Look up "work-life balance" in any labor handbook and you may very well find the résumé of Gabriela Vázquez. The Los Angeles-based UPM, and mother of two, has carved out her unique brand of flex scheduling in an industry that as Vázquez's mentor, Joan Bradshaw, once told her, "doesn't offer any 9 to 3 jobs." So what's her secret to equilibrium? Only take local jobs for producers needing to showcase L.A. "I consider Burbank a distant location," she laughs. "What I do is a specialized niche, unlike most of the pack that's working hard to land a long-running series or feature."
Working short ends on major projects came after Vázquez spent more than 15 years as a 2nd AD followed by UPM jobs on major studio projects like Men in Black II and I Spy. "The main reason I switched from being an AD to a UPM," she says, "was because I have a lousy poker face. When you get a silly question over the phone, it's much easier to be diplomatic."
The local-only approach allows Vázquez to take months off at a stretch (usually during her kids' summer vacation) and it's also resulted in some interesting assignments. Prepping for the L.A. segment of Sex and the City, she received a top-priority document entitled "Security Protocol for Jewelry," outlining how to safeguard the show's ultra high-end bling when it came to town. "Most shows use costume jewelry, so it's not usually an issue," says Vázquez. "But on Sex and the City, there was $1 million in jewelry and the insurance policy specified that the wardrobe assistant was only allowed to handle $300,000 at a time without a security guard present. So that meant at the end of the day, I couldn't put more than $300,000 in one safe in case anything disappeared." Thankfully, nothing ever did, although when the trinkets were brought back to the set from the multiple safes, she concocted a cover story to downplay the courier's top-secret errand.
Trying to get out-of-town shows to focus on the logistics of short stints in L.A. can be challenging. "Those days leading up to when a film is coming to L.A. occupy all of my time and energy, so what's obvious to me can be way off the radar to the production until it's almost too late," she continues. Case in point was a Malibu location for Sex and the City with a 270-degree view of the ocean.
"I'd seen the house when there were gorgeous blue skies, and then a few weeks later, when it was socked in by fog" Vázquez recalls. "I put my L.A. crew on notice that we'd be shooting the house as soon as the show got to town, when I knew the weather was likely to be clear, even though the New York staff had already slated the scene for much later in the schedule. Anticipating what a show needs before it arrives is my most valuable contribution."
Over the last few years Vázquez has managed the L.A. units for an unlikely mix of shows that all shared the "15 days or less" schedule she covets. "I've gone about it a little backwards," the personable Vázquez explains. "Rather than specialize in one area–features, multicamera, or episodic–I do everything because it's easier to get work."