From storms almost shutting down shoots, to the creation of now-iconic digital shorts, Saturday Night Live film unit director Oz Rodriguez has seen it all during his seven seasons at the show.
With the digital series Creating Saturday Night Live, Rodriguez showcases the behind-the-scenes talent that fans don’t get to see, from VFX to makeup. The short-form series is nominated for its third Emmy in Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series this year.
“Most of the documentaries about SNL are about Lorne [Michaels], the cast, the host, and sometimes the writers, but being there for seven seasons, there’s so many talented people in every department,” says Rodriguez, who created, helms, and produces the series. “They have the best of the best in every spot. So I just wanted to show everyone who the amazing people I get to work with are.”
EW spoke to Rodriguez — the director behind popular digital shorts like “Kellywise” and “Walking Dead Chappelle’s Show“ — about his time on SNL, including his favorite guest hosts, the sketch that almost went horribly wrong, and more tidbits about the legendary sketch show.
The people hanging out with cast members in the intro credits are their actual friends
While some may assume that extras are hired to play the casts’ friends in the opening credits, Rodriguez says it’s actually not the case.
“We try to get them with their real friends…so it’s a real fun interaction,” Rodriguez reveals to EW. “If you see someone in the shot, it’s someone’s friend, the cast’s friend, usually.”
The most eagle-eyed SNL fans might have even recognized some of the various faces in past credits, like Aidy Bryant’s husband and comedy writer, Conner O’Malley, or Kate McKinnon’s sister, standup comic Emily Lynne.
Bruno Mars was a huge surprise
Rodriguez counts Matt Damon, Emma Stone, and Emma Thompson as some of the best guest hosts he worked with last season, and two of his favorite bits he got to direct included the instantly iconic shorts “Best Christmas Ever” with Damon and “The Actress” featuring Stone. But Rodriguez says there was one host throughout his tenure that unexpectedly blew him away.
“I remember when Bruno Mars hosted — that was my first year — that was a surprise,” Rodriguez says. “I just knew him as a singer. He did such a great job on that show. He is in my favorite thing I’ve done at SNL, it’s called ‘Sad Mouse’ (above) and he was great in it — I did not see that one coming.”
The sketch that almost went horribly wrong
Creating SNL showed that sometimes a set is barely finished being built when the camera starts rolling, and Rodriguez says there has been more than one occasion where filming almost went awry.
A full blizzard once happened during a shoot, but the worst was during a sketch parodying The Handmaid’s Tale, which Rodriguez and his team shot during a storm. Although they knew it was coming, they had no idea just how bad it was going to be.
“We also thought that the location was not going to flood and it did. So we had to — in the middle of it — reconfigure and move to another location,” Rodriguez says. “But it all magically worked out at the end, but half of the short is shot in one place, and half the short is shot in another place and they’re all edited together. … If you go and watch it, you’ll see the rain — you could not hide it.”
Rodriguez’s creative way to fight for a sketch
Competition is stiff to get your sketches to make the cut at SNL, and Rodriguez says in his first year 10-20% of what he shot didn’t make it. Later, he found a way to increase his chances of getting on the air, especially when working on more offbeat shorts that might not get picked at table reads on Wednesdays, and therefore not shot on Fridays.
“When I was working with Mike O’Brien, there were a couple videos that were a little bit weird and didn’t get picked,” Rodriguez says. “But we asked Lorne if we could do it on Tuesday and then show it at dress [rehearsal] and see if it worked. Those are some instances where we pushed to produce a video, and most of the time they worked.”
That was the case for shorts he directed like “The Jay-Z Story” (above) and “Monster Pals,” which eventually made it to air and into our hearts.
“Kellywise” was the hardest challenge for every department
One of the most-talked-about shorts that Rodriguez has directed is 2017’s “Kellywise,” which stars McKinnon in a parody of the horror movie It and its killer clown Pennywise. He says while a typical short asks a lot of one department, the taped sketch “was a challenge for every department,” as McKinnon went through four different looks: normal Kellyanne Conway, Kellywise, Kellywise with monstrous teeth, and Hillary Clinton. Additionally, there were rain towers and special effects (like Anderson Cooper’s arm getting ripped off) involved that made shooting even harder.
SNL returns Sept. 28 for a star-studded season 45 with guest hosts that include Eddie Murphy, Woody Harrelson, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Watch the behind-the-scenes secrets unfold on Creating Saturday Night Live below.
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