Creative Mind Podcast Episode 12: Assistant Director James Cho

While all the glitz and glamour of making films in far-flung international locations is the dream, the work of an assistant director is still rooted in project management. Learn all this and more from Assistant Director James Cho.

“If film production is a human body, the assistant directors will be like the nerves. You know, we go to the heart. We go to the liver, we go to the arms, the legs, the fingers. We tell them what we tell them this is we should be doing this at this time. So, let’s get to it.”

This is probably the best explanation you are going to find on what is means to be an assistant director working on a film production. And coming from James Cho, who has worked all over the world on productions in Beijing, Dubai, Iceland and Paris, you can bet he not only has seen it all but has helped to wrangle it all as well.

An Impressive Portfolio

Originally from Taiwan, and based in Toronto, when of course he is not out for 6-8 months on location, James Cho serves as assistant director on mainly Chinese film productions. His specialty are films produced outside of China, but for mainly a Chinese-speaking audience.

Films like the recently released The Bravest, a big budget firefighter movie being released by Sony Pictures and akin to Ron Howard’s Backdraft in its beautifully shot and art directed scenes of fire and destruction and the soon to be released Mandarin-language cop thriller The Hunting staring Tony Leung and Olga Kurylenko set in Paris. Not to mention his time with Jackie Chan on Kungfu Yoga.

Legendary Encounters

James tells this story of working with the film legend in chilly Iceland. “One of those days we were shooting in the middle of an ice lake. As we were walking across the ice and then from far away we hear, ‘Jackie Chan, we love you!’ And the crew is like, where is it coming from? We’re in the middle of a frozen lake in Iceland!”

James goes on to say about Jackie, “He is, he is huge. I mean, I have worked with famous actors before, I think he is one of the only that I know that I have worked with, that he is famous all over the world. That guy gets stopped anywhere, everywhere in the world.”

Putting in the Work

While all the glitz and glamour of making films in far-flung international locations is the dream, the work of an assistant director is still rooted in project management. 

James says, “We bring the ideas from the creatives and then bring them to the production. All we do is we talk to the creatives. We find what they need. How do they plan to accomplish every scene, every shot? And then we bring that to the appropriate departments like the art department, the props, the costumes, the makeup, the DP. And then we all sit down. We talk about the plan, what do we need, when do we need it?”

Eventually this information becomes the shooting schedule and the it is James’ job to keep the production moving forward to this schedule to get the film shot and “in the can”. A task that relies on one thing, communication.

On a 12-hour shoot day filled with Kung fu action, car chases and explosions it still comes down to making sure everyone is ready to go and ready to shoot.  James’ advice for those looking to become an assistant director, be approachable and easy to talk to. James says with a chuckle, “Because that is all you do, all you do is talk.” 

For more of our great conversation with James Cho listen to the latest podcast episode of Creative Mind.


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