*EXCLUSIVE* Interview with Criminal Minds UPM Ian Woolf!
“I’m a work in progress…”
TJ: So you’re a Jersey boy originally, and went to school at NYU. How long have you been in Los Angeles and what brought you to the left coast?
IW: I’ve been here since 1989. Was on a picture in NY called Black Rain, and towards the end of the job I got called to do a movie called Prancer in Indiana as the 2nd assistant director. Then there was a movie of the week, then Elizabeth Taylor in Sweet Brigadoon in Los Angeles. After that came a movie called Come See the Paradise, and at that point I could tell we needed to move here.
TJ: I’d like to reach into the past and talk a little about your history for a bit; can you tell us what led to you becoming 1st AD on The X-Files in 1999, and what was it like joining that show six years into its nine-year run? Were you a fan?
IW: Didn’t watch the show, but Harry, Harry Bring (co-executive producer on Criminal Minds) and I a year earlier were going to be co-first ADs on a show called 7 Days. He got X-Files and left. He knew me from that.
TJ: You also joined Angel in 1999, also as 1st AD, and were with the production from the very first episode, “City Of…”. Were you working on both shows simultaneously or did you leave X-Files to go to Angel?
IW: Left X-Files to go to Angel. That was main unit, first unit, and that’s where I like to be. X-Files was second unit.
TJ: Give us a few words of your fondest memories on Angel, and do you have a favorite episode? Who was your favorite character?
IW: Fondest? Working with producer Kelly Manners, who happens to now to be my next door neighbor – love most? When we would break for lunch on Paramount lot. That’s where we were based, and just because of the history of the studios, lunchtime was nice. I went to little courtyard area sort of tucked away between administration and television buildings and there were nice park benches, and I’d smoke a cigar during the break.
TJ: From Angel you moved on to Hawaii, then Point Pleasant. Was it Marti (Noxon) that brought you on over there due to having worked with Mutant Enemy on Angel, or was it just a coincidence?
IW: They cancelled Hawaii while shooting episode 10 in the first year because it was up against LOST and it didn’t stand a chance, so Kelly Manners was gearing up to do Marti Noxon’s show Point Pleasant, before joining Criminal Minds in 2005 with Compulsion, the second episode of the series.
TJ: So you’ve been at CM practically from the very beginning!
IW: Actually the pilot was shot in Vancouver for CM, the first episode was shot in L.A. I had taken a job on a show called Threshold, which was a short–lived sci-fi series as an assistant director. There’s something called a production fee, which is additional money attached to your salary, I’ve always gotten production fee during prep, and Threshold wasn’t gonna give it to me, and the day that I said ‘okay I’ll do it’, Criminal Minds came through with a better offer, so I went with them.
TJ: Did you feel that was a difficult shift going from a genre show to a procedural?
IW: I had done Nash Bridges, so no.
TJ: Can you share one of your most impactful memories of working on CM in the early days of the series? How does it compare to the production of the show currently? What’s the main difference, comparatively, as you see it?
IW: It has to be the cast changes! From when Mandy left us, to working without a number one on the call sheet up until we got Joe Mantegna. That was a big deal, I think things are a lot smoother now… although we had that Paget and AJ issue a few seasons back where they were not invited back, and then they came back, and then Paget decided to leave again, so it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster ride, at the tail end of this so far, as far as cast.
TJ: Was it difficult to deal with the various cast transitions, i.e… Lola and Mandy’s departure, Joe’s arrival and integration, Paget and AJ leaving, then returning, and Paget leaving again which lead to Jeanne’s arrival, or was it taken in stride as par for the course in the industry?
IW: Happens all the time. What’s difficult to deal with is idiosyncrasies, each actor that comes in has their own style, their own strange types of requests, so you just have to roll with the punches, just roll with it from an AD perspective, from running the set.
TJ: I also wanted to ask you, as someone who has been there from the get-go you have a unique perspective: how did the major shift in season 6 affect you personally? Ed (Bernero) and Simon (Mirren) left to go do the spinoff, right?
IW: Right. New writers were hired and Erica was made showrunner.
TJ: Was it sudden, or had it been coming for some time?
IW: They’d been grooming Erica for a long time, wasn’t a big deal from my perspective, seamless. And now it’s fantastic with Erica, scripts on time, and even early! You know, early on for whatever reason, writer or location issues arose, now we circumvent any issues that might raise their ugly head if we didn’t get it early.
TJ: In 2010 you transitioned to Unit Production Manager at CM, which I imagine is a very different skill set than first AD. Was it a smooth transition, was there a learning curve, or had you been with the production for so long it was just a matter of swapping hats?
IW: HUGE learning curve, never having done the job, from going from the floor as assistant director for so many years to a desk job, I had to retrain my whole style of working… there were people that were hesitant, like REALLY? Because they were used to me on the set being pushy, and the production manager can’t work that way. Its taken a few years, I’m a work in progress.
TJ: Do you miss assistant directing, or do you still get to do it once in a while?
IW: I do miss it, and no I don’t have an opportunity to do it. We have a lot of qualified people and I’d rather give them the opportunity since I’ve already done it.
TJ: Tell us the best part of any given day on-set at Criminal Minds.
IW: When they get that first shot of the day because it gets the ball rolling, and when they call wrap… I can relax somewhat more than most people.
TJ: We like to do word association with the cast. Would you share your one word descriptions of:
Joe: Can I do two words? Consummate professional.
Matthew: GublerWoolf – One word. We have a joke, the two of us.
AJ: Bella, beautiful.
Shemar: Tough one. No word comes to mind with Shemar, but dog-lover!
Jeanne: The Firm. I think of The Firm every time I see her.
TJ: Also who is the craziest cast member?
IW: The Gube, the Gube.
TJ: Out of all the episodes, all the seasons, if you could have one UnSub return for an encore, who would it be and why?
IW: (exhales) Tough question, Tari. The guy who was shooting people on the freeway.
TJ: Norman from Normal!
IW: Yes! So unassuming! The flip side of him being so normal, is to be this killer… I was the AD on that one, it was memorable and difficult.
TJ: What behind the scenes department do you feel is the most unsung yet contributes immensely to the show?
IW: Craft Services – the food! Also, the guys that do the video playback on the monitors – that stuff all has to be created, the graphics department. But the most underappreciated, especially by the crew is the accounting department – that’s payroll!
TJ: I know that your father, a decorated war hero, is a big inspiration to you personally, and that you’re taking a very meaningful father/son trip with him this summer. Are there any individuals that have inspired you professionally?
IW: I trained under an AD from Spain name Kuki Lopez Robero… trained under him as assistant director, got a lot of training and guidance, he was the main guy. Also Rafeala de Laurentiis, Dino’s daughter, gave me my first opportunity for 1st AD, and I owe a lot to her- there was a series called Vanishing Sun… and the third person is John Nicorella, a dear friend who directed Kull, who passed away in 1998. He was executive producer on Nash Bridges, and a dear friend and mentor. So besides my father those 3 people influenced me a lot.
TJ: What do you like to do on your off-hours? We hear you’re an excellent poker player! Do you have any other hobbies you’re particularly fond of, causes or charities you like to support, athletic pursuits?
IW: That’s what I do, play poker and spend time with my wife and my dogs. I’m doing the World Series in June again. Hopefully I can make it to a final table this year.
TJ: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for at least a small hint of what’s to come in the finale (author’s note: this interview was done prior to Demons, the CM season finale), since you are in a position to know. Will you tell us any scoop?
IW: No! I can’t do it … oh, what can I say… I’ll just give you one word – two words! Bang Bang.
Thank you, Ian!