Ape Wrangler: Larry Katz on Working with Andy Serkis

It’s no secret our faculty and graduates have worked on some amazing projects with amazing people, and they have the industry contacts to back it up. In our newest feature, we explore some of these projects by asking the question, “Who’s the most famous person in your phone?”

Name: Larry Katz

Position: Larry has worked as a second assistant director on dozens of films like Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: First Class, and most recently, War for the Planet of the Apes. He’s a 2013 Hall of Fame inductee and currently works at Full Sail as a lab specialist, educating students in our Film degree program about the ins and outs of feature film production.

Most Famous Person in Larry’s Phone: Andy Serkis

Full Sail: Tell us a little about what a second AD does.

Larry Katz: I’m very involved with scheduling and logistics. I keep the production schedule and make sure everyone in the cast knows where they need to be and when. I guess you could say I wrangle the actors. During filming, I’m on set making sure we’re following the plan and that everything is happening in a safe and efficient manner. I’m also in charge of hiring and overseeing all of the production assistants.

At Full Sail, my work revolves around what I know best, which is teaching students how to prep for a shoot the right way. Many of them will enter this business as production assistants, and I try to prepare them for that.

FS: Tell us about working with Andy Serkis.

LK: Spoiler alert: We don’t really have apes on set when we’re making these movies. We use motion capture technology to combine an actor’s performance with realistically animated characters. I find what Andy does interesting because he’s found his niche.

We shot in Vancouver, and I remember one night specifically. It was December, less than 40 degrees out and we had a 4 p.m. – 4 a.m. shoot. It was freezing and raining. Andy gets to set, and he’s just a very jovial guy. But as soon as they call picture up, he completely transforms himself into Cesar. He’s put in a tremendous amount of time studying ape vocalizations and movements. It’s incredible.

Larry Katz on the set of “War For the Planet of the Apes” (codenamed “The Hidden Fortress”)

FS: How does your job change on a motion capture shoot versus a more traditional day of filming?

LK: Everything takes longer, which means I have to consider a few more things from a logistics standpoint. First of all, we have to film everything three times for the sake of compositing — once with the traditional actors, a second time with the actors playing the apes (they’re wearing special motion capture suits), and a third time that acts as a clean pass for reference.

There are a lot more people on set as well, including animators and specialized camera operators.

Finally, the performances given by our motion capture artists are much more physical, so the actors have a shorter expiration date. On a traditional film, we could shoot for 12 hours without an issue. Visual effects-heavy films are different, and I have to be mindful of that when I’m scheduling the actors.

FS: Starting with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you’ve worked on all three of the franchise’s films, including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). What are some secrets to getting asked back on a franchise?

LK: There’s a list of qualities I possess that require no talent at all but make me a good fit for this kind of work. In 17 years of working in movies, I’ve never been late once. I tell my students to try to have a good attitude, to make sure you smell nice, etc. A huge part of success is just making yourself someone people want to be around for an 18-hour shoot day. I have skills and experience, but my greatest asset is that I’m pleasant to be around. That energy keeps me employed.