What Does Second Unit Mean?
Second (2nd) unit refers to a smaller film crew separate from the first unit (main film crew) responsible for shooting supplementary scenes, typically those that do not require the director or anyone from the principal cast.
While the first unit is capturing primary shots, the second unit can be filming in a separate location, working on things such as establishing shots, inserts, cutaways, pickups, close up shots, and stunts. In action movies, it is not uncommon for stunt coordinators to take on the additional responsibility of second unit directing.
Often times, the second unit has their own director of photography (DP), so it is important for the second unit’s director to be on the same page as the first unit’s director in order to match the tone and style of the first unit’s footage. There may also be times where the first unit’s director is unavailable for a period of time due to unexpected circumstances, and the second unit’s director can step in temporarily to help the production stay on schedule.
Productions can always add more units as needed, which are numbered as they are added. The Lord of the Rings film series was shot at more than 150 locations with seven units (source).
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