Andrew Helm and Tessie Santiago take a small break between appointments
by Lyria Wollich
Recently we had the pleasure of talking to Andrew Helm, Script Coordinator for the new upcoming fall show Queen of Swords.
Andrew Helm moved to Los Angeles from his home in Northern California to become a writer. After what he describes as a "long road" he met Laura Brennan, who was at the time the Script Coordinator for Highlander - The Raven.
"She is a fantastic human being and a wonderful friend." He states. "At the time, she was working on the Raven and they needed someone temporarily so I took the job and got my very first position on a show."
Andrew actually came on to Raven at the last part of the show, but that wasn't going to be 'it' for him, luckily he caught then Creative Consultant David Abramowitz's eye. "David just liked me, I just must of done something right. So then he invited me to work as an assistant on his next show which was "The Lost World"."
The Lost World is in it's second successful season, however the writing staff did go through changes. Mainly because the proposal for a new show came through. "Once David got involved it became The Queen of Swords, and I moved up another notch in the ladder to become Script Coordinator."
So what exactly does a Script Coordinator do?
"It's my job to make sure that the various entities involved in the show get the right scripts. Because of the way the show is set up, with the many production companies and people involved, this becomes quite the international affair. Thank goodness for the joy of E-mail it becomes a lot easier than it might be otherwise. So there is a lot of e-mailing to Spain, where the show is shot, Toronto, Paris and London, and just about every place in between."
So how does it feel to work with David Abramowitz? Here Andrew becomes quite emphatic. "I can't say enough about him. I can't say enough about David, he is a great human being, and a wonderfully compassionate and creative person. He's a real delight to work for. And everyone in the office has been fantastic. Working in the office and saying that on a regular basis, I have other writer friends of mine who have worked on staff and been assistants in other places and they ask me - You mean no one there is a total jerk? ; and I have to say - Yeah, pretty much."
"Then they say, "well that's not right. (laughing) There has to be at least one person who is remarkably unpleasant" and that's just not the case here at Queen of Swords. It's a superb environment."
And David Abramowitz is not only a good boss, he encourages the rest of the staff to learn all aspects of the business. He also encourages creative criticism.
"He absolutely welcomes questions, comments and creative ideas. He wants me to read every script and every outline and if there were things I didn't understand or didn't think worked, he's more than open to hearing about that."
"And as Executive Producer on Queen of Swords, David has a whole lot more responsibilities and when they were looking for music to use on the show, I could tell them about bands that I liked. He also called me one time telling me "I need some illustrators, some great graphic artists to do our Tarot cards" and I didn't know any at the time so I said "well I guess it's time to find a few, and you sort of jump headlong in all the aspects that need to be done."
So what else has Andrew done? "Well I've been very fortunate because I have a lot of feature scripts that received accolades though they have yet to be sold. One of them is a Western calling "Saving Grace" that has an English woman who moves to Colorado in the 1870's, where her Sheriff husband is killed by outlaws. So someone needs to take over as sheriff and everyone else is afraid to take over, so she decides to be sheriff. And when I originally thought about it I thought - An Emma Thompson Western! -- That one actually won runner-up in the Best in the West screenwriting competition last year."
And it hadn't escaped my attention that Andrew's last name also seems to coincide with one of the main characters. It must be a situation where he is very appreciated by the writing staff there! The writers who are currently with the show are James Thorpe, also a Highlander Alumni who wrote several of the great episodes including "Money No Object", "The Valkyrie" and the very popular "The Modern Promethius"; Steve Roberts, Elizabeth Keyishian, and Glenda Cox, whom Andrew describes as "unrivaled complement to the writing staff" working as the Writer's Assistant.
I then asked Andrew for any comic moments in his career. He sent this piece back, which really puts a bit of perspective on things.
"Do you know how at the end of a movie, they'll list the stars assistants? And you find yourself thinking; what the hell does Bruce Willis need three assistants for? Well, I found out why. Before the show started, Tessie flew out to LA for nearly two months of preparation for the show. In addition to my script duties, it was my job to set up her schedule. She had a personal trainer 6 days a week, sword and whip training, dialect coaches, flamenco dance instruction, horse lessons -- not to mention photo shoots and business meetings. I had to factor in every coach and trainers busy schedule, travel time, traffic time, time to eat and sleep and occasionally time for Tessie to actually rest from all this hullabaloo. It was an impossible juggling act that had to be readjusted daily. And though Tessie weathered this storm with grace and aplomb, I was a mess at the end of the two months. By the time I finally said good-bye to her at LAX, I had broken out in unholy, stress-related, Exorcist-looking blotches and I thought my head might snap off at the neck and roll away. Trust me, personal assistant's earn their money."
Thanks Andrew, we look forward to the show!
He has also worked on:
Highlander - the Raven The Lost World