Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jan Kasoff - Behind the Scenes at Saturday Night Live

On Monday Jan Kasoff came to Rollins, invited by the Critical Media and Cultural Studies Department. Mr. Kasoff talked engagingly about his 36 years as a cameraman for Saturday Night Live and other NBC programs. On a table near the speaker's podium were pictures of the SNL cast and crew as well as other people he had filmed over the years. There also stood a real live Emmy.  Jan modestly indicated he wasn’t trying to show his Emmy off, but he displayed it because he thought people might be interested in seeing it.

He was right. I thought the statuette was cool, and I imagined it to be alive with “mana,” the ethereal force that Polynesians say can deliver a wicked jolt to anyone -- spiritually unprepared -- who comes in contact with it. Consequently, I was reluctant to even touch it. My evil twin, Otto, was there, however, and he didn’t hesitate to pick the trophy up and demand that someone take a picture of him. His plan was to show the picture around claiming he had been awarded an Emmy for “a lifetime of awesomeness.”

Jan Kasoff was very down to earth. He talked about his teenage years when he had managed, through luck and persistence, to gain a foothold at NBC even before he was out of college. He mentioned a Perry Como special he attended back then and conjectured that we were all too young to remember Perry, but he was wrong about that.

Jan said that SNL began because nothing was being shown on Saturday nights that appealed to young audiences, the demographic that the capitalist money-grubbers (my words) are always most interested in. Lorne Michaels badgered NBC to try out a live show, and finally convinced them to do so. NBC’s Los Angeles studios were so overbooked that it was decided to film the show in New York at 30 Rockefeller Plaza's Studio 8H, which was originally a radio studio. Arturo Toscanini used to conduct his symphony orchestra there.

The camera and technical crew got to know all the SNL actors well, even socializing with them at times, but Jan said he remembered the original cast best. He was also able to tape a post-rehearsal segment of Paul McCartney and his band letting loose, playing Beatles songs for two solid hours just for the SNL gang.

He showed us several SNL clips in order to explain how the camera crew, the actors, directors and other stage workers hustled to put together a show. It looked maddeningly complicated and demanding. But cool.

My favorite segment was of Christopher Walken portraying “The Continental,” an unctuous would-be seducer who talks directly into the camera, giving the TV viewer the impression that he or she is the woman being targeted by the Lothario. Jan explained that this is known as a “subjective camera.”

I wondered how the segment would have looked to people in the studio during the show, and, to my delight, Jan next showed us what the studio audience saw: A 250-pound man wearing a dress and a blonde wig and carrying a camera on his shoulder while reacting to Walken so as to give tv viewers the viewpoint of the “pixie” Mr. Continental is trying to lure into his clutches.

Jan’s presentation was one of the most enjoyable and informative ones I’ve seen this year. Thank you CMC colleagues for bringing him to us.


  1. Finally acknowledged for your awesomeness!!!

  2. I wish I could have been there to see you receive this. You thanked me, right?

  3. That Otto, he never misses a chance, does he! But by Bob or Otto, well deserved, at least. Awesome!