Creative Spotlight Series #1 - Gareth Tandy, 1st AD

Welcome to our Creative Spotlight Series - shining the spotlight on the brilliant people behind-the-scenes who bring stories to life day in day out.

From ADs to Accountants, from those at the top of their game to the next generation, these are the creative talent driving our industry forward.

Creative Spotlight Series #1 - Gareth Tandy, 1st AD

Gareth is a renowned 1st AD, with a career spanning film & TV. On Sat 22nd September, 2018 Gareth was awarded the prestigious Inspiration Award at the Production Guild Awards in recognition of his impact on our industry.

See Gareth’s full career credits on IMDb >

Gareth Tandy standing in a suit with two other men, holding his award Photo: Gareth Tandy, Inspiration Award winner, Production Guild Awards 2018. Photo Credit: Production Guild


P: Congratulations on winning the Inspiration Award at the PG Awards at the weekend Gareth

G: Thank you, it was a real honour.

P: One of the (many) reasons you won, was your long-standing dedication to helping others develop their careers within the film & TV industry. How do you think we can continue this to better connect the next generation to the industry and opportunities?

G: There’s a good mentoring programme happening with lots of senior people reaching out to try and enable, support and guide the next generation through advice, use of facilities and space; a lot of young filmmakers might be working out of their sitting room but you need a central hub.

The Skillset initiative is a good thing for the industry and will get a lot of good creative people in the industry.

P: On that note, we believe strongly in diversity, as a female-founded and led business, but also one that embraces diversity, what’s happening to encourage a truly representative crew behind the camera?

G: If I’m looking to build a team from scratch I’m looking for the right person so I close my eyes to equality in order to get the right person for the job. I always try to represent and reflect the nature of the film but it has to be the right person for the job - you can’t compromise on that.

P: How did you get into the industry?

G: From birth! My aunt’s a famous actress, my mother worked as an agent at an acting school so I was sent there as soon as I could walk. I loved acting until about 13 and by that time I was more interested in what the adults were doing behind the camera. I flunked my exams quite successfully and so I got a job in Wardour Street at 17 and was a runner on my first film at 18. The rest is history.

P: You’ve had a busy career, are there any particularly standout career highlights to share with us?

G: Fucking hundreds!

P: Ha ha! Too many to name then!

G: So many. Working with Ken Russell in the 70s was brilliant even though one of our projects was voted the worst film ever. Valentino, which I thought was a best film but didn’t get critically acclaimed. I spent another 5-6 years jumping in and out of visual effects learning loads and the Jeeves and Worcester TV show was brilliant to work on.

Every day working is awesome, it’s a great life.

P: that’s so brilliant to hear - and rare that someone loves what they do so wholly but no road is perfectly smooth so what kind of mistakes have you made in your career?

G: Most of my mistakes were as a 2nd AD because I’m so untidy, not neat at all and we had no computers or mobile phones.

On Last days of Patton with George C Scott, I knew we were filming on Friday in hospital in Taplow, and on Monday there was a big crowd scene in Victoria, lots of period action vehicles. All was put to bed on Friday night but I woke up at 4am and remembered we were filming on Saturday and I’d totally forgotten we were filming! So I had to call George’s make-up artist and driver and finally phoned George at 5am to which he said ‘Hi Gareth, I’ve been waiting to talk to you.’

I was honest and just said I’m so sorry and thankfully we were able to keep the whole thing a secret and no-one else ever found out. ‘Don’t ever ever do that again’ he said to me.

P: Are there any other roles that appeal behind or in front of the camera?

G: No, 1st AD is the best job in the world!

P: Why is that?

G: Because of your interaction - you’re never waiting to do your job, you’re always doing your job. If you’re not busy you’re finding things to do and keep things moving, no matter what’s going on I’m involved. You don’t get a minute’s peace, I’ve never had more than 10 minutes lunch, as the 2nd AD (Chloe!) is normally coming to discuss things, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

P: What tips/advice would you give for budding behind-the-scenes stars at the start of their career?

G: Give it your full spirit and energy into it, don’t hold back but don’t make yourself a nuisance. More relevant to AD team - there are no problems, there are only fresh opportunities. A problem can’t remain a problem, it can only become a fresh opportunity or creative idea. Never dwell on a problem or anger, it’s just a waste of time. And you can’t waste time on set. Never put blame anywhere. You have to share the blame, especially as I’m at the top of the team. Don’t sack a runner just because they’re the easiest to sack, when I hear stories of people higher up taking it out on their team, I think why didn’t you back them up? We are a family after all.

My job has been likened to a circus ringmaster, I’m not trained to do anything at all, I don’t hold any qualifications. I can’t juggle but I know how to, I can’t tame a lion but I know how to, so I bring all the performers on at the right time. I know what they have to do do to make their act work.

We put the tent up in the morning, then take it down in the evening and start again tomorrow.

P: That’s such a great visual analogy for your role, especially for someone who isn’t in the industry and doesn’t see life on set.

P: As someone who’s inspired and inspiring so many of the next generation, which Circus Masters have you looked up to during your career?

G: The one who stands out is Katterli Frauenfelder, Tim Burton’s 1st AD, the way she controlled the set with total knowledge of what she was doing with wit and humour and nobody questioned anything, her word was law. She was, and is, the ultimate 1st AD. She knows what she’s doing, and you enjoy the work because she runs a pleasant working atmosphere.

P: Is Katterli rare in that she’s a high profile female 1st AD?

G: That’s more a question for Chloe, there are a lot of good female 2nd ADs who sometimes go into producing, and 2nd AD isn’t a natural step up to 1st AD - I don’t know why.

P: Chloe has written a piece on her experience as a female AD and in that she explains that a lot of her counterparts have left the industry.

G: Well you have Beatrice Manning who’s gone into teaching, as has Helen Chapman, Rebecca Wright, who’s gone into casting, Chloe who’s now with POP, Tamana Bleasdale, who founded Calltime Company and Paula Turnbull who’s now a Production Exec at Good Films in LA.

The film industry is great as a learning curve; dealing with people, getting on with people, I don’t do stress - you haven’t got time to stress. It’s a good grounding, which can help people to disperse into other careers.

A selection of Gareth's career credits Photo: The tip of the iceberg of the major career credits of Gareth Tandy

P: Do you have any regrets at all?

G: My biggest regret would be not joining DGA in the 80s when I was working with Spielberg and the likes. If I had, I’d have been talking to you from my villa in Florida now but at the time I didn’t think it was that big a deal. P: How has not joining DGA shaped your career? G: Well, all the big films specify that the 1st AD must be DGA so it opens up more small to medium budget films because they can’t afford to pay a DGA Director. For example, I got to work on 45 years, which is a fantastic film.

P: It’s amazing the impact music can have isn’t it? You have genre busting films using hardly any music, but usually it’s so impactful.

G: Absolutely, even when filming, I never look at the monitors I rely on the operator, even in the 80s, you’re not going to see what he sees until you look at rushes. I’m so skilled now that I can look at the camera and know what it’s seeing, and I’d rather not use the monitors because I like the big surprise when I go and see it in 6 months time. I like the finished product, with music, the whole works.

And I still cry when the music starts at the beginning of Superman.

P: At this point Gareth comments on my brightly patterned dress and I explain I only wear fun clothes to which he responds brilliantly…

G: I’m a Hawaiian shirt man, 365 days of the year!

Keep rocking those shirts Gareth!

P: Other than the obvious, how has technology impacted the way you work?

G: Well now with computers, wifi, easy access to information, technology hasn’t actually changed how we work, it’s just made it easier. As opposed to going to the library and getting a book, I just go to Google.

Interacting has all become much easier but it has become less personal which is a bad thing and we have to deal with it. Everything’s just so available now. Contacting actors back in the old days I’d have written down, on the back of a cigarette packet probably, the actor’s name, home phone number, his mum’s number and their local pub.

But technically, the roll and cut the camera has been the same for forever and ever.

P: How do you think production will change in the next 2-5 years?

G: Who knows. Quality is what the discerning public want. Better quality, ideas, jokes it has to keep getting better. They know VFX, so they expect next year’s VFX to be better than this years.

The Bodyguard is a good recent example, it’s the public asking for something new and The Night Manager is an example of being a cut above. It has to be something new to get the viewing figures.

And Delicious, on Sky - that’s a great new idea. It’s lasted 3 series and it will get a 4th series. It’s something new and has two brilliant actresses who can carry.

P: How have you managed your career and taking breaks?

G: Michelle was a high flying Financial Controller and so in our working life, we just kept going together. In the old days I’d cancel a holiday at a day’s notice because I’d got a job, now I don’t, work comes second but if I can do it, I will do it. P: And how do you establish if you accept a job or turn it down?

G: You read a script and just think I’m not the right person to make this happen. I’m honest and let them know. I don’t know why, there’s not always a clear reason, it’s just instinctive. And then I can read another script and I think I really really really want to do this, pick me!

I’m doing a freebie in a couple of weeks for 2 Beaconsfield graduates - Anya and Caroline, producer directing this short film. Jodie Whittaker is starring in it and it’s a worthy project. It’s a worthy thing to get made to see how it will help promote their careers.

Work is work is work. Whether you get paid £1,000 or nothing. It’s a job to be done.

P: A classic Q we have to ask - who would play you in a film of your life?

G: Hmmm. Bill Nighy maybe. Or Richard E Grant but he’s a bit posh, so maybe Bill Nighy is the better choice.

P: And what film/TV show/documentary would you recommend everyone should watch & why?

G: Little Shop of Horrors because it’s brilliant.

The Red Badge of Courage made in 1951, an American Civil War film, is way ahead of its time, and the use of the camera was slightly quirky. I remember when I first saw it, I thought this is weird and the actings not great but it’s just a film you have to see.

And lastly, Brazil - just a fantastic film of the 80s.

P: And finally, where do you love to travel?

G: I love Spain. Michelle and I are both keen Golfers so we head to Spain when we can for golfing holidays and Michelle’s sister lives on a golf course in California so we head over there every other year too.

P: Thanks so much for your time Gareth, such a pleasure speaking to you.

A close up of Gareth holding his award and smiling, with Chloe Chesterton Photo: Gareth with his good friend, POP’s Commercial Director and ex-Key 2nd AD, Chloe Chesterton

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