When he’s not involved in making a film, Joe Reidy is likely to be watching one–haunting screenings at the Film Forum, MOMA, Lincoln Center, or the Tribeca Film Festival, soaking up anything and everything for the “storehouse of visual references” he brings to his work.
It’s an obsession that’s helped fuel his relationship with director Martin Scorsese through 20 years and 11 projects. “We have that love of film in common,” admits Reidy. “He encourages it and it helps us with a shorthand. He’ll often give me an assignment, a ‘you should see this,’ just so we can draw on it at some later time.”
Scorsese first hired Reidy in 1986 to help him work out technical pool shots for The Color of Money in Chicago. He’s been 1st AD on nearly every feature the director has done since, including his latest, The Departed.
Other A-list directors have also chosen Reidy as their right hand, including Oliver Stone, Robert Redford and Sidney Lumet. But while he plays a key role in many of the best New York-based productions, Reidy is no hard-boiled native–he’s actually a slightly shy midwesterner, who grew up outside Cleveland in a large Irish Catholic family, the son of a funeral director. Enchanted with the American films of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Reidy attended NYU film school, finishing in 1976, and soon after found his way into the DGA Assistant Directors Training Program. “I had great mentors,” he recalls, naming Yudi Bennett and Candace Suerstedt, and it was “a great turning point in my life.”
Reidy has worked steadily ever since, as an AD, a co-producer and even as on-screen talent, doing various bit parts, including his favorite, as a gambler caught cheating in a scene from Casino with Robert DeNiro and Don Rickles. “Sometimes a part will come up and the director somehow thinks I’m right for it,” he says, adding, “I find it very hard to watch myself.”
While he’s passionate about shooting on location in New York, the Tribeca resident gets his greatest fascination from the period films he’s been involved in, like The Last Temptation of Christ, where “we were in Morocco filming and re-creating the Crucifixion,” and JFK, in which “we were at the exact locations, seeing what the assassin would have seen.” “Those are powerful things that really speak to me,” says Reidy.
Another highlight was recreating early Manhattan for Gangs of New York. Talking about Scorsese’s creative process, Reidy says: “He composes a film sort of intellectually and emotionally, and puts it on paper, and then he turns some of that shot list over to me and the cinematographer to prepare and get organized. He’s the boss, that’s for sure, but I’m put in a position of trust.”
On the set, Reidy strives to “help the director be organized and prepared, and to set a tone in which people can work.” Of his personal style, he says, “I think calm and level is the way to go.”