Dale Stern Q&A: ‘Veep’ director
During our recent webcam chat (watch above), long-time “Veep” assistant director Dale Stern talks candidly about earning an Emmy nomination for his first time calling the shots on the show. “Luckily, they gave me something pretty much outside the box,” he says of the season five episode “Mother,” in which President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) deals with the death of her mother. Besides his bid, this episode is up for Comedy Writing (Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck) and was submitted by Louis-Dreyfus in support of her Comedy Actress nomination.
Stern admits that upon reading the script, “I thought, how am I gonna make this funny?” As he explains, “it went into the dark reaches of comedy, which was very, very appealing for me.” He served as the first AD on every episode of the HBO series before trying his hand at helming.
Stern, whose credits as an AD also include over 60 episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and films such as “Borat” (2006) and “Bruno” (2009), describes himself as, “more a creative AD than I am a schedule AD.” So it was inevitable that he would make the move into the director’s chair at some point.
So much of “Veep’s” success comes from its gifted ensemble cast, whom Stern praised for “constantly looking for the right phrase, the right word or nuance, some way to transcend it, make it better.” When it came to directing such delicate material, he reveals, “I had to pull out every distraction so they could focus 100% on the performance.” This meant going to the set before shooting began to “map out” every part of the episode “so that there weren’t those questions of, ‘Why am I standing here?’ ‘How come he’s there?’ ‘Why am I near the window?’ I had to make it make total sense.”
Stern lauds the “great collaboration” between the writers, designers, and showrunner David Mandel, who took over the duties from creator Armando Iannucci after his departure last season. “It all comes together beautifully. We have wonderful, rock-solid, seasoned professionals on our show.”