Kristine Pregot, a long-time post supervisor who is now a senior producer at New York City’s Nice Shoes, sat down with Mari Keiko Gonzalez to chat about the editorial process on Live From New York!, an 81-minute documentary focusing on the 40-year history of the iconic television show Saturday Night Live, particularly the early years.
Pregot had worked with Gonzalez (@marikeikog) on Jay-Z’s Live from MSG: Answer the Call, and while Nice Shoes didn’t have any involvement in the film, Pregot thought this was a great story to share. So enjoy this conversation between to working pros and friends.
So I guess let’s just start from the beginning. How did you get involved with Live From New York!?
Executive producer JL Pomeroy and I worked together before. She has this events company called Jumpline — her clients are Cartier, David Yurman, Tiffany and the Costume Designer Guild Awards. So she is a woman who knows how to throw a party. I met her through a producer who was hoping to turn the Costume Designer Guild Awards into a TV show. And here’s this woman who’s super smart, I mean she’s like the most incredible marketer that I have ever met in my life. Anyway, the first time she ever did a television show — The Costume Designer Guild Awards, which aired on Reelz — I was her editor.
So you were her “first.”
Yes. You have your first editor, and that’s like your first love — I’ve just worked with her ever since. During our second year doing the Costume Designer Guild Awards for television, we were editing at Broadway Video (owned by SNL’s Lorne Michael’s), and it happened that Lorne’s costume designer Tom Broecker, who is the other executive producer on the film, was there.
I did think it was interesting that a costume designer was the EP on Live From New York.
Lorne was getting an award, and Tom has a ton of awards — he also was the designer for House of Cards for the first season and set the look for the show that everybody talks about. JL always wanted to do something with Lorne and he loved the costumes vignette in the middle of the awards show. I didn’t edit that package — JL has an LA-based team of people that do those sizzles— but we incorporated that montage into the show. Lorne really loved it and Jack Sullivan, who is the president of Broadway Video, did as well. So I emailed Jack and asked him to meet JL Pomeroy. She had meetings with Lorne and she became really good friends with Tom. She also had meetings with Bob Greenblatt, who’s the head of NBC. Everybody said yes.
She pitched the whole film?
Originally they were suppose to be like interstitials, but they ended up being welcomed into the fabric of telling the story of 40 years of Saturday Night Live.
All of a sudden we were in 8H shooting all of these people — from Chevy Chase to Laraine Newman to Frank Rich, Bill O’Reilly, Mayor Giuliani, Garrett Morris, Chris Rock — it was amazing. They wanted to talk about Saturday Night Live and how in a lot of ways Lorne was really ahead of his time. He’s a very private person and you don’t really see him on camera much in this film. He was so young to be given that opportunity. The show took form and they became instant celebrities.
They were saying a lot of really racy things that nobody wanted to talk about. Jane Curtin says it too — they were sick of the Vietnam War, they were sick of Watergate and they needed to talk about it. Saturday Night Live was the perfect platform for that. Even Tom Brokaw, who is another one of our subjects, was so candid and wonderful. He was in NBC doing the Nightly News and he would hang out with a lot of the cast afterwards and would go to the shows a lot.
I worked on a show with Chris Rock on Totally Biased, and he would give all the writers lessons by always referring back to Lorne and the “the SNL Comedy School”… how to push buttons and continue to push buttons.
Exactly. Chris Rock talked about Lorne like, “We’re gonna go toe to toe.” You know, he loves Lorne. Also he’s very appreciative of all the people he learned from when he was there. There is no other show that is live, where they’re building sets every week and people are really part of the whole process. They sew costumes, and things can get cut in dress rehearsal, and then you have to do something else.
What was so interesting to me is that the viewer learns that every single person on the crew — the director, the stagehands, the cue card people, the writers, the lighting people — has to be “on point.”
Right, everybody. You can’t miss your mark. You can’t because then the house of cards will go down. You know it’s like everybody’s role is so vital to the 11:30pm time slot. They have a process that they do Monday through Saturday, but every week is different because the content is different. It’s like doing live theater. I’ve been to the show a few times before I worked on the film, and it’s really incredible to see how they wheel those sets in and out and how they build them out in the studio. It’s amazing.
I love that you incorporated so many components of the set creation as well. I didn’t realize how involved the set constructions are.
It’s a big part of it. It’s a huge part of the show. From the performers to the writers, on all these sketches, everybody is working in tandem. It was hard to do that in 81 minutes, to tell that story. It’s really the people that make the show. It’s really about you and your craft.
The movie did such a great job highlighting how Lorne really is the show. How he put it together, and then the year that he left it fell apart.
Yeah, it fell apart. Candice Bergen said, “I forgot what an incredible producer he is. The notes that he gave were spot on.” That’s what he does. He knows comedy. That’s a big task to come to New York as a young Canadian guy and find the best talent. And just because you’re talented doesn’t mean you’ll work on SNL. There are a lot of people that didn’t work well on SNL. There are so many people that got turned away. Again, they have huge careers, but I think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that show.
Can you speak to a little bit about the feminist component of the film?
We really wanted to show a lot of the diverse opinions about sexism and it being a boys’ club. I think it depended on the time that you were there, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus said it was absolutely sexist. Whereas Laraine Newman says it was always a meritocracy. John Belushi refused to perform in any sketches with women. He didn’t think women were funny. And he loved Gilda Radner but he and Jane famously didn’t get along. He would always try to get the women writers fired and Anne Beatts talks about that in the film.
Everybody loved Gilda and had the most wonderful things to say about her. Everybody just remembers her so fondly and I mean she’s like Lucille Ball, an incredible comic and person. The part about sexism was really interesting. I think what Tina Fey said is important — that when a room is 70/30 male to female, things are going to play differently than they might to the audience. So if the scales were more balanced, if it was 50/50 in the writers room then the people would receive the material in a different way.
Who are you going to hire? You’re going to hire your friends because that’s who you know. I think it was hard for Garrett, not just because he was African-American, but because of his background. He came from a very different background than everybody else that was on the show. There weren’t really roles for him. Keenan had to deal with that too — since there were no black women on the show he had to play women in drag. That’s what Garrett did all the time too.
I personally find it refreshing when people go to the extreme with jokes.
I think it’s hysterical. I mean look at Margaret Cho. It’s the same thing. You need to be able to make fun of yourself. She has all these running monologues about her Korean mother and it’s hysterical. I don’t think there should be a rule about what you can and cannot talk about. It’s comedy.
How did you not laugh your ass off all day long… or did you? What was it like?
We did! I was present for a lot of the New York interviews. We went to Al Franken’s office, but mostly people came to 30 Rock. They loved being in the building — it’s the history that everyone has such an attachment to. Just the interviews are hilarious and the sketches are so funny. There are ones that you want to see over and over.
You’ve edited a lot of music. How would you compare editing music to comedy?
It’s actually a really seamless transition, because when you’re editing live music or live shows, as with comedy, it’s very spontaneous. You don’t really know what’s going to happen, you sort of have a guide like a click track in comedy. If you know the material, it’s all about timing. You have to know when to edit and when to let it play. Sometimes the silence is what’s so funny. Some comedians are better at that than others. When you’re moving from topic to topic you have to be really mindful to let things breathe a little bit. It’s just a feeling. It’s just like music. People will ask, “Why did you cut it that way?” or “How did you know this was it?” The answer is, “because it feels right.”
Sometimes the editor needs to create space so the audience can enjoy the punch line and not miss the setup for the next joke. It’s about timing.
How long did the editing process take for this film?
We started slowly because we were in the midst of shooting the interviews. At first the title was Live From New York: An Expected History of America. Initially I was just editing down the interviews and pulling other archival source material. Our archivist didn’t come on until months into the movie. I think we finished the offline in 10 months, which again isn’t that long considering the amount of material.
Was that your full-time gig?
Yes, pretty much. Just the interviews alone… some were an hour long. We had Al Gore, Mayor Giuliani and a lot of the show’s writers too. We had another editor, David Osit, come on in the fall and he worked on the back end of the movie. We just kept refining it together.
So what are the next steps? Do you know yet?
It premiered at Tribeca and it’s going to screen at a few more festivals before opening in theaters in June. It’s going to open in 15 cities, which is really exciting. In the fall it’s going to air on NBC primetime.
What was your relationship with this show growing up?
I was seven when it first aired and my babysitters would always stay up to watch it on Saturday nights, and I would sneak in to watch it. I didn’t know the jokes, and I didn’t know who The Stones were, but it was just great because we got to stay up late. I’m a history geek, I’m a New Yorker and I was a political activist. It was great to be able to learn through the comedy and then to revisit that being an adult. Being able to appreciate all that humor, to be like “Oh my God I can’t believe they are saying this stuff.”