Alex Buono, the longtime director of photography for the Saturday Night Live Film Unit, clearly loves his job. He periodically takes to his blog to explain how he and his team go about creating some of SNL’s pre-taped material, writing with the breathless attention to detail that only comes from loving what you do. His latest post takes a deep dive into the creation of the new season’s opening sequence, and is a great read for both budding filmmakers and anyone who’s watched SNL’s opening credits evolve throughout the years.
Among the cool things Buono reveals about the new SNL title sequence: It incorporates a technique called “light-writing” that involves tracing a light source through the air using a long camera exposure. To achieve it, the team briefly considered stuffing a kitchen whisk full of steel wool, dousing it in lighter fluid, and setting it on fire, one of the many times the article proves that their job is cooler than yours.
For the 40th anniversary of SNL, Buono and company wanted a classic look that didn’t use too much post-production wizardry, so there are detailed descriptions of all the analog camera tricks they used to achieve flashy effects. For example, to get the weird-looking blades of light that sometimes slash across the screen as the cast members are being introduced, the team used a technique called “lens-whacking,” which required camera operators to move an unattached lens closer to and further away from the camera in order to manually focus the shot. The less ridiculous name for that technique is “freelensing,” but why anyone on a comedy show would call it “freelensing” when the term “lens-whacking” was available is hard to say.
Buono’s post also includes a lot of in-depth information about cameras, lighting, and other filmmaking essentials sure to please people into the more technical side of things. Behold the fruits of his labors below, and head to his blog to read the behind-the-scenes details.