Anyone who’s met Scottie Gissel would do well to heed that old advice: “Don’t Mess with Texas.” After all, the 1st AD grew up hunting with her family on a ranch west of her home in Houston. She relocated to L.A. in 1994 for the DGA Assistant Director Training Program, and says her female class was known as the “Amazons.” “At 5-foot-11, I learned to wear my clogs,” she laughs, “as I was only the fourth-tallest woman in the group.”
Gissel says respect for the creative process as well as an ability to see the big picture have been her biggest assets in episodic television. Her resumé includes all five seasons of Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under and the first two seasons of his popular follow-up series, True Blood. “I’ve become the go-to AD for any show about death, dying, or the undead,” Gissel cracks. In a more serious vein, she says the challenging nature of Ball’s shows—nudity, shooting nights, special effects, prosthetics—have honed her “mother bear” skills to the nth degree.
So protective are her feelings toward cast and crew that Gissel was gifted an honorary party hat from True Blood cast member Ryan Kwanten. “Party hats are what male actors wear to cover their privates during a nude scene,” she says without a trace of red in her cheeks.
Not all of Gissel’s challenges at work are so amusing. She tells of a scene for Six Feet Under where a man is jogging in a canyon and gets killed by a cougar, the only species of the cat family that cannot be trained. “Our first choice for a cougar was unavailable as it had mauled its trainer, so we arranged a second choice to work with,” says Gissel. “Then, while conferencing with the new trainer during prep, I heard him say over the speakerphone: ‘Y’all have any girls on your crew? He likes to go for ’em.’ And I’m like: ‘Lucky us!’” In fact, the day before shooting the cougar had attacked his female trainer, so the crew stood 25 feet downhill from him—behind Gissel. “But,” she grins, “I knew I could outrun at least one other gal on the set.”
But seriously, Gissel couldn’t be more grateful for her career. For the last six years, she has served as a trustee for the same training program that brought her into the industry and has recently become chair of its board. “I owe my career to the DGA and am thrilled to help in any way I can.”