Spring 2015

Leslie Waldman

Tactful UPM

How does someone with a degree in English from Northwestern University end up as a UPM on some of television's most innovative series, including The Middle, Weeds, The Comeback, The War at Home, and Gilmore Girls?

"I went to grad school at USC with the intention of teaching and wound up in production," a bemused Leslie Waldman says. "Right after I joined the Guild [in the late '70s], I became the 'Queen of the Afterschool Specials.' When those went away, I set my sights on multi-cam. My first show was Lush Life for Fox. I thought I died and went to heaven."

Waldman says the joys of the job were learning about all aspects of production, as well as working with kids and stage parents. She describes those years as "a great foundation" for The Middle, which she was on from 2009 to 2014.

"At one point, I had every labor law memorized," Waldman says, laughing. "We were down to one minor on The Middle, but it can still be hard because the writers don't usually take shooting hours [with children] into consideration. We had minors on Weeds, Gilmore Girls, Grounded for Life, every show I've done, and it's always a challenge."

And then there are the everyday production challenges. For instance, an unexpected development for an episode of The Middle, shot entirely at Walt Disney World during the park's working hours.

"Just as we were about to roll for one big dramatic scene," Waldman recalls, "someone from Disney World came running up to tell us there was a parade coming through that we didn't know about. We barely got in one take before we had to clear out and the parade came rolling through."

Budgets are another mountain Waldman has had to climb on every series. "People think that because you're on a successful show like The Middle, you get more money every year, particularly for your crew, but that's never the case," she explains.

"A big part of my job is telling [studio or network executives] when a larger episode is coming up because of x, y, and z, so they are not blindsided. You have a budget they've agreed to, and your hope is you'll get some episodes that have fewer locations or guest cast so you can hit their number and still get the show done in five days."

Still, the teacher in Waldman is never too far away. "I've had episodes where there's a gap between what the [studio] thinks is reasonable and what's really required on the set," she says. "And, in the most respectful way, I try to paint a more realistic picture, so the director and showrunners always get what they need."

(Photo: Susan Seubert)

At Work With

Short profiles of Guild members in all categories sharing their experiences at work.

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