Saturday Night Live received near universal praise for its recent Wes Anderson spoof, “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders,” and rightfully so. The two and a half minute fake horror film trailer wasn’t just funny, it also managed to nail the signature look, style, and tone of Anderson’s films, which added an extra layer to the whole thing that really drove it home. And now, thanks to the show’s director of photography, Alex Buono, we know how they pulled it off.
Earlier this week, Buono wrote a lengthy account of the making-of and behind-the-scenes maneuvering surrounding the sketch, and it is truly fascinating. The majority of it deals with the technical aspects of mimicking Anderson’s style — camera types, color schemes, aspect ratios, finding a suitable, woodsy Anderson-style setting in or around Manhattan, etc. — but the most interesting part, for me, was the ending, where Buono writes about the team of sleep-deprived editors and staff still making small changes and last-minutes fixes to the trailer even after the Edward Norton hosted episode had started to air live on the East Coast.
We pick up the story there:
There are two major deadlines for the Film Unit. The Dress Rehearsal starts at 8pm – for which the goal is to have the spot fully mixed and color corrected, but sometimes it’s not quite there yet. Then, of course, the live show starts at 11:30pm, and you’d think that would be a pretty hard and fast deadline …. except in this case, when Rhys and Adam were truly down to the wire – scrambling to finish revision notes from the dress rehearsal, minor voiceover changes and final color fixes. Rhys was downstairs in the studio edit bay where the final picture and mix are married together and uploaded to the live switcher. As Rhys was watching down the final cut, he noticed two errors: one shot slipped into the cut without being “un-squeezed” and another repositioned shot had lost its repo. We all know that these kinds of errors happen all the time, but they rarely happen when you are literally gun-t0-the-head, minutes away from a live broadcast.
It’s now well past 11:30pm — but our spot technically wasn’t airing until after the 2nd commercial so we’re basically in penalty time. Rhys is racing to explain to Adam over the phone which shots need to be fixed. Now remember: I hadn’t slept in what feels like days at this point and all I recall is Adam working his stylus at lightning speed, whispering to himself, “It’s gonna be close…it’s gonna be reeeeal close…” Too close, in fact — as Rhys was then told by the studio that we were out of time; they would have to run the version with the errors. CUT TO: CLOSE UP – Rhys’ face, crushed in defeat. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Rhys, Adam had just uploaded the fixes to the server, then raced over to the live monitor and just held his breath as our spot went live exactly 20 seconds later.
What none of us knew at the time is that the studio associate director, Matt Yonks, decided to roll the dice and play the fixed spot directly to the air. The spot was literally still loading into the switcher as it was being broadcast out. Holy crap. Thank you, Yonks!
And then, on the 17th floor of 30 Rockefeller Center at about 11:50pm, there was a flurry of high-fives and fist-bumps and woop-woop!’s as our spot – fixes and all – made the air.
And I guess that’s how we did it.
I really recommend reading the whole thing, especially if you’ve got a bit of an inner film geek in you. Then, go back and watch the sketch again. It’ll blow you away.