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Job Title: Second Assistant Director, 2nd Ad, Or Key Second Assistant

Job Overview

The second AD disseminates information to the entire crew, such as setting call times and making up call sheets; notifying actors and crew of what scenes are scheduled to be shot, and when; and assisting the assistant director in his duties as needed.

“Everything goes through the key second AD,” explains second AD Eric Tignini. “If something is not on set, the first AD is going to hear about it; so you hear more about the problems than you do about the things that are good: ‘Why didn't we bring so-and-so in earlier?’ (Because you told me to bring them in at this time!) You're the middleman. You have to be thick-skinned. It's a strange position. A lot of people have said that the key second is the hardest job on the set. You put in the longest hours of anyone. You're the first one there and the last one to leave.”

The second AD is also responsible for setting background. “Take a scene from The Godfather, where Al Pacino is talking to James Caan at the wedding. Behind them are 300 to 400 people dancing, partying, eating, and having a good time: young and old, men, women, and children are running around in tuxedos and dresses. Our job is to place those people in the frame and give them direction of what do to in the scene. It's the only part of our job that people see on screen.”

Special Skills

The second AD must be a good listener and communicator. “Keep things simple when you communicate and try to treat everyone with respect,” says Tignini, “whether they are the highest paid actor on the show or the lowest paid crew member. You just try to give everyone respect. Most of the time you'll find out that people are very good at their jobs and know exactly what you need. You just tell them where you're shooting and when. You have to be something of a diplomat on the set. You listen to a lot of people's problems. You have to stay calm, be clear and polite.”

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

One way to become a second AD is to first serve as a production assistant. “It's one of the best ways to get into the business,” says Tignini. “If you are applying for a job, I wouldn't even bother lying about your experience.” Some students fresh out of film school make the mistake of trying to present themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, proficient as a camera operator, a key grip, in set dressing, and any other position. “People will realize right away that you're not good at any of those things. Jobs on films are very specific; you specialize in your field. As a production assistant, you are allowed to see how all the different departments work. Then you can choose where you wish to stay as a production assistant and become an AD, or branch off and get into a specialized field. Your eagerness and personality will get you the work.”

Professional Profile: Eric Tignini, Second AD

From the time he was a youngster, Eric Tignini knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. Born in New York, his family moved to Arizona when he was 10. There, he began making movies with his parents’ Super-8 camera. “We made three-minute rip off versions of other movies, like Planet of the Apes. It would be a few kids in the neighborhood and me, wearing werewolf and monkey hats, chasing whoever we deemed to be Charlton Heston. It always ended with kids wrestling on the ground, but we thought they were spectacular.”

After graduating high school in 1980, Tignini majored in film at San Francisco State, earning a bachelor's degree in 1984. “Film school opened my eyes to world cinema, documentaries and classic films that I would not have been exposed to, things that I reference today. It was amazing to see where some of our filmmaking masters get their influences from.”

Knowing no one in the film industry, Tignini was lucky to land a job on a feature right out of film school. Discovering that the Coen brothers were planning to shoot a film called Raising Arizona in Scottsdale, he contacted the production company and landed a job as a production assistant. “I'd seen their first movie, Blood Simple. I really liked that movie and thought, ‘This really speaks to my sensibilities.’ I pursued getting on the film.

“[Raising Arizona] was my first film and turned out to be a really lucky break. It was low budget enough where I was able to be up close to see a lot of things happening. It had a wacky script and wild characters. It also had, at the time, very inventive camera work. It had babies, animals, explosions; it was everything. It was like a cartoon come to life for someone right out of film school.”

What do you like least about your job?

“What I like least is that the second AD has to deal with every single department. It's the flip side of the coin. Sometimes it's really wonderful and other times it's a complete pain, because it can be very taxing. You have to switch gears so quickly. One minute the grips are saying, ‘We can't put the crane here for this reason …’ You listen to them complain for a few minutes. You really can't help them, you have to let them sort of work it out themselves, but you listen to them. You turn around and there is a makeup person coming up complaining about something, or an actor asking, ‘Why did you bring me in early?’ At times you feel like a really high-paid concierge.”Eric Tignini

What do you love most about your job?

“What I love most about my job is that every day is different. Every day is a different challenge. I remember working on Forrest Gump; it was really interesting. The first half of the day we would be shooting something that took place in an army barracks, the mid-to-late ‘60s period, and in the second half of the day, it would be 1974 and we would be on a disco set. It was something different every day. It's not like being in an office. I like that.”Eric Tignini

“Another thing I like about being the second AD is you communicate with every single person on the crew. You have to go to every department and let them know what we're going to do tomorrow. I like meeting all the different people. The film business is made up of really diverse types of people. I don't know too many jobs where you have the costume department working side by side with the big burly grips for a common purpose.”Eric Tignini

Tignini cut a deal to be paid $250 a week. Unfortunately, the production alternated between shooting five days a week, then six days a week, while Tignini's salary remained the same. “I was young and wide-eyed. I would pick the boys [the Coen brothers] up in the morning and drive them to the set, then stay with them all through the dailies afterward. I was putting in 16 to 17 hour days, every day. It was in many ways like film school.”

When the picture wrapped, Tignini moved to Los Angeles and landed work as a PA through connections he had made on Raising Arizona. “You build your reputation on word-of-mouth: people recommending you.

“I remember being very excited about my first big location job. They flew me out to Pittsburgh to do a movie called Dominick and Eugene.” Tignini continued as a production assistant on numerous productions, including 13 episodes of The Highwayman television series, which got him into the Directors Guild. Although hired as a production assistant, the duties of the second second AD were often delegated to him. “Someone dropped a dime on the company, that they were using a production assistant in an AD's capacity. A representative from the Directors Guild came to the set and said, ‘Either fire this kid and bring in a real AD, or pay a small fine and we'll upgrade the guy.’ So they upgraded me. What I didn't realize was, I had to complete 400 days outside of Los Angeles in order to work back in Los Angeles as an AD, which is a long and complicated rule of the DGA. It was torturous. It was very, very daunting to get those 400 days, but it happened.”

One of Tignini's career highlights was working on Forrest Gump. “It was literally different every day because of the character's journey. We would be duplicating part of the Vietnam war for a couple of weeks, and then off doing a running sequence across the country. We filmed a protest march at the Washington Monument with 2,500 background dressed like hippies; we got to take over the whole reflecting pool area at the Monument. We filmed outside the White House.

“I was brought in to help coordinate the military for the Vietnam sequence. I went with military adviser Dale Dye (who also worked on Private Ryan and Platoon) and the actors to train for four days and nights out in swamps, dressed in full army gear. We ate rations and slept in holes that we dug. We had our own little boot camp. It was fascinating and educational; it was an adventure.

“It was also interesting to watch how Robert Zemeckis worked. It was a big script, with big sequences where Forrest would move through a crowd and pass Abby Hoffman and somehow wind up onstage in front of 25,000 people. It was interesting to see how Zemeckis shot it. He's really smart. He'd find a really creative, but economical way to shoot. It was basically one shot. He'd always focus on Forrest and follow him, whatever Forrest did, wherever he went. When Forrest sees something, the audience sees it too.”

After Forrest Gump, Tignini went on to work on Terminal Velocity, Nine Months, Mulholland Falls, Phenomenon, and Desperate Measures. In 1997, he worked on City of Angels. “We created traffic jams in Los Angeles which was, in and of itself, fun. We were shooting things from an angel's perspective, which means we would shoot way up high atop billboards and on top of skyscrapers. We'd shoot over and down from them onto the city. It took a lot of planning and preparation, but at the end of the day, it was really fun. It takes the audience somewhere they haven't seen.”

Work on features such as The In Crowd and America's Sweethearts followed, along with offers to serve as first AD beginning with the television series Tenacious D. Between jobs, with partners David Elton and Thomas Johnston, Tignini wrote, produced, and directed Jerome.

“That's my passion. I make my money working on big Hollywood productions, but my passion lies in smaller independent film with personal stories.” More than ten years in the making, the film was released in 1999. That success came after writing four screenplays that were all rejected. Tired of trying to guess what Hollywood executives were looking for, the partners wrote the type of movie they would want to see. “To our surprise, it was the screenplay that people responded to. People tapped into the story, and we were able to raise financing for it. It was very low budget.”


* “Wear comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet all day long. I remember my first day on the job was an unusually short day. It was 12 hours. After standing on my feet for 12 hours, I remember saying, ‘Gosh, that was a long day.’ A guy turns to me and says, ‘Long? That was a short day! Wait until you see tomorrow.’“Eric Tignini

* “The thing you learn really quickly is just what a small community the film industry is. I think any of us could walk onto another film, and nine times out often they would know somebody working on the picture. It's a very, very small community of people who are out there working, which is why word-of-mouth and recommendations go a long way. People know very quickly who's working on what. Or if something bad happens, you know right away; it spreads quickly.”Eric Tignini

Written during short stretches between working on features, Jerome was shot under the same time constraints. “We'd take three months off to shoot, go back to work, then come back to edit. It took a long time. From the time we wrote it until we had it in the can took about three years.” After a successful tour of film festivals, the picture played on the Sundance Channel and Showtime.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionDIRECTORS AND ASSISTANT DIRECTORS - Job Title: Director, Job Title: First Assistant Director, 1st Ad, Or Assistant Director