Who says ADs have to scream to be effective? Soft-spoken Xochi (pronounced Zo-chee) Blymyer, a one-time University of New Hampshire math major, began her career as a PA inputting production schedules because back then her computer skills (on a pair of first-generation Compaq laptops) were so advanced.
Okay, that's not entirely accurate. Blymyer, who grew up on movie sets, earned her first paycheck in Hollywood as a stand-in on a movie of the week shooting on Catalina Island. "My mom was Natalie Wood's hairdresser for many years, and my dad was a longtime Hollywood gaffer. They met on a movie called The Boston Strangler," says Blymyer. Among her childhood memories: "I took classes in a three-room schoolhouse when my dad was in the Bahamas for The Day of the Dolphin," she recalls, "and flew into the jungle in a helicopter to visit him on the set of The Sorcerer in the Dominican Republic."
Decades later, crews saw the name 'Blymyer' on the work rolls and would ask her dad Pat if he was related to Xochi, whose body of work as a 2nd AD includes Mad Men, Prison Break, Without a Trace, and The X-Files. She just wrapped the new Steven Bochco legal show Raising the Bar. Blymyer has also been trying to make the transition to 1st, but moving up the ladder has not always been smooth. "Producers sometimes have the perception that where you are is best as opposed to how, if you advanced, you'd be just as good."
Still, opportunity has come calling on several occasions. For an episode of American Dreams, set in the 1960s at a large prom, the 1st AD came down with pneumonia and Blymyer finished the episode as a 1st, handling the period crowd scenes with her usual calm demeanor. "I learned that the crew will totally support you [as a 1st] if you give them information and ask for their help. If you work as a team, when you don't know something you can always figure it out and get the job done."
Blymyer recounts a similar situation on Prison Break: When the 1st AD was fired, she literally stepped in midstream. "We were shooting in a river, accessed by four-wheel drive that was two hours outside Dallas," she recalls. "We had three cameras and two actors in fast-flowing, waist-high water, and the crew had to pass equipment hand-to-hand like a chain gang, from one side to the other. It was the ultimate in teamwork and a great adventure, which is what I love most about the movie business. The following week everyone on the show came down with poison oak."
Blymyer has found that working as a 1st can present a new set of challenges. "I work closely with the director as the 1st, but it's often a case of having a different guest director each week. They are the king of the set for the moment, but there are 100 other people who are there all the time. So you have to support the director and the company as well, which is a challenge you don't really face as a 2nd."
And perhaps the best part of being a 1st instead of a 2nd: "You have more responsibility on the set but there's no paperwork," she chuckles.