7 things every Director should know when working with an Assistant Director

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Many times I will work with a first time Director who has never worked with an Assistant Director. Typically there is a bit of learning curve because the job of an AD can be very ambiguous to those who don’t typically do the job.

Below I have compiled a list of 7 things that Directors should know when working with an Assistant Director.  It is a good idea to sit down with the Director before filming and go over some of these items of business.

1. Worrying about time

An Assistant Director is tasked with the job of worrying about time, pacing and making the day. When the Director starts to worry about these things they are in essence doing the job of an AD.  In an ideal world Directors focus solely on directing actors and the scene at large. Whenever a director says lets, go, hurry up or any notion of moving things quickly they are stepping on the toes of the AD. Its very possible that the AD is not moving fast enough but 9 times out of 10 they are moving as fast as they can within the given situation. Often times Directors will want to go but the AD is not ready because he/she knows the sound guy is adjusting a lav or an electric is working on a light.

2. Quiet on set

Its not the Director’s job to get quite on the set. Asking for quiet is always the Assistant Directors job and the role of the AD staff. The only thing the Director should be yelling is Action or Cut. If there is a noise on set or on a location the AD will often have a production assistant via walkie discover the noise and get the area quiet.

3. Chain of Command

Directors should rely on the 1st AD as much as possible to disseminate information.  If a Director notices a prop is not there or a wardrobe problem he should always alert the AD, who then will relay the information over walkie to the appropriate person.

4. Directing Background Actors

When it comes to directing background this is primarily the role of the AD and more specifically the 2nd 2nd and 2nd AD. Occasionally a Director will want to make adjustments to a few BG that are close to camera, however for the most part background falls in the AD wheelhouse. This allows the Director to focus on the main actors performance.

5.  The Cadence

There is a typical military cadence on set. Picture’s Up – Roll Sound – Sound Speed – Roll Camera – Camera Speed – Slate – Camera Set – Background Action – Action – Cut. Knowing this cadence is crucial for the Director who has never been on set. Often times a first time Director will say Action before the camera is even slated or rolling.

6. Understanding Grace

When approaching 6 hours into filming the 1st AD will typically call lunch on the dot. Grace applies to the completion of a “set-up in progress,” not the completion of a scene. The director does not make the decision to apply the Grace Period, the UPM and/or Line Producer in conjunction with the advice of the 1st AD makes that determination. On non IA jobs in LA there is one (per California Labor laws) untimed penalty payment awarded all employees if lunch is not served at 6 hours. On IA shows the Grace Period is 12 minutes.

7.  How quiet a set is

It is a good idea to get an understanding from the Director in regards to how quiet he/she wants the set to be in general. Some directors are very insistent about crew being quiet while working and other directors could care less.

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