Talk about getting around: In just a single decade, 2nd AD Francisco Ortiz has filled up his dance card with enough award-winning directors to last a lifetime: James Gray, Wes Craven, John Singleton, Phillip Noyce, David Chase, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Steven Spielberg, and, most recently, the king of New York City streets—where Ortiz grew up—Martin Scorsese.
“I double majored in English and fine arts [at Amherst College], which wasn’t great preparation for … anything,” laughs Ortiz, who says he Googled “jobs in the film business,” and discovered the DGA Assistant Director Training Program.
“I wasn’t sure what an AD did,” says Ortiz. “But I knew it was something on the set, they find work for you, and you get health insurance, so I signed up.”
An instinct for organization, and an even-keeled personality, turned out to be a perfect fit. His latest job, The Wolf of Wall Street, had a 100-day shooting schedule that tested everything he had learned.
“The details on a Scorsese picture are so important,” Ortiz explains. “You are given the freedom, the mandate, really, to put your stamp on your area of responsibility. [1st AD] Adam Somner and Scorsese wanted all the specialty backgrounds pre-selected. We are about talking thousands and thousands of people, and I had to make that first cut for all of them.”
That included wrangling more than 300 players for a key Long Island pool scene, where background prep had to be done a mile away.
“It took most of the morning to figure out how to stay ahead [of production],” recalls Ortiz. “The timing of who was in what shot, when they would get on the bus, in their swimwear, and to the location, was fun, but challenging.”
Retaining scores of “day players” for weeks at a time was also tricky. “We couldn’t hire new people because they had all been pre-fit, with their own little closets for period clothing,” Ortiz adds. “Making them feel like part of the team—keeping them engaged in their parts in the story so they’d come back—was a key part of my job.”
My Soul to Take (2010), from L.A.-based horror master Wes Craven, was another learning opportunity. “We shot nights at a hotel in Connecticut,” Ortiz recounts. “The production office, editor, extras casting, and actors were all trying to reach us. So the prep work had to be done in those few hours after we woke up in the afternoon. I worked a day ahead the entire picture.”
Ortiz says the close-knit, mentoring nature of the New York AD community has been a big part of his rapid success—sometimes literally so. “On College Road Trip I was trying to reach a day player, leaving him messages and emails, but he never showed up,” says Ortiz. “So our 1st AD, Doug Torres, filled in.”
And like many of his peers, Ortiz has an iconic New York moment. “Shooting at the tip of the Chrysler Building [for Jon Turteltaub’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)] was incredible,” he says. “In the film, one of the ornamental eagles comes to life, so I was on the ledge outside shooting."