On Film Making : The A.D.

Every time someone from outside the industry finds out that I work on movies they are filled with questions about the nuts and bolts of the process. I have a degree in film and I have spent much of my adult life on set so I tend to loose touch with what most people do and do not understand about the workings of this quintessentially American undertaking.

I get lots and lots of questions about the A.D.'s. I will now attempt to answer them and clarify common misconceptions. What is a A.D.?

A.D. stands for "Assistant Director." Before I get into this I really need to explain what an A.D. is NOT. The A.D.'s (there are several on any given set) are not the people who fetch coffee or keep appointments for the Director. If you read the credits the A.D. tends to be very near the top. The coffee fetchers, appointment keepers and directorial gophers are listed further down and are often credited as "Assistant to Mister Spielberg" or somesuch. Those people are the Director's assistants and, though the title is similar, their jobs bear no resemblance to that of the Assistant Director.

What is even more confusing is that there is more than one A.D.. There person most often called simply A.D. is actually the First A.D.. There is also a second A.D., a Second - Second A.D. (I'm not making that up) and sometimes a Third A.D., though a Third is often credited as one of several other things depending on the scope of the movie, where it is being shot and what Union's rules take precedence.

The First A.D., who I will simply call the A.D. from here because that is what he or she is most often called by crew members, is the head of all the technical crew. They are the one responsible for running the shoot on a day to day and moment to moment basis. In a sense, they are the Medula Oblongata of a production, regulating the pace of the shooting day, keeping the shoot on schedule, ensuring that all persons are where they need to be and when, managing the interplay between various departments and safeguarding the shoot from all sorts of logistical, legal, monetary and personal pitfalls. To use a military analogy, the A.D. is the senior most NCO, the unit Top. Most notably, on most sets, it is the A.D. who calls "action," not the director, though the Director is always the one to call "cut."

The 2nd A.D. or "The Second," as they are often called by crews, is one of the key logistical people on a set. The duties of The Second vary greatly from production to production but usually include drafting day to day documentation like call sheets, shot lists and sides, coordinating with production staff that are not on set during shooting, manning the set phone, overseeing certain logistics like the delivery of supplies and equipment for department heads as well as facilitating communication between departments. Specifically, The Second is almost always the one in charge of marshaling extras, vehicle operators and others involved in the background action of a scene.

The 2nd, 2nd A.D. or "Second Second" does not exist on all productions. Every time I bring this job up some people steadfastly refuse to believe me. I assure you. The Second Second is a staple of movie and television production. It is a real job and an important one. Second Seconds have many duties that overlap with those of The Second. It may be the Second Second that drafts and distributes the call sheets or that makes many of the myriad of minute logistical arrangements involved in a shooting day.

As I said, there is sometimes a 3rd A.D.. Personally, I've never worked on a set with that title, though I have heard of the job being called the "Additional A.D." and the "Key Set." In any case, having little experience with this specific incarnation of the job, I'm going to leave exposition on that for when I write about Production Assistants with no offense meant to any Thirds out there.

One common misconception about A.D.'s is that they are budding directors, that a studio is preparing them to become directors or that they are some how in line for the Director's chair if the Director is fired or dies, as if there was some arrangement akin to the Presidential line of succession. While a 1st A.D. may sometimes direct the Second Unit or, if there is some emergency and the director is unavailable for half a day, the 1st A.D. may take on that job for a very, very short time, as a rule, Directors are Directors and A.D.'s are A.D.'s. Years ago, especially under the Studio System, A.D.'s often did become Directors, Alfred Hitchcock is one prominent example, but this is rare today. A.D.'s do often become Producers, though.

In that last paragraph I had to stop myself from writing "move up" to become a director. That would be an incorrect way to phrase that thought. A.D.'s are one of, if not the most, important person in the completion of a film. Directors, D.P.'s, Actors, Screen Writers and the like make movies and are the most obvious influences on film as a work of art but A.D.'s Get Movies Made and without them, it simply would not happen. It is the hard work, the dedication and the management savvy of the A.D. and their crew that keeps the film on time and on budget. They keep the crew and talent safe, informed and (usually) happy.

The A.D.'s are the ones that make everything else possible and they are one big reason that you should sit through the credits.

If You Have Any Questions About the Movie Making Process, Email me, icarusannolds at hotmail dot com .


Is this the Sweet Song that Calls the Young Sailor?

I don't know how many people ever find themselves in the place where I am. I can't guess how many folks have this kind of miniature mid-life crisis but I'm starting to wonder what others have done or what they wish they had done.

It's a strange feeling to realize that you're truly excellent at what you do, that you're as good as any and better than most. It's both empowering and liberating whilst oppressive and gut wrenching. If nothing else it's odd. So few people ever get to be exceptional at anything that you feel almost guilty at the realization that you're at the top of your game.

This may sound like bragging. It's not. It's not because today I've made two realizations. The first: I'm one of those lucky people. I have great aptitude at what I do. I also have over a decade of experience in all incarnations of my field. Between these I've acquired the savvy to cut through all the bullshit of my industry, the discerning eye of a seasoned professional and the nearly precognizant decision making skills that separate the capable from the masterful. I could, if I wanted, make a very tidy living doing what I'm doing. I could earn respect, notoriety and enough money to retire early.

I've also realized that I hate what I do.

This is not what I ever saw myself doing. It started as a side job in high school and became a convenient means of supporting myself through college. I went and got a desk job for a few years only to find that the corporate lifestyle wasn't nearly as comfortable as I had anticipated. I found myself back here while I finished school. More than two years since I graduated and here I am, promoted several times over, making more than I've ever made, successful by any stretch of the imagination and loathing every moment.

It's not the long hours, though I top fifteen hour days several times each week. It's not the clients, though a thinner skinned person would have taken a pistol to many of these sods long ago. It's not the late nights, though I can't remember the last time I was home before midnight. It's not that my income is irregular, though I dare not try to buy a house. It's that this is simply not what I want to do with my life and it never was. It was just a job that grew into a career because it was beneath my notice and because I didn't pay attention to how much a part of my life it had become.

And still I can't walk away. It's become too much of me, these twelve years at this line of work. Twelve years in an industry where many people don't last two weeks. If I were in the Army I'd be a senior NCO by now, more than halfway to retirement. Though, if I had stayed corporate I probably would have been downsized or outsourced several times over. All that effort, all that experience, all those memories alot to walk away from. A steady source of income and a field where success it guaranteed is even harder to abandon.

A more conservative person would say that I should stay where I am, concentrate on what I know and be glad that I will never have to worry about how to pay my bills. A more carefree person would say that life is nothing without happiness and that I should say to hell with all of it and pursue my dreams come fortune or failure. I'm somewhere in between, wrestling with the devil I know and the devils that want me elsewhere.

I've more on this meditation, more on this gripe but it's late and I've got to be at work first thing.


"I Don't Give."

That was a popular bit of parlance 'round about when I was in the fourth grade. For a bunch of nine year olds all too eager to be bigger than we were it sounded strangely adult. I'm sure, though that we were oblivious to the remainder of the statement which, to grown ups, was so patently obvious. I remember my mother once lambasted me for making the statement in her presence. She was, to her credit, more concerned over my pretense of childish apathy than by the implied profanity.

I think this is a statement that we, as a culture, don't use nearly often enough. I think it really is time to take a look at what is and is not important. Let's all say it together, pretend that we're children in kindergarten calling back to a song or to the rote teaching of our schoolmistress. I'll say something and everyone else say "I don't give." All together now:

Anna Nicole Smith --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

Brittany is Bald --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

BradGelina --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

America's Next Top Model --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

American Idol --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

Celebrity Gossip --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

MTV --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

Political Sex Scandals --- Everybody say "I Don't Give."

I'm sure you can think of some others. What else do you think deserves an "I Don't Give?"


Former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, Was on The Daily Show Tonight.

I've never been a fan of John Bolton. I feel his appointment to the office was illegitimate. I feel the administration that put him there is only barely legitimate and hugely corrupt. He is abrasive, acerbic and opposed to the very mission of the organization with which he works. That, and he's twice my age and still has a full head of hair as well as bearing a striking resemblance to my stepfather.

After tonight, though, I have to grudgingly give the man an iota of respect.

He did what very few people in his position would have the cojones to do. Though a staunch conservative, a veritable lightning rod for opponents of the current executive administration, he came on an unabashedly liberal television talk show to speak in person with one of the most visible spokespeople of the political left. Though some of the audience boo'd him and John Stewart challenged him repeatedly, he was affable, articulate and even tempered. He made his points cogently and politely and stood his ground despite his hostile surroundings.

I still don't like the man and I like the man who appointed him even less but I have to say that I hope everyone in Washington has learned a lesson tonight. If everyone in politics were as composed, expressive and gracious as the former ambassador was this evening then government might actually get something done.

I'm not holding my breath, though.
(and that was just a joke about my stepfather)


Cranial Byproducts.

What is it about distraction that leads to inspiration? All too often I find myself with my attention divided. I might be walking, working, cooking or engaged in some task that occupies me but that is not intellectually arduous. I then have a fantastic idea for a blog entry, for a story, for an invention, for a vacation, for anything at all, really.

Most of the time, though, my activity prevents me from acting on that idea. I'm busy with my duties in the workplace or I'm going somewhere on foot and I have no pen or paper. Later, when I sit down to put that idea into a concrete form, it refuses to flow. It sits in my brain like a constipated turd, refusing to come to fruition. Nothing is more frustrating.

I need some way to capture these ideas and it needs to be better than carrying a pad and pen because, too often, the idea flees when I pause my activity as if the idea itself and the work are inextricably linked and, when one ends, so does the other.

Maybe one of those digital voice recorders. That, or a midget with a didactic memory.



I have only four pairs,
Only four pairs in all.
One set for running
One set for working
The set that I wore
On the day that I had my fall.
The boots that gravity scratched
That the curb vandalized
On the Day that I had my fall.

My lover gave them to me.
Though they're nice, I wouldn't buy them
I had to get them for free.
But then I fell
And then I bled
And lay in a bed
And Walked with a cane, then a limp
And finally walked with a stride
And I donned those boots my lover gave me
And found the gore had dried.

Now they won't come clean,
My boots my lover gave me.
They're stained with my
Inky insides and scratched by the street
But I'll keep wearing
The boots my lover gave me just because they're hers.

That, and I have a pair of loafers for weddings and funerals but that doesn't seem nearly as poetic, now does it?


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Saving Nine.

I'm healing well from my accident nearly a month ago. I can walk easily and stay on my feet for hours. I can almost take stairs without a hand rail. All signs are that I'm going to make a full recovery.

That was until a few days ago. This passed Thursday I began to feel a tingle under part of the wound that has nearly healed over. On Friday it had progressed to burning and most of Saturday I was gritting my teeth over it. Cuts and scratches routinely itch or throb or feel uncomfortable in any of a dozen ways as they heal. Initially, I thought that was the case. Today, though, I noticed that one of the tiny little scabs over where they had threaded my stitches was hanging loose, clinging to a hair, I thought. I tugged on it and out slides a piece of surgical stitching.

They had left three quarters of an inch of surgical suture filament in my friggin knee!

The spot isn't red and hasn't drained any fluid so it's not infected, just freaky.

What the hell?


Today it's Raining.

S'been raining all day. Rawkstahr thinks it odd that I'm so untroubled by the elements. She shivers and sweats easily. By comparison, I've turned on neither my heat nor my air conditioning these past three years and I live in Atlanta where the temperature ranges from 20 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I wear shorts when other's turn up their collars and I leave my coat on while others don shorts.

I don't know why this is. I've just never been much bothered by temperature or animation of atmosphere. I've been ridiculed for thinking that the gray, quivering, drizzling days of winter are perfectly pleasant.

It's been raining since I woke up this morning, ranging from a deep, rumbling storm, the heaven's catharsis, to a slow ambling drip and back. I sat in silence an listened to the dropfalls, the differences in timbre between rain on pavement, rain on cars and rain on rooftops. I took a walk despite the precipitation. I missed the sun not at all.

Weather is weather and life is life. Love all of it or you're bound to spend a lot of time being disappointed.


I Hope Neil Young Will Remember...

I've lived in the south for more than half my life now, though I don't think of myself as a southerner, never have. This is not to say that I think of myself as a Yankee, though I'm not sure anyone, no matter what place north of the Mason-Dixon line they hail from has ever self identified as a Yankee, World Series victories not withstanding.

There is a difference between the North and the South, though. It is not, as many would have you believe, a vast cultural rift. There is no great gulf in thinking between the people of Chicago, New York and Boston and those of Atlanta, Charleston and New Orleans. The divide we tend to think of as North/South is really Urban/Rural, the south's urbanites are just a bit more accepting of our rural counterparts', well rural-ness.

No, the difference between the old Union and Confederacy is bound up in tens of thousands of tiny little differences, the bulk of which we barely notice but, in the aggregate, make for a completely different experience of locale. It's in the taste of the water and the styles of civil planning. It's in the speed limit and the expectations of the weather. It's in the iced tea for sure. There's one thing that, in my experience, defines the difference between the North and the South.

The ceilings.

Not so much the ceilings at the dentist's office or the ceiling of your kids' high school but the ceilings of your residence. Up north, in Milwaukee, specifically, residential ceilings are smooth and flat, just like the walls. They are made from the same plaster as the walls and, presumably, are smoothed using a similar process. This was true in our old house and in the houses of my childhood playmates. It was true in my grandmother's apartment and in my sister's old house.

In the south the ceilings in homes and apartments is textured, sometimes is a sort of popcorn uniformity, as if someone had washed hundreds of layers of paint over a field of coarse gravel or, more often, in a sort of pattern of starbursts, each about the size of an open hand regularly arranged about the ceiling. This has been the case in every home I've had in Atlanta and I'm pretty sure in virtually every home or apartment that I've ever even seen in the southeast.

I've heard this is because building codes in the south are more lax than in the north on account of the fact that the structures do not have to withstand the same annual shift in temperature. The texture conceals the fact that the ceiling is not actually flat. I've also heard that the texturing allows the plaster to absorb and release moisture more easily and thus keeps the ceiling from cracking as the humidity changes throughout the year. Finally, and most likely, I've heard that it's simply a matter of regional habit.

This may seem like an irrelevant detail, probably something beneath notice. We are, after all, much more similar from North to South than we are different. Point being, its the little things that make a place a place, that give it its feel, its ambiance, its soul. There's a bit in the architecture, a bit in the food, a bit in the gait and a bit in the manner of speech.

Here's to the little things and to looking up once in a while.