The role of a reliable Assistant Director
Updated: Apr 23
"The first assistant director runs the set. The whole mood of the movie, the whole tenor of the set comes off that person, and it's just a critical choice." - John Frankenheimer (1*) Director, The Manchurian Candidate
In my previous blog, I mentioned that the Line Producer (2*) has a crucial role in ensuring your production gets off the ground. The other most important role a production unit should consider hiring as soon as possible is the Assistant Director. It is not easy to understate the importance of a reliable Assistant Director. The First Assistant Director (1st AD) is the director's right-hand person, taking responsibility for a number of important practicalities so that the director is free to concentrate on the creative process.
Some directors go about their entire careers without having a capable assistant director. And when they do find someone with the right synergy, they will stick with that person throughout. For example, Quentin Tarantino has been working with his AD, William Paul Clark since Jacki Brown. (3*)
During pre-production, the 1st AD breaks down the script into a shot by shot storyboard and works with the director to determine the shooting order, and how long each scene will take to film. They then draw up the overall shooting schedule (a timetable for the filming period). Once the film is in production, the 1st AD is in charge of making sure that every aspect of the shoot keeps to this schedule.
Storyboards. The 1st AD first breaks the script down into storyboards that reflect how each scene will be shot.
Shooting schedule. Once the director signs off on the storyboards, the first AD creates an overall shooting schedule. The 1st AD clears the shooting schedule with the production manager, line producer, and crew department heads. The AD must ensure that all scenes are appropriately scheduled for when the applicable location, props, and cast are available.
Call sheets. Before each day of shooting, a call sheet is drawn up by the second AD in conjunction with the first AD. During production, it’s the first AD’s job to make sure that everyone is making their call times and the filming is progressing on schedule.
Calling the roll. During filming, one of the first assistant director’s primary responsibilities is what’s known as “calling the roll”. Calling the roll is when the 1st AD cues the various department heads (including camera operator, key grip, and sound mixer) to prepare for filming to start.
Liaise with the crew. The 1st AD serves as the go-between for the director and the rest of the crew. If something needs to be communicated in either direction, it generally goes through the first AD.
On-set diplomat. The first AD is also responsible for controlling discipline on the set. If someone is not doing their job effectively or there are conflicts on set, it is the first AD’s job to resolve the situation. This may require taking disciplinary action or changing personnel when appropriate.
Safety. Safety is a priority on any film set and the first AD must also ensure that all health and safety standards are met. Each department has different precautions to ensure that cast and crew members aren’t in danger. The first AD oversees each department and is ultimately responsible for ensuring that each department head is maintaining a safe workspace.
Depending on the scale of your production, you can have more than one Assistant Director. Major Hollywood productions can end up having more than 3 assistant directors. Typically a feature film and or some lucky short films with a decent budget will have a 1st and 2nd Assistant Director. For both of my feature films, True Love (4*) and Cold Pressed (5*), I had to make do with just a 1st AD. Below is the breakdown of various Assistant Director roles and responsibilities:
First Assistant Director (1st AD) runs the department and is one of the most senior ‘below the line crew members.
Second Assistant Director (2nd AD) works directly underneath the 1st AD and is primarily responsible for timing all of the elements the set will need in the upcoming hours and days. They also produce the paperwork that cast and crew members need in order to know when and where to show up, such as the Call Sheet.
Third Assistant Director (3rd AD) does all of the tasks for the 1st AD and 2nd ADs, including communication, crowd control, moving actors between hair/makeup/etc and the set, managing extras, and pretty much anything else which is needed to ensure the 1st AD can keep the production on schedule.
As you can tell, the assistant director has a ton of responsibilities and coordinates with various departments. Yes, there are countless apps to aid the assistant directors but they are all again standalone apps (6*). The film industry is calling out for an integrated solution because often you will see assistant directors standing with their tablets, and switching from apps to apps to find the right information they need, which is time not well spent and especially with the pressure of making the day.
The Martini wants to be the software solution that will increase your production's productivity and thus save you money. If you like this blog, please do subscribe to my newsletter and my social media accounts, Twitter, and Instagram.