When Seth Meyers, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen were on a panel for their IFC series “Documentary Now!,” it felt like a mini-“Saturday Night Live” reunion as the three easily slipped into bits and had the audience — as well as each other — in stitches. Their discussion was held at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on Friday.
On the red carpet before the panel, Meyers told Variety about “Sandy Passage,” an episode he wrote based on “Grey Gardens.” He revealed that it was one of the last ideas they came up with in season one.
“We just knew it would be such a good look and a good entry to the idea of what ‘Documentary Now!’ was,” Meyers said. “Here’s this iconic documentary, here it is with these guys and maybe a move you didn’t see coming. We felt like that was the poster people would look at and say, ‘I wanna see what this is.'”
During the panel, Meyers recalled that Armisen’s “SNL” “History of Punk” sketch gave Hader, a documentary buff, the idea to do a series filled with documentary spoofs. Meyers explained, “It was an ideal time to do this show because documentaries are so popular.”
The panel revealed that after a script is written, they do one read-through, make necessary rewrites, then shoot the episode. Meyers said the three of them spent very little time together — scripts were written over email exchanges with Armisen in Portland and Meyers working on “Late Night” in New York, while Hader lives between Los Angeles and the Big Apple.
When they’re together on set, Hader described their work process as, “Fred and I do bits the entire time and it annoys the s— out of the crew.” The two then riffed on their favorite bit: imitating President Obama talking about what he’d do when he visited Los Angeles, which includes visiting the Capitol Records building or going to a table read.
Armisen, Hader and Meyers repeatedly praised their writer-director duo Alexander Buono and Rhys Thomas for their creativity and resourcefulness, noting they found the actual lenses used on “Grey Gardens” and the sketch artist who worked on “The Thin Blue Line,” which lent authenticity to the episodes based on “Sandy Passage” and “The Eye Doesn’t Lie.”
For “The Blue Jean Committee,” the inspiration was the two-part Eagles documentary. Both Hader and Meyers lauded Armisen for writing an entire album’s worth of songs for the episode and promised there would be more original music in season two, along with episodes based on the classic documentaries like Albert and brother David Maysles’ “Salesman,” “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “The War Room.”
Hader and Armisen say that they have one main rule to follow when making “Documentary Now!”: “Don’t overthink it.”