Second unit

Second unit

In film, the second unit is a team that shoots footage which is of lesser importance for the final motion picture, as opposed to the first unit, which shoots all scenes involving actors, or at least the stars of the film. Second unit footage typically includes shots like scenery, close-ups of objects and other inserts or cutaways.

The second unit has its own director and cinematographer. The director leads the second unit, and is often responsible for minor shots, such as establishing shots. The advantage of the second unit is that the first unit director and the lead actors, who are expensive, do not have to be present and can shoot at the same time, or, in the case of actors, leave the production earlier. Sometimes, the second unit also films close-ups of body parts. In this case, a body double takes the place of the normal actor. This, in turn, is often a problem for continuity. Very large productions may have more than one additional team — in this case, they are all called second units (sometimes “additional second units”), never third or fourth unit.

As well as action set-pieces, the second unit may also shoot in locations that would be too expensive or too dangerous to send the first unit to. For example, for "The World Is Not Enough", Vic Armstrong and a small second unit crew traveled to Istanbul to shoot footage with a double for Pierce Brosnan which was then matched by the editor with shots filmed on a replica set at Pinewood Studios.

Second unit director is a position for aspiring first unit directors, of course, and is considered above the post of assistant director. An example is Barry Sonnenfeld, who was second unit director (and first unit cinematographer) of "Misery" in 1990 and went on to direct "The Addams Family" in 1991. Another job often combined with second unit director is stunt coordinator, since stunts are also often shot by the second unit.

Occasionally, the second unit director will direct more important sequences, especially in action movies, which often feature many shots with car chases, explosions, and special effects, but no dialogue. For this reason, many second unit directors are former stunt coordinators. Stunt coordinators turned second unit directors include Vic Armstrong ("Bear Island", ""), Simon Crane ("Frankenstein" (1994), "X-Men 3"), and Terry J. Leonard ("Big Wednesday", "The Forgotten"). One noted career second unit director is Michael D. Moore who has worked in that capacity on more than sixty films including a number of major hit films.

A more mundane but frequently vital task for the second unit is to shoot inserts. Sometimes the editor will take charge of a second unit to film an insert as he will know what footage he is missing. A film's budget usually has a sum put aside to cover the costs of any inserts.

Second unit directors who have gone on to become fully-fledged film directors include John Glen ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"), David R. Ellis ("Final Destination 2", "Cellular", "Snakes on a Plane"), David Hackl ("Saw V") and Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham").

Second unit should be considered distinct from a multicamera setup (A-Camera, B-Camera, C-Camera, etc), where two or more cameras are shooting footage from the same scene simultaneously.

References

* [http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/cmp/rl_interview_d_ellis.html Interview with David Ellis, second unit director of "The Matrix Reloaded"] - retrieved on April 7, 2005


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