Spring 2016

Danielle Rigby

Horse Sense

Those who accuse 1st AD Danielle Rigby of having spent too much time "horsing around" over her more than 25-year career will not only receive an emphatic "yes" from her, but will also hear how Rigby’s love of all things equine has made her a better assistant director.

"The horse always senses when there’s upheaval or discord, and the same goes for the cast and crew on a movie set," the Australia native explains. "Being calm and patient helps us all get through everything more quickly. Yelling and trying to push people to do things just generates a climate where mistakes can happen, and that jeopardizes safety."

Rigby’s calming touch has been well honed for more than two decades as a 2nd AD on films such as Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999) and Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical, Across the Universe (2007), which used five units. But the self-described "crazy horse girl" says it was Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998) that was her most inspiring film.

In fact, Rigby says, the main reason she got hired was for her horse knowledge. "I became a bridge between Joe [Reidy, the 1st AD] and the wranglers, who often did not fully understand what was required for the film, while the creative team was sometimes unrealistic about what the horse could actually accomplish on set," she says.

More recently, as 1st AD of choice for Woody Allen (starting with Blue Jasmine in 2013), she says the director’s mastery of the medium has made her job relatively stress-free or, noting with a laugh, "as little stress as you can have in a job like this."

"A good example was on our last [still untitled] film, which required a day in a large New York brownstone with 10 scheduled scenes, in five different rooms," Rigby says.

"After the first two scenes took longer than anticipated, and with the prospects of the next eight scenes taking too long, Woody walked through each room [with DP Vittorio Storaro] and choreographed five scenes into a single Steadicam shot."

"We started out in the bedroom following the actor out into the hall, which took us to the dining room with the next actor, then back into the hall for the next portion, and finally into the kitchen where the scene finishes," she says. "It was challenging for the actors, as they hadn’t prepared for doing all the scenes at once. But we finished everything by 7 p.m. without having to make any compromises."

Rigby says she’s seen the production management chain change drastically through the years. "Back in the day as a 2nd, I might not even have had a 2nd 2nd, which meant there was that much more for the 1st to do on set and for the next day," she notes.

"Today, the 2nd AD [and the 2nd 2nd AD] has evolved into a massive job. They have freed up [the 1st AD] to be fully immersed with each day on set. They’re the future, planning the next day and beyond, and we’re the present," she continues.

"Honestly, I don’t see how 1st ADs could work in New York today without a 2nd and a 2nd 2nd. It just wouldn’t be possible."

(Photo: Bill Heald)

At Work With

Short profiles of Guild members in all categories sharing their experiences at work.

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