Airdate: January 27, 2018
"I remember thinking he could be Mel Brooks-ian, like he's this dictator-y kind of director with the megaphone, and then he has a martini. There's a lot of martinis in my photos — like an Easter egg."
Airdate: May 22, 2021
"We got that sky background and wanted to make it super poppy. Then as it progressed I said, 'Let's just tear it apart and make a big mess of it.' You get to see the stage and everything."
Airdate: April 7, 2018
"I love how soulful he is here. What can I say? He was gorgeous inside and out, and I was honored to be able to work with him."
Airdate: February 16, 2019
"I had this idea of him as a flower — sometimes these things just come out of nowhere. And our costume designer, Tom Broecker, had this big flower head and a green suit, and it all came together. Badass flower."
Airdate: March 27, 2021
"Maya Rudolph, our queen. This is just a quiet moment, which is nice to have next to the big, joyful moments, next to the big concepts. This suits her beautifully."
Airdate: October 26, 2013
"Edward Norton loved this idea [a parody of Gottfried Helnwein's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, itself a parody of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks]. He changed on the set really fast — in all those positions."
Airdate: February 6, 2016
"That just came to me: Larry David annoyed with his other selves about getting that lightbulb in there. It seemed right for him. And I love how it's all white and he's in dark clothes. Graphically, it looks great."
Airdate: November 19, 2016
"We use the same turkey every year for the Thanksgiving show. This is [based on] the Robert Palmer 'Addicted to Love' video and was obviously put together in post. No, I should say the turkeys were really playing guitar."
Airdate: April 13, 2019
"She's a classic beauty. I wanted to do something super glamorous — and those eyes! She nailed it. It harkens back to old Hollywood, George Hurrell [portraits]."
Airdate: December 5, 2015
"We went to the prop department and just grabbed some stuff and made it work. That's no Photoshop, folks! That's two assistants back there. It's so satisfying to get it done practically — really a proud moment."
Airdate: February 7, 2009
"That was done practically. We had rain in the studio, and he got all wet. Not a whole lot of Photoshop there. Because the [screen aspect] ratio is 16:9, I had to extend the edges. But that's a secret."
Airdate: March 3, 2018
"This is practical. He sat in the middle of a bunch of basketballs, and we had my assistants hold them all around, mimicking his head. I think it came out great. Yeah — he is a basketball."
Airdate: May 11, 2019
"This is a take on a classic [Richard] Avedon shot of Judy Garland. Emma was a joy, a blast — just laughing and laughing and laughing."
Airdate: October 4, 2014
"On the way up in a cab, I had this idea of her dusting the NBC marquee. Tom Broecker put together that costume at the last minute, and we ran outside and did it [without permits]."
Airdate: November 12, 2016
"One of my absolute favorites. That was a huge deal for me — and I think a lot of people — when he was on the show. He was engaging, warm. I love this shot because he's got all his attitude and it just works."
There was an era at Saturday Night Live when the bumpers — those bold, graphic portraits of hosts and musical guests that appear between commercial breaks and show segments — were frequently shot outside SNL's studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, on the streets of New York City.
"But nowadays, with celebrity culture, and people [swarming] them and taking pictures, it's just not possible," says Mary Ellen Matthews, the show's photographer since 2000. Which makes images like that of Sarah Silverman dusting the NBC marquee all the more special.
The setup was a last-minute pitch, and Silverman, that week's host, proved game. Tom Broecker, SNL's costume designer, threw together a maid's uniform and out they went. "But you have to get permissions and permits," Matthews says. "Ultimately, we got the image, but I kind of got my hand slapped for that."
It's no wonder Matthews seized her moment. Each Thursday afternoon, she has only an hour or two with the host to shoot eight or nine images, plus a video for social media. Like the rest of the cast and crew, Matthews abides by the unofficial SNL motto: The show doesn't go on because it's ready — it goes on because it's 11:30.
She was originally hired in 1993 as an assistant to the show's original photographer, Edie Baskin, after years of being a fan of the series. "I remember trying to stay up with my brothers and sisters and be cool and watch Jackson Browne on SNL, but I couldn't stay awake."
Matthews's love of pop culture frequently finds its way into her work, examples of which can be seen on the following pages, along with her memories of each shoot. But many of her ideas come out of thin air, she says, paraphrasing Quincy Jones: "You have to leave room for God when you enter the studio."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #6, 2022, under the title, "Hot Shots."