– . – Directing – Tommy Gormley (AD)


Directing – Tommy Gormley (AD)

Supporting Role

In the cast of hundreds that it takes to make a movie, the first assistant director has a pivotal role. Here, the experienced first AD of films ranging from Star Trek to John Carter of Mars explains what it takes to be at the heart of the process.

I always wanted to work in movies. My father, Charlie Gormley, was a talented writer/director, and was one of the founders of the Scottish film industry in the mid-1960s. He started in the world of documentaries, graduated to writing movie scripts for the Dutch new wave, had a long partnership with Bill Forsyth and wrote and directed films and TV. We spent our time together enjoying and studying old movies. This was my film school; endless evenings dissecting Preston Sturges, Marcel Carné or Billy Wilder.

Being the first assistant director on a major movie might just be the best job in the world. It is a pivotal role; you are at the heart of the process. You have got to be a leader, have presence, and win the respect of the crew. Film crews are a tough audience; most of them have seen it all, and know when you are faking it, or don’t know what you are doing. The assistant directors are the glue in a film production. Everything is our problem and, unlike other departments, who often are focused on their own world, the ADs have to look at the whole shoot across every department.

A well-run film set should have three people at its core: the director, the director of photography and the first AD. I love working with the director of photography. He or she is someone I must have a strong relationship with and I have been blessed to work with many of the best in the business: Dan Mindel (John Carter of Mars, Star Trek), Dean Semler (2012); and Remi Adefarasin (Elizabeth, Onegin) have been particularly influential. And good producers are priceless. It is a monumentally hard job, and the ones who do it well are like gold dust. Many of the best ones, like Larry Franco (2012), have been assistant directors before; they know exactly how a movie functions.