‘SNL’ photographer gives the most to each host every week

24 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Blake Shelton Is Clueless About Cumberbatch.

“What You Missed”: On “The Tonight Show,” Fallon was pretty much mocking country music, and it didn’t seem like Blake Shelton was too happy about it!

Upcoming Saturday Night Live host and The Voice coach Blake Shelton stopped by The Tonight Show Thursday — and his visit turned into a bit of a concert. Shelton, this week’s guest host of “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m.), was engaging in a rite that reaches back to the birth of this NBC institution: lending himself for a portfolio of images aired as “bumper IDs” before and after each commercial break. “I’ve had Nashville people say, just jokingly, ‘Hey man, don’t make us look stupid,’” said Shelton as he scuffled a boot in the hay strewn on the sidewalk and chuckled at this kountry-kousins tableau he was part of. Inspired by the trend of the same name currently sweeping YouTube, Fallon and the country crooner took turns wearing headphones (with tunes blasting) while the other read a phrase aloud. And finally, indie rock royalty, The Decemberists, sang YouTube comments on “Kimmel!” If you’re a country music fan, are you offended by Fallon’s silly country songs? During his appearance on Thursday’s Tonight Show, Shelton humored the host with a modern-day game of telephone, “The Whisper Challenge,” which has become a viral trend on YouTube.

It won’t look stupid. “SNL” host portraits — some zany, some smart, some downright suave — exhibit a consistent track record of cool artistry, and with their blink-and-they’re-gone impact they have always served the show’s sense of downtown elan. After Fallon attempted to impress Shelton by essentially ruining his songs, Shelton looks into Fallon’s eyes, smiles his charming Blake Shelton smile, and drawls, “I seriously can’t stand you.” The country star has a lot on his plate right now, so that’s why we should cut him a little slack for not knowing who Benedict Cumberbatch is – or even the evil karate gang from the 1984 flick “The Karate Kid.” That being said, it was pretty funny to watch Shelton muddle his way through last night’s “Whisper Challenge,” in which he and Jimmy Fallon had to guess what the other person was saying while wearing noise-canceling headphones. They are part of what makes “SNL” “SNL.” Since 1999, they have been the weekly creation of Mary Ellen Matthews, who on Tuesday, for something like the 300th time, was doing it again, keeping it fresh and making it look easy.

Shelton screaming in his Oklahoma drawl at Fallon through the headphones is enough to make the bit worthwhile, but the singer’s ignorance toward “Imitation Game” Oscar nominee Cumberbatch – and Fallon’s frustration – is flat-out hilarious. Until this final setup outside Rockefeller Center — a last-minute inspiration by Matthews for which Shelton was game and stagehands swiftly toted the fence-prop out to 49th Street —the session had taken place indoors, in Studio 8H. “So this is where it all happens! When the show host took a turn wearing the headphones, his guest was perplexed by the Oscar nominee’s name on the card: Benedict Cumberbatch, who is up for Best Actor for The Imitation Game.

On a stage to the right of “home base” (where Shelton five days hence would deliver his opening routine), Matthews’ lights were arranged against a neutral-colored seamless background. Shelton reigns as CMA male vocalist of the year and as a coach on NBC’s music-competition series “The Voice.” But more importantly for Matthews’ purposes, he was an easygoing pro, instantly as comfortable with her as she was with him. Taking his place in front of the lights, he quoted a fellow country singer as declaring, “I have two poses and you’ve got one hour,” and laughed at such bullheadedness. Clad in jeans and a velvet jacket, she was coltish but deliberate, capturing Shelton with her Canon 1DX (she went digital a decade ago but still misses her Hasselblad’s “analog feel and the magic of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s processed”).

From Tuesday’s no-wait harvest, Matthews would have to cull a total of nine images for possible use on Saturday’s telecast, which will conclude a busy week that began for her on Monday with brainstorming and other preparations. Thursday typically requires a photo session with the musical guest (not needed this week, since Shelton is pulling double duty), and Friday calls for applying to the handful that Matthews has chosen enhanced color and other digital sorcery (her neutral shooting background, for instance, can be transformed into any hue, design or location).

Matthews joined “SNL” 22 years ago as assistant to Edie Baskin, the show’s original photographer who in 1975 had established its enduring visual identity. Matthews calls her “my hero and my mentor.” When Baskin left in 1999, Matthews took over. “My father had a darkroom and I was in there 24/7,” she recalled when the Shelton session had wrapped. “He used to have little contests between me and my brother and three sisters: We’d each shoot one frame and pass the camera around, and he’d judge which frame was the best.”

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