In 2010, James Franco received an assignment for one of his graduate-school courses: to create an observational documentary about a particular person.
He decided to focus on Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader, following him in his daily stint on the iconic comedy show’s production. However, it did not take long for Franco to realise there was much better material to be found, jumping on the idea to document the show’s journey from the brainstorming of ideas to the live airing of a finished episode.
In his 2010 documentary Saturday Night, Franco was able to capture something real yet nerve-wracking about the hard work poured into creating a single episode of the long-running comedy and variety show. He tracks the making of an episode hosted by actor John Malkovich, opening his documentary on Monday evening when writers and cast members throw in various sketch ideas to the guest.
A piece of trivia revealed that over fifty sketches were being pitched in a single week, only to be trimmed down to a mere nine. These were then further reduced following focus-group testing.
What was intimately presented by Franco isn’t just the grind required to make everything mesh, but the sleepless nights required to create a quick piece of comedy. The film follows the long days of writing, pitching, and producing three-to-five-minute comedy sketches.
It is truly astonishing how Franco was able to humbly create a documentary about comedy and the comedians who built them, as well as the pressures of anything related to television work. Fans of Saturday Night Live will not only be pleased to find a behind-the-scenes look at the show, revealing the blood, sweat and tears that comprise its production.
Overall, Saturday Night is a must-watch documentary. It might not be the definitive follow-through of Saturday Night Live, but it manages to reveal a side to the show that is both authentic and poignant.