NAB Show 2015: SNL Editor Adam Epstein’s “Adventures In Filmmaking”

If you haven’t heard of Adam Epstein, you’ve definitely seen his work. An Emmy-nominated editor, Epstein has been working on NBC’s Saturday Night Live Film Unit team for six years and, in that time, has been responsible for cutting some of the funniest content they churn out. 

Adam Epstein at NAB Show 2015


Remember the Wes Anderson Horror Film trailer? Epstein. The Lincoln/McConaughey spoof? Epstein. For all you Serial Podcast-obsessed readers out there, the Serial Christmas short? Epstein.


The list literally goes on, and on, and on:


If you were tracking Epstein on social media, however, it’d be hard to gather that he’s sitting atop such a phenomenal body of hilarious work. He bills himself simply as “a filmmaker and writer currently living in Brooklyn” who “likes puns and sandwiches” (I think he really likes sandwiches, because it’s a common refrain across his accounts – I didn’t get the chance to discuss with him). Humble as he is talented, but I digress.


Anyhow, Epstein stopped by NAB Show 2015 to discuss the how his background working for a powerhouse like SNL – an environment that thrives on crazy-tight deadlines and impulsive decision-making – both informs and contrasts with his more recent work on feature film Staten Island Summer (2014), directed by SNL Film Unit cohort Rhys Thomas and produced by the one and only Lorne Michaels.

To shed some light:

The short pieces he cuts for SNL, “tend to be shot on Friday, frequently bleeding into Saturday morning, giving the post-production side often less than 24 hours to have everything cut, mixed, graphic’ed, approved, unapproved, frame-f*cked, shot-swapped, re-approved, exported and ready for air,” said Epstein, writing in a 2013 column for TriBeCa Film and emphasized again during the panel.


I try to deliver 10 minutes before the short goes on air. No, no – that’s great for me. That means I have time to crack a beer. – Epstein


A No Film School interview with Epstein further details this process and illustrates the workflow madness with this video.


"Beygency" Timelapse
A delivery deadline like that is enough to make anyone in this business’ brain melt, among other physiological markers of hell and chaos, but the SNL Film Unit’s take on – and adept approach to – their weekly production schedule is beyond inspiring for any filmmaker. (CreativeCOW‘s Kylee Wall goes into further detail here.)


One thing Epstein repeatedly hit home on was the strength of the SNL team and how cultivating an environment conducive to creating is key:

Keep the mood loose and the teamwork as positive as possible.


So, what are a few other elements that help make such a tight timeline work? He’s elaborated on the topic quite a bit in other places, but here’s some quick insight from today’s panel:

  • build everything in sequence as you go – sound, GFX, audio – so that the first cut is as close to the final product as possible
  • it’s always better to show a producer something than to explain how great it’s going to look/feel/sound later
  • because Epstein cuts in Adobe, he “hasn’t flipped a shot in years.” This lack of transcoding is integral for their short turnaround times.


What’s Next?

Well, Epstein won’t be leaving SNL any time soon. But, as of two weeks ago, he began work on a new IFC series called Documentary Now!, EP’d by none other than Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers. Dream team much? Epstein was mum about the details, only revealing that the series will be “documentary in style” and “will not feel like television, but rather, “six standalone independent films.” Rad.


Staten Island Summer (2014) and Documentary Now! are both set to premiere later this year.


>>  By AMANDA PRESMYKJunior Producer


For more coverage of @NABShow, follow @ssrproduction and @amandapresmyk on Instagram and Twitter.


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