Second Unit Has A Technical Effect On Film

Cannes Film Festival

Universal Pictures

The workload of a second unit director can differ depending on the nature of the project.  On the recent release, "Public Enemies," Bryan Carroll let the sky be the limit for his responsibilities.

"My role involved the aerial shots," said Carroll.  "My job as second unit director was to help build the journey of the characters, such as following a chase scene around the lake."

Depending on the type of film, the second unit director might work closely with the director, shooting portions of a scene while the director focuses on the performance of the actors.  On films that have intensive stunt work, a lead stuntman will fill the role of second unit director.  They utilize their detailed knowledge of what’s necessary to properly choreograph the stunts safely for cast and crew.

 Shooting on locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, Carroll and his team captured the flavor of the location’s landscapes by shooting from a helicopter while simultaneously tracking get-away sequences various characters were engaged in.  Carroll and Michael Mann reviewed all locations that were forwarded to them from a location scout to ensure they had the best quality for the context of the film, which is set in the 30s – 40s, as well as lending an essence to the characters plight visually.  However, Carroll’s second unit duties were not limited to aerials alone.

"I was involved with anything that had an engine," said Carroll.  "I directed the car chase scenes.  One that was particularly fun was the chase were Stephen Dorff (who plays Homer Van Meter) is shooting out the car window while the FBI agents are firing back.  We had squibs in the trees to accent the hits of the machine guns."

In addition to second unit director, Carroll was also a co-producer on "Public Enemies."  Having worked with Michael Mann as both co-producer and second unit director on "Collateral," Carroll was eager to work closely with Mann again.

"I’d been doing some commercials before I saw the script for ‘Public Enemies,’" said Carroll.  "After looking at the script and the locations needed, I knew it was going to be intense.  It became the perfect storm once Johnny Depp was signed on.  Working as co-producer, I was on set every day.  I was involved with the film from the first day of prep until the movie hit the theater."

Part of Carroll’s roll as co-producer assisting with the details of the movie’s research.

"For Michael Mann, everything is a storytelling devise," said Carroll.  ”Attention to details is important, and researchers played a key role.  We had multiple researchers performing investigations for each department to ensure perfect physical details.  Take a belt buckle: they tarnished differently in 1929 because they were made of different metals.  Or in 1933 the passenger plane was used, but by the end of the next year it was the DC 20.  Hairstyles, even linguistics, we needed accurate dialects for the time and regions.  All that prep is necessary because one little thing pulls you out of the scene."

Location scouting also provided cause for close attention to period details.  Because special effects were not utilized during the editing process to alter settings, the locations had to be free of any modern construction or object, such as telephone poles.

With a background in editing, Carroll feels this helps him make strong choices in directing the second unit scenes.  His experience pulling clips together to build the story also provides some interesting technical insight into equipment choices used during shooting.

"In ‘Collateral’, during the scene where the jazz club owner is shot," said Carroll, "that scene was shot on film.  The look had a warm and comfortable feel, which really created a jarring effect compared to what was shot digitally.  People shouldn’t look at the landscape as a fight between digital and film.  We choose the stock to capture the emotion.  We approach what we use as finding the best means of getting the vision to the screen."

"To find the best system for "Public Enemies," we lined up a series of cameras," said Carroll.  "We tested and tweaked what we shot until Michael saw what he wanted.  The only limitation to the digital footage was slow motion shooting, for instance with some of the scenes featuring Johnny Depp.  We went back to film for those."

Although Carroll has moved into producing, he likes to remain involved in the editing process and assisting in choosing the equipment that will aid in post production.

"I had a lot of experience with work flows from editing," said Carroll.  "My first time of working with a digital work flow was on ‘Ali.’  I wanted to make sure post production was taken into consideration from the start so we would be prepared to manage the digital footage.  We had our system in place long before the record button was hit." 
After a year and a half spent working on "Public Enemies," Carroll is looking towards some involvement with the emerging 3D technology.

"No one really knows the best path for 3D, and that’s really sparking my interest," said Carroll.  "I’d like to focus on taking the 3D out of 3D, that is, using it not as an effect but as a tool for making a great movie.  That’s what interests me right now; making 3D emotionally impactful."