Ten years ago, Sydney Arroyo started watching “Saturday Night Live” with her parents, who are big fans of the late-night live sketch comedy show. And when the junior photography major and journalism minor began searching for a co-op last year, she knew “SNL” was her one and only choice.
Inspired by the career of Mary Ellen Matthews, who has been the show’s official photographer since 1999, Arroyo decided the best way to achieve similar success was to work for Matthews and experience this career path firsthand. So about eight months ago, she began a co-op as a paid photography intern at “SNL.”
Arroyo’s job was to help the show’s two main photographers: Matthews, who shoots the “bumper” signature photos of the hosts and musical guests that are shown after each commercial break, and Dana Edelson, who photographs the show as it is broadcast. During any day of Arroyo’s six-day workweek, she could be responsible for tasks ranging from editing photos to archiving work to helping to set up and break down the “bumper” sets. On the night of the show, Arroyo and the other interns would grab a memory card from Edelson after each sketch and file the images.
Arroyo also took photos of behind-the-scenes moments during rehearsals or during the “pre-tapes,” which are the digital shorts or fake commercials filmed before the show. The “SNL” website even ran and credited her photos, including shots she took of the “(Do it on My) Twin Bed” music video that “SNL” alum and current “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon filmed when he hosted in December.
“There was so much I learned while I was there because it was very hands-on,” she said. “My bosses heavily relied on their interns, which turned out to be very valuable to me because I felt I was treated as a real employee and I experienced more that way.”
With the amount of work it takes to produce a live show every week, Arroyo always had something new to do and someone new to work with.
“Everyone I spoke to was eager to tell me more and I learned something different from each person that I was around,” she said. “Working in an environment like the one at ‘Saturday Night Live’ was such a fun, growing experience.”
Working behind-the-scenes on “SNL” was as unpredictable and exciting as the live television show itself. Since Arroyo worked on sets featuring a new celebrity host and musical guest every week, there was a lot of turnaround.
“I found it so interesting because each celebrity is so different in personality that it would make each work week completely different. No week was the same as the last and every host brought something different to the table. Even the atmosphere would change weekly,” she said.
Arroyo worked closely with celebrities like “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington, who hosted a show in November. Another standout celebrity she worked with was the recording artist Drake, who hosted in January.
“He was very nice and surprisingly down to earth. He was also very photogenic, which made my job photographing behind the scenes very easy,” she said.
But the staff members with whom Arroyo worked every day were just as inspiring.
“Every week the cast and crew members put on a new show, and although it can be stressful and everyone has to do their job, by the end of the week it is so rewarding to see the final product of the hard work that everyone put out,” she said.
And after six months on the job, Arroyo said she was able to walk away with a final product of her own:
“Not only do I now know what it's like to work at a huge television show like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but I know how to set up a large-scale photo shoot and break it down. I know what it takes to creatively prepare for different personalities after watching my boss Mary Ellen do it each week. And I know how to capture certain moments that happen backstage and different interactions with people. Plus I got the chance to meet some really awesome people.”