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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mulvihill

Against the Clock

As an AD time is always on your mind. I often find my shoot days are particularly long because I am timing every action by the minute. It’s important to see the big picture and know how much you need to shoot to secure the film but also recognise which scenes or shots require the most time and distribute accordingly.

Occasionally a scene will take longer than anticipated but the director sees the sequence as essential - so you use more than the allocated time and dynamically redistribute the rest of the day. Sometimes you waste time on a shot that seems unnecessary in which case you liaise with the director and producer and discuss the greater film at hand. Quite often to the director, every shot is essential. The edit is meticulously planned and every shot needs to land, and sometimes the budget has no wiggle room meaning we have no extra time available. What do you do?


In August I found myself shooting two charity adverts with extremely challenging briefs. The ideas are high concept and since the projects are funded by organisations designed to help people the purse strings are tight.

Theodora is a children’s charity in which ‘giggle doctors’ are sent out to hospitals to entertain children with serious health challenges. I worked with Luke and Joseph at Unit9 to create a film where, through a child’s imagination, a hospital room comes to life. The idea was developed through sessions with children Theodora supports so it was really important to include every element featured in the creative docs.


In the film an animated shadow takes all of the colour from a child in hospital. This child then embarks on an adventure to get the colour back. The child sails the oceans, swims the sea, fly’s amongst the clouds, wanders a forest and explores a cave - all within the confines of his hospital room. With 2 days in a studio, and restricted to child working hours, the window was tight. We managed to achieve a wonderful film and I hope it brings joy to the children it was designed for.



Next up was Oxfam, a charity with hundreds of shops across the UK where people can donate clothes with the proceeds funding various humanitarian works across the globe. Working with Lucrecia Taormina and PrettyBird we made a video with an emphasis on second hand fashion and how clothes have developed through our modern history. A model walks down a runway and with every step, using match shots, she’s wearing a different outfit. Starting at the 50s and eventually landing in modern day.


To do this we had to achieve a specific move, repeatedly landing on our marks in each new look. We had the camera set up on a dolly pulled at a consistent speed with the model doing the same walk every time. We saw the whole space so we used marks in various positions off camera for the model and grip to refer to. We would do several versions before the model quickly changes into the next look. With 4 to 8 looks per decade and with various angles within the space, the window was once again extremely tight. The film is now in the hands of post and I’m looking forward to seeing the result.


Being against the clock isn’t always dictated by having two much to shoot and every job presents it’s own unique challenges. Recently I shot a commercial for a well known fashion brand starring Liam Gallagher. We shot with his son through the day leading up to shooting Liam in a specific hour window where we wanted to catch both the sun setting and twilight. It was on a dock in east London and we had two shooting locations that were 15 minute walk away from each other. We shot on steadicam capturing various angles at the first location before moving over for another steadicam shot as well as a top shot on a stand. The pressure was on but we achieved what we needed and he was overall very nice.



Sometimes you are dictated by factors not entirely in your control, which was the case recently where we were battling the tide while shooting a music video for Puma Blue with Jak Payne and Bellehouse Markes. Unfortunately we were given the wrong information by the local film office and were under the impression that the area we were in would be usable for much longer than was actually the case. We had a 12x12 backdrop that needed up to 4 hours to set up so we shot what we could before moving onto this very key shot. We rushed to get it done then moved to a safer location but I think we managed to get what we needed from it. The rest of the footage we shot that day was beautiful and I’m very excited to see the final product.


As a 1st AD your job is to keep time on your side so you can achieve the film. When there is no time available you have to hustle and influence the team around you to work at their optimum ability. You encourage quick decisions and formulate a plan that you can make work. You jump in and help where you can to speed things along but understand you're working with a team of professionals that you can trust. Every job is different but as a 1st you develop a skill set in problem solving and every situation is seen as a new opportunity to learn.

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