Inside Saturday Night Live's Production Process with Hannah Levy, Director


By Assemble

March 29, 2023

Hannah Levy has written and directed Saturday Night Live sketches for the likes of Billie Eilish, John Mulaney and Kim Kardashian. She is now repped by Tool of North America and has her first film in development with Paramount.

In this episode, Hannah tells us the story of getting signed to direct at SNL, and takes us through their warp speed creative development and production processes that happens like clockwork every single week. She also tells us the tools and techniques she personally uses to visualize and direct her material.

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Nate Watkin: Welcome to our show, Hannah

Hannah Levy: Thanks, Nate.

Nate Watkin: So I always love to start the show, just learning about your origin story, and would love to hear just a brief description of your childhood and what you dreamed of being when you grew up.

Hannah Levy: Yeah, I grew up in suburban New Jersey like the Philly suburbs, not the, the New York suburbs. It's a very important Jersey distinction to the Jersey heads out there. But yeah, I I mean, I was kind of always interested in tv. I loved tv. I like TV was just like a huge part of my childhood. Watching 30 Rock watching Scrubs, some of those like, you know, n NBC Thursday nights were like a huge, huge part of my week. And I think that plus some of the kind of silliest comedies of, of that time, most importantly Austin Powers were like very defining to me. And and I think without fully knowing, it was like, oh, I wanna make stuff like that. And it's kind of funny because as I, you know, got into high school and then college, I knew that I wanted to pursue film and, and TV stuff.

And but then I, I found myself in these film classes surrounded by, I mean, a lot of film bros who were like blade Runner is awesome. And so I was like, you know, for a time I was like, yeah, blade Runner is awesome, but actually what I think is really cool is Austin Powers, you know? So I think for me, a lot of those, it, it, I sort of started in a place, kind of tried to like, fit in with the film bros and then sort of accepted internally that no, Austin Powers is my north, my North Star spiritually. So yeah, that was kind of the, the early days. I, I knew I wanted to do comedy and, and film. In college I went to Brown and I, I kind of got involved in like the film festival there and the, like, you know, the TV station, which, you know, I would put in hard quotes.

And then I was kind of missing this like, comedy side of things, and I decided to apply for this program in Chicago where it's sort of like a semester abroad. But you're in Chicago, you're taking classes at Second City full-time. And so I did that my senior year. And I kind of fell in love with the comedy scene in Chicago specifically. It sort of felt like a place where it was a little bit less professionally focused than like New York or la and people were kind of just there trying things out. So after I graduated college, I, I kind of knew that I wanted to go back to Chicago. And after like a brief stint in New York, I, I, my first job out of college was in New York. I was working for Huffington Post and putting together like Vine Comp compilations and like other just kind of like video mashups. It was like 2014. And that was sort of the, the age of video mashups. And I, I didn't enjoy it too much, and I, I kind of decided to cut it off and, and just go for it in Chicago and just try to figure things out. But I realized I kind of went beyond childhood . Are there any other, were there any other childhood questions that you had, or should I just keep going?

Nate Watkin: Yeah, no, I think you covered it. And I love Chicago, so good choice. Good choice. And I think at least in the, the earlier stages of your career, you were working at The Onion and Funnier Die mm-hmm. . And so how did you get connected there and, and what was that experience like?

Hannah Levy: Well yeah, so when I first moved to Chicago, I had no job. And I I was like, you know, I'm gonna get a day job, and then I'll take classes, I'll take sketch classes. I moved in with a friend of mine from that comedy program who's still a close friend of mine, and we were kind of, you know, working on stuff together. And so I just started applying to jobs and I kept getting rejected from like, donut shops and coffee shops and everything, and I was like, well, this isn't looking good. But I finally got I finally got a gig working at the GrubHub customer service call center. And so I would do that from three to midnight with Monday and Tuesday off. And then I was taking sketch classes and then I had learned about an internship at The Onion that I applied for, and then was rejected from because I was apparently too qualified because I had just had some working experience and I was out of college at that point.

And the, the people who ran the internship or the the video team at The Onion reached out to me a little bit later to say, Hey, we have this fellowship program would you apply? And so I, I did apply. It was, it was one of the one of the more fun and also kind of intimidating job processes in, in my life because I mean, first of all, it was like my first opportunity to kind of get paid to do the thing that I wanted to do. So the, the stakes felt high, but, but it was like a really process oriented job interview where they took a video that was already on the Onion site down, and then they shared all the footage that they shot for that video. And then you had to like, cut together your own version of it and and like kind of add foot, add, you know, stock footage and music and like, you just had to, basically, they were testing whether you understood the tone of the onion.

So from there, I kind of like made it to a round of finalists and and then got this fellowship and it was like, I, I ended up working at The Onion for almost two years doing videos for The Onion and then doing videos for Quick Hole. And it was like a really, really great experience. It, it was like kind of like comedy grad school maybe. It was really fun. We had no money at all. And especially on the ClickHole side. Clickhole is kind of a website that parodies the internet. And at that time, you know, 20 14, 20 15, it was like buzzfeed and Buzzfeed Bliss and Upworthy and inspirational videos and tabletop recipe videos. And like all of these new kind of things that were really ripe for parody were just coming into existence. And we got to kind of parody all of them in this really absurd way.

And then, you know, on the ClickHole side, our budgets for the videos were, were $50 each, so it was a lot of, you know, doing every part of the process. Like, I would go to Target, I would get the props, I would like, get costumes that I would return later. And then we'd just ask for a ton of favors. We shot everything on five D's for the most part. And then, you know, I'd edit everything too. So it was this like tight-knit video team and in general, like, you know, the, the staff at The Onion was all like kind of a, a really great community. And so it was a really fun time to try things and to kind of learn how to make something with nothing. And from there I went to Funnier Die. My, my coworker from The Onion left and then hired me at funnier Die.

And and I started there as an editor editing sketches. And it was sort of, you know, maybe between, between the Onion and snl, there's a middle ground that was funnier Die. You know, to me the, the budgets of like a couple thousand dollars or at most like $15,000 seemed like this astronomical amount of money to spend on sketches cuz I was coming from this $50 a video world. And the thing that was great about funnier Die was that it was sort of, even though I started as an editor, I knew that I wanted to write in direct and there's a, there at the time that I was there, a pretty open pitching environment. So I just sort of organically was able to kind of make the transition from editing to also writing and directing. And at that time I was also put in an office with Adriana Cruz, who is actually a tool director now as well.

And we just started giving each other notes on sketches and then she was an editor as well. And we would kind of cut together just, you know, little bits of pop culture things that, that would then end up on the website and, and do really well. And from there they kind of gave us both more and more responsibility. We, our first thing that we got to write in direct was I, if you remember the Buzzfeed Tasty videos, it was like, there was a camera overhead and then there was a lot of like, hyper lapses and you'd see how, you know, someone would make like Monkey Bread or whatever. We did like, you know, an absurd joke version of that where it would be like how to make milk and then you'd see the hands like pull apart Oreos and just shave the like white cream into a bowl, and then the hands would add water and then they'd kind of slosh it around and then pour it into a milk carton.

But like that sort of thing. And then we kind of graduated to getting to make sketches with you know, living, breathing humans in them. But you know, web comedy is very precarious and that the, the creative side, the, the non-branded side of the website sort of shut down in I don't, I wanna say like early 2018 or something. So we got to do that for about three years. And then and then the entire creative stuff was laid off, which is sort of just the fact of life for working in web comedy in that that time.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And, and to jump in there, I mean, it sounds like the perfect career progression though, to get where you are now at snl. Like, I can't imagine better training ground than The Onion and then Funnier Die and then now snl. So looking back at that time with both The Onion and Funnier Dye, what would you say were the key lessons that you learned?

Hannah Levy: That's a great question. I think that one, starting as an editor was really invaluable to know what pieces are gonna be most important. Because getting to snl, the thing that you don't have is the luxury of time. So you have to make decisions really quickly. You have to be able to look at your shot list and say, I would love to get this shot, but I know that I don't need it to make the, the joke work. And I think starting and editing and having that grounding really kind of gave me that skill. And then other lessons, I think at The Onion I learned the importance of tone. Because, you know, when I did the Onion work or ClickHole work, they both were really dependent on their respective tones. Like The Onion, you have to play everything super straight, treat it like a real news like never, never hit the joke too hard, always kind of like breeze through the joke and then a click hole.

You're kind of like, we were defining this sort of new absurd style. And I think taking the time ahead of time to be like, what should this feel like and how should that affect our performances? And how do we achieve that through the look and the editing and the music. Those were things I really learned first at The Onion and then we're sort of skills that were enhanced at Funnier Die, and then at Funnier Die. I think one thing I learned that still is, you know, super important to me today is the importance of, of getting alt jokes on set because that also sort of ties back to the edit, but I love to have options in the edit. And sometimes, you know, I think a lesson a lot of people who do comedy have learned is that when everybody's laughing on set, that can be kind of bad news for the edit. Something that might work just with, you know, the people who are, who are sitting around monitor and kind of like riffing might not translate to the finished video. So when you kind of come in with a lot of options you're sort of building yourself multiple routes to success in the finished product.

Nate Watkin: That's really interesting cuz you know, they always say directing comedy is the hardest directing. So interesting to hear your path and the way that you had these different angles of comedy and these different types of comedy, like the very dry deadpan onion comedy and then going to Funnier Die, which is probably a little bit more a different style. Right. Totally. So, so yeah, that, that's interesting. And then I also noticed you mentioned you were taking sketch classes. Was that acting classes?

Hannah Levy: No I am very much a behind the camera person. Okay. So it's really bad news for me to be the first person on this podcast now that it's a video podcast as well. But , no yeah, I I was taking sketch writing classes. Got it. When I was at school the one form of performance that like kind of everybody was doing was we were all doing these comedic PowerPoints. And that I like doing that was sort of the one form of performing I enjoyed where you could kind of play character, but it was mostly like you had pre-written these jokes and found images that would help kind of like you could play off of. But yeah, I've, I've definitely never really been an actor.

Nate Watkin: Got it. Yeah, no, I was curious if that was just another way that you honed your craft by actually getting in front of the camera, but but no, it makes sense. I'm, I'm a behind, behind the camera person as well. And so after working at Funnier Die, eventually you get connected with snl, which is a dream job for most up incoming directors, especially in the comedy space. So would love to hear the story of how you got that connection and, and how you started there and, and what it's been like since then.

Hannah Levy: Yeah, totally. The story of how I got there was basically that between Funnier di sort of ending and me starting at snl. I started at SNL with Adriana Cruz. We, we started as a team and then about halfway through our time there we separated and then started doing our individual work. But our, our mentor at Funnier Die is this person Harper Steele. And she was a former SNL head writer and had sort of always thought that we would be great people to, to be video directors at snl. And so, you know, she kind of put in the good word. And then we sort of applied through the, like, the channel of like agents and got an interview. Our agents were able to get our reel in front of in front of, you know, the, the powers that be at snl.

So we got this interview and the interview process I think really varies depending on who you are. I think it's more just like sometimes the show doesn't know whether a position is open until later in the summer. But so we kind of started this pro process of interviewing and had one interview probably in July with the person who would be our boss and then kind of didn't hear anything and then had another interview with some producers from the show. That actually kind of went comically bad comically poorly because we, we were meeting at like a hotel restaurant and then we got there early and, you know, gave the host our, our name and then the reservation, and then the host just took the reservation off the system. So we sat down and then when, when they arrived, they, they weren't like, oh yeah, you're, the rest of your party is sitting over there.

They were like, oh, we don't have a reservation under this name, but you can come sit on this other, at this other table. So we were just at the same restaurant for like 30 minutes both being like, wow, these people are so late. And then by the time we all figured it out they had to leave in like 15 minutes, but we had a good 15 minute conversation. But it definitely felt like, okay, well there's the end of that dream. And that was sort of confirmed as like the first week of the show was like rapidly approaching. And it was I think the Friday of the, it was the Friday before the first week of work at S N L and we hadn't heard anything. And so we definitely thought this isn't happening. And then I was I was on a date at Madame Tu Sos, which is LA's hottest date spot.

And it's, it's where actually where all the celebrities in LA are. But but then I got like an email being like, Hey, Lauren wants to meet with you. You'll fly out on Mon or yeah, on Monday morning, have an interview on Tuesday and then fly back on Wednesday. So that was like a very shocking piece of news because it was like, oh, I thought they would've surely already hired, you know, the director. But so we flew out on Monday, we interviewed on Tuesday. It's sort of just like everything everyone describes where you end up waiting a while, you know, you're told your interview's at 6:00 PM and you actually interview at nine. It's super short interview. We thought we totally chunked it, but then we got an email at like 1:00 AM being like, stay in New York. We don't know if you got the job, but we know that whatever you made it to the next step, the next day was Wednesday.

And Wednesday's the day that the table read happens and that the sketches that are gonna make it to the show are selected. And that morning we got a call being like, come on, come on over to the table, read, you're gonna direct something on Friday. So it was really like it was probably the craziest week of my life. And yeah, we were just really thrown into it and I, you know, I think that it might have been less stressful to have a little bit more of like, mental time to prepare, but in a way it was kind of good to just be like, all right, let's do this. And the very first sketch we shot was called a New Kyle, and there's like a, a lot of sketches where Kyle Mooney, you know, plays a version of himself behind the scenes at the office.

And it was just funny because it was like, 30 Rock is such a confusing building and we were shooting in 30 Rock, so like trying to, to move from location to location, like we would get lost and we were like, we would splinter off and to save time each direct a different scene in a different you know, a different floor of the office. And then I remember there was one moment where we were calling each other being like, where are you? And then the person next to me was like, we're by the studio elevators. And I was like, we're by the studio elevators. And then Adriana's like, how would I know what the studio elevators are? So it was really it was just being thrown in there, in, in kind of every way you could, you could imagine.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And walk me through just like, what, what were those emotions like? I mean, to just be flown out to New York interview and then a day later it's like, okay, you're, you're working for snl, like you're gonna be directing something for snl.

Hannah Levy: I mean, you know, I, there almost wasn't time to feel any emotions. I think it was like, because there was just so much to kind of take care of, like just from, you know, from the fact of like being like, oh, I really wanna do a good job directing this piece, and I also have never worked with a, you know, a budget this big or like a crew this big. And, and so all of that, like, just kind of practically handling that. And then there's the, the smaller stuff in your head that's like, oh, I, I just learned that you're supposed to dress up on Saturdays at work, but I only brought three days of clothes. I, I thought I was gonna fly back to LA and, you know, have a chance to like, move out, but that's not a thing. So there's also being like, I, you know, I'm working these long hours, but I'm gonna try to sneak out to like a store to buy an outfit to wear on Saturday, and like, I need to like order underwear online. You know, like things like that. So I think after the first three weeks of work when I was able to like, fly back to LA and then actually move out, it, it all sort of then hit me like, you know, the, the kid in me was just like, you know, in in incomplete disbelief of being like, wow, I'm like working at this institution that, you know, I've loved my entire life.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. And so, one thing we really like to focus on this show is process and really understanding your creative process how these ideas come to life. And I think as well, like the process within snl, because I'm sure it's a, a bit of a, a crazy process inside those walls. So we'd love to hear just granularly, you know, what does it, first of all, what does it look like inside snl? You know, maybe take us through day by day or even hour by hour, the, the the process of coming up with an idea and producing it and getting it on air.

Hannah Levy: Totally. Well so at snl I was strictly a director, not a writer. So my part of the process would start on Wednesday. When I first started, I was doing promos. So like that would be Monday and Tuesday, you'd kind of shoot a mini sketch with a host. But then that's, that kind of is a torch that gets passed to, to the newer directors as you, you know, kind of move up, I guess. So the, my process at snl, which has also really, I think, influenced my process as a commercial director, and you know, working with tool is sort of, you know, you don't, the thing you don't have, like I I mentioned before is time. You know, so my part of the process would start on Wednesday and around noon I would receive like six to 12 scripts that were written as pre-tape sketches.

And I'd read all of them. And then in my head I would come up with like a plan, like a brief sort of plan for all of them. Like I would look up some reference, some visual, visual references. If it was a music video, I'd watch some music videos that came to mind and and kind of just pull some stills. For Film Stills, I use this website Shot Deck. It's, it's an amazing resource. It has like thousands and thousands and thousands of, of film still. So if you know, oh, I, you know, I wanna pull from this movie, it, if you're lucky and the movie's on there, that's great. Or if you're like, I know I wanna shoot anamorphic, I, I I wanna shoot, you know, this type of lighting and whatever, you can filter by like, you know, the composition style and everything like that too, which can be hugely helpful. So I kind of put together some references

Nate Watkin: And sorry to just jump in. So you use that for putting together, like essentially like a visual treatment or look and feel?

Hannah Levy: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, the, the timeline is so quick that you're not actually doing a formal treatment at snl it's just ideas, you know, it's like getting a, a visual conversation started, even if it's just with yourself. And part of it is also, like, at that stage you don't know what's gonna get picked, what what you think is gonna get picked is often subverted. And so there's a little bit of a protect self-protective measure there to be like, oh, I read, I read these 12 sketches and I love this one, and like, I have a million ideas for this one. But then there's another part of you that's like, based on experience, I don't wanna go too far down this road, because there's a superstitious aspect too, where you're like, if I do, it won't happen. And specifically with like my production designer, we have kind of jokes about that, where we'd go back and forth with ideas, we'd get really excited and then it would, it, that one wouldn't get picked and we'd be like, why did we do that? Like, we jinxed it again. Mm-Hmm. . But yeah, so kind of that, that initial ideation phase, that's like trying not to invest too much of, of myself into it, but trying to have ideas at the ready, you know, in case that's the one that get gets picked and then the table read happens. It was usually supposed to start at three and end around seven or eight. It got pushed later and later and later.

Nate Watkin: And, and what, sorry to jump in. What day are we on here? Is this still Wednesday?

Hannah Levy: It's still Wednesday, yeah. Yeah. Okay, got it. It's still Wednesday. It's just like all the sketches are being read and then, and then they're picked. And then I get a phone call about an hour after the table read ends. That's, or a text that's just like, you're doing this one. And then from there it's off to the races. So the reason you have those, those preliminary notes is that you're gonna jump on a call in 10 minutes with all the department heads, the writers and you're gonna pick, you're gonna say, here's what the wigs are gonna look like. We're building a set, it should look like this. Here are the references. Then like, you know, from the production side, they're gonna be like, well, you really need like seven sets. And then you're like, well, yeah, that's what's in the script.

If we wanna do it this way, we need seven sets, and there's a little push and pull that way. And yeah, you're just kind of like throwing out like preliminary direction for everyone because from that point on, somebody is staying up all night, there's someone awake at every hour between then and when the sketch air is on Saturday to make it happen. But but sometimes you know, you have your little ideas that you've written for all the, the pre-tape sketches, but sometimes they'll say actually we're gonna pick this live sketch that was read and then we need to kind of translate it into a film piece. So then you just have those 10 minutes between when it gets picked and, and everyone gets on the call to sort of jot down those ideas. And I think that's the, the thing that was like, maybe the biggest learning curve, because usually you have more than 10 minutes that to think of, like, you know, what your vision as a director is gonna be.

But it, it does really hone your instincts. And I think, you know, when I, I get boards for a commercial, I'm like, immediately, like, you know, the ideas are like, the directions are sort of coming out naturally, and I'll jot down some notes and that's something I'm super grateful for from snl, as stressful as it was at the time, or could be. It, it's a really intense kind of training ground to be like, how do you make decisions fast? And yeah, so, so I'm super grateful to that. But but yeah, so, so from there you have one, one prep day typically, and it's Thursday. So before the pandemic we would shoot on location a lot and then do some set builds after the pandemic, just because of, I mean, all of the variabilities with Covid we would build sets every week and, and very rarely shoot on location, but so before the pandemic, you know, you would location scout on Thursday morning, pick a location, and then you know, shot list, do all of your prep, like you're checking in with the art department, making sure all the props are looking good.

And at a place like snl, props can be, you know, the, the thing that makes or breaks a sketch because it could be a commercial parody for a thing that doesn't exist. And there are all sorts of like, super talented artists working around the clock, you know, building a toilet that does a million things. And I say toilet because there are many toilet sketches. , I think if you go on YouTube, you can, you can probably watch a whole playlist of snl toilet sketches, but it's actually takes a ton of artistry and expertise to be able to like accomplish that in the amount of time. And I'm, I've just been absolutely blown away by the things that the SNL crews can do. It's, it's like insane, honestly. Yeah, it's, I especially that like little kid in me being like showing up the set and then, you know, seeing this world that was created overnight, it's like absolutely nuts.

Yeah. But yeah, so, so just kind of diving back into the process Thursday, you're, you're scouting, you know, your shot listing, you have all of your references. It's, it's just like prep, prep, prep, but then sometime between noon and 4:00 PM you go to a rewrite table for your sketch. And that's a, that's a place where anything can change in the sketch from a joke, dialogue, whatever, to maybe this shouldn't actually take place in a theater and it should take place in a classroom, or like it should take place in someone's house. And then, you know, as the director, I'm like thinking about what we have and, and, you know, I wanna be able to say yes every single time. So then afterwards it becomes this second round of prep where you take what you already have and see how you can retrofit it to, to adapt to how this script has changed over the course of the day. And that's another thing that like created some stressful moments on a day-to-day level, but then it creates this like, problem solving ability as a director that I think is hard to come by elsewhere because you just have to be able to adapt to kind of survive and make the thing you wanna make. And it can, it can, it's just amazing some of the things that feel like they're impossible that then are achieved by the next day, you

Nate Watkin: Know? Yeah. It's pretty incredible the, the pace of that production can really be done at when it needs to be done that fast. Yeah. I'm curious to know, like your creative process, like I assume you're not storyboarding here, no animat, or anything like that? Right. so I mean, is it, is the shooting style very running and gun is your shot that's pretty loose or, you know, what is, what does your prep look like?

Hannah Levy: So yeah, my shot listing, I would I, I would love to shot list with the DP because you don't have enough time to like do it on your own. And then and then like chat, like we would sit down for a couple hours on Thursday and then kind of just go through like talk through shots. Occasionally, like I would use this program shot designer where you do overheads just for blocking, especially in big group scenes. Basically there's just like a little dot for each person, and you can like make them move from point A to point B, you can add cameras and add camera moves. So that can be really helpful, especially like I was saying, when there's like a lot of dialogue and there's like six people just being like knowing where everyone is and kind of like keeping track of the line.

But then otherwise, like, there's also this like previs program called satellite 3D that my DP would, would kind of like work with while we were talking through shots and we'd, we'd sort of tried a storyboard that way but there just wasn't enough time to do everything, so we'd just get a couple hero setups kind of planned out. And then the thing is though, everything has to be built to be flexible because when you're shooting, you're also dealing with the, the, the studio schedule of like the rehearsals of the live shows. And as soon as those are thrown off, then you might get cast members at different times than you expected to, and they might not be together if, you know, as you expected them to be. So you have to be able to like, take what you planned and take, you know, that like crane shot that like you were really excited about and figure out a way to make it work, where now the two people aren't right next to each other.

Yeah. But yeah, so process wise, like I would plan as much as I possibly could basically. And I would do, you know, I would write these really detailed shot lists usually in like an Excel spreadsheet that had like, you know, the, the size and the angle and a description and whatever, like, you know, how the camera would move and, you know, maybe what we'd intercut it with. And then on set, I have that up in my iPad and I, you know, I'm crossing things off or consolidating because sometimes you get to setting, you see, you know, maybe shot one and shot four are accomplishing the same thing. And if I add all the time in the world, I'd love them both, but let's just combine them for the sake of this. Or we can add a move to shot one, and then it feels like shot four.

Nate Watkin: And, and just to jump in here, do you, do you have any of these you could share, like either the visualization tools or maybe a shot list or something like that?

Hannah Levy: Cool. Yeah. So this is like, this is shot designer where you can, you know, work on overheads, but yeah, so you'd be like, you know, we'll have a conversation here. This is Nate, this is Hannah, and this is, you know, our friend. And then we can add cameras, you can add a camera move. I already had this move here from, you know, one to two. And then you can also add blocking. Let's say Nate's gonna walk over there and leave the room. Sometimes like, I would just use it to get the, like, true basics of the blocking down and in relation to camera and camera blocking. But but you can also add lights and you can, sometimes I would put the you know, we'd have our overhead of the set from the production designer, and I just put that in, and then you can actually, you know, put the, the characters in space and, and see where you'd maybe want them to be. Yeah. So it's a super helpful tool.

Nate Watkin: I like it a lot. It, it almost serves the same purposes, storyboarding, but much quicker. Right. It seems like that's the name of the game here.

Hannah Levy: Well, that's, that's the thing where it's like you can block out an entire scene at once as opposed to, you know, and then be like, camera here, camera here, camera here. Those are your shots. Mm-Hmm. , you know, as opposed to then being like, I need to draw each individual frame. You're like, I know the axis. I know, like, in my head, I know the high, the, you know, whether it's a low angle shot or a high angle shot whether the camera's moving and you know, where the camera's gonna be in relation to the to the talent. So that's super helpful. Yeah, sometimes you have to, you know, pivot on that plan too. So that's like, I, I feel like you could probably just hear it in the way I'm talking, but I'm just like, so used to just like, changing on the fly that like, I love these tools, but also a lot of it just comes together on the day.

Nate Watkin: Awesome. And, and then once you get into production, like I, I guess just quickly kind of walk me through how a shoot goes. Does it feel more rushed then if you're doing a commercial shoot? What does that look like?

Hannah Levy: Yeah, I mean, the timeline is always, you always have less time than you want it. It really just depends on the availability of the cast and the host and the level of ambition of, of the project itself. Because sometimes, you know, you have to decide, do I want more performance or do I want more coverage? You know, do I wanna take the time to set up this really cool crane shot or do I wanna shoot on steady cam and kind of replicate it a little bit more on the fly? So it's a lot of kind of adjusting as the day goes, but, but I think, you know, I always felt like so nervous, like during prep and kind of thinking about all the ways certain things could go wrong. And of course sometimes stuff went wrong, but usually the shoot was my favorite part. And and yeah, I mean, it's kind of also the chance, like I mentioned before, where you get to try out Alts, you get to see kind of like the performances come together and and that's like just so fun at a place like s N L where you're working with these incredibly talented people who kind of take something to, you know, a level beyond where you could have imagined it.

Nate Watkin: I just, so I, I wanted to check in what day are we on here in this timeline, by the way?

Hannah Levy: So that's, that's Friday. And then you know, you're either shooting, typically you could be shooting any time on Friday, like, you know, starting at 7:00 AM and then wrapping at two, or starting at 11:00 PM and wrapping at 4:00 AM. And then you'll go in for editing the next morning. And you edit all day until you have to have kind of a finished enough version by dress rehearsal, which starts at eight 30. And then, you know, it's the really nerve wracking part where you, you watch the audience watch your sketch, and you watch Lauren watch your sketch. It's like that famous thing of like under the bleachers. And and then Lauren gives you notes, and then you have the time between the end of dress rehearsal or, but between when your sketch airs at dress rehearsal to the time, it, it's about five minutes before it's gonna go on the air for the, the real show to make those changes.

And that can be complicated because one thing that can shift between dress and air is that the order of the sketches might change. So you know, if, if you were somebody who went and sat in the audience for dress rehearsal one time, and then you watched the show it wouldn't look exactly the same. And that's cool. It's like fun when your sketch gets moved up earlier. But it also means you have less time to make those changes. So that's what, that's the final sprint there at the end, and then you get to actually watch the thing be on TV and then it's on to the next week. So that's kind of the, that's the schedule there. But I yeah, I did, so I did four years there and and then I left in May. And I, I, you know, I miss the adrenaline rush. But but then it's also probably phy physically better for my body.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's, it's like a 48 hour film festival every weekend. Right. And yeah, I can imagine the, the pressure before your, your skits about to go live on the air. I mean, I you're probably watching the edit over and over, like praying there's not like an unlinked media file or something Oh, yeah. Before it goes live, right, ?

Hannah Levy: Yeah. Well, you know, there's, they're, the post team is incredible at snl, and, and the VFX people are able to, to make these kind of insane things happen in such short timelines. But sometimes, you know, there's a week where there's three pieces that all have huge post needs and you go to dress and there's still like one one comp that isn't finalized or something. And you know, it usually in my head I'm like, oh my God, EV it's gonna take, take the audience out of it, but people just don't usually notice that kind of stuff. Well,

Nate Watkin: Yeah, thank you for walking us through that process. I mean, it's it sounds like such an exciting pace of production, so yeah. Next we'd love to hear about what's next for you and what you're working on these days. I know you have a new project in development with Paramount Pictures. You are repped by tool as a commercial director. Would love to hear what's next.

Hannah Levy: So I've been doing a lot of work with Tool that has been really fun. I most recently worked on this hotels.com campaign with it, it was in partnership with the nba and it was with Sam Richardson and Ike Baron Holtz. And they play like these hotel guys who, you know, work at a hotel and then are kind of like nerding out on basketball and hotel stuff. And that was super fun. Those were just recently released. So I'm, I'm doing a lot of exciting stuff over at Tool and, you know, hope to continue to do that stuff. And then yeah, I I am attached as a director to the Paramount movie that's you know, slowly moving along. And that's kind of a big comedy. And then I'm also a attached as a director to an indie movie that I love that that is kind of also marching along the, the indie path and, and we're, you know, hoping to lock in funding soon.

And you know, fingers crossed one of those goes into production in 2023. So those are kind of the big things. And then I'm, I'm writing and pitching a project with Adriana that was based on a short we made back in 2018. And then, yeah, I'm just trying to kind of get some stuff off the ground. My spouse is a, is a writer and we love to work on stuff together, so we're putting together a pitch for a, a TV show idea right now. And yeah, I think would love to, we'd love to be working together. I think that'd be really cool. So those are, you know, some of the things, but mostly just trying to like, you know, keep as many balls in the air as possible. Yeah. It's kind of, you know, what I, what I love about doing commercial work is that it's sort of you can do it while you're doing all this other stuff and it's like, I just like love getting back on set, you know, when I'm working on this bigger long-term project, I really mi miss being on set and then, you know, I get to do a commercial and I get to like, work with a great crew and make something happen, and then I kind of like get that refreshed feeling again.

So yeah.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, it's, it's great tone your craft and, and get on those sets and experiment and, and try things that maybe you'll bring to life in your next feature. Right.

Hannah Levy: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And you know, I, I've just been so lucky to work with amazing dps and, and production designers and, you know, amazing folks on the agency side too, who like, you know, wanna make something really special. And I think it, there is a little bit of that aspect of SNL where it's like you put, you pour your heart into something for a short burst of time, and then it's over, you know, and you can try it, you know, one style and really lean into it and then and then do something else on the next thing. So it's a, it's such a nice balance to, you know, working in really like immersing yourself in like a feature where, you know, you're living in one world for, for such a long period of time, which is like great in its own right. But but that balance is is pretty wonderful.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks so much for joining us. I'd love walking through and learning more about the crazy world there over at snl behind the scenes, and very excited to see what's next for you in your career.

Hannah Levy: Thanks, Nate. Yeah, I really appreciate the time and had a great time chatting with you.


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