SNL Film Unit Works Until the Very Last Minute Every Week

Saturday Night Live’s film unit is an incredibly tenacious group of individuals who are somehow able to pull it off just in the nick of time every week. They first meet the host on Monday to figure out what they’re going to do for the promo — which they shoot, edit, mix, and deliver on Tuesday as soon as possible — so it can be on TV that night! 

Wednesday is all about production, out of the ten to twelve pre-tape scripts that are written, two or three are picked to film. Then it’s answering important questions about costumes, the set, how many wigs they’ll need, what style they’re looking for, etc. Meanwhile, the cast members start disappearing to do rehearsals for the live sketches. 

By Thursday morning all department heads go location scouting and have to be back in time for the rewrite session. Someone can pitch an idea during the rewrite session that could change everything they worked on so far. After the rewrite they start working on the schedule, the budget, and figuring out the logistics of how Friday will play out. Set builders work all throughout the night in order to be ready to film by Friday morning. A lot of times the set builders will be working right up until when they need to start shooting. 

On Friday they have to shoot, no matter what the weather conditions or anything else that’s trying to stop them. While they’re still shooting on Friday, post production is working hard to organize and cut together the footage so the directors have something to see the second they’re done shooting.

“Saturday is game day. No matter what we’re working on, this is going to be on television tonight.”

Adam Epstein, SNL Film Editor 

Every minute of Saturday is spent editing, creating visual effects, getting the audio mixed, the video color corrected, before sending it off to dress rehearsal at 8:00 pm. 

At SNL they use dress rehearsal to see what makes the audience laugh before the live show at 11:30 pm. If the audience doesn’t respond well, it’s probably going to get cut. 

Right after it airs at dress rehearsal, they only have an hour and a half to make all the changes they need to before the live show. A lot of the time they’re literally working up until the very last second. 

With all the stress and pressure it makes you wonder how they’ve been able to do it for 45 seasons and counting. Why do they keep coming back week after week? As SNL’s Production Designer, Andrea Purcigliotti, put it, “…cuz, it’s the best job in the world.” If that smile on her face doesn’t inspire you to keep working and grinding in a film crew, then I don’t know what will. 

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