Saturday Night Live director of photography Alex Buono dished about how he and his team created the trailer for the hilarious short The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders. The 2013 trailer short was a “what if” filmmaker Wes Anderson made a horror film. Actor Edward Norton, who is an Anderson regular hosted SNL that weekend. But instead of playing himself in the short, he masterfully transformed into Owen Wilson.
How did the ‘SNL’ crew view the Wes Anderson challenge?
Buono wrote in his blog that the original trailer name was New Horror Trailer. Originally, he thought the short was something for Halloween. “It wasn’t until the 2nd page that the voiceover reveals: ‘From the twisted mind of…Wes Anderson.’ Wait – this is a Wes Anderson parody? Hell yes!” he wrote.
As a fan of Anderson’s work, Buono was ready to tackle the short. But at the same time, the challenge was a little intimidating. “Wes Anderson is one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers of our time; his style is so unique that you might think it would be easy to satirize,” he commented. But hurdles included color palette, Anderson-specific camera angles, and other signature shots. “Suddenly this spot had morphed from something I was dying to shoot into something I was terrified to shoot!” he shared. But one thing was clear: the team was going to create an authentic Anderson-esque set, which wasn’t going to be at 30 Rock.
What was the first thing the ‘SNL’ directors had to address?
The creative team knew they would have to build sets and find a location. “One thing was immediately clear: there is no way we were going to find a location that would look enough like Wes Anderson’s ‘World’ – we would have to build sets,” Buono recalled.
“The script called for a living room, kitchen and bedroom, along with a handful of tableau sets for character introductions (such as ‘closet full of antique typewriters‘) – all of which we could build on stage. But the script starts with a misdirect — a classic horror trailer setup: the spooky night exterior of a cabin in the woods being descended upon by shadowy intruders – which we knew we could NOT shoot on stage. Also bear in mind: the SNL office is in the middle of midtown Manhattan…not exactly the prime spot to find a ‘cabin in the woods’ location.”
Where was the ‘SNL’ Wes Anderson short shot?
And while the short appears to be filmed in the woods, perhaps somewhere in upstate New York, Buono spilled how they made movie magic and it was in … Brooklyn. “Steiner Stages in Brooklyn – a premiere sound stage facility — is located within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which also contains a bunch of disused Naval Officer residences: boarded-up, overgrown, condemned old mansions. Not exactly the back lot at Universal Studios but perfect if you’re looking for a spooky old cabin in the woods.”
The short ended up being shot at a “former Naval surgeon’s residence that looked more like a haunted French chateau.” Buono thought it “seemed somehow even more appropriate for Wes Anderson’s style. The building was covered in ivy and overgrown trees but with a little grooming and dressing up, we thought it would work perfectly.”
The Wes Anderson short almost didn’t make it to air on time
Recreating Anderson’s camera angles and colors would add authenticity. The creative team examined color palates from Anderson’s films like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. They studied and recreated Anderson’s camerawork. Buono described how the team tackled lighting, especially because the short was supposed to be shot at night.
Buono also described how they created the homicidal stop action mouse. An outside animation company pitched in to bring the mouse to life.
The shoot became so consuming, Buono was on set for nearly 48 hours. In fact, he described editing the short at the eleventh hour. “It’s now well past 11:30pm — but our spot technically wasn’t airing until after the 2nd commercial so we’re basically in penalty time,” he recalled.
“What none of us knew at the time is that the studio associate director, Matt Yonks, decided to roll the dice and play the fixed spot directly to the air. The spot was literally still loading into the switcher as it was being broadcast out. Holy crap,” he exclaimed. But what came across that night in 2013 was true movie magic. Even Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman referred to it as career “defining.”
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