Retired SNL cameraman shares behind-the-scene glimpse

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.

Complete focus is absolutely critical to producing a live episode of TV, a now-retired NBC cameraman told a room full of University of Florida students Tuesday night.

"You can't let your mind drift for a second," Jan Kasoff, a cameraman who worked on "Saturday Night Live" for more than 30 years, told about 50 students Tuesday night in Williamson Hall.

During his second trip to UF, the SNL veteran shared a series of old video clips and gave advice to students looking to pursue careers in telecommunication production.

In the dark auditorium, the students leaned on their elbows and watched videos in awe.

One was an episode of SNL from May 1995. Rod Stewart was the musical act, and David Duchovny was the guest host. Kasoff and four other cameraman were on the floor, filming the live show.

"We were constantly changing positions to capture different angles," Kasoff said.

So, in order to give students a clear understanding of the coordination that goes into a production, Kasoff showed the control room picking from the five different angles being filmed.

The sixth and largest screen is what the TV audience at home actually sees. It's called the air feed, Kasoff said, and in this case it was showing a close-up of Stewart wailing "Leave Virginia Alone." Behind him, the backup band grinned and shared looks.

In the bottom corner, on a smaller-sized screen of the control room, the director, Dave Wilson, yelled "Dissolve!" Then a new image of Stewart faded onto the feed. The transition happened seamlessly.

During the video, Kasoff leaned against the podium, watching the video with a smile. Occasionally, he would twist his head toward the audience to catch their reactions.

"I like to get information to them, things that might help them," he said. "The idea was to show them how a show like SNL is put together."

On screen, Wilson barked orders again ("That's the director's job," Kasoff explained). A mandolin player had entered the fray and had begun playing, and they needed footage.

"The mandolin's playing! Get me the mandolin," Wilson shouted.

Kasoff smiled. Maybe he remembered frantically yanking his camera toward the new musician. Immediately after Wilson's orders, each of the five camera screens included the mandolin solo.

In total, the switch took two seconds.

"But that can be an eternity in TV," he warned. "And once it comes out on a live show, it's history. You can't take it back."

Connor Hachey, a telecommunications production sophomore at UF, said of Kasoff's presentation: "I thought it was really interesting."

Although he dreams of being a screenwriter, he said he'll cherish the cameraman's tips.

"I enjoyed every second of it," he said.

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