On the seventh episode of (Out of) Office Hours, Chris is joined by two film-editing brothers from Saturday Night Live, Sean and Ryan McIlraith. They share how their workflows have changed to produce SNL At Home while everyone’s remote. Hear about the setups they’re working with, how their team has learned to increase their production value week after week, and much more. Here’s a recap of what went down and some helpful links for you to dig deeper!
During a recent “Video of the Week” segment, Chris shared a clip of SNL’s introduction for their first-ever remote episode, SNL At Home. He was inspired by how their team leaned into post-production to put out something that still felt very in line with the SNL we know and love, despite recording with iPhones and laptop webcams.
We have to say, the whole episode was pretty darn inspiring given their creative constraints, and here to talk about the editing and production process that’s happening behind-the-scenes are Sean and Ryan live from Long Island, New York. The McIlraith brothers are currently quarantined together, which makes working for SNL a little easier because they’re right down the hall from each other, but their workflows have definitely changed tremendously. Focusing on the current state of affairs, Chris jumps right into his conversation with the post-production forces behind so many SNL Digital Shorts. Let’s get into it!
While everyone was quarantined, was it possible to produce SNL? Chris wondered what early conversations were like regarding putting on the show.
Sean said 30 Rock went on lockdown due to the pandemic on March 9, and they had a show coming up on March 28. He was in the middle of editing a digital series he co-produced called “Stories from the Show,” but continued working on that piece from home. This was their team’s first foray into a remote workflow, which was really intimidating, but they got through it. As the air date started creeping up, Sean was getting phone calls from producers and directors saying there were whispers that the show was happening. A week before the air date, they got the confirmation that SNL At Home was happening. There were numerous frantic phone calls back and forth, but Sean said that’s one of the beautiful things about working at SNL — it’s fast-paced and scrappy.
Ryan said, “I think we looked at each other when we heard that and were like, ‘Oh man, this is going to be a ton of work. We don’t really know how this is going to work out. But we’re totally down to do it.'”
Having watched both episodes, Chris noticed an increase in production value between the first week of SNL At Home and the second week. He asked, “Was there a realization after week one that post-production could actually open up more creative opportunities in those sketches?”
Sean described how not as many people were involved during week one because the green-light confirmation came with only a week to spare. It was only their skeleton crew, and a lot of cast members were just doing stuff by themselves. The first week was still collaborative, but by the second episode, he agreed there was definitely a market change. Everyone became all hands on deck.
Ryan said they were informed two weeks in advance that the second episode would air so they had more time to figure out what they were going to do. Everyone responded so well to the first episode that people were ready to push themselves to see if they could make productions a little bigger and feel more like normal Digital Shorts.
As a follow-up to how they leveled up their production value, Chris wanted to know if there was a technical crash course that was provided to some of the actors who utilized ring lights, lav mics, green screens, and other gear.
Crediting Adam Nicely, a producer on the show who’s extremely tech-savvy, and Michael DeProspo, a technical supervisor, Sean said these guys might’ve worked harder than anybody to get the cast and writers up and running with their gear. They’re basically supervising every Zoom call. By the second episode, directors were also on Zoom calls helping set up shots. In addition, the technical department put together a whole manual for the cast and writers about how to operate the equipment they mailed out to them.
When it comes to Sean and Ryan’s involvement in the production process, they’ve been in closer contact with writers and cast members on a day-to-day basis. Normally, they’d get scripts on a Wednesday night, talk with directors on Thursday, shoot Friday, and independently do their own cuts to present to directors on Saturday morning. But for the second episode, Ryan said from the moment he got a script, he was working with the cast member, Kyle Mooney, and the writer. They were on calls every 30 minutes trying to figure out how to shoot good ideas on a green screen.
While they’re editing from home, Sean described their gear situation as looking a little dire these past two episodes. Sean’s using his standard spec 13” Macbook Pro to edit and his television as a second monitor. This setup cut four sketches for the first episode. Talk about DIY!
Chris and Ryan spoke about the fact that remote video production is pigeonholed by bandwidth. The infrastructure is not in place to be sharing files very quickly, especially when everyone’s using bandwidth right now in this remote world.
Ryan mentioned it’s not the creatives’ jobs to know what bandwidth even is, either. At SNL, they’re so accustomed to doing stuff quickly that in a situation like this, they don’t think twice about how long it takes to download 200GB (which could take six or seven hours).
The truth is, Sean and Ryan are surely feeling an increase in pressure under these constraints. They’re working 16-hour days four or five days a week. But, they’re incredibly fulfilling. The entire post-production team across the board — post coordinator, supervisor, assistant editors — are all coming together and working harder than ever.
In the last episode, Sean said two editors who used to work on the show even came back to help cut pieces. He said, “It’s like everybody came home to make this thing happen.”
“It’s like everybody came home to make this thing happen.”
Folks out there also had some questions for The McIlraith brothers. Scrub to these timestamps to hear their responses:
30:46 — Is there any color pass or finishing process on your end?
31:25 — How do you think this period of working remotely will influence your workflows once you don’t have to work remote?
33:50 — What’s the single most useful source you can recommend for someone who wants to improve their cutting skills? Any youtube channel or online course?
36:40 — In a normal week there are more sketches at dress than at air, sketches get cut. Is that still happening now? Are shorts getting cut and thrown out before air, or is that not a luxury you guys have at this point?
That about wraps up this episode recap! Enjoying the topics we’re covering? We want to know how we can be genuinely helpful moving forward. Let us know what challenges you’re struggling with when it comes to video lately by hitting up Chris on Twitter @crlvideo or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach out to Wistia directly on Twitter @wistia. We hope to hear from you soon! See you next time.