Elena Santaballa likes to say that her job is mostly about “telling adults to be quiet.” And in her 12 years as a 2nd AD on sitcoms, she’s shushed everyone from first-time extras all the way up to CBS President and CEO Les Moonves. “Nudging actors to and from the set is another one of my specialties,” Santaballa laughs. “In fact, if [1st AD] Randy Suhr and I hadn’t figured out how to disconnect the cable that ran to Ray Romano’s Internet connection in his room, I wonder if we could have kept Everybody Loves Raymond on the air.”
Stage Five at Warner Bros., where Santaballa, a 2nd alternate on the DGA National Board, worked for seven seasons on Raymond, followed by two on The New Adventures of Old Christine, was her longtime home base. Unfortunately, the dressing rooms are directly behind the main set, and once, while working on a Christine episode, Santaballa tried to quiet a group of supporting actors. They later complained that an AD had been rude to them. “It was during a show taping and they had no idea how loud they were,” she recalls. “When they told our producer she just laughed and said, ‘Oh, please, Elena shushes everyone.’”
Santaballa’s passion for “wrangling grown-ups” began as a DGA trainee, and then later as a Key 2nd AD on features. When the Washington, D.C. native heard about the laid-back pace (and the daily yucks) on sitcoms, she moved over to multi-camera work. “Sitcoms are a lot like theater because you spend your entire week prepping to shoot the show once through, live in front of an audience,” she says.
Understanding the sitcom vibe is a big part of Santaballa’s job. She recalls once hiring a 2nd 2nd AD she knew from features on Everybody Loves Raymond, and the cast was mystified by the new AD’s urgent, high-energy approach. Dealing with extras is another area where multi- and single-camera shows differ. “In features they hire a 2nd 2nd to handle extras, but that’s the most creative part of my job,” Santaballa explains. “With four cameras covering the action, there’s no place to cue onstage. So I run each cue line-by-line with the script in advance with each extra. Having a background player waltz through the scene at the wrong moment can blow a comedic moment that took all week to rehearse.”