That old cliché—timing is everything in the film business—rings true with 1st AD Handel Whitmore, who says he’s not sure where he might be if not for a Utah snowstorm.
"I was a production assistant on a pilot shooting in the middle of nowhere," the Trinidad and Tobago native recounts. "We needed to get some run-bys with one of the stunt guys on this iced-over highway when a blizzard hit, so the producer called to ask if he could upgrade me. That’s how I got into the Guild as a 2nd AD."
It’s a job Whitmore says he fell in love with while working as a 2nd on The O.C. "There was so much going on every day. From making sure we had consent [to film] from the 20 surfers behind us, to shooting a scene on South Beach during spring break. And this is when The O.C. was at its peak of being a national phenomenon."
Whitmore recalls having to set 600 backgrounds for a beach party night shoot that included a Technocrane sliding across a pool, and people dancing on the rooftops. "It was insane, and impressive."
Things didn’t get any easier on Ugly Betty, another social juggernaut for teenagers. "It was set in many different parts of New York City," Whitmore explains. "But we were shooting at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, and were using these elaborate green-screen sets."
In fact, Ugly Betty pioneered the use of virtual production for a network episodic series. "You sort of lose your compass in a green-screen stage," Whitmore explains. "You’re always running back to the monitor to look at the [background] plate to make sure the actors are walking into their house and not the East River. It’s especially challenging with extras."
There’s nothing virtual about Whitmore’s current and longest-
running assignment. Being the 1st AD on Sons of Anarchy has brought him deep into the world of motorcycle clubs, where he works alongside Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger, and gets "requests" from locals not to shoot in certain Southland cities.
"It’s odd to send eight guys down the street for a chase scene, and 14 guys come back because a real [motorcycle] club hears the revving and think it’s just another ride," he says.
Although Anarchy is chock-a-block with action and violence, Whitmore says it’s one of the safest shows on TV. "Our line producer [Jon Paré], UPM [Derek Johansen], stunt coordinator [Steve Davison] and cinematographer [Paul Maibaum] are all DGA members," he notes. "And last year Paris Barclay was a director/producer, so we take the Guild safety policy very seriously."