A First Assistant Directing Moment

Posted On November 24, 2007

Day two of production. It’s an outdoor shoot, so when the sun’s gone, the day’s over. It’s the last shot and covers an entire scene.

The camera is inside an ambulance looking out through open doors at a guy whose daughter was just loaded. The doors close, letting the camera peak through the window. The ambulance starts to pull away as a police car pulls up and arrests the guy. The ambulance drives around a bed in the road and the film ends.

All the elements were in place – camera was ready, actors knew what to do, crew was positioned at opposite ends of the road to hold traffic. We’re about to go for picture when the Second Assistant Director comes on the walkie.

“There’s a ranger woman here and she’s really pissed. She’s heading down your way.” The director and I leave the ambulance to see what’s up. An SUV pulls around the bend and stops in the path of the shot. Before our director can win her over, I hear the words “I need to see a permit.” This wasn’t a deal breaker – we had a permit and were allowed to film, but the sun was setting and a delay was something I didn’t order. Out comes the walkie. “Can you please send the producer down here with the permit.”

“Do you guys know you are blocking the entrance to a public park?” No. “I’m driving by and I see the gate to the park closed.” The producer pulls up with permit in hand and producer hat on. “Hi, how are you today?” She takes the permit and looks over it. “No one told me someone would be filming out here today.”

She scans over the permit. I can see the director frustrated and worried. “Right here, number five – you agree to not prohibit the use of facilities.” Apparently, when I told number two to hold traffic when we go for a shot, he pushed one of the gate arms out to do what I intended a hand to do. This drew a little attention, specifically that of this ranger, and rubbed her the wrong way.

Despite our apologies and confession that this was a misunderstanding and we never intended to prohibit anyone from entering, she pulled out her pad. “I’m going to let you off with a warning.”

Our gaffer was letting us know we had to go or we’d lose all light. At this point I reasoned if this ticket writing business eats our time, we lose the light and shot, so if I said something that got us kicked out, nothing would really be lost. As First AD I had to try to get things moving.

“Excuse me, I hate to do this, but would you mind writing the warning around the corner?” “No, I’m gonna write it right here,” she said as she flipped her lights on. This was official business.

With the sun almost gone we didn’t’ have time to wait around. I told the director we had to get something, so we decided to go with the shot and just cut when the SUV comes in frame. We still had enough room for the police to come, we just wouldn’t be able to hold it until we went around the bend. This was settled, so we ran back to the ambulance and got ready to go.

We got a few takes in before the ranger finally left. With everyone back at their post, I made sure to mention not to block any cars.

According to the light meter we had enough light (and thankfully, footage) to get a few full takes in.

We got it in the can and production of the first F3 was wrapped, though it took quiet some time for my nerves to finally unwind.

Written by Joey Daoud

Joey Daoud is an award-winning documentary producer. When not filming he likes to climb mountains and brew coffee.

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