For all the wonder and amazement that goes into the fact that much of Saturday Night Live still happens live on TV on Saturday nights, it’s sometimes even more amazing just how much work in such little time goes into making the pre-taped digital films and completing them in time for broadcast.
Take the Halloween-flavored horror film spoof of Wes Anderson’s movies, for example.
Alex Buono, the director of photography for SNL’s film unit, shares all of the gory details that went into executing a great concept that was approved on Wednesday night and completed at the very moment it aired on live TV just three nights later, with host Edward Norton in the role of Owen Wilson. Buono begins:
Part of the fun of writing this HOW WE DID IT for the SNL short film “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders” will be finding out how we actually did it, because quite honestly, it’s all kind of a blur…
Let’s start at the beginning. This spot was simply titled, “New Horror Trailer” and when I first glanced at the script on a Wednesday night, I figured it was going to be a Halloween-appropriate horror film spoof. It wasn’t until the 2nd page that the voiceover reveals: “From the twisted mind of…Wes Anderson”. Wait – this is a Wes Anderson parody? Hell yes! And right off the bat, I gotta give props to writers John Solomon, Rob Klein, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider for this keenly observed mash-up of a classic home-invasion horror with the hand-crafted charm of a Wes Anderson film.
For those of you who attended my Visual Storytelling workshop, you know that I spent a fair amount of time deconstructing the work of Wes Anderson. Needless to say, I could not have been more excited to take-on the parody challenge of emulating one of my favorite filmmakers. This is the kind of SNL spot I live for.
Very quickly, however, it became clear that this was going to be a very different type of challenge. Wes Anderson is one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers of our time; his style is so unique that you might think it would be easy to satirize. But here’s the problem: turns out everyone has a different opinion about what MOST distinguishes Wes Anderson’s style. Is it the limited color palette? Flat space camera moves? Symmetrical compositions? Snap-zooms? Twee, hand-crafted art direction? Slow-motion walking shots? Clearly it’s all of those things and more, but within the limited context of a trailer, which are the most important signatures to include? And within a subculture as film-literate as the writers and producers of SNL, we were surrounded by astute Wes Anderson connoisseurs. Suddenly this spot had morphed from something I was dying to shoot into something I was terrified to shoot!
And watch the finished product again. Roll the clip!
Related reading: How We Did It: SNL’s DJesus Uncrossed.