"I must be an adrenaline junkie," admits Julie Gelfand, "because being an associate director in live television is not for everyone."
For one thing, there are a myriad of events that can derail a live broadcast. "I was working the Miss Universe Pageant one year," Gelfand remembers, "and during a commercial break and wardrobe change for the top 10 contestants, I started to make the changes our director wanted for the next live round when the power went out on two of our jib cameras. We discovered they were sharing power with the dressing room. It turns out when the contestants turned on the hair dryers, it blew out the two cameras."
If that wasn't enough, Gelfand recalls another equally scary meltdown moment, this one during the live reality series Big Brother, where she has worked for the past four years. There was a competition going on to determine one of the final two contestants for the grand prize. "The game had an electronic buzz-in device," she says, "and we had rehearsed getting the game set into position several times during the day, and everything had worked perfectly. But when we were live on the air, the electronics didn't work. That meant instantly going to Plan B with the contestants using [manual] hand paddles to provide their answers. Live TV is all about being flexible."
'Gelfand grew up around live TV watching her father (producer-director Lee Miller) on-set, and now comes home to talk shop with her husband (associate director/director Gregg Gelfand). She says her role in the video truck is something akin to NASA flight control. "As we're trying to get the show off the air on time, I'm counting down from 10, and I'm on the headset asking, ‘Is it a go, no-go for tape roll? Is it a go, no-go on the stage?' The stress level is incredible."
The live gig that has offered Gelfand the most surprises has been an almost 20-year run with the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, a show so big it takes five associate directors.
"I work the performance side with one other AD," Gelfand says, "and we spend three days in rehearsals getting information about all the different acts, so that when we are live on air we can keep the director and the camera team one step ahead."
'The most memorable acts she's seen? "I love the guy who finger-snaps to the song Wipe Out, or the one who manipulates the air in his hands to music," she laughs. "And, then, of course, we have the usual assortment of bird acts, magicians, and guys who put themselves inside giant balloons."