me.” (Via the New York Times)
“I realized [from] that screen, you could tell so much about my life,” Levitan explained at a special screening last week in Los Angeles. “This is how families are communicating today. I see it in my family all the time. The original idea [was], how can we use this to tell a story?” (Via Yahoo! TV)
Levitan was also inspired by the 2013 short film Noah, created by Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, which told the story of a high school senior and his girlfriend dealing with their relationship troubles, all through the screen of his laptop. He said that once he had the basic idea, his daughter sent him a link to the 17-minute film and he was convinced that this episode could become a reality. Of course, it wasn’t exactly as easy as holding up some phones and recording the show’s actors performing their beloved characters.
“I came into work at the beginning of the season and said, ‘I would like to do an episode on a computer screen,’ and [we] sat in a room and started looking for a story: What’s the reason why it has to be on a screen? Why doesn’t she have her phone? How do you work 11 cast members into one computer screen and have it feel organic? How do you make it good? This was fun, but also a tremendous challenge.”
The aforementioned Noah was shot with screen capture software, but that technique quickly proved to not be up to snuff for broadcast television. “We originally tried it with screen captures, but when you really push in, it breaks up and looks jaggy,” explained John Brown, the visual FX and motion graphics producer on the episode. “We thought if we scaled up and made all the elements two to four times bigger, then you can push in and everything stays clean, much like a retina display. It is easier to read, so I had to try to counterfeit Apple’s Yosemite interface.” (Via Yahoo! TV)
Despite all of the fancy tech-speak and praise for the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 technology that the company reportedly supplied for Modern Family to use, Levitan said this isn’t about product placement. So when you see Claire’s Macbook desktop and the Facetime app windows, remember that this could be taking place on any device with any operating system.