Your Best Partner–in-Crime: The Assistant Director

As a Director/Producer, my greatest asset during production (and pre-production, as a matter of fact) is my A.D.  As a no-budget, indie filmmaker, you end up doing everything yourself unless you get competent help.  If you don’t have a go-to Assistant Director in your contact list, start cultivating one now.  While an A.D.’s role on a major feature film is a big, big job, suited for someone unafraid of having a stress-induced heart attack, on a smaller scale here are 5 basic things your AD can do to help carry the load:

1. Schedule the shoot:  During pre-production the A.D. analyzes the script and breaks it down into a schedule based on the availability of actors and locations.  Additionally, they note special wardrobe, set dressing, and prop needs for each day of shooting.  They then organize these elements into a schedule that reflects which scenes will be shot on which days, something like this:

For full-length features, A.D.’s break the information into all kinds of reports – Production Boards, Day out of Days, One-Liners – but if all of that makes your head spin, a basic schedule like the one above will help you a lot.  From this schedule your A.D. can build call sheets for each day:

2.  Scout Locations:  Bring your Assistant Director along on your location scouts so that she/he can help determine how to manage logistics on everything from where to store production equipment to where the actors dressing rooms will be to where to set up Craft Service.  Your A.D. will manage all of these things during production.

3.  Give instructions on set:  During production, the crew looks to the A.D. team for information.  “Where are the bathrooms?”  “What time is lunch?”  “Where can I park this cherry-picker?” and, most importantly, “What are we shooting next?”  This last question is crucial to getting each day’s work completed.  While the Director is busy working on what is currently being shot, the Assistant Director is always looking ahead to what comes next.   This is where a good shot list comes in handy:

Shot List

The Assistant Director breaks the shot list into a schedule for each day, working with the Director to determine which shots should be accomplished with each camera set-up.

4.  Accomplish the day’s work:  During production, the A.D. is constantly referring to the shot list to determine what to set up for next and communicates this information to all department heads (lighting, makeup, wardrobe, set dressing, props, transpo, catering,), via walkie-talkie with the help of the second A.D.’s and P.A.’s .  This frees the Director to focus on creative aspects on set.  The A.D. also keeps track of time to be sure that shooting days don’t run too long.  If they do, the A.D. may have to push the next day’s call time later than originally planned.  In the eyes of Producers who manage finances on a paid shoot, this is a crucial function of the Assistant Director’s job.  The ability of the A.D. to keep the production on time can mean the difference between staying on budget and paying out too much in overtime and meal penalties.

5.  Safety:  The A. D. is responsible for giving safety talks to the crew, when necessary.  On one of my films, we shot a night scene in a hot tub, which had to be lit, of course.  Our A.D. gave the crew instructions about how to work around water with electricity and warned everyone to work thoughtfully and slowly so that no one got injured.  It may seem like basic common sense, but taking two minutes to give safety instructions focuses everyone’s attention on just how important it is.

My favorite thing about A.D.’s:  they tell everyone to shut up.  I love hearing “Quiet, please!” called out on set because it means it’s time to shoot.  Which is why we’re all here in the first place.

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3 Responses to "Your Best Partner–in-Crime: The Assistant Director"
  1. Chris says:

    Hello: I am starting in the film industry, and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions. How many hours/week do you work on average? How long are your gigs generally? And what is your downtime between gigs? I’d really appreciate the input! Thanks

  2. jasonvaneman says:

    Working as an AD is one of the most stressful jobs on set, but can also be one of the most rewarding. You are literally responsible for tackling more at any given time than any other crew member, and need to juggle logistical, creative, and technical aspects of your project without blinking an eye.


  3. Malama John says:

    Some AD’s take their frustrations of long work hours and low pay on the background actors, especially the union members since they get paid more and receive benefits on the set. They take devious pleasure in making the lives of the actors miserable by showing them who’s the boss. Little do they realize that one complaint or call to the union office can get these AD’s reprimanded or even fired because of their unprofessional behavior on the set.

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