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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, second unit director on Batman for Tim Burton, Batman and Robin for Joel Schumacher, X-Men Origins: Wolverine for Gavin Hood, The Bourne Ultimatum for Paul Greengrass, Tango & Cash for Andrei Konchalovsky and Albert Magnoli, The Quest for Jean Claude Van Damme, Radio Flyer for Richard Donner, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief for Chris Columbus, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for Mike Newell, Jack the Giant Slayer for Bryan Singer, Excalibur for John Boorman, Labyrinth for Jim Henson, Rambo: First Blood Part II for George P. Cosmatos, and Guardians of the Galaxy for James Gunn, 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 Palmisano, who directed second unit for him on Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3, After the Sunset, and X-Men: The Last Stand, The Other Guys for Adam McKay, Into the Blue for John Stockwell, Batman Forever for Joel Schumacher, She's Having a Baby for John Hughes, Robocop 2 for Irvin Kershner, Robocop 3 for Fred Dekker, Rambo: First Blood, Weekend at Bernie's, and Weekend at Bernie's II for Ted Kotcheff, and No Strings Attached for Ivan Reitman, 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. Other times, directors may return to predominantly working as second unit directors for the reminder of their career. Examples include:

Primary examples

Primary examples of second unit directors include:

Second unit directors who have become directors

Examples of second unit directors who have gone on to become full-fledged film directors include:

Notable examples of directors who returned to second unit directing include Yakima Canutt (Ben-Hur, 1959) and Michael D. Moore, who worked on more than sixty films, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for George Roy Hill, Patton for Franklin J. Schaffner, The Man Who Would Be King for John Huston, Ghostbusters II for Ivan Reitman, 101 Dalmatians and The Mighty Ducks for Stephen Herek, 102 Dalmatians for Kevin Lima, Toy Soldiers for Daniel Petrie Jr. , Willow for Ron Howard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III for Stuart Gillard, National Lampoon's European Vacation for Amy Heckerling, Never Say Never Again (alongside Browning), and the original Indiana Jones trilogy alongside Marshall.

Film directors as second unit directors

Sometimes, major film directors, or even just minor directors, actually serve as second unit directors for some projects. Examples include:

Second unit directors with multiple production duties

It is common for certain personnel involved with a production in another capacity to also function as a second unit director, benefiting from their understanding of the material and relationship with the production's director or producers. Examples include:

It's also common for the second unit director to also serve as second unit director of cinematography. Examples include:


Eight notable exceptions to having more than one filming unit and have avoided the use of a second unit in their films are filmmakers Christopher Nolan (most notably with his films The Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento, The Prestige, Insomnia, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, Tenet, and Oppenheimer), Paul Thomas Anderson (most notably with his films Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread, Licorice Pizza, Hard Eight, and Punch-Drunk Love), Jared Hess (most notably with his films Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre, Gentlemen Broncos, Don Verdean, and Masterminds), Spike Lee (most notably with his films Do The Right Thing, Crooklyn, Inside Man, BlacKkKlansman, Mo Better Blues, Clockers, 25th Hour, Jungle Fever, Summer of Sam, and Da Five Bloods), Steven Soderbergh (most notably with his films Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Schizopolis, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, Ocean's Thirteen, Solaris, The Good German, Che, and The Laundromat), Robert Rodriguez (most notably with his films El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, From Dusk Till Dawn, Grindhouse, Sin City, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the Spy Kids film series, Machete, Machete Kills, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, and We Can Be Heroes), Richard Linklater (most notably with his films Slacker, Dazed and Confused, SubUrbia, The Newton Boys, School of Rock, Bad News Bears, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Boyhood, and Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood), and Quentin Tarantino (most notably with his films Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Grindhouse, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), all preferring instead to oversee every shot personally with the cinematographer (Wally Pfister and later Hoyte van Hoytema for Nolan, several for Lee, Linklater, Hess, and Soderburgh, Robert Elswit and later himself for Anderson, Guillermo Navarro and later himself for Rodriguez, and Andrzej Sekula and later Robert Richardson, as well as assistant director William Paul Clarke, for Tarantino).[4][5]

Sometimes, if a film has no second unit, another person will only direct a sequence. An example of this is Robert Shaye, who directed the melting staircase sequence of the Wes Craven film A Nightmare on Elm Street, which he produced, as well as having two uncredited voice roles as the television newsreader and the KRGR radio broadcaster.

Other films that don't have more than one filming unit include Watchmen, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, Clerks III, The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Mean Streets, The Last Temptation of Christ, Bringing Out the Dead, Easy Rider, the Godfather trilogy, the Friday trilogy, the Austin Powers trilogy, Midnight Cowboy, Wedding Crashers, Zoolander, Big Daddy, Uncut Gems, American Graffiti, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Isle of Dogs, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Deer Hunter, Animal House, Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Saw, Saw II, Jigsaw, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Office Space, Step Brothers, the Jackass film series, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Old School, Dude, Where's My Car?, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shawshank Redemption, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Darkman, Napoleon, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, The Equalizer, Lethal Weapon, Hostel, Metropolitan, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Rosemary's Baby, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Sugarland Express, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Evil Dead, Catch Me If You Can, Lincoln, West Side Story, The Fabelmans, Can't Hardly Wait, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Invictus, Meet the Parents, Death on the Nile, A Haunting in Venice, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Adventureland, Garage Days, Blade Runner, Birdman, All the Money in the World, Shaun of the Dead, Heaven's Gate, Joe Dirt, Gemini Man, Rango, War Dogs, The Mask, The Creator, Joker, Alpha Dog, 1917, Eraserhead, Inland Empire, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, The Forty Year Old Virgin, This Is the End, The Interview, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Full Metal Jacket, Ghostbusters, 48 Hrs., Boyz n the Hood, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Blair Witch Project, Undercover Brother, Bad Santa, This is Spinal Tap, The Sunchaser, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Blood Simple, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, Super, The Purge, The Purge: Election Year, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club, Halloween, Halloween II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Menace II Society, Straight Outta Compton, South Central, Juice, the Scary Movie film series, the Paranormal Activity series, Blade, Blade II, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, History of the World: Part I, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Disaster Artist, Year of the Dragon, Cloverfield, The Lego Movie, Space Jam, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Ali G Indahouse, Borat, Brüno, Grown Ups, The Hangover, North, the Insidious film series, Creed, Creed II, The Producers, Cloud Atlas, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, The Cable Guy, and Where the Buffalo Roam.


  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. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (9 March 2008). "The Dark Knight - Movies". The New York Times.
  5. ^ 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.