Below is an extract from an interview I undertook as part of an abortive attempt to write a book about AD'ing, one of the most misunderstood departments in the film and TV business, and where I made my bones. I may post more of these excerpts in future.
Some interesting thoughts from Nicki Ballantyne, one of the best AD's in the business:
ON THE ACTUAL WORK OF THE JOB, DIFFICULT DIRECTORS, AND THE DIFFERENCE IN TONES BETWEEN SETS
Ken: I've 1st'ed on smaller things, a few commercials and a few, well, about 6 or 7 now, actually, low-to-no budget features, and I've always felt it's a constant state of re-prioritisation. You've constantly got to assess where the various departments are at, and what's going on, and who needs a bit of pressure, and who's got more time to play with...
Nicki: Well, it's the classic thing: a director, especially if they're impatient, which a lot of them are, will sit there doing the Guardian crossword, and they realise that the DoP's maybe taken over his 20, 25, 30, 35 (or if it's Brian Tufano, 4 hour) lighting and they're going:
(adopts lofty tone)“Uh, Nicki, uh, why aren't we... why aren't we doing anything?” and I'll go:
“They're just putting a flag in there, so-and-so's having their wig touched up, there was a bit of a problem on the throat mic, whatever” and you can literally go “bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, and when those three things, four things, ten things are done, my love, we'll go for it, you know? We'll have it, we'll get it.”
It is a matter of keeping... on everybody's case.
I've done a few commercials, years ago, with Tom Horne who now makes big movies, and I just couldn't believe it, because I'd done dramas with him, and then I went and did commercials with him, and everybody was just sitting around drinking cappuccinos! At midday! And we were on set for 8! And I was like that (drops jaw).
“Guys, can we...” and they were going:
“Nicki, just... There's a really decent magazine over there. Have a read.”
The thing is that, much as I love the money (on commercials), I'm not very good at just sitting down, not doing anything, because I'll want to sleep. I'll just go to sleep, you know. It's better if I'm up there doing something. The bigger, to be honest, the bigger the set-up for me, the better. I mean, I did a massive thing for Granada years ago called Island At War, and, in a way, it's one of the best jobs I've ever done, in that we sort of took over the Isle of Man!
It kept you busy.
Yeah! We had German Kübelwagens, we had loads of extras, and it was period, which is great. It looked so great. You get such a buzz out of period dramas anyway, but... And I was literally calling the shots, you know, and the director was a lovely, lovely man called Peter Lydon, who's done some lovely work as well. You know, he would just sit back and just say: “let me know when you're ready”. We had massive setups. Massive. Big cast, fantastic cast, you know, with Phil Glenister, and I just loved it.