Not many ADs can say they ran their own company before they turned 30 years old. (And before ever seeing a movie set.) But 1st AD Mark Little says managing a helicopter courier firm with more than 75 employees gave him a leg up when he decided to switch to a career in the film industry—with no contacts or experience.
“I already knew about time management, overseeing large groups of people, and safety issues, which are at the core of what an AD does,” says Little. “My first job was from an ad in The Hollywood Reporter to be a director’s assistant, and I was the only one there who showed up in a suit and tie.”
Little has long since shed the corporate duds, compiling a 20-year resume that includes stints with directors Brett Ratner, Jay Roach, Thomas Carter, and the late George Hickenlooper.
His background with helicopters has served him well. In fact, Little says safety is the one area of moviemaking where he will never allow budget and schedule to impose compromise. “My first question to the stunt coordinator or stunt performer is always, ‘Would I fall on that pad [and feel safe] with the precautions we’ve taken?’”
Professional comfort, in Little’s estimation, also stems from working repeatedly with the same director. “Thomas and I just finished a football movie, When the Game Stands Tall, which was challenging for many reasons, so our history together was a real advantage.”
Problems on that shoot included finding an available stadium in football-crazy Louisiana that would convincingly double for Southern California. He also had to create a schedule that would keep actors fresh in hot, humid weather. “We had tornado warnings and electrical storms, so being totally exposed in a football stadium was always on my plate.”
Little says preparation is the key to success. “I’ll go through the entire script with the director regarding backgrounds, and then handpick the extras myself before turning it over to the 2nd AD on shooting day.”
As for being a role model for people of color, Little says, “I’ve never wanted to be known as simply a ‘black AD.’ On the other hand, I’ve seen minority people stop and stare at me leading a large crew on the streets. If even one young black kid sees me and says, ‘Hey, maybe I could do that,’ that’s a positive thing for this industry.”