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An Interview with Nicole McGovern, 2nd A.D.

by Matt Miller

I have had the pleasure of working with Nicole McGovern as a 2nd Assistant Director on a few commercial jobs now and I’m so happy that she had the time to answer some questions about her work. Below is a short interview covering the basics of the 2nd Assistant Director position as well as some of Nicole’s tips for actors on set.

Matt Miller - Commercial Director and Nicole McGovern - 2nd Assistant AD
Director Matt Miller & 2nd A.D. Nicole McGovern

MM: What are the primary responsibilities of the 2nd Assistant Director?  Are those responsibilities any different on a commercial project versus a television show or film?

NM: Yes and no! Same concept for both. We make sure that things and people are in the right place at the right time.

In film and television, a Key 2nd AD is the main point of contact to both on and off production crew as well as the cast. A Key 2nd AD will make the call sheet daily, give actors their call times, and schedule costume fittings or any necessary rehearsals. Typically, there will be a Basecamp AD to help facilitate the cast getting through Hair & Makeup and getting to set on time and then there will also be a 2nd 2nd AD, which is kind of like the 1st AD’s right-hand mate on set, helping direct the background actors as well as facilitate the cast’s whereabouts on set.

In commercials, the Production Department steps into a lot of roles AD’s play in the film & television world, but a 2nd AD is still the liaison between talent and set. Typically, on a commercial, you (the actor) will be greeted by the 2nd AD when you arrive and they will guide you through paperwork, then to Hair/Makeup/Wardrobe, and make sure you are where you need to be when you are needed. A 2nd AD will also assist in directing the background actors on set.

MM: What is the part of your job that you love the most?

NM: I love being in a new place almost every day. Every day has a new challenge. Sometimes I’m concerned about weather while working in a field in the middle of nowhere and then the next day I’m working out of a high rise in downtown Chicago. Not a lot of careers allow that much flexibility.

CineSpace sound stage for commercial shoot.
Commercial Set at CineSpace

MM: Knowing that very few things are typical in this line of work, what’s a typical week on a TV or commercial job like for you? 

NM: I predominantly work as a Key 2nd Assistant Director on a TV show. In that respect, my week is usually Monday thru Friday. While shooting, I typically work 14-16 hours a day. I could start my Monday with a 6AM call and by the end of the week we could be on nights with a 6PM call. If you like consistency this may not be the job for you… 

MM: How long have you been doing this work now? What was the process like for you? How does one become a 2nd AD? 

NM: I’ve been a DGA (Director’s Guild of America) 2nd AD since 2015. I first started off as a Production Assistant (PA) on movies in 2009.

To become a DGA 2nd AD, there are a few different routes you could take. I think the most common is joining via PA days worked. For the third area (outside Southern California) you must have worked at least 600 days on a union television show or film. You create a book with various proofs of all those days you worked and submit it to the DGA. There are also avenues via commercial days/non-union days as well as a DGA Trainee program.

MM: What are some things actors should know about their interactions with a 2nd AD? Any “do’s and don’ts” kind of advice you can share? 

NM: Come prepared and arrive early. Don’t be afraid to ask a question because you are too nervous. We are there to help!

MM: Who is an actor you have loved working with and why?

NM: Kate Winslet. She is an absolute pro and delight. I worked with her over a decade ago and I still remember her telling me, “I never want to be late and I never want to be the last actor to arrive on set.” She always came prepared and was so respectful.

MM: Anything else early career actors should know about the job of the 2nd?

NM: We are the gatekeepers of information. The Information Department!

-Matt Miller is a DGA Director and an occasional instructor at the Acting Studio Chicago.