Hi Film Folk
Lars, tell us a bit about your upbringing? You were brought up in LA, is that correct?
I was brought up in LA until I was 8 years old and then my family moved to Westport, Connecticut. My father was a TV director / producer and got a job in NYC to do the news show 20/20 and then after that to produce the soap opera “All My Children”.
I finished elementary, junior high, and high school in Connecticut. I did a year in university and decided to take a semester off to work on a TV show in LA. I loved it and just kept on working and never went back to finish college.
So you studied in New York?
No not really. Once I left university I headed to LA where most of my family was. My parents had divorced by that time and both were living in LA. I was fortunate with my father being a TV director / producer and my oldest brother, Kim, who was a very successful 2nd AD at the time, helped me get my foot in the door.
I started as a PA on small films and TV shows, during that time my other brother Peter was working for an unknown German director, Roland Emmerich. Eventually Roland got hired to direct “Universal Soldier” and I was a PA on that and Peter was Roland’s asst.
Roland’s next film, “Stargate”, Peter and I got Kim on as the 2nd AD. After that the three of us did Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot with Roland and each film we all moved up. Kim ended up being Roland’s 1st AD. I was the 2nd AD, and Peter became Roland’s Co-Producer. It was a great run on some epic size films that eventually prepared me for all the Marvel films down the road.
It was also great to work with my brothers and we all remain tight from those experiences with Roland.
What was it about the role of AD that you were interested in?
I played a lot of organized sports growing up and making a film reminded me of that. I love being “in the trenches” with a group of people. You get thrown together, you bond, and everyone is there just trying to make a memorable film.
When I was younger, I loved the travel the film business provided and loved I was seeing the world on someone else’s dime (laughs). Plus you really got to know a country as you would be there for 3 or 4 months and could really learn about the place you were working in.
I like the fact being an AD wasn’t a 9 to 5 job: its really involved and intense for 8-9 months and you can take as long of a break as you want. You kind of pick and choose when you want to work – well now; maybe not so much when you’re younger – and it’s always different, every movie is different. So it’s fresh and exciting, and it’s not monotonous, which is the part I really love.
How would you describe the job to someone just looking into it and what qualities do you think they would need to have for it?
Well, first of all, the number one thing is common sense. You also should want to be there. You’ve got to have passion for it, as the hours can be long. If I’m interviewing people for the job I’m not so much interested in their credits but more seeing how excited they are, how passionate they are, how I feel I am going to get along with them, what their goals are. I want people that are into it, active, that are go-getters.
For me, especially with Marvel, you get a lot of emails and phone calls of people looking to get in with Marvel, so I can really pick and choose a solid team. I have been fortunate as on the last three films “Ant-man”, “Captain America – Civil War”, and “Guardians of the Galaxy – Volume 2”, I have had almost the same staff, which has been fantastic as you are only as good as the people you hire around you.
How did you move up the ranks?
I started as an office production assistant on an HBO series called “1st and 10”, which I did not like. Not an office guy, but I learned how the office works, which was good for me when I became an AD. I then became a set PA and started working with my brother Kim on films like “Cocktail” and “We’re No Angels” which were big learning experiences. My goal was to get into the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) as soon as possible, so I decided to use my Canadian citizenship, as I am a dual citizen, headed to Canada and joined the Director’s Guild of Canada in the early 90s.
I started as a trainee AD up there and moved quickly to becoming a Third AD. I worked on “Dolores Claiborne” and “The Scarlet Letter”. Both films were American studios with a DGA director and DGA 1st AD, which allowed me to use those workdays towards getting into the DGA. It was a lot easier back then to get into the guild, as you only needed 120 AD days.
I moved back to LA and that is when I started working as a DGA AD with Roland Emmerich. I was the 3rd or the second 2nd AD, on Independence Day. The 1st AD on Independence Day, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, was Steven Spielberg’s 1st AD at the time, so I ended up doing Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World with him. I went on to Godzilla after that which was my first key 2nd AD job, then “The Fast and Furious”, “Evita”, “XXX” to name a few.
My last film as a 2nd AD was “The Patriot, which is still probably the hardest film I have done. After that, Roland started to produce smaller budget movies and offered me to 1st AD a movie called Eight Legged Freaks. A film about giant spiders attacking a small town (Laughs). It was a great film for me to AD as the budget was not to big and Roland was the Producer so I knew if I made a mistake, I was not going to be fired.
I than jumped up in size and budget and did S.W.A.T. and that’s where I first worked with Louis D’Esposito, who was the Executive Producer. Louis, years later would then become the Co-President of Marvel Studios and got me an interview with Joss Whedon on “The Avengers” and I have worked for Marvel Studios since than.
You know, I’ve been very fortunate – Marvel Studios is a great place to work and I am a huge comic book fan, so it is a perfect situation for me.
What would be your work process – from being booked on the job to finishing the job?
The most important part is the prep and the more the better. On a Marvel project usually I get about 16 to 18 weeks, which you need. There is a great saying (which I did not come up with – credit to Patty Whitcher and LeeAnn Stonebreaker) which is “Prep the plan, shoot the plan”. If you prep the film well, then the shoot will be a lot smoother. It always takes about 2 weeks to really get the film ingrained in your brain, where you feel you have a good grasp of what is going on.
Prep is the hardest part and the most enjoyable part is the shooting. I love the shooting; at that point you just focus a week at a time, then you focus on next week, and where are we now etc., whereas in prep you got to look at the big picture and sometimes that can be overwhelming. The scheduling aspect is also a fun part of the job.
When you get a new script to breakdown, it’s like opening a new book to read. I like to know the script so well that if someone says “Hey, what happens in scene 33”, I can tell them what happens. I need to know the script that well. In my office, the whole wall is littered with location pictures, art renderings, set plans. I feel by osmosis looking at all this it just gets engraved in your brain. You need to know the film better than anyone, especially on bigger action movies, as there are so many elements going on.
So I’d say the key is get as much prep as you can. On lower budget movies – not always the case. I did American Ultra, which was an eye-opener for me. It was a small budget and I had an opening in my schedule. I’m glad I did it, but when I got hired I was told I had seven weeks prep, which was a little disconcerting at the time, but you figure out a way. Whatever time you’re given, you got to make it work, but it’s definitely a little more stressful, that’s for sure.
I always feel and have experienced if the prep is smooth, the shoot will be smooth. If the prep is chaotic, the shoot will be chaotic.
For any aspiring ADs or filmmakers, who might not be aware, what would you say is your average shoot day, from wake up to sleep time?
The Patriot, like I stated earlier was by far the hardest job I’ve ever done, just due to the long hours. Most days you had 300-800 crowd by 4 am – Roland liked to shoot sunrise – and we’d shoot sunrise and sunset shots. So you’re rolling at 7 am and you’ve got 300-800 crowd up on set. You’re getting there at 3am. We would shoot all the way up until 8 pm, with the crowd as well. Then you’d have to wrap them out, so you’d get them out by 9-9:30 pm. The set was a 45 min drive back to the hotel. I would have to call the actors back then you didn’t have email, you had an old cell phone, which half the time didn’t work and you would have to wait for the call back from the cast. So…yeah, you’re averaging 4 to 5 hours of sleep for about 5 months. That’s the worst-case scenario.
Being in the AD dept, you’re the first ones in and the last ones out. So you work anywhere from 12 -14 hours. Some people don’t want that – I had many PAs that, after a week, would look at me and be like “Yeah, this is not for me…” So like I said earlier you’ve got to have the passion for the job, you have to want to be on set and love seeing it all happen. Then the hours…you just get used to them after a while and it’s not that bad.
In the last 5 years I feel the film business is changing and trying to cut down on the hours…On Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, we are shooting a 10-hour day. We shoot continuous days without stopping for lunch. In the UK, they have really made the continuous day work and slowly in the US, it has started to catch on. As a 1st AD, I am all for it as it a very efficient way to work and the cast and crew are fresher and you can actually have a LIFE!!! (BIG laugh)
You’ve worked with some great directors – what’s one unifying trait they all share?
Great communication and being prepared. Knowing as the director everyone is working for you and your vision. The director will need to work harder than anybody and be able to make decisions. The most prepared directors are the most successful and use pre-vis, storyboards, and do detailed shot lists. They know the movie inside and out. They’ve either already cut the movie in their head.
I find that the more the crew knows, the better it’s going to go for the director. You know, some directors – either they’re inexperienced or…I get that a lot with first time directors and I tell them “Don’t pretend that you know it all”, there’s no way you can know it all, it’s your first movie. So, let us help you. And…a smart director knows that.
The movies when you have to wing it…I find they don’t work out that well. So it’s a matter of having a clear vision, knowing the movie inside out and just showing up with a game plan every day.
What advice can you give an aspiring actor?
I guess persistence would probably be the number one thing. And, again, have the passion for it. For actors there’s probably going to be a lot of “No’s” along the way. All you need is one “Yes” and off you go… So, yes, sticking with it. Also, maximizing any contacts you have.
I don’t think there’s really any trick to it other than work on your craft. Work as much as you can, shorts, theatre, TV, film just keep working, as you never know what it will lead to.
Go where the work is. For example, when we go to shoot in Atlanta, we got to hire a certain amount of locals. So that would be my other suggestion – looking where the work is going and go there.
It’s like that for ADs too when you’re starting out: work the system a little bit, meet people and hope that it leads to something. Try and get yourself in short films or super low indie films – cause you just never know that could become the hit. The more you do, the more experienced you get. Keep working; don’t turn down anything, because you only get better the more you do it.
Want to know what it’s like to 1st AD a $200m+ studio movie like #BatmanVSuperman?
Read our EXCLUSIVE interview… https://t.co/WHiyZjmF9X
— Film Doctor (@film_doctor) April 6, 2016
Tell us about producing and your new company Floodgate Entertainment.
Floodgate is in the early stages. My brother Peter and I have been in the film business for a long time and we decided with all of our experience and contacts, why not start our own business. We hooked up with Jason Speer whose background is more in the financial business world and we decided to form the company.
All three of us specialize in different areas of the film business, so it works well. Our first project we co-produced and it was a really small movie, called Painkillers. Peter directed it. We are involved as investors and are Co-Executive Producers on a film called Wakefield, with Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner, for under 5 million. These are just out first small steps.
Currently, we are in the early stages of prep on a film called “The God Four” with Michael Douglas and Jai Courtney, which will shoot this summer for under 10 million. So it is exciting and we plan on slowing building the company and making films with great stories.
What would you say makes a good Producer? (or a bad one)
Well, for a good one… Creating a great work atmosphere, for one, being a straight shooter and experience. Most film crews just want honesty and to be treated well and not taken advantage off. The best producers create a family-like atmosphere and help the Director make the best film possible. The other big thing is just thanking people. It’s such a simple thing.
Tell us a bit about how you got involved with working on so many Marvel movies and how it is!
Well, I’ve always been a huge Marvel fan. So for me, getting involved with the Marvel Cinematic Universe was definitely hugely exciting. As I mentioned before Louis D’Esposito got me an interview with Joss Whedon on “The Avengers” and I wowed him with my charisma and the rest is history[laughs].
At that time, The Avengers was the biggest thing I’ve done by far and it was overwhelming at the beginning, a lot of anxiety for me. You always know more than you think you do and you just use your experience and start to figure it out. The Avengers was a great experience. It was a really smooth, smooth shoot. In fact, we finished a day early.
Marvel Studios are very loyal, they use a lot of the same people – so I kind of rolled on from movie to movie, which has been great; there’s this great continuity there and a great support system for every director that comes in.
Is there much of a difference between a Writer-Director and directors who don’t write the script?
Hmm…a little bit. I find the Directors that wrote the script know it so well. I mean, they’re living with it, created it, so it’s engrained in their mind.
For me, working with a Director who wrote the script is better. You take out another voice. On films where the writers are on the set you tend to get more changes, and your getting pages on the day, etc. – that just leads to more chaos. Whereas if you have a Director who is the writer, you get less changes. You want to avoid the ”too many chefs in the kitchen” scenario.
Captain America: Civil War – how long did you shoot on that one?
We shot for about 80 days and we had about 20 second unit days. To shoot a movie of that size in that amount of time was a small miracle. It was pretty tight schedule, but we were super-efficient and the Russo Brothers shoot very fast and with lots of cameras. It was a challenging shoot, both mentally and physically, but well worth it and a great experience.
The shoot went from April to August; August we were in Berlin, which was great, but April to July we were in Atlanta, where the humidity and the heat was brutal – and a lot of the movie was outside! So you’ve got no other choice but to be outside; and we’re shooting at 100F, actors in those suits… So, yeah, very challenging and just…uncomfortable [laughs]
What did you shoot on?
We shot with ARRI Alexa cameras, and we also shot with ARRI 65, which is the IMAX camera. We shot certain sequences with the ARRI 65, not the whole movie.
How many cameras did you work with?
Very rarely was it a one camera. The Russo brothers are known for multiple cameras. Everything has to be 3 cameras. We had 3 crew units at all time; they shoot handheld, so a lot of the time you have all 3 cameras shooting. We had the Alexas on these bungee rigs, so it’s not just locked on the camera operators shoulder.
That’s the style of the Captain America movies; it’s more of an in your face, handheld style. The good news with that is you shoot quick. You’re flying. And it makes the day go faster [laughs].
How is it working with brother directors? Does it make things more efficient?
Nothing that different from working with one director. They are mostly on the same page, so usually you are getting one voice, sometimes it’s from Joe and sometimes it is from Anthony. Sometimes you can split them up for inserts, but it is not like Joe is directing one unit and Anthony is directing another. They stick together and work best when they are together.
What kind of prep time do you get on this?
On “Captain America: Civil War” I had 18 weeks of prep. Like I mentioned before, it takes about 2 weeks just to know the movie: read the script, read it again, break it down, put it into the scheduling programme. Then have the meetings – e.g. meet the Production Designer, the Director, etc. I sit down with the Directors over 3-4 days and we’d try to attack these 25 scenes per day, you can’t do it all in one, people just start to lose the focus after a while.
So I try to do it in small increments with the Directors and ask them a lot of questions – “How do you see this?” “How do you see that?” just to get their thoughts of the scenes and how they see things. That helps me.
I’d do that in the first week and on the second week of prep I’d disappear and schedule. Then it’s just absorbing yourself in the material. Have individual meetings with each heads of department, to get their questions, their concerns, and their thoughts on how they’re going to do it so you can start getting into the movie. Especially on bigger budget movies, it takes 2-3 weeks just to understand what the movie is.
The main thing is to have sequence meetings with the set plans, models, etc. and do a big strategy meeting. Now pre-vis is huge and hopefully the Director has been very involved in it, so that’s really what he wants. Pre-vis can become your shot-list, really.
There are many levels of prep: sorting out how many days you need, creatively figuring out what the ask is and figuring out how to do it, and then how to execute it.
So people go “You get 18 weeks, what a luxury” but you need every moment of those 18 weeks.
In a scenario where pick-ups are necessary, how does it work?
Well, for Marvel Studios, the cast is already booked for additional photography when there deal is made. Pick-ups are planned usually about 5 or 6 months after principal photography is completed.
On independent films or really low-budget movies, I’d imagine you test it and if people like it, you can go back to your investors and hopefully they give you some more money to finish it up a little bit. On independent films it’s much harder – and you almost need to strive to get it right the first time. But, hopefully, if you really need to re-do something, you can go back to your investors, screen it and if they like it, they can help you make it even better.
— Film Doctor (@film_doctor) April 22, 2016
What advice would you give to an aspiring 1st AD?
For an aspiring AD, I’d say a positive attitude is number one. You’re the leader of the crew and if they see you annoyed and stressed out, and freaking out, then that vibe will just spread.
You set the vibe for your crew and if you’re working with a screaming director, you’ve got to blanket the crew a little. You can’t add on top of that and yell at the crew – you got to be the “Hey, it’s OK” guy. You’re the leader and if you have a good attitude, then crew’s going to have a good attitude.
You need to brace yourself for long hours; sometimes everyone will leave and you’ll be still sitting in the office at 11 PM, trying to work out the schedule and how to make it all work. And you might get a stroke of genius past midnight. So you got to be willing to put in the time – because you will have to put in the time. I’ve worked a lot of weekends on my own time, I just needed to sort everything out – and I’m willing to do that, because I want to be at the top of the game. Failure is not an option for me.
You’ve got to stay positive and you got to love it!
What advice would you give to an aspiring Director?
Well, like with actors, you got to practice your craft; you got to shoot stuff. Go out and shoot shorts; get some experience. I believe that if you want to be a Director, you should just direct, regardless if it a spec commercial or a short film.
Some people get into the business and say “I’m going to be a PA and then I’ll become a Director” – that has worked in some cases; like, for example, one of my 2nd ADs just has had a movie at Tribeca Film Festival that he directed. But mostly that strategy does not work. Writing your own movie – if you want to get into directing a film, you have a better chance if you’ve written it.
Just go out and do it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring director wanting to one-day work within the studio system?
Stick to your vision and do not forget the essence of the film and the reason you wanted to make it in the first place. Once you are in the studio system you will have to deal with more people that want to have a say in the story, casting, final cut, and marketing.
Fight for what you feel you cannot let go and be willing to let go off certain things less important as you will have to pick your battles.
Thank you, Lars!
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