While the director may be the big fish on set, to be an assistant director you need to be a shark.
A film set models its hierarchy after the military, and as the highest “below the line” role, the 1st AD is like the commander. Starting in pre-production they break down the script and plan and schedule the shoot.
Once the film goes to picture, the AD runs the set. Acting as a communications hub they ensure the shoot remains organised, safe, and on time. Responsible for the smooth execution of the production, being an AD is easily one of the most stressful jobs on set, but if you can handle it, it can be extremely rewarding.
Interested in the role? Here are six tips for succeeding as an AD:
- Don’t slack off in pre-production. Prep is the most vital aspect of having your shoot run smoothly. Did you plan enough time for lunch? If you have a company move, did you account for traffic? Be prepared to spend as much time planning the schedule as you will spend on set.
- Communicate. Speak loudly and clearly and listen closely to what others are telling you. Be sure everyone knows what is happening, ask questions if there is uncertainty, and don’t be scared to be the bad guy if someone isn’t doing their job.
- Be organized and well prepared. Always think several steps ahead. Have extra copies of the script, call sheets, and any other important documents available.
- Be confident but not cocky. Be firm with your orders and confident in your decisions, but always listen to advice and criticism. Arrogance is the fastest way to get your crew to lose respect for you.
- Respect your crew. Don’t talk down to anyone, put a stop to any gossip, and most important, don’t micro-manage. Your crew members are (hopefully) professionals hired to do a job. Let them do it.
- Have a sense of humour. Film sets are stressful environments and it’s your job to keep the crew from getting overwhelmed. Humour is a great tool to lift spirits and keep the set productive.
Thanks to InFocus’ assistant directing instructor Rosalee Yagihara for her help with this article.