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Satisfaction in second place

For 'Day After Tomorrow,' she led the second unit and as many as five cameras.

June 20, 2004|Susan King

Anna Foerster

Second-unit director / director of second-unit photography / director of miniature photography

Latest project: "The Day After Tomorrow"

What the job entails: "Directing all scenes the first unit has no time or nerve for. For example, there were big scenes in the water where New York gets flooded and everybody is running. The first unit is shooting the stuff with the actors running away and disappearing into the library. Then the second unit comes in and shoots all the action stuff like people falling, people drowning, people trying to get out of cars -- all the things that are not necessarily specifically tied into dialogue. The second unit gets to shoot certain scenes the first unit is not even getting involved with. Everything in the space shuttle -- the first unit wasn't involved in it."

How she got the job: "I think it started out that [director] Roland Emmerich said the second unit will be so close to us that he will be able to come over all the time and direct the second unit. Then you realize after a while the plan of him being there didn't work out. We were shooting on different stages and different times of day. Because I have known Roland for so long, 12 years, and worked on so many projects with him, I thought I could understand pretty easily what he was after. So after a while he said, 'She is the second-unit director.' "

Wearing both hats: "If this was the first unit, it would be an impossible task being a director and a director of photography at the same time. But in this case, it was an ideal combination because I knew what Roland was going after. It is something else if you have to take care of actors, but this was a very happy combination. In a way, it was almost like one job -- two hats, but one job."

Commanding a crew: "Sometimes we were a relatively small crew, maybe like 20 people. But then there were days where we had big, big things to do. We had to shoot a sequence with Black Hawk helicopters; the American military came with three Black Hawks. We only had eight days to shoot everything. Usually we had two cameras, but there were days when I had five, I tell you it was the best time I ever had shooting!"

How she got into it: "I am from Germany and started as a camera assistant. When I was 15 or 16, my former baby sitter went to film school in Germany and he shot his diploma film in my parents' garden. This was the first time I really connected with filmmaking. I saw what the director of photography did, and it really impressed me. I said to my parents, 'I'm going to quit school and become a camera assistant.' They said, 'No, you can't quit school.' But basically, they started writing me sick notes for school so I could go do low-budget films as a camera assistant. After two years I went to film school. I never finished school because I always went away [on a job]. I started working as a camera operator, and that's when I got into the visual effects stuff. I was shooting visual effects and I was part of the team who came over from Germany with Roland."

Credits: "Independence Day" (director of photography: visual effects camera unit); "Stuart Little 2" (visual effects director of photography); "Pitch Black" (director of photography: visual effects miniature photography); "Alien: Resurrection" (pyrotechnics director of photography).

Guild or union: Local 600 for cinematography and the Directors Guild of America.

Salary: "If you work your way up, you can work a long time and not even make a penny, meaning you want to spend what you have to buy an additional roll of film for whatever low-budget movie you are working on. If you are working on a commercial in my field as a director of photography, an average of $3,000 a day is normal. The discrepancy [in salary] can be enormous."

Age: 33

Resides in: L.A.

Song of Roland (Emmerich): "We have an incredible, great working relationship. I am not a part of his inner circle, but every time we come together to work.... I owe him a lot; meaning just the fact that he trusted in me. I think that's the only thing that allows you to grow -- if you have somebody to trust you."

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