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November 18, 2014

Member Profile: Heather Lea Gerdes

Heather Lea Gerdes has danced on stage and screen, but serves up other talents for TV as a reality programming script department supervisor.

Libby Slate
  • Heather Lea Gerdes

When Heather Lea Gerdes was preparing to leave New York City to go on tour with a revival of West Side Story – playing the role of Velma as she had on Broadway – she decided to give a party for the company.

One of the people she’d invited phoned her beforehand. “I want to come,” he said. “What should I wear?” 

The guest was Jerome Robbins, who had conceived, directed and choreographed the original production of the classic musical, and was also overseeing this 1980s revival. “He gave me wine,” Gerdes recalls, reflecting on Robbins' arrival. “I kept that bottle a long time.”

Gerdes also appeared on Broadway in Copperfield, danced the female lead in Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ on London’s West End and performed in the London company of Cats as part of a British/American exchange. She was in the film Dirty Dancing and more recently, has appeared in Glee (Fox) and Two and a Half Men (CBS).

Gerdes isn’t a member of the Television Academy’s Performers peer group, though, but of Directors.

She had been choreographing and teaching dance, in her own studios and for such clients as Walt Disney World, when she decided to enroll in film school. She eventually moved to Los Angeles, returning to her Southern California roots: She was born in a beach house on Sunset Beach in Orange County.

When a friend suggested she look for work in transcription, Gerdes landed a job at LMNO Productions in Encino, which specializes in reality programming, working the night shift as a transcriber.

She quickly advanced to her current position as Script Department Supervisor, and has been with the company, whose shows include the current Unusual Suspects (Investigation Discovery) and The Little Couple (TLC), I Get That a Lot and, previously, I Wanna Be a Soap Star, for thirteen years.

Q. What do you do as a script supervisor?

A. My job at LMNO functions very differently than what the title would suggest. I work in an office, and facilitate creating scripts for voiceover narration. 

Q. What are some of the challenges of your job?

A. It’s detail oriented. You have to have very good auditory skills for all kinds of detail – sound quality, paying attention to the content on different audio tracks. You need good visual skills, too, to assess misspellings, or font and usage inconsistencies. And I’m the grammar police. 

I time line of all our shoots and shipments: When is the media coming back? Are there re-creations? Are there interviews? I coordinate all of our transcriptions, send it to writers, and organize it so it's available to producers, editors, segment and re-creation producers. I schedule and key voiceover sessions with the executive producers.  Using and my stopwatch and script, I mark the takes and selects, help guide the producer through it, make sure the talent is pronouncing names correctly. There could be over 250 voiceovers in one script.   

Q. Does your dance background help you?

A. Yes. As a dancer, you’re paying attention to rhythms, the environment, the subtleties of sound. As an instructor, I know how to be quick at a good assessment of body placement – I can very quickly see what is not working.

Q. What role does the Television Academy play in your life?

A. I joined the Academy three years ago. A friend who’s a casting director used to talk about the programs and the mixers. He said, “You might enjoy this. It’s a great networking environment and social environment.” I looked into it, and I qualified. It makes me very proud to be a member. I love to go to the mixers – I meet people who have gifts and talents within the other peer groups.

And I judge the choreography entries for the Emmy Awards; you have to have the credits to do that. I volunteer to judge as much as possible within my peer group.

Q. What do you do when you’re not working at LMNO?

A. I still go on dance calls. And for the past seven years I’ve been developing an exercise program called Country Cardio®. It’s a format based on resistance. I have a resistance tool (that) I call a rope. There are three levels: Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced. 

When I started working in TV, sitting at a computer, my dancing went away. In 2003 I took my first paid vacation ever, to Australia. I came back and wanted to stay connected to Australia. One day, I saw an Australian singer, doing country music. It was Keith Urban. I thought his music was very tuneful. I went on the Internet to listen to more, and started dancing around the room. I realized I was being inspired to dance by his music, and wondered if other people might be motivated to dance to this. 

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