1. The functions of the second unit vary, but typically the first unit always films the key face-to-face drama between the principal actors. Two frequent ways a second unit is used are:
- Action sequences. Action sequences are often filmed in discrete locations, using stunt personnel rather than the principal cast, and requiring significantly different filming arrangements than for ordinary scenes. Therefore they are an obvious opportunity for second unit shooting.
- ‘Pick-ups’. After the main unit has finished on a set or location, there may be shots that require some or all of this setting as background, but doesn’t require the principal actors – such as close-ups, inserts, cutaways and establishing shots.
In both of these scenarios, the purpose of the second unit is to make 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, and the money that is tied up in a film as it is being made – the quicker it can be finished, the sooner production costs can start to be earned back.
The work of second units should not be confused with multicamera 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”, none would be described as the third or fourth unit.