Aldric La’Auli Porter will do pretty much anything for his film family. In his 20 years as a 1st AD, over the course of some three-dozen features, the Samoan-born Porter has dashed into burning buildings and slogged through waist-deep farm refuse just to make sure his team successfully made each day.
“The 1st AD is a leader who has to push the show up the hill no matter how many obstacles,” Porter says on the way to the set of his current project, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, directed by Dennis Dugan. “It’s about organization, communication, and, most of all, creating a sense of confidence so they’ll follow you up that hill.”
Case in point was Ridley Scott’s Black Rain, shot on location in Japan. After extended negotiations, Porter was given permission to shoot from dusk till dawn in an Osaka train station. However, on the day of filming, Japanese authorities fretted about offending passengers, and abruptly changed the arrangement. “They cut the shoot down from 12 to six hours, with no early setup of equipment,” Porter recalls. “I’ve never worked so fast and so hard to ensure everyone knew the new game plan and was on the same page.”
Battling transit bureaucrats halfway around the world might compare favorably to wading through a sea of muck on Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning. “Alan Parker is a stickler for the texture of everyday life,” Porter recalls with a smile, “and nearly every scene was on a practical location.” One intense moment featured a Klu Klux Klan member chasing a black man who must leap into a pig trough to evade his tormentor. “We were standing there knee-deep in our waders and all I could think about was the poor stunt guy. I turned to the art director, saying: ‘Please tell me you remembered to disinfect the trough, because the stunt person will be jumping in full force.’”
Occasionally Porter is the one leaping in. For Ron Howard’s Backdraft, made years before a fire effect could be inserted by a digital keystroke, Porter ran into a burning room to check on an actor. “Kurt Russell was in this smoke-filled set that the effects team had just ignited with 50- gallon oil drums,” Porter remembers. “After about four minutes he hadn’t come out, so I just rushed in after him—without a respirator.” Porter felt his way along the wall with his hands, as he had been trained, through the intense smoke and heat, but couldn’t find Russell. Fortunately, the actor had already gotten out through a rear exit door. “It wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” admits Porter. “But instinct took over, and I wanted to make sure he was safe.”
Porter’s do-or-die work ethic has impressed the toughest of taskmasters, even if it has sometimes taken awhile for them to understand his easygoing manner. “Early in the making of True Lies, James Cameron said he was very unimpressed with my laid-back approach with the crew,” Porter laughs. “But by the end of the film, he was calling me ‘the rock.’ Yelling or bullying is just not my style, and directors who get that tend to hire me.”