Saturday Night Live's Film Unit: Making TV Fast

Creative COW by Kylee Wall

The SNL Film Unit – the group behind those pre-taped film and commercial parody segments – produces at least one spot for every episode of SNL. And they do it from scratch every show week, a dead sprint for each Saturday night. You'd think these crazy turnarounds might lead to weekly panic and despair but when you talk to the Film Unit's Director of Photography and Editor – freelancers Alex Buono and Adam Epstein – you're painted a picture of a well-oiled machine with an improvisational film spirit.

Don't get me wrong: a broadcast deadline is a frenzy, but this team has developed a confidence in themselves and each other over the last several years they've been working together, led by the Film Unit's director/producer Rhys Thomas, and that confidence is augmented by a trust in their tools to let them push the boundaries of what's possible in a couple days even further.

Director of Photography Alex Buono has been with SNL's Film Unit since 1999. After graduating from USC film school, he worked as a camera assistant on big studio films like Twister and Armageddon, while shooting indie features, music videos, anything anyone would let him shoot.

Alex made his way to a gig with SNL when he was working on an independent feature film that was being produced by the then-producer of the Film Unit while the show was on hiatus. She invited him to come try shooting a spot when the show started up again, so he did – and kept getting brought back by long-time SNL veteran director and founder of the Film Unit, James Signorelli: "I was very very lucky. By no means was I actually qualified to shoot the film unit at that point in my career, but Jim and I got along personally and he kept bringing me back." read more...

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