Drum roll please! This weekend’s prestigious Director’s Guild Awards, hosted by the effervescent Jane Lynch, made history when Alejandro G. Iñárritu took home top prize for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for his brilliant work on The Revenant. This is the first time in the Guild’s history that a director is rewarded in back-to-back years (he won last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)). The nice thing about these awards is that directors are the first to admit that they do not work alone. There are lots of people sharing in Iñárritu’s win. His directorial team includes:
Unit Production Managers: Drew Locke, James W. Skotchdopole, Doug Jones, Gabriela Vazquez
First Assistant Director: Scott Robertson, Adam Somner
Second Assistant Directors: Megan M. Shank, Matthew Haggerty, Jeremy Marks, Trevor R. Tavares, Jasmine Marie Alhambra
Second Second Assistant Directors: Brett Robinson, Kasia Trojak
Who are these people and what do they do? Excellent question! A unit production manager (UPM) is hired by the producer to do the fun admin-y stuff to manage a film’s budget. Based on the shooting script, the UPM will create a working budget related to the physical production. The producer stays on top of “above-the-line” expenses, ie, the creative stuff that gets the ball rolling pre-production: securing the script, writers, actors, directors, producers, that kind of thing, fixed costs that no matter what scene is cut or special effect is scrimped on will still be paid the same. The UPM gets tasked with the less glamourous crew, the “below-the-line” costs, contracting with gaffers, makeup artists, sound engineers, all the “little people” who turn up and work hard to actually turn good ideas into reality. Plus he or she will be negotiating deals for location, equipment, etc.
An assistant director on a film has a full schedule: they track daily progress against the almighty production schedule, take care of logistics, prep the daily call sheets, check in with cast and crew, keep order on a busy set, and make sure everyone’s safe. The first assistant director (1AD) is directly responsible to the director and runs the floor or set; they have to accurately estimate how long it will take to film a scene – whether several pages will be shot quickly, or one emotional paragraph may take all day. The 1AD is the communicator on set: all directions to the rest of the crew from the director will run through him or her. The second assistant director (2AD) creates the call sheets and then makes sure that all the cast is ready to follow through, putting them through make-up and wardrobe. The call sheet tells cast and crew what scenes and script pages are being shot today, and where. They will provide exact start times (which rarely turn out to be all that exact), and addresses of shoot locations, and transportation arrangements so everyone can actually get there and maybe even park legally. It should also have contact info for the important crew, safety notes, maybe weather reports, sunrise\sunset times, and where to find the nearest hardware store when you inevitably need another extension cord. The second second assistant director (22AD) (yes, that’s their real title) comes on board when the production is big and\or complicated. You can be sure the 2AD is checking on Brad Pitt’s mustache while the 22AD is making sure there’s a dozen ladies in hoop skirts behind him, or a thousand extras in zombie makeup, or that all the parking meters are fed. This really frees up Alejandro Iñárritu to laze about in his director’s chair fantasizing about Leo’s frosty breath, or Wes Anderson to deliberate between Egyptian blue and Ultramarine, or Steven Spielberg to play another practical joke on Tom Hanks.
I’m also crazy excited to tell you that Alex Garland won for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director. Recognize his name? He’s the man behind 2015’s break-out indie success and seriously one of my favourite films of the year, Ex Machina. Remember the name, he’s only getting started. His directorial team includes:
Unit Production Manager: Sara Desmond
First Assistant Director: Nick Heckstall-Smith
Second Assistant Director: Ray Kenny
Also noteworthy: recipient of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in
Documentary, Matthew Heineman for Cartel Land.
These three directors may be men, but you’ll have noticed there are lots of females sprinkled in amongst their support teams, which I can only hope means the ladies are movin on up. Here’s a lovely lady worth highlighting – Mary Rae Thewlis was the recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, given to an assistant director or unit production manager in recognition of career achievement. Thewlis worked under Martin Scorsese on The Age of Innocence as a DGA trainee. She worked on the Tupac Shakur movie Above the Rim as the key second assistant director and under director Jon Avnet as second second assistant director on Up Close & Personal and then spent a lot of years at Law & Order originally as Second Assistant Director and eventually First Assistant Director. Kudos to her, and may she be an inspiration and example of hard work to aspiring young film makers everywhere.
A director is only as good as his or her team, so pick wisely, folks. It’s not just true of the movies. Find talent and nurture it.