Tuesday 31st May 2016
It’s a lot more complicated than just yelling ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’
Actually, David Yates doesn’t even yell verbs at his cast and crew. Generally, it’s his first Assistant Director (AD) who does – in this case, an omnipresent young man called Josh Robertson. Josh and the other ‘ADs’ do a lot of yelling and a lot of shushing. Volume control is one of their principle duties. And when you consider that a mistimed cough could ruin a scene and cost thousands to reshoot, it’s very important.
Basically, it’s their job to let David Yates do his job. They are the sous-chefs to his head chef; the first mates to his captain; the many Watsons to his Sherlock Holmes. They make sure everything runs flawlessly so that he can focus on getting the perfect shot, coaxing the best performance from his actors and stitching together the movie like a beautiful tapestry of moments. He can’t very well do that and yell directions, can he?
There are four ADs on set (or, in movie speak, ‘on the floor’) and they all have earpiece microphones that make everything they say sound urgent. On Fantastic Beasts, Josh is joined by Tom Brewster, Danni Lizaitis and Katherine Hingst as second, third and fourth AD. Their names will appear right near the top of the end credits of the film when it’s out – you’ll spot them.
Day to day, David stays mostly behind a monitor so he can watch exactly how each shot is framed and how the action plays out within it. He’ll calmly emerge to adjust a camera or whisper directions to an actor. He’s universally loved for his gentle manner. To support his process, the ADs fan out, assume positions at various spots on set and keep that area clean, clear, quiet and calm during and between scenes. They are the purveyors of smooth operation, the enablers of great direction.
Sometimes, they’re a little bit like school prefects at an assembly, whispering ‘ssshhhhhh’ and ‘hushhhh’ until one of them (Danni) pierces the air with a bellowing ‘ALL QUIET ON SET’. Other times, they’re moving tech leads, herding extras, summoning actors from their trailers, making sure all props are in place, keeping an eye on continuity and staying true to the run sheet. They mutter instructions into their mics and speed-shuffle between locations when needed.
All this activity should be invisible to David, as he works fastidiously on the correct camera movement to capture a scene, a shot, a smile, a smirk, the flick of a wand or the twinkle of an eye.
He is both obsessively detailed-oriented and able to see the whole project as if from above. After directing the final four Harry Potter films, this is his fifth venture into J.K. Rowling’s imagination and he knows the territory well. He just needs a dependable crew to clear his path for him.