What you don’t know about working in the world of daytime serials could make your head spin, to hear Denise “Didy” Van Cleave tell it. For example, the pace: on General Hospital, where Van Cleave is a production associate, the crew shoots 100 pages a day, five days a week, year-round with no hiatus. Stories on the long-running soap still revolve around adultery, amnesia and emergency surgery, but it’s edgier now—an HIV-positive lover, a drug addicted son—and more action. Hit men and gun battles are part of the mix, and a recent 16-episode arc was shot in real time like the innovative series '24'.
All of which makes for quite a training ground—one that Van Cleave has been immersed in since she joined the show as a 21-year-old intern right out of Cal State Fullerton.
“I needed an internship and I didn’t know where to apply,” says the Orange County native. “My sister is a nurse, and one of the people she worked with was the medical consultant on General Hospital. So she told me who to contact, and I ended up getting the job.”
That was 13 years ago, and Van Cleave has been reporting to work at ABC’s historic Prospect Studios in Los Feliz ever since. She moved from intern to assistant production coordinator to production coordinator, then backup production associate. About six years ago, she became a full-time production associate and joined the DGA. Currently, she also spends many days assistant directing and stage managing.
“We try to shoot about five scenes an hour, and the director blocks them all at once,” says Van Cleave. Timing episodes is a big part of her day, as is creating lists for props and wardrobe, plus the taping schedule and actors’ call sheets, all of which requires a well-honed sense of what can be accomplished in a given period of time. “It’s all about putting out fires in advance and thinking three steps ahead, because once you’re on the set, people expect you to have things, whether they’re going to ask for them or not.”
Recently, Van Cleave was given a glimpse of the bigger picture when she attended Super Soap, a fan event held in Florida. “People had flown in from Europe; people were there from all walks of life. You realize that what we do really impacts people. It gives you a whole different perspective.