Film Unit Behind Successful Late Night Comedy Show Embraces Adobe Video Workflow

PVC by Kathy Charneco

An interview with the SNL film unit’s director/producer and editor

Remember the 1970s days of Saturday Night Live (SNL) and the Coneheads? Okay, you may be too young, but trust us: it’s as hilarious now as it was then. George Carlin was the first host, alongside comedy legends like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and John Belushi. Today, the popular, late-night sketch comedy and variety show lives on with a new and equally talented cast of characters—including Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Nasim Pedrad, Seth Meyers, and Vanessa Bayer—and new technologies that get fresh content on-air faster than ever. Adobe sat down with Rhys Thomas, film director and producer for the show, and Adam Epstein, freelance editor for the film unit, to talk about how they recently switched to using Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium to bring fresh video content to SNL fans each week—all in a three-day turnaround.

Adobe: What is the film unit’s role on the show?
Thomas: Firstly, and I have to get this out of the way, Saturday Night Live really is Live. I don’t know how many people have given me a wink and a nudge and said, “But it’s not really live right?” It really is. With that explanation out in the open, I’ll now explain that the film unit essentially produces anything that’s not live. The film unit is the team that creates the commercial parodies, digital shorts, and any other pretaped content that gets aired between live sketches. We fill in during wardrobe and scenery changes.

Adobe: A three-day turnaround for creating that much content sounds pretty manic. How do you accomplish it?
Thomas: My typical production week starts on a Wednesday with our read-through meeting. This is where we see the possible sketches for that week's show for the first time. At this point, because we don't yet know what will be chosen for the actual show, my team will begin pre-producing anywhere from two to eight films. This will encompass research, location scouting, and design—anything we can do to get ahead. We'll finally get the green light at around 9pm on Wednesday night and the countdown to Saturday begins. All of our pre-production has to happen on Thursday—locations are found, sets are built, the crew is assembled, cameras and equipment gathered, art direction, props, wardrobe, wigs, you name it. It's all built from scratch every week and generally camera ready by 8am Friday morning for a piece that is cut, mixed, and finished by Saturday night. I forgot to underline that film production is happening parallel to rehearsals for the live show. This means that our cast and host have double duty and might spend the early morning with us before going back to 30 Rock to rehearse into the evening. Time is a very precious commodity at SNL! read more...

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