It’s a long way from corporate accounting in Chicago to scheduling Old West gunfights in the foothills above L.A., but it’s a journey 1st AD Anne Berger says she’s taken with “honor and humility.”
“Most ADs are lucky to get to work on one groundbreaking hit,” says Berger, “and I’ve had three [Desperate Housewives, Heroes, and Justified]. It’s really been a dream come true.”
Dreams are what fueled an exit from checking corporate books at the Arthur Andersen firm and onto the Julia Roberts smash, My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) as a production accountant. “Production accountants are the first on the picture and the last off,” she notes, “so my first experience in the industry was fantastic. But after so many years in an office, I wanted to be solving problems on my feet, with people on the set.”
Savings buffered Berger’s move to L.A., where she started all over (again) as a PA, joining the Directors Guild in 1998. She worked as a 2nd 2nd AD on several projects including Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity (2000) and then made the jump to 1st AD in 2005 on the cultural juggernaut that was Desperate Housewives.
“The hardest part was scheduling around the four leading ladies,” Berger smiles. “The show was fairly simple to shoot [on Universal’s backlot]. But [the actresses] became insanely famous overnight, and outside demand for their time never let up.”
The last few years on Justified have been among Berger’s most challenging. “The opening episode for season five was shot in the alligator-infested waters in the Florida Everglades,” recalls Berger. “One of the owners of the location was a character right out of the show. He was shooting a shotgun wildly in the air on our location scout. I had to use humor, and a very gentle touch, to make sure he never picked up that gun when cast and crew were there.”
Berger credits directors Michael Watkins and Michael Dinner on Justified for teaching her how to schedule big stunt scenes with special effects in a fraction of the time they’re often done. “They always use three to four cameras and shoot in the order the action occurs in the scenes—that really helps the cast and crew stay focused.”
Overall, Berger describes her approach as forceful but always with a smile. “I can’t say enough how humbling it is to be able to work with filmmakers and crews of this caliber.”