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Shooting ‘SNL Digital Shorts’ in HD

While “SNL Digital Shorts” have been one of the most popular features of Saturday Night Live, the production of these popular segments, which air during the program between live segments and are also available online, poses huge production challenges. Typically, the scripts for segments aren’t approved until late on Wednesday night and they must be shot, edited and delivered in a completed form before the show’s Saturday night airing. Often, the crew must work long hours over two days or as much as 20 hours straight to meet the deadline.

Yet, John Rosenblatt, the principle of Rosey Media and the director of photography for the segments said the process of producing the shorts has actually become easier since they began shooting in HD with Panasonic’s AJ-HPX3000 P2 camcorders.

“I love the acquisition and I love the workflow,” he said about the move to the new cameras, which was made in late February, and the production process for the SNL Digital Shorts.

Working with the new HPX3000 cameras, Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing system and MacBook Pro computers “has completely transformed the workflow,” he added.

Rosenblatt founded Rosey Media in 1997 -- the company now works for a variety of broadcast, cable and corporate clients. He began working for Saturday Night Live in 2000. He has been director of photography for the SNL Digital Shorts since they first became part of the show in the 2005-2006 season.

Over the years, Rosenblatt has tried to distinguish his production services company in the crowded and highly competitive New York City market by emphasizing cutting edge technology and be its efficient, high-quality production techniques.

The company began shooting in HD about five years ago. Over the last 2 years the proportion of their production being shot in HD has grown from about 50% to nearly 100% today.

The company also relies on these newer technologies to offer clients more efficient production services.

“What we do [on the set in terms of shooting and lighting] is so incredibly complicated that I always tell people I work for the circus,” Rosenblatt quipped.

The key part of their high-wire act, he added, is to make certain that this complexity doesn’t get in the way of the creative process at SNL.

“It is important that we allow the creative team to do what they need to do and not get in their way or slow things down in the way we work,” he said. “I offer very high quality production but if I’m slowing down production, in the way I’m setting up shots or lighting, I’m causing talent to lose their focus and not doing my job.”

Shooting with the HPX3000 camera, he said, allows the company to offer high-quality HD production and an very efficient workflow that fits in with the tight production schedule of the Digital Shorts. Using 32 Gigabyte P2 cards with the camera, they can easily copy the files onto the Mac Pro and play back the shots to quickly see dailies, he said.

Recent SNL Digital Shorts shot with the HPX3000 camera include “The Japanese Office and The Mirror.”

While Rosenblatt is a huge fan of the camera, he cites two areas he’d like to see improved. He delivers 4 channels of audio to SNL but complains that audio channels 3 and 4 are “auto compressed,” which he contends limits their ability to tweak the sound.

He also does not like the fact that P2 cards must be formatted in the camera being used for the shoot rather than in the Panasonic 5 card reader.