In her 15-plus years in network television, 2nd AD Suzanne Saltz has pretty much seen it all, including those bygone days of single-camera shows such as Baywatch, where the production team totaled a big three—a 1st AD, 2nd AD, and DGA trainee." Saltz was the trainee.
"It was a dream job for learning production," she recalls, "and daylight hours at the beach with dolphins jumping in and out of the frame. I became a 2nd 2nd on JAG, and then moved up to key 2nd. I remember getting ready to shoot an F-16 [jet fighter] and this young pilot ran out and said we couldn't film because there was classified material in the shot. Turned out it was inside the nose cone, which never would have been seen on camera."
In a job packed with managerial duties—wrangling actors from their trailers, creating schedules, even placing morning wake-up calls—Saltz says setting backgrounds is her one true creative outlet.
"The important thing with backgrounds, especially in TV," she explains, "is to make sure it looks good for camera, not for your eye. We also don't have the luxury of hundreds of background players in TV anymore, so you have to make do with less."
One such example occurred during a long Steadicam shot for Dr. Vegas on a double soundstage passing for a casino.
"I told [the extras] to make figure eights, like ice skaters, and to interact with each person as they crossed through," she describes. "It was an elaborate dance that worked well because they were doing things that came naturally—asking for more chips, getting a drink from a waitress, or just stopping to check their makeup in a mirror."
Working on Six Feet Under was a unique experience for Saltz because the background actors were only allowed to work once. "We didn't want the same person in a funeral scene or at the cemetery a few episodes later," she says.
Dealing with actors is another skill Saltz has honed over the years. She recalls one morning on Bones when an actor refused to come to the set because new sides with changes had not arrived due to L.A. traffic. He told her he was having a bad day. She shot back that she was having a bad day too. " 'I've got a director asking for a rehearsal and an actor refusing to come to set because the new pages aren't available.' The actor looked at me stunned, then laughed and walked with me to the set."