Since choosing filmmaking over running the family restaurant more than 25 years ago, assistant director Jim Giovannetti has helped cement Chicago’s straight-shooting, can-do image on-screen. A more impressive list of Chi-town credits, which includes Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Love Jones, Barbershop and The Ice Harvest, would be hard to find. Giovannetti’s local knowledge, which includes knowing when the Cubs are in town (no parking film trucks near Wrigley Field on game days), and what times are best for scheduling bar scenes (Chicagoans start their weekends on Thursdays), invariably leaves directors smiling. Although the AD does recall one instance on John Hughes’ She’s Having a Baby where chaos almost broke out on Michigan Avenue.
“The shot was Kevin Bacon chasing his fantasy girl into a taxicab,” Giovannetti recalls. “All of the traffic had been set for the ground-level cameras, but John and his DP had put a camera up on the roof of a building at the last moment. From that high of an angle, Michigan Avenue looked empty.” So Giovannetti, a 2nd AD at the time, pleaded with Chicago’s finest to hold traffic to allow Hughes to redo the shot. “They hold the traffic through two or three green lights, John calls ‘Action!’ and that’s exactly the moment our actress tells me she has to go the bathroom,” Giovannetti laughs. “Michigan Avenue is now a parking lot, and the cops are looking at me like ‘you go now or not at all.’ I begged her to hang on until the shot was done and, fortunately, she agreed.”
Juggling cast, crew and locations for Giovannetti often comes down to preparing the all-important schedule, the heart of the AD’s craft. “Before laptops,” he explains, “the schedule was done with handwritten production strips that corresponded to each scene. The strips were fit into 14- or 17-inch boards and each time we made a change, we had to re-Xerox the board.” For his last picture, Sydney White, Giovannetti created eight different schedules, tinkering long into the night like a painter mixing color tones.
On the set, Giovannetti likes to stand close to the A-camera during takes, clutching a palm-held wireless monitor, aiming to be “the eyes and ears” of his director. On the subject of directors, he says working for Robert Altman, which he did on The Company, was a dream he had harbored since attending film school at the University of Iowa.
“We were shooting a bar scene,” Giovannetti says, serving up a classic Altman memory, “and, unbeknownst to me, Robert had given one of the extras at the bar some instructions that were different than what I had told the guy. So Altman calls ‘Action!’ and the extra does what I told him to do. The director calls ‘Cut!’ and says, ‘Who told you to do that?’ and the guy says, ‘That AD over there, Jim.’ Altman turns and says, ‘You know, Jim, I have never fired an AD.’ So, I turned back and said, ‘Robert, we definitely don’t want to spoil your perfect record.’ He burst out laughing, along with the rest of the crew.”