Tag Archives: SNL

Brigsby Bear director Dave McCary

By Iain Blair

When Emmy-nominated writer and director Dave McCary, co-founder of the LA-based sketch comedy group Good Neighbor and in his fourth season at Saturday Night Live, decided to make his feature film debut, he picked the whimsical, heartfelt and charming comedy Brigsby Bear as the ideal project. It’s easy to see why. It has an imaginative, eccentric premise that ultimately pays off big time emotionally.

The story starts with a young man named James (SNL’s Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the script) who lives in an isolated desert bunker with his parents Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who, we learn, kidnapped him when he was a baby. To keep James engaged, and to ensure he learns important life lessons, fake dad Ted creates a fake TV show just for James, called The Adventures of Brigsby Bear, which stars Ted in a fake bear suit.

Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary

Superfan James is obsessed with the clever if quaintly goofy kids’ show. After all, the bright, sensitive young adult still living at home has grown up with this fantasy series, and the program has grown with him as well — getting more complex over the years. But to say James’ intensely protective parents have kept their son a bit sheltered is a huge understatement, and reality inevitably invades their sanctuary.

One dramatic night, James’ insular world is upended when the police arrive and haul James and his “parents” off into the real one. After arresting Ted and April, a cop (Greg Kinnear) reunites James with his biological parents, and his new world and reality demands a major adjustment — especially when he realizes that his hero Brigsby Bear is pure fiction.

I recently talked to McCary, who began his career making shorts and then directing some 75 “digital shorts” over the last four years at SNL (along with countless YouTube clips with Mooney and the rest of the Good Neighbor sketch group), about making the film and his love of post.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
The most honest version of this very unique story. I wanted it to be emotional and sincere, and we knew that with a story like this, there’d be big comedic moments, but we never wanted to lean too much on them. We wanted audiences to stay with the earnestness of James and the film. So, more of a dramatic film than anything we’ve ever done.

Is it true you dropped out of film school and are largely self-taught?
I didn’t enjoy it very much and I did drop out; I had no interest in learning about all the minutia of every department. In terms of being self-taught, I guess I always felt it was more important to just do it while learning as you went, and making videos and shorts was kind of like my film school. So I learned a lot that way and by putting stuff on the Internet and having to deal with your vulnerability and people commenting on your stuff. And at SNL I’ve had a lot of experience with the shorts. So unlike a lot of first-time directors, I’ve been doing about three films’ worth of shorts.

Plus you have a bunch of very experienced directors and producers who worked on this.
Exactly, we had Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the Lego Movie guys who also did the 21 Jump Street and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs franchises, as well as the Lonely Island guys — Andy Samberg and the others — who did stuff like Dick in a Box at SNL, and they all mentored us through the whole process. They loved our vision and voice, and we always felt protected.

You have an amazing cast, including Claire Danes and Mark Hamill. Were you shocked they all came on board?
Not shocked, but very happy such big names wanted to be a part of it. I knew the script was so special, just on the page, because of the great writing, and I felt people would respond — and they did. Pretty much everyone we approached was very positive. Then doing SNL and dealing with big name guests helps you deal with it too. No one is coddled or put on a pedestal. It was fun and everyone stayed loose and knew exactly what our approach was.

You shot this on location in Salt Lake City. How tough was it?
It was just 23 days, so that was tough, and we were on a very tight budget. But we had five weeks of preproduction, and we were pretty organized.

Where did you post, and do you like the post process?
We did it all in New York at Light Iron since I was juggling SNL at the same time. I love post, going through all the material and shaping it, and I love working on all the sound and music in particular.

Can you talk about working for the first time with editor Jacob Craycroft, who’s cut over 20 films including Robert Altman’s swan song, A Prairie Home Companion. Was he on the set?
No, the turnaround was so crazy he began cutting scenes before we finished the shoot, so we sent him stuff and then we sat down together once I got back to New York for about four months. The big challenge was making sure we had the right tone throughout — which was crucial — and picking our spots for the comedy.

The goal was to keep the audience invested in James’ emotional journey, and every time you get too silly it takes away from the realism and the emotional aspects. It all had to be believable. I think the broad comedy version of this film just felt tired — the old fish-out-of-water comedy, so reliant on all the jokes. But I wanted this to be more a story about friendship, closure, nostalgia and falling in love with filmmaking.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, you must have needed some VFX?
Yes, and they were mostly done by my friend Andrew Sherman, a very accomplished VFX dude, and he tackled most of it. Then we had some help on a few meticulous shots — like the TV screens and so on — by Visual Creatures in LA.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s one of my favorite parts of post, especially music, and going back and forth with composer David Wingo who’s so brilliant and who really got the tone perfectly. I didn’t want it to sound too whimsical. It’s a quirky film that needed the dramatic moments to be serviced with a sophisticated score, and he wrote this beautiful theme and constantly surprised us with beautiful pieces. I also love working on sound. I could mix forever. I always think there can be improvements, so you have to pick your priorities. Again, the goal was always realism. What sounds correct? So we did the least amount of manipulation.

How important was the DI to you?
To be honest, I just trusted DP Christian Sprenger and the team at Light Iron and colorist Ian Vertovec. They all did a great job with the look. I was very happy. Nothing ever turns out the exact way you originally picture it, and the film gradually evolved, but it ended up the way I hoped for the most part.

What’s next?
I’m reading scripts and trying to find that next special project. I’m also currently working on an untitled TV show that we hope to sell. I definitely want to direct more movies. After 10 years of directing shorts, I’m kind of sick of them.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

SNL’s Adam Epstein joins editorial creative house P.S. 260

Some of the funniest parts of Saturday Night Live are its commercial and film parodies… these are shot by the show’s film unit and edited by Adam Epstein. They include the show’s Justin Beiber Calvin Klein parody ads, starring Kate McKinnon and its series of Lincoln car “commercials” with Jim Carrey channeling Matthew McConaughey. Check out his reel here.

Epstein is taking his comedy editing talent to creative editorial boutique P.S. 260, where he will be working on real spots for agencies and brands.

Epstein says he’s making the move to P.S. 260 as a way to increase his presence in the advertising community and add more brand content to his portfolio. “They’re really plugged in to the ad scene, particularly in New York,” he says of his new home. “I’m looking to find more balance in the work I’m doing, which is what appealed to me about P.S. 260. I like having a mélange of projects to work on, and I got my start with advertising work. As far as I’m concerned, good work is good work, no matter the format. And it allows me to say ‘mélange’ from time to time.”

Epstein’s comedic touch with SNL commercial parodies should come as no surprise. He came up through the ad biz, starting on the West Coast as a producer and editor at Stun Creative before moving to the iconic post house Red Car and then Hybrid Edit, where he was lucky enough to work with some of the best editors, directors and creatives in the industry.

During his career he’s cut commercials and long-form ad content for a range of clients, including Adobe, Google, Hampton Inns and others, as well as broadcast promos (many of which he also writes and produces) for networks such as Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, SundanceTV and BET.

Recent projects includes his first feature, a Paramount Pictures comedy that was directed by SNL Film Unit director Rhys Thomas called Staten Island Summer, as well as the IFC show Documentary Now!, which stars former SNL talents Bill Hader and Fred Armisen.

“Adam is a comic genius who works under incredible deadlines,” says P.S. 260 managing partner Zarina Mak. “He’s a well-rounded creative talent with a broad insight into what makes things work from a comedy standpoint.”

Epstein’s connection with SNL grew out of his friendship with director Rhys Thomas, a P.S. 260 alum, who invited him to work on a short for the program when Thomas was producing for the show’s Film Unit. Together with DP Alex Buono and producer Justus McLarty, the team has elevated the look and feel of the show’s parody ads, making them at times almost indistinguishable from more traditional broadcast ads in terms of production value and finish.

“We purposely wanted to get away from the fake look that you often see in commercial parodies,” Epstein explains. “Our belief was that the ad parodies should look and feel as professional as something we had a lot of time to work on.”

“Adam is a profoundly sharp and funny guy — the type of editor you look forward to being locked in a room with all day,” says P.S. 260 editor and partner Maury Loeb. “Besides being technically solid and having an amazing understanding of comedy, his great talent as an editor is his ability to establish the perfect overall tone of a piece. Whether it’s creating a pitch-perfect parody or inventing a particular feel for original material, Adam does a masterful job of establishing a brilliant look and feel for everything he does. It’s a testament to his creativity and wonderful sensibility.”

Epstein likes to share his love of editing and techniques with the industry. For example, he was a guest at this year’s NAB Creative Masters series, where he sat for a one-on-one Q&A, and in 2014 conducted a two-month, 32-city tour called “The Cutting Edge Post Production Tour,” where he ran full-day seminars on the finer points of post. He also points out that he may be one of the only editors working in advertising today to have lost on Jeopardy —  he appeared 14 years ago.

In honor of Adam’s new job, we reached out with just a couple of questions:

Will you continue editing the SNL shorts? If so, how will you split your time?
Yes, I’m still planning on continuing to work on the shorts. As we don’t shoot those pieces until the day before the show, I’m normally only in SNL land on Fridays and Saturdays of show weeks. And as it is, the show is not every week, so between the down weeks and the first half of show weeks, there should be plenty of time to spread around.

Did you cut this past Saturday’s Thanksgiving dinner segment?
I actually didn’t work on that one! Our team was assigned the Star Wars/Force Awakens Auditions. The Thanksgiving piece was cut by wonderful Kelly Lyon and directed by Matt & Oz.

While at P.S. 260 will you only focus on comedy spots or all spots?
I love working on comedy spots as it tends to mean I get to work with funny, humor-centric people. But that being said, I definitely would love to work on as many styles and vibes of spot as possible. Good work is good work, and mixing it up is always a good idea.

‘Live From New York’…. it’s Mari, the doc’s editor

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.

Mari Keiko Gonzalez

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.

Studio 8H

Studio 8H

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.”

Adam Epstein talks about his Cutting Edge Post Production Tour

By Randi Altman

If your job involved editing a short film for Saturday Night Live each week, sometimes needing to turn the job around in less than 24 hours, how would you spend your summer vacation? On a beach? Sleeping?

Well, not if you are Adam Epstein. Last weekend, the SNL film unit editor started his 32-city Cutting Edge Post Production Tour. This Emmy-nominee will be zig-zagging the country, with a couple of stops in Canada, sharing tips, stories and examples of his work, until the third week of September when the new season of Saturday Night Live begins.

Why in the world? Well, he got the idea from co-worker Alex Buono, the DP on SNL’s film unit, who did a Cinematic Lighting tour last summer. “It went really well and he had a great time,” Continue reading

Meet the Artist: Adam Epstein

Adam Epstein2

Independent artist Adam Epstein (http://adam-epstein.com, @eppyad) spends his time editing the short films that appear on Saturday Night Live, cutting commercials and writing.

A film editor at Saturday Night Live, repped by Hybrid Edit for commercials, and a writer for Tribeca Film.

For SNL, I edit the weekly film pieces produced by the SNL Film Unit. For Hybrid Edit, I cut traditional ad agency spots.

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