DPP Home Profiles Mary Ellen Matthews: It's Saturday Night!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mary Ellen Matthews: It's Saturday Night!

SNL staff photographer Mary Ellen Matthews does the photography equivalent of herding cats every week as she makes cool, quirky and creative images of the show’s guests

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While SNL keeps her pretty busy for 24 weeks a year, Matthews still has plenty of time to do other work. Matthews’ résumé also includes film and other television still work, publicity and advertising campaigns, celebrity weddings and rock tours. In the long run, she says, the projects she takes on outside of SNL only end up benefiting her role with the show. Above: Musician Tim McGraw.
Saturday Night Live may keep Matthews busy, but it isn’t her only gig. After all, shooting only 24 weeks a year affords plenty of downtime to do other work—often celebrity portraits for a variety of advertising and editorial clients. Not only is it creatively satisfying to do outside work, but, in the end it, it also becomes beneficial for Matthews’ role with the show.

“I try to do as much other work as possible,” she says. “It’s always good for all of us here to kind of stretch into something else and then bring it back to [Saturday Night Live]. There are so many amazing people who work here—all our set designers and costumers and hair and makeup people. We all do other things.”

Having those other talented people on site also affords Matthews enviable resources for sets and costuming. More often than not, though, she works with a simple seamless background, but on occasion, she does venture into bigger production concepts.

Actor Bradley Cooper
“I went through a ‘thing’ last year,” she explains. “I went more conceptual, and I was trying to come up with some different ideas. With Will Ferrell, I photographed him with five dogs playing poker, which was hilarious. It’s fun to think of all that stuff, but it’s expensive if we’re doing it all the time, so we can only do it every once in a while.”

That amount of creative freedom may feel out of reach to many commercial photographers. And considering that Matthews has that freedom with such a high-profile client is especially surprising. Then again, she’s quick to point out that it’s really a part of the fast pace and exuberantly creative culture of the show.

Says Matthews, “The way [Saturday Night Live] works, it’s all under Lorne Michaels, of course, but mostly we just try to take care of everything on our own and just get it done. And so far, so good. I haven’t had many problems with any of the pictures. If somebody does have an issue with it, of course, we’ll change it, but it really hasn’t happened too often. We just get it done and get it up on the air, and everyone has been very pleased.”

Matthews’ Gear
Cameras And Lighting
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Dynalite strobes (keylight, Octabank fill, strip edge lights, box hair light)


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