This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages) This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Second unit" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (September 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this message) This article may need to be rewritten to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. You can help. The talk page may contain suggestions. (December 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

Second unit is a discrete team of filmmakers tasked with filming shots or sequences of a production, separate from the main or "first" unit.[1] The second unit will often shoot simultaneously with the other unit or units, allowing the filming stage of production to be completed faster.


The functions of the second unit vary, but typically the first unit films the key face-to-face drama between the principal actors. Two frequent ways a second unit is used are:

In both of these scenarios, the purpose of the second unit is to make the most efficient use of some of the resources that are expensive or scarce in film production: actors' and directors' shooting time, sound stage usage and the cost of sets that may have been built on stages.

The work of second units should not be confused with multiple-camera setups, where several cameras film the same scene simultaneously. Large productions may have multiple second units. Although filmmakers may refer to having "three or four units working", each unit would be called an "additional second unit"; usually none would be described as the third or fourth unit.


The second unit has its own director and cinematographer. A key skill for a second unit director is to be able to follow the style being set by the film's primary director. Peter MacDonald has said, "The most important thing about any second unit is that you can't tell the difference between the second unit and the first unit. It must have the stamp of the first unit, both in photography and the style of direction. ... You try to copy what the first unit does as much as possible. You mustn't be on an ego trip and try to do your own style, because your material has to cut into theirs and it mustn't jar, it must fit in exactly so no-one can tell the difference."[2] Brett Ratner, commenting about Conrad E. Palmisano, said, "He has the understanding of what it takes to create a great action sequence and never deviate from the story or the tone of the film."[3]

Because second units often film scenes with stunts and special effects in action movies, the jobs of stunt coordinator and visual effects supervisor often get combined with that of the second unit director. Unlike an assistant director, who is second-in-command to the main director, a second unit director operates independently, and thus can be a stepping stone for aspiring directors to gain experience, such as David R. Ellis, Chad Stahelski, and David Leitch.[4] Other times, directors may return to predominantly working as second unit directors for the reminder of their career.

Some directors, such as Christopher Nolan[5] and Quentin Tarantino,[6] do not use second units in their films.


  1. ^ "Second Unit Director". Get In Media.
  2. ^ "A Dark Night in Gotham City". Starlog issue 142. May 1989. pp. 37–40.
  3. ^ "Conrad E. Palmisano | Action Director, Stunt Coordinator, Second Unit Director".
  4. ^ Kench, Sam (1 January 2023). "What is a Second Unit Director & What Does a Second Unit Do?". Studio Binder.
  5. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (9 March 2008). "The Dark Knight - Movies". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Hemphill, Jim (18 March 2020). ""We Kept the Third Act in a Safe": Tarantino's Assistant Director William Paul Clarke on Kill Bill, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Improvisational Logistics". Filmmaker Magazine.