Bloomberg Media Studios’ New Creativity Series: High-Speed Collaboration With an SNL Director

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Bloomberg Media Studios started the New Creativity Speaker Series to connect with creators doing remarkable work across all mediums and to share new thinking and best practices from leaders in their fields. In this latest article, we learn the secrets to creative collaboration under pressure from Saturday Night Live director Oz Rodriguez.

Stay tuned to this space for future speakers from the worlds of comedy, sports, Hollywood and artificial intelligence.

Oz Rodriguez stands with SNL actor Mikey Day and SNL guest host John Cena while directing the “The Karate Teen” short. (Courtesy of Oz Rodriguez)

By Emily Piper, Bloomberg Media Studios

Saturday Night Live director Oz Rodriguez built his career on collaboration.

After studying advertising in the Dominican Republic, Oz moved to Los Angeles to attend film school. While waiting for Hollywood to come knocking, Oz and his friends started filming their own comedy shorts and posting them online in the pre-YouTube days.

His videos caught the attention of Funny or Die, a comedy website founded by Will Farrell and Adam McKay. Oz spent three years directing video shorts for Funny or Die, where he learned more about directing comedy, this time with celebrity talent and larger budgets.

That experience led to Saturday Night Live, which offered Oz a role as a segment director and producer, where he was responsible for directing the popular video shorts or “pretapes” as they’re known at SNL. “Pennywise” and “Best Christmas Ever” are great examples of his approach to comedy.

“My directing style is trying to conduct this orchestra to do their best performance,” Oz says. “I want to empower people to do their best. I like to have a lot of collaboration and discussion about what the end goal is.”

As part of Bloomberg Media Studios’ New Creativity Speaker Series, Oz recently shared how he uses technology like directing apps and artificial intelligence tools to develop ideas; how he goes from script to film in just 72 hours; and the secret sauce for SNL’s almost 50 years of success.

Storyboarding through the chaos

Unexpected, imaginative and often hilarious, SNL’s pretaped segments have defined the legendary show since its very beginning. Although the production quality of pretapes needs to be very high to match the commercial, film or music video being spoofed, Oz would create them from scratch in just a few days.

“I would find out what I was doing Wednesday night, prep Thursday and find a location while receiving any rewrites if new ideas come, shoot Friday and edit that night, edit Saturday morning and then watch it go live Saturday night,” he says.

To deliver quality creative work that quickly, storyboarding is essential to the process.

When Oz was assigned to direct the popular video short “The Karate Teen,” starring John Cena and Mikey Day, he had less than four days to figure out how Mikey could fly out of his pants and smash through a wall. He asked the stunt team and art department to reenact their ideas with toys until his team managed to create the storyboard.

Oz Rodriguez’s storyboard for the“The Karate Teen” short on SNL. (Courtesy of Oz Rodriguez)

“Once we draft a storyboard, everyone is on the same page,” Oz says. “Teams start to prep the set, shots and stunts to realize the scene. There is a lot of heavy lifting from storyboard to sketch, but it’s exciting seeing how the idea comes to life.”

The best idea wins

“There’s no place for overthinking or over-analyzing or over-criticizing. You just do,” Oz explains. “Our best projects are collaborations. We don’t have time to go back and forth, so we live by the ‘best idea wins’ concept. An idea can come from anywhere, and that is something that really changed my perspective.”

But that’s just the beginning, and SNL’s secret sauce is that the show’s talented staff of writers and comedians work together to improve the idea and get it ready for the show.

“Every sketch is written by one or two people, but then they do a rewrite table on Thursday, and all these amazing comedians are pitching jokes,” he says. “And the author still has the clear ownership, but the idea got so much better because, for example, Seth Meyers pitched three amazing jokes. That’s where collaboration is really cool to see.”

The apps that every director needs

Oz relies on an array of new technologies to produce his films—here are the apps he finds most helpful.

Artemis Pro is what we use on location to take photos,” he says. “You can feed the app the exact camera and set of lenses you’re using to find what angles you’re interested in. It gives you a lot of information on how we shot the movie, from the aspect ratio and camera to where you are in the space.”

Each of Oz’s favorite apps specializes in an area of cinematography or blocking and helps him share his vision with the rest of the team.

“The one I use the most is Shot Designer, which creates an overhead shot plan to visualize how we’re going to shoot the scene,” he says. “It’s sort of an overhead top-level tool for blocking. That is very meat-and-potatoes, but I love it. We represent characters with circles, so we know how many shots we need, what is seen and where to put the camera or lights or props.”

Oz sees technology as an accelerant to creativity, and he’s also using advancements in virtual reality and artificial intelligence to amp up his vision.

“The really, really cool one is Previs Pro because you can see your characters and visions in AR space,” he says. “Artemis Pro is what I use for photoboarding, and one of the newest programs we use is Midjourney. We mainly use this when we don’t have actual references and need AI to build the mockups we’re envisioning.”

AI can ignite your creativity

Artificial intelligence has proven to be a valuable asset to Oz throughout his process as a director and filmmaker because new AI-powered tools like Midjourney can help him visualize his ideas.

“AI is a really interesting conversation,” he says. “The key to any production is to explain the vision of the story to the team as much as possible. We’re able to now experiment with mockups of preliminary ideas based solely on vibe and tone. So, it’s become super-helpful for cinematography, costume design and the art department.”

The growing capabilities of AI helps Oz think outside the realm of what’s expected, especially in concept pitching. When he has an idea, OZ can feed the AI tool the vibe, colors and cinematography he envisions to create visuals and start sharing his ideas.

“These platforms have become a way to ignite your creativity,” says Oz. “Obviously, there are many fears with it, but I’m excited to continue working with it.”

Managing the impossible

“My tendency is to go for the impossible, so I’ve always tried to,” Oz says. “We work with amazing, talented people, so I certainly got more comfortable proposing ideas as my relationships with the writers grew. There were definitely times where you’re like, ‘We just can’t do that.’ But the flip side of that is sometimes you do achieve something impossible, so the next try is going to reach even further.”

In other words, when you stop looking for excuses, you find possibilities. Not everything imagined can come to life, but each new achievement paves the way for a greater dream.

“Every year, there seems to be something that’s a little crazier than the last as far as production value,” Oz says. “I went back to SNL this year to help on a sketch, and they have a VFX team now, so the possibilities just keep growing and growing.”

If you’re interested in attending a future Bloomberg Media Studios New Creativity Speaker Series event, please reach out to Michael Walker, Global Executive Editor, Bloomberg Media Studios,