Summer 2015

Sandra Restrepo Considine calls the shots at Jimmy Kimmel 

The seasoned director has worked on live concerts, comedy acts, and variety specials throughout her career. Now as helmer of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Restrepo Considine and her team have it all under one roof—every day.


Juggling Act: Sandra Restrepo Considine is not the kind of director who never leaves the booth, though she spends plenty of time there (above) with AD Kathleen Fortine always to her left. (Photos: Randy Holmes/ABC)

Arriving at the Jimmy Kimmel Live! studios means braving the throngs that everyone in Los Angeles tries to avoid. Near the corner of Hollywood and Highland, tour guides hold flags as their charges line up like ducklings behind them. Other free-range visitors pose for selfies while Spiderman and his costumed cohorts exhort passersby to pay for the privilege of shooting them. A guard watches it all impassively from the show's front steps as a line for that day's audience starts to form.

"We're lucky we're right in the middle of this craziness," says director Sandra Restrepo Considine. "We use the space that we have, every inch of it." She regularly sends camera crews out in front of the building during the show to shoot live bits. In one of her favorites, Jim Carrey stood out on the sidewalk giving atrocious haircuts to willing victims. Hollywood bowl cuts!

Once inside, however, all is calm at Kimmel. Could be because much of the crew, including associate directors Kathleen Fortine and Jeri-Ann Wong and stage manager Josh Wader, have been there since day one; stage manager Alec Potter has been there a mere five years. "A lot of my stage manager peers told me, 'You're crazy to join the Guild for that show, it's going to be gone in 13 weeks," Wader recalls. "Well, we're on Season 13, and all of those people work here."

In fact, Restrepo Considine is one of the newest kids on this block, having been at the helm of ABC's late night show for less than a year. But you'd never know it from watching her work.

The morning goes by in a flurry of meetings. At 10:00, Kimmel talks with his segment producers to sketch out the day's show. Restrepo Considine attends whenever possible, to get an early look at their plans for the guests. At 10:20, she holds a 10-minute production meeting with her department heads. "The minute we finish, we hit the ground running," says Wader. "We go to the main stage, the Boulevard, the lobby, and get started."

Any pre-taped sketches will be handed off to segment directors for shooting, while live bits, like Liam Neeson's angry reading of a bedtime story, fall under Restrepo Considine's purview. "I have from 10:30 to 11:00 to figure out how to shoot [the bits] before Jimmy comes down for his rehearsal at 11:00," she says. "One of the things about this job is you have to look and work fast."

Restrepo Considine isn't the kind of director who never leaves the booth. She prefers to go out on the stage before blocking anything, get a feel for the space, see where she wants to place and move cameras, and talk with the talent involved. "I've learned from so many people that worked that way," she says. "That's huge to me."

She fell for live TV on her first day as a page on Saturday Night Live. She moved up to script PA, then production supervisor, eventually joining Late Night with Conan O'Brien as an associate director. From there, she worked as an AD on dozens of live concert, variety, and comedy shows around the world. And she was on teams that won Emmys three times for the Olympics before moving on to direct.

Restrepo Considine had long aspired to follow in the footsteps of Beth McCarthy-Miller, who directed Saturday Night Live for years. Restrepo Considine now finds herself the lone female director in late night. "People think it's more of a risk to hire a woman, and I don't know why that is," she says, noting that Kimmel should get props for his commitment to gender parity. "He's got a lot of women who work in very important positions on the show."

Wong puts the addition of Restrepo Considine to the team bluntly: "Yay, finally another female director! I don't know if it's PC to say that." Restrepo Considine is only the second woman that Wong has worked with in over 30 years; the first was Sandy Fullerton, from The Arsenio Hall Show, who got Wong into the DGA.

She believes Restrepo Considine is more capable, precisely because she'd done all the jobs coming up. "The AD is a very important job. They're the organizer, almost the gatekeeper, and because she's done that job before, she knows all the steps," Wong says, noting that hasn't always been the case with many of the other directors she's worked with.

"A lot of people think ADs are somewhat secretarial," adds Fortine. "So not true. If they ever had to sit in my chair, they would know that. It's very difficult work. If you're good at it, you mesh with your director, and do everything in your power to help your director, and you help everybody else in the process."

Restrepo Considine's extensive background also gave her a secret weapon during her audition for Kimmel Live!: She had already worked with most of the crew before. "I felt like they were on my side," she says. "They're the top guys in town. They made it a lot easier than it would have been if I didn't know anybody."

She still had a sharp learning curve her first few months, "learning Jimmy's rhythm and figuring out what he's thinking, and what I can do in the studio, what my parameters are," she says. "There's nothing I'm going to do in there that they haven't done, because they've been there for 13 years. You're limited by the space that you have. And when you're shooting comedy, there are certain things you're never going to change. You stay where the funny is."

Shooting for a week on location in Austin helped the team bond. "We were in a big theater, and I had eight cameras. Every day we came up with a different way to bring Kimmel [cast member] Guillermo [Rodriguez] in. [One night] we had him coming in on a horse with mariachis." The guest that night was Bill Murray.

Restrepo Considine asked him if he'd come out on a horse too. "He said, 'That would be funny. I can ride sidesaddle,' because he was going to dress as a University of Texas student going to a game." The bit killed. She and Murray have been friends since her SNL days. He had even sent her a text when she auditioned for the Kimmel show. "Just remember to have fun."

Funny People: (top to bottom) Stage manager Josh Wader; AD Jeri-Ann Wong; the team; and stage manager Alec Potter. “It’s like a family here,” says Restrepo Considine. (Photos: Randy Holmes/ABC)

Sitting in the booth during a morning rehearsal, Restrepo Considine reviews the activities on a bank of screens in front of her. Fortine sits at her left. Onstage, the crew runs through a bit called "Dare Roulette." Fans from across the country will appear on the LED screen that forms the stage's backdrop, acting out assorted dares. Potter stands in as Kimmel, reading the lines and cueing Rodriguez to spin the "Dare" wheel.

"I generally rehearse as Jimmy, which is beneficial all around," says Potter. "I feel like I know his timing, his humor, and mechanics very well, so then I can see whether you need a prompter in a certain area, or cue cards, or whether something's dangerous or precarious. If I have a stand-in do that, they generally won't tell you that information."

Fortine calls the morning run-throughs "the hardest rehearsal times of the day. You're just getting the elements, sets, and scripts, and you have to block and rehearse it perfectly in 20 minutes. Jimmy's going to look at it and you're going to get notes, so there's a lot of pressure there."

On schedule, host Kimmel appears onstage at 11:00 and runs through the bits, giving notes as he goes. Fortine then breaks down the music for that evening's band. "I count bars, so I know where things are, when a change comes, or if I need to cut to the drummer."

Meanwhile, Restrepo Considine is coming up with bumpers, the four- to six-second bits that take them to and from commercial breaks. After that she and Fortine go through their notes together. "I'm the keeper of the book," Fortine says. "I'm the one who collects all the information that Sandy has for me, that the producers and stage managers and logistics have for us, and I keep us all on track. That frees Sandy up to paint her pictures and figure out where she's going."

Fortine then holds the camera meeting. The show uses six cameras in studio, adding four more when they have a musical guest. Most of the space is zoned, so there are no marked shots. "On other shows I could be doing shot numbers and being very specific, and that's a three-hour camera meeting; mine is a 15-minute camera meeting."

If the music is on the inside stage, rehearsal takes place at around 2:00. If outside, they have to wait until 4:00, in consideration of the neighbors. That's about the same time Kimmel will email the team his finished monologue. Restrepo Considine has about 15 minutes to go through it. "I'm always crossing my fingers that we get it before we have to block the music outside," she says.

Wong started on Kimmel as a script supervisor before being bumped up. "As the tape AD, my job is to make sure everything gets taped and edited and goes to air," she says. "So basically I watch TV and count backward for a living. Thank god I know how to count from 10 to one." She also has the crucial ability to stay calm.

Technology has made her job move even faster. "As soon as we tape an act, they can edit it right away, it ships back down to me, and I feed it." Wong has watched late night change in other ways over the past 13 years. "Now, social media is big. Everything is instant."

Pretty much everything is instant on Kimmel. Fortine points out that, unlike other live shows, they have no prep time. "Usually on a normal show you'll have a script, you'll go over it, there'll be pre-marks." Not here. But that's all part of the fun. "You have to look at it, figure it out, and do it," Restrepo Considine says. "You can't get bogged down in the minutiae or you'll die. And you can't over-rehearse either, or you'll beat the comedy out of it."

Restrepo Considine reviews the monologue to see if she can use any of the jokes as 'callbacks,' funny bumpers featuring that night's guests. If that's a go, Wader, who handles talent, will then pitch them the bit to be shot live. A recent bumper featured the stars of Black-ish doing a ribbon dance in their dressing room, a callback to Kimmel ribbon-dancing in an earlier field segment. "The best part is if I hear Jimmy laughing," says Wader. "That's the goal; making the guy laugh who makes us laugh every day."

Restrepo Considine also uses the monologue to choreograph the cameras. "I have to figure out which ones have to go outside. If that happens too close to the top of the show, then I have to take them out of my opening, because there won't be enough time to get them outside. We've often started with a Steadicam shot and as soon as I cut off that shot, he's got to run out the lobby."

Everyone's flying by the seat of their pants on a daily basis. "You never go into a show with the confidence of 'All right, I've got it under my belt,'" says Fortine. "We go in with, 'This is problematic, oh, god get us through that.' And somehow we always do."

At 4:30, musical guest Zedd starts rehearsing outside. In the booth, Restrepo Considine's right hand waves in the air, as if conducting the shots while she calls them out. Her concert experience, along with her ability to sight read, comes in handy. "I don't script any of the music, I just watch the cameras and try to feel it," she says. "Kathy is giving me a road map of where the solos are."

A little after 5:00, they're ready to go. Potter brings Kimmel down to the stage and hands him off to Wader, who runs a four-point check with him: hair, mic placement, zipper, and shoelaces. During the break after the monologue, Wader supervises the crew setting up the stage desk and chairs while Kimmel chats with audience members.

Potter and Wader always know where the other one is. "We work so closely together, it's like having a brand-new brother or sister," says Potter. "We're in the deep end, all of us, in diverse ways. We've got to be very close and trust each other."

Fortine, who's worked with 17 directors in her 13 years on the show, agrees. "I understand Sandy. I understand what she's going for. We have a trust relationship, which is a must. If you don't have that, it's hard to do a show like this."

For her part, after all her years on the road, Restrepo Considine enjoys the pace, and place, of the nightly show—not to mention weekends off. "And I really like being around the same people. It's like a family here," she says. A funny one.

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