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DID YOU READ

James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.”

James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

James Franco’s student film for NYU’s graduate program was originally intended to be a portrait of “Saturday Night Live” star Bill Hader, but “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels had other ideas. In a short video played before the start of “Saturday Night,” Franco’s full-length look at the venerable NBC variety show through one week of production, the actor-turned-documentarian offered a disarming mea culpa for missing out on his own premiere since he was busy shooting in Salt Lake City (where he pointed out the main Mormon temple from his hotel room — “right next to the car dealership” — and that he couldn’t enjoy porn on the internet since it had been blocked). When he wasn’t mugging for the camera, he explained how he wanted to craft a “Maysles brothers-style observational doc,” despite the fact Michaels had previously nixed a similar treatment from D.A. Pennebaker and Ricky Leacock during the 1970s. “Maybe that incredible cast had more to hide,” Franco said with a wink, before cutting to a shot of himself in the shower and the water rushing directly into his face.

Franco appears occasionally on camera during “Saturday Night,” but the star of the film isn’t him or Hader or any particular “SNL” star, but rather the grueling artistic process that starts anew every week. (As Will Forte says at one point, “You just kind of learn to live in a haze.”) Day by day, Franco breaks down how the show’s sketches are pitched on Mondays, written during an all-nighter on Tuesday, subject to a cast table read on Wednesday, fit for sets and props on Thursday and start to be rehearsed on Friday where only nine of the 50 sketches (on average) will survive. On the particular week Franco was allowed to bring cameras in, John Malkovich was the host, which only makes things more interesting.

03152010_SaturdayNight2.jpgThere’s an added level of intrigue for loyal viewers of the show who can recall Malkovich’s December 2008 turn — fans will greatly enjoy Seth Meyers’ irresistible itch to write a skit about a hot tub-set “Dangerous Liaisons” sequel called “J’acuzzi” and writer/producer Paula Pell and Kristen Wiig evaluating fart sounds to put in a skit about Wiig’s flatulent office bombshell. (Unfortunately, that’s about all there is of Wiig.) Yet Franco’s film also functions as a drama about the tension that exists when creativity is scheduled for a deadline; the laughs that are in “Saturday Night” are mostly incidental from the sketches being prepared.

Forte, Hader, Meyers and Fred Armisen look particularly beaten down by the Tuesday routine, unshaved and unkempt as they head home at 8 in the morning only after a night of brainstorming to return to sell their complete skits an hour or two later at the table read. Casey Wilson, who was unceremoniously dumped in 2009, is another victim of the demanding schedule; perhaps because she was fired, Franco was more willing to include footage of the actress describing how she had “zero confidence” amongst the cast of pros with seven-plus years of experience and after giving her all to a rendition of “All That Jazz” that falls flat at the table read, she says in no uncertain terms that “I wanted to kill myself” when she realized it went off the tracks.

You’ll notice I’m mostly mentioning the performers — Franco rarely strays from them. He goes to the “Scene Shop” where art director Joe Detullio creates all the show’s sets and spends some time in the writers’ room and in the recording studio, where the music department works on a theme song for a Jason Sudeikis-Kenan Thompson sketch called “Horsecops.” But by and large, we get to see the evolution of the sketches from the performers’ perspectives, in particular the nips and tucks that occur to a skit involving Hader’s lecherous Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci, a Judy Blume-inspired sleepover sketch and a Forte-penned bit where Malkovich plays a voice actor forced to sing the Empire Carpet jingle. (The latter doesn’t make the show, but watching Forte rewatching the ad on a loop is one of the film’s funniest scenes.)

03152010_AndySamberg.jpgFranco includes some other nice touches along the way, including a talk with one of the lead writers who admits he looks down from his office window at the NBC News ticker at Rockefeller Center for ideas for “Weekend Update,” an all-too-brief interview with a man who has sat at the head of the studio audience line for 573 shows, and remnants of what must’ve been Franco’s original doc on Hader, where the actor screws around in his dressing room by imitating Franco’s “Spider-Man” co-star Willem Dafoe and getting heavy with a lip-synced version Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” But there’s also plenty that either must not have made the cut or was simply off-access to Franco — we see the end result of the popular digital short “Jizz in My Pants,” but nothing related to its production, and the absence of Wiig, Thompson, Darrell Hammond, and then-freshman Abby Elliott, except for brief glimpses, is notable.

In an exit interview, Franco asks Michaels, “You think we’re not getting the whole thing?” to which Michaels replies, “There’s many surfaces to things.” Michaels is right. There’s a kind of magic that remains elusive about “Saturday Night Live”‘s creative alchemy even after Franco’s film ends, but this rare peek behind the curtain gives the viewer a whole new appreciation for what the “Not Yet Ready for Prime-Time” players do.

“Saturday Night” currently has no U.S. distribution.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…