Eugene Lee Interview: ‘Saturday Night Live’ production designer
“There’s very few of us left from the first show,” reveals “Saturday Night Live” production designer Eugene Lee. The veteran craftsman worked on the flagship episode of the long-running NBC sketch comedy series, and has designed hundreds of episodes ever since. This year Lee received his 14th Emmy nomination for his work on “SNL,” one of 21 total bids the show received for its 43rd season. He competes for the episode hosted by Bill Hader, with musical guest Arcade Fire. Watch our exclusive video interview with Lee above.
Producing a weekly sketch series may seem like a daunting task, but for Lee it’s a piece of cake due to “the decisions made in the first year.” When he first arrived to Studio 8H, the soundstage “was empty. They hadn’t done a live show in years.” The director of the pilot told him to think of the studio “as a giant shoebox” divided into three sections: backstage, main stage and audience.
But being “a stubborn guy,” Lee designed things his own way, coming up with a layout that allowed the audience “to see the activity,” which makes for a more “dynamic studio: equipment moving down, people getting dressed really fast, sometimes just behind a flat.” He also decided to make use of the fact that “cameras have wheels,” instead of simply moving sets in and out, which saved time.
Lee won Emmys for “SNL” in 2013 and 2017, with additional nominations in 1977-1978, 2000-2001, 2004, 2009-2012, 2014 and 2016. He is also a well-known theater designer, winning Tonys for “Candide” (1974) “Sweeney Todd” (1979) and “Wicked” (2004). And he has worked on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” since 2014.
“Saturday Night Live” won eight Emmys last year, including Best Variety Sketch Series, Best Comedy Supporting Actor (Alec Baldwin) and Best Comedy Supporting Actress (Kate McKinnon), bringing its total overall wins up to 64, which is more than any other program in Emmy history.