Jason Washington: So how did you first get started in the industry?
Jack Boem: It happened somewhat by accident. I was living in Vancouver, in the early ‘90s, working at a construction site at a school. I had been doing construction most of my life at that point, and ironically enough, I wanted to get out of it. I flew back home for a little while – I left the construction job and I just thought I’d come home, spend some time with family and friends and figure out my next move. I knew some people that were working in film out West and I thought I’d try and figure out a way to get into the Vancouver film industry. But just a couple of days before I was supposed to fly back to Vancouver, a friend of mine called. She was working as a Producer’s Assistant on The Long Kiss Goodnight and asked me if I wanted a job as an office Production Assistant. At the time, I had no idea what that is, but I said sure. So I went in and interviewed the following week. And then they said, Well, if you want the job. It’s yours. So I just went back to Vancouver, packed up my stuff and stored it all over town, and then flew to Ontario and worked on the Long Kiss Goodnight.
Jason: Wow. Your first foray into the business was one of Toronto’s first forays into becoming Hollywood North.
Jack: Yeah, it was in its heyday around then. It was a big film! Walking around with $1,000 in petty cash made me think, “I’ve made it now.”
Jason: Like a lot of us, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. But we all know a lot of friends who have come and gone, and shifted up the chain and out of the chain.
Jack: There were some years when everybody was scratching their head, trying to figure out what else they could do. But I just stuck with it. I was an office PA for a couple of years, and then I joined the Guild as a permittee. I didn’t really do much in the way of dailies. I mostly worked full shows. I started out on the trailers and moved to the floor as a 3rd AD. Shortly thereafter, I jumped to 2nd AD’ing, and I did that for a long time.
Jason: I remember I first met you when I was doing dailies, and you were so cool!
So were you working on a mixture of TV shows and features, or were you primarily features for most of your career as a 2nd AD?
Jack: As a 2nd, it was mostly features. I started out with a couple of movies of the week, and then David Webb called me about the movie Cold Creek Manor. After a few other small projects I hooked up with Walter Gasparovic, and that’s when I was doing a lot of features. Now as a 1st AD I do mostly television, but also the odd feature here and there.
Jason: So your last project was The Boys, which you just finished up. What do you think was the key to doing a good job as a 1st AD on such a massive production, with so many moving parts, stunts and effects?
Jack: It’s really collaborative, that’s for sure. You probably say this all the time yourself, but it’s all in the prep, right? A good prep gets you a good shoot. There are so many moving parts that go hand in hand with each other, like visual effects, special effects, and prosthetics. So it’s just managing all that, staying on top of things, creating schedules; not just the shooting schedule, but testing dates when we want to see things from certain departments such as stunts, previz or special effects, or prosthetics as they’re being created. Every meeting we have, I put every note I can into the schedule, and then sometimes it just creates more questions. So we have a lot of meetings. It’s all collaborative and every department is involved.
Jason: What was your prep/shoot cycle? Were you doing double episodes at a time or singles?
Jack: In season three we did two episodes at a time. In seasons one and two we did one episode at a time…so it was a little crazy! Those meetings I mentioned with all those departments were really challenging last year because there’s so much action going on in season three, and it was hard to get people on a Zoom call because they were always on set, plus COVID on top of that. So yeah, it had its challenges. You’re looking at actors and sets that reoccur three or four scripts later, and it’s always good to try and block shoot those, but it’s not a perfect world. You’re trying to marry days or scenes together in your schedule, and you’re like, “I can just do this small scene, it’ll fit in perfectly”, and then remember you can’t, because the actors are all covered in blood and need time to get cleaned up.
Jason: The Boys shoots in some pretty big locations like Roy Thompson Hall and other places around downtown Toronto, was it challenging to pull this off with the Locations team, especially during the height of the pandemic?
Jack: Shooting David Pecault Square and Roy Thompson Hall is always challenging because you’re limited in the amount of control that you have. I think people in this city are used to the shooting and know to find alternate routes, but you need to consider the logistics and try to avoid having to move everything all the time. You got your COVID testing tents, and your water stations, you need space for people to eat lunch. It was challenging for the Locations team to find the spaces that were big enough for everything, plus all the processing of extras in the background.
Jason: You’ve worked on a lot of high-concept projects with action scenes, car chases, aliens, and robots, with the likes of Guillermo del Toro, David Cronenberg and Edgar Wright. Why are you drawn to these kinds of productions as an Assistant Director and how have you honed your skills over the years to best serve those kinds of shows?
Jack: Working with David Cronenberg is an absolute delight. I love that man. He’s so funny and charming, and probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life.
With Pacific Rim and Guillermo, my connection to the Production Manager DJ Carson got me the job as a 2nd AD. As a 2nd, you really have to nail down the logistics of production on that scale. I think most days we had 500 extras, and there are stunt rehearsals and so many other things on the periphery that you’re managing as well. So you’re focusing on the shoot days, and prep going around it, sometimes working a week ahead.
Suicide Squad almost killed me – we were a month into shooting, and we were still camera testing for costume, hair and makeup for certain characters. All the actors that weren’t shooting were in training. We were on nights, and I had to manage their day schedules. Every day I’d get up in the afternoon, to go to work, and just tell myself, “don’t look at your phone, have a cup of coffee first.” But it was always exploding with messages from cast that wanted to change their schedule. It’s funny, because superhero films aren’t really my first choice to watch, but I sure work on a lot of them!
Jason: Toronto’s definitely become that town. Between Toronto and Vancouver, I think we have like 70% of all the superhero TV shows and other properties being shot, which has been great for us. I don’t remember the last time I did a show that didn’t have heavy prosthetics. The fact that we have the “supersuit department” in our lexicon makes me laugh.
I’m gonna pivot here a little bit. One of the biggest shifts for us in the past couple of years has been all of these rapid technological changes, some brought on by COVID and working remotely, some just due to how processes have changed. But do you find you’re still working primarily with paper scripts and paper documentation? Or have you pivoted to going digital with something like an iPad and a program like Scriptation?
Jack: I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I like paper in hand, and I like to make notes on my scripts. The only thing I carry around on set is a schedule and a call sheet in my back pocket. Adopting digital will happen for me sooner or later, and I appreciate what other people are doing with it and how it’s working for them. It’s just the initial breakdown of the script that I need to do on paper, because I have my notes. There’s so much going on in each scene. I’m not highlighting everything, but I mark it up pretty good. Take The Boys as an example. There are so many scenes within scenes. A character will be watching TV, but it’s never just a talking head. There’s usually a riot scene on the television that we’re shooting. It’s all the little details that are laid out and hidden within the page. I’m just more comfortable with paper. Tablets are getting so much smaller and easier to carry, and technology can be a great help. Google is a great tool for learning and finding those quick answers that you need to set up stuff like, how many people would be in the room for a military meeting? Who sits where? We had to do that on Pixels, break out who sits in the War Room. It was all mapped out on a table. We did have consultants, but I still remember doing mock-ups of who should sit where and what uniform they should be wearing at those kinds of meetings.
Jason: It’s definitely a new world. I was a diehard paper person for the longest time, even doing these shows with double or triple episode blocks. It was so much weight to carry around, and we were dealing with so many script revisions that it was impossible to keep transcribing notes from new revision after new revision. Whereas Scriptation actually has layering features and some other little features, but it’s a personal preference.
Jack: That’s why I started writing on post-it notes, sticking it to the back page of the previous page. Then when I get a revision I just move the post-it over. I learned that a few years ago instead of writing actually on the page. You’re always learning.
Jason: It never stops! It’s always interesting how the new folks are turning me on to different ways of thinking and doing things. You see things differently – like, my brain now is different as an as a 1st AD or a 2nd.
So here’s another question related to that. You and I both started in the industry in the late 90s – early 2000s. How do you think the job is different for new Assistant Directors entering the industry in 2022?
Jack: It’s always been somewhat similar because even when I first started, there were people that just wanted to do dailies. They could control their schedule, they could work as much or as little as they wanted, depending on how busy things were. It’s a little freer now. Everybody has more of an opinion, or a willingness to share it. Sometimes it’s accepted, but sometimes it’s not. Trying to get quiet is a little more challenging now than it used to be. I find, years ago, you asked for quiet and you got it. Now, it’s a bit of a struggle.
Jason: There are just so many distractions now, between watches and phones pinging all over the place, people on phone calls, other departments on different walkies, or trying to do a Zoom call that just has to happen now. Like you, I was trained that you learn the 1st AD’s voice and when they ask for quiet, you’re quiet. It’s just so different now.
Jack: There are a lot more people involved, and it’s a much bigger industry too. You get a lot of new people coming in, that don’t have much experience but are getting a look into the process on set. But I do agree the cell phone has definitely changed things, and people are on them far too much.
Jason: I will say the one thing that I do miss, and it was the best piece of advice I ever got that I try to teach new ADs now, is when you can, sit with the 1st and the 2nd over lunch to talk over the plan. I learned and was better prepared to upgrade through the ranks that way. Even having a little meeting at the AD trailer at the end of the day, which used to be easier when the trailer was close to set. That was something I felt that we lost and kind of affected us in a bigger, more negative way than we thought. What’s your take on that?
Jack: Well, usually, I’ll make it to the AD trailer a couple of times on a show. If we’re on a stage, it’s right outside the door. But on location, I’ll walk in, and I’ll usually say, “Oh! I have a little cubicle or a drawer for my stuff. I had no idea. I’m never going to use it.” Base camp is often across town now, and it’s a bit of a drive at the best of times, and it upsets that delicate balance of trying to time everything out. You think, “Okay, we’re a couple of shots away,” and then all of a sudden you add a shot, so somebody’s going to end up waiting, or they get stuck in traffic, and we’re waiting. It can be a stressful thing, because I don’t like to make people wait, and I don’t like to bring actors in too early. But I’ve done it a few times when things have backfired, and I feel horrible. I’m like, “I’m really sorry, this was not supposed to take this long. We just hit a few snags.”
Jason: Yeah, and I find as long as they’re aware of what’s going on, it’s less of an issue. I’m an old theatre person, so I always believed in keeping actors fully in the loop. It’s much more collaborative that way.
Jack: I’ve always been upfront and honest with them, even as a 2nd and a 3rd and a PA. Sometimes you get sent there with a crazy story you’re supposed to tell them that’s been handed down to you, and I’m always like, “I’ll just tell them the truth and it’ll be fine. If that’s okay with you.” [Laughs]
Jason: So, the best friend and sometimes the bane of the 1st AD’s existence: Movie Magic Scheduling. The key tool that we all seem to use. Do you find that it’s up to par with what we need it to be in 2022? Are there particular features you’d like to see them add?
Jack: It’s definitely behind where it needs to be, but it doesn’t have the market, right? How many people actually need it? So they don’t really need to pump more money into it, although it would make it a lot easier for us. It’s still basic. It drives me crazy that you can’t fit all the cast members into one line unless you remove a bunch of other information that you need.
Jason: I find that nowadays, with all this block shooting, tandem units, and second units, you need to move more information between your multiple AD teams. I did a show where we were alternating almost every day between two episodes, so two 1st ADs, two 2nd ADs, and even a Producer needed to keep an eye on everything. It was a mess. There are some other programs that I played around with, but they always have pros and cons. There’s Fuzzlecheck, Gorilla Scheduling, Celtx Scheduling, and a few others out there, but nothing does it all perfectly.
Jack: We looked at Gorilla for Scott Pilgrim because Movie Magic stopped allowing the importation of storyboards at that point. And with Edgar Wright, just about everything was with storyboards. That was your shot list. I don’t remember if we ended up using Gorilla or if we just went old school and made hard copies on foam core, but that was one of the things that had us looking at new software: being able to put the shot in the schedule, on the page or on the screen, and then all your information is there.
Jason: What’s been your most memorable, rewarding project in your career? Maybe outside of the buzzier productions people always associate with you?
Jack: I was still doing trailers then, but I was on Simon Birch and it was such a sweet, heartwarming movie. Everybody involved was just so nice, and the kids were great, it was a really nice environment. But hands-down most rewarding was working with Viggo Mortensen on Falling a few years ago. I mean, no money, just passion. It was small, not much special or visual effects. But he’s such a wonderful, wonderful man. He was infectious, and people were tripping over themselves to help him make this film because he’s such a lovely guy, and it was such a powerful, personal story to him. That’s one for sure from the last few years, but every show has its moments.
Jason: We sometimes forget about telling stories. I remember for the longest time people only wanted to talk to me about working on Mean Girls. I’m like, “I only did a couple of daily AD calls! What about all these wonderful Canadian TV shows?” My favourite film I ever worked on was a Canadian History Channel docudrama that I did with 1st AD Joel Hay. Very often my favourite personal projects are ones that most people don’t even know about.
Jack: I like a smaller crew. We always come in with so many people. One of the funniest things is when you’re scouting locations, and the Location Manager and the Production Designer have already been, so they tell you a place is worth seeing. So then the DP, the Director and myself go, and maybe a Production Manager or Producer, and the homeowner is like “Oh! It’s more of you!”, and you’re like, “Oh, just wait. There’s gonna be a lot more.”
Jason: What do you think the key qualities are to being a great 1st AD?
Jack: As a 1st AD, you have to be humble because it’s not about you. It’s not about me, it’s about getting the project done in the best possible way, and creating the best possible production we can. You have to be all about the details. You have to know everything that every department is bringing to the table, from the schedule to the equipment – is it a techno crane or is it a drone? You have to work hard and you have to manage people. Sometimes that can be difficult, but they’re not difficult people. They just have their own problems, too. Everyone has their part to play, and we as ADs have to make sure everyone’s bringing it together at the right time. It goes back to prep. That’s where all the planning happens. Having everything laid out gives you the ability to pivot on the day when something goes wrong. Every night you’re lying in bed thinking, “Do I have the timing for the second group of cast and the BG to come in? Or did I screw that up? We might be faster than I was thinking,” and then you get up in the morning and the first phone call or text is, “so and so’s late”, or “this piece of equipment went to the wrong location.” And I’m like, why do I lose sleep? Something’s always gonna go wrong, you just have to react to it. Roll with it.
Jason: You were a great longtime 2nd AD as well, and you’ve worked with some of the best in the city. What do you find are the key qualities to being a great 2nd AD?
Jack: It’s again all about managing people because usually, you’re bringing bad news. “I’m sorry, you are going to have to work again tomorrow.” It’s all about personality and dealing with people and sometimes getting them to do the things that they don’t really want to do, but everybody is there to do a job. Things can change so dramatically on a large-scale project, so it all goes back to that logistics skill too. You’re often busing background actors to a location, plus, you’re organizing shuttles for the crew to get to a distant location or out-of-zone location. You have to be able to get along with people. You’re not always going to see them at their best, but you have to make sure you do your best not to let them see you at your worst. People will always tell me, “you never get upset about anything.” And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I do.” When I was a 2nd, I would walk outside or around the corner, swear for a few minutes, and then even when I’m still spewing, I’m already laughing at myself for being an idiot and getting upset.
Jason: You would think a job with the title “Assistant” in it wouldn’t be as critical to the whole process. But it is, and very often, when there’s an issue on set, all eyes are immediately on you as the 1st AD. It’s funny, no one comes to school wanting to become 1st AD, but some folks who have gotten into it have absolutely loved it.
So what are you working on? Are you prepping something right now?
Jack: I’m prepping something called Horizon 2074. That’s all I can tell you. The secrecy of this business!
Season 2 of The Boys is available to watch on Amazon Prime now, with new episodes released every Friday.