In a time when every TV series is dissected by critics, journalists and fans—sometimes to the point of exhaustion—NBC’s late-night pillar Saturday Night Live retains the aura of excitement and mystery it has cultivated since it came on the air in 1975.
While Saturday Night Live sometimes takes the viewer behind the scenes (both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jimmy Fallon sang and danced their way through the 30 Rock corridors this season) SNL remains one of the more mysterious series in TV history. Watching the live late-night sketch comedy and variety show raises so many questions—Who are the individuals who take part in the series, behind the scenes or in the background, and how do they meet the intense demands of their jobs week after week, for years?
With Creating Saturday Night Live—a short-form series from SNL film unit director Oz Rodriguez, taken on during SNL‘s politically charged recent season—fans of SNL get an inside look at how the series is put together, encompassing everything from miraculous, rapid makeup changes to the process of putting together complex visual effects in a matter of hours. Throughout the video series, which honors behind-the-scenes players who have been with SNL for decades, a theme emerges: The superhuman speed and dexterity required to keep up with the series unlike any other.
“[Creating Saturday Night Live] is something that we’ve been talking about internally here for a while, because working here, we know all the work that goes into making the show—stuff that’s not documented as much,” Rodriguez explains. “One of the things we talked about is previous documentaries [on SNL]—they focus on Lorne [Michaels], and the first five years, and the cast and the writers, but so many amazing things are happening outside of that.”
Though Saturday Night Live benefits, in a sense, by keeping the magic of its creation a secret, per Rodriguez, there was no pushback from anyone at NBC when the short-form series was pitched. “I don’t think there was any desire to hold back,” he says.
Speaking with Deadline, Rodriguez recalled his own initial experience of being pulled into the fold and the manic rhythm of SNL. “It was pretty insane. It all happened very fast. I was in LA and I came to New York for an interview, and I think five weeks later, I was living here,” he says. “I’ve been asked if it was a dream come true. It’s not, really, only because I didn’t even know this position existed.” Creating SNL recalls the aspects of the late-night program that Rodriguez found most fascinating from the get-go—the live theatrics, of course, but also the work of the underappreciated, somewhat anonymous craftsmen involved.
Beyond the rapid-fire pace of the live broadcast, Rodriguez has also had a great deal of experience with the 24-hour work environment which is the stuff of SNL legend. In one episode of the short-form series, the final shot of an elaborate pre-tape is locked at 5 AM on Saturday morning, just hours before the night’s show, leaving the series’ editors to scramble. “That’s happened to me a few times, where the last shot is at six in the morning, and then you try to sleep a couple of hours, and go right in the edit room. It’s definitely a little grueling,” he says. “Once Wednesday comes around and everybody knows what the show’s going to be, the whole machine starts going, and you have the finish line, which is Saturday at 11:30 [PM]. It’s pretty satisfying that it’s on the air three days later, and if it works, it’s a great feeling.”
While Rodriguez and company want to retain some of the series’ mystery going forward, plans have been made for more episodes of the short-form series. “There’s more departments that we would like to look at. We have one almost done that looks at the control room, and the director of the live show, and the craziness that goes with keeping the show on time, having to go by the seat of your pants,” Rodriguez says. “The second half of the show, if the show’s running long, those guys have to figure how they’re going to make up that time, and it usually involves cutting a sketch that was seven pages down to, like, three pages. It’s crazy stuff that happens as the show is on the air.”
Beyond what is shown in Creating Saturday Night Live, Rodriguez also recalled his favorite moment from the memorable just-wrapped 42nd season of the series. “The [Dave] Chapelle one was the week of the election—it was an interesting week, I guess. It was weirdly, too, one of my favorite weeks of my work,” he admits. “Every time I tell this story, I feel weird saying that, because the vibe was not great. But I launched myself into the project, which was Dave’s Walking Dead idea. We had the chance of shooting it over two days, which never happens at the show. That was a truly interesting, weird, special week.”
For a taste of the short-form series—giving insight into the processes of the Hair and Makeup Department Heads on Saturday Night Live—click here.