The Armenian community is fortunate to have a number of women pursuing creative careers and businesses. One of these women is Kim Kachougian, a set designer for one of the film units of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Kachougian, who has won three Emmy awards for her work, also owns her own floral design company, Mac & the Mushroom, based in Hoboken, NJ.
Kachougian received a BFA in theater design and a master’s degree in theater education from Adelphi University in Long Island, NY. After designing some shows off-off-Broadway, she moved to California to explore other career opportunities.
She began working as a production assistant in film and television and then later moved back to New York, where she designed the windows at Macy’s. After overcoming several challenges, she was able to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union, which expanded her opportunities in TV, movies and commercials.
At the time, it was difficult for a woman to be recognized, though the union has improved in its diversity. Kachougian says she has not experienced any overt oppression, but stated, “I think as a woman, you have to work harder to prove yourself in a man’s field.
Typically, the job that I do, a lot of women do it. I’ve never experienced someone treating me differently because I’m a woman, but I think the pressure on women to step up and be just as good if not better is definitely there and felt, and I think the women work harder for that reason.”
Kachougian spent a few years doing television commercials until she was recommended for the SNL pre-tape film unit to work on “digital shorts.” Since then, she has been part of the expansion of film units. She and her husband, who are newlyweds, work together on the show.
He manages production design while she is able to make creative decisions for the set, including props, decorations, lighting, flooring, picking furniture and more. Kachougian has been working at SNL for about 10 years, and her husband has been there for about seven or eight years. Each season of SNL consists of 21 shows, and they work on a rigorous production schedule for three days each week. The film unit receives the script on Wednesday night around 8:00 p.m.
The production team then has a few hours to meet and design the whole skit on a Zoom call. Prior to COVID, they used to meet at 30 Rockefeller (also known as 30 Rock). The team includes the director, the director of photography, lighting, costumes, production designer, set designer, props, wardrobe, makeup, hair and the production support group (production coordinator, art department coordinator and the producer).
All materials for the design of the show must be submitted before 6:00 a.m. the next morning. “You don’t have a lot of time to think, and you also have to take into consideration the items that you can actually get within 24 hours,” Kachougian noted. “You can design anything you want, but if you can’t produce it and have it show up in a truck the next afternoon, then it’s no good,” she said. Kachougian says her valuable connections with vendors over the years have helped her obtain set resources.
In describing her process, Kachougian explained that she makes a lengthy list of supplies on Wednesday night and enlists three people to shop for her. The longest day is Thursday, which consists of gathering all materials and building sets. The crew begins at 7:00 a.m. and works until 10 or 11:00 p.m. Sometimes, scenes are shot on Thursday if they can redress 30 Rock.
Otherwise, they typically shoot sometime during the day or at night on Friday, then the skit is edited and produced for air on Saturday night. Kachougian says she puts in about 50 hours in those three days. “It’s always a surprise!” she stated. “You usually have more pre-production time when you do movies or TV. This is quite unique, and there is really nothing else that compares to the pace SNL has.”
Since each season of SNL is 21 shows and each show takes three days to produce, Kachougian stated that she only works 63 days of the year and can pursue other ventures the rest of the year. The show also follows a school schedule, so cast and crew have summers off. This allows Kachougian to focus on her personal floral design business Mac & the Mushroom.
Kachougian first ventured into floral design back in high school. She began working at a local flower shop and fell in love with the work. “I couldn’t get enough of it, but I never really thought about that as a career,” Kachougian reflected.
“I went to school for theater, and it never occurred to me I could be something more than a hometown florist who delivered bouquets and arrangements. I didn’t realize that there was this whole world out there of events and big installations,” she enthused. As a set decorator, she has always designed the flowers based on her experience.
She was inspired and encouraged by other set decorators to focus on floral design after working on the movie The Post, starring Meryl Streep. Kachougian took some classes to learn about mechanics, processing and how to work with flowers to keep them alive.
In addition to the sets on SNL, she also does all the flower arrangements for dressing rooms. Her floral designs have been admired by Steve Martin, Aidy Bryant and the Kardashians, though Kachougian did note that she gets less facetime with celebrities these days after the pandemic.
Kachougian started her floral design business four years ago. The name Mac & the Mushroom is inspired by her dog Mac and a giant orange mushroom that grew from an oak tree at her home in Vermont. “[Mac] had such an incredible spirit and was up for anything. He was the love of my life, my little boy. He passed away the next year, after I formed the company, so he’s not with us anymore, but he is always with us,” she shared.
Kachougian is often hired for special events and hopes to enter the print and fashion industries. “I think the photography is what draws me, and the way that you can create a story with an image,” Kachougian stated. “It allows for more creative freedom.”
Kachougian describes her aesthetic as modern. She enjoys creating what she calls a “floral blob,” which are shapes from just one or two types of flowers. Her favorite arrangement for SNL was for its Pride Month song last year, when she created a whimsical floral fantasy for a dream drag brunch.
Kachougian shared with the Weekly how aspects of her Armenian identity and upbringing have influenced her success in the industry. “Growing up in an Armenian family, you have a different perspective of the world,” she said. “I feel like loyalty is a very strong thread throughout the Armenian community. In my work, we are very loyal to our crew, vendors, friends and family.
That was a big influence in my life.” Kachougian was raised by a single working mom, a rarity she says in the Armenian community. Kachougian’s mother was the youngest of 12, so Kachougian grew up around many cousins who were from more traditional family units. “I learned my work ethic from [my mom]. I always knew that I was going to be a working person, not just one of those women who got married, had a family and raised children,” she shared.
“That just wasn’t for me.” Kachougian also credits her unrelenting determination and drive, especially to get into the union, to her Armenian upbringing. “I think a lot of Armenians have that drive within them, whether they know it or not, and they’re successful,” she added. “There’s not a lot of Armenians, especially in America, who aren’t successful. They’re businesspeople, and they’re leaders. All of that plays a part just by the way I was raised – to just be in charge.”
For all of her hard work, Kachougian has many outlets for relaxation and maintaining her mental and physical health. She and her husband love the outdoors, hiking with their dogs and skiing. Kachougian also does hot yoga and pilates. Her advice to young women wanting to get into the industry is to make connections with people and contact the union for apprenticeships or entry level opportunities. “I’ve always had really good luck getting jobs and connections with people by just calling them, reaching out, and saying hey, this is who I am and this is what I want to do,” Kachougian advised. “If you want something, go for it.”
Dalita Getzoyan armenianweekly.com