Inside the mind of an Assistant Director

Assistant Directors can often be mistaken as robots on a film set. They can come off as cold, heartless, and abrasive individuals that only care about making the day. Part of this is true and part of this feeling is a misconception in perception. I think the problem that lays at hand is often the AD is the only one on the film set that does truly care about time. This burden of time effects the entire crew, however most of them are blind to what that means. A 30 minute delay in makeup could mean that a scene is in danger of getting finished. If a scene is in danger of getting finished… the day could go over by 30 minutes costing the company overtime dollars and causing a crew to work longer than anyone actually wanted to.

What does an an Assistant Director actually think about?

Over the years working as a 1st AD and 2nd AD I have felt that my job was to think about time in a way that no one on set should have to. It’s a feeling that sometimes can create pressure, anxiety and stress. Many departments are worried about the aesthetic and rightly so. The AD thinks about how to save time with all departments. By saving time we can increase the number of setups for a scene or even allow for all scenes to actually be shot. Focusing on time actually can preserve the aesthetic because it’s being managed in a proper way.

Are ADs wired differently?

I think so. I think most ADs are a-type personalities that want to get things done and don’t have time for BS. Individuals that are naturally driven and want to do hard work should consider this career path. Most ADs I know are great genuine human beings who actually care a lot. The thing about ADs is sometimes they care too much about the way things are going and aren’t afraid to voice their opinion if something is unsafe or ridiculous.

What does an AD think about during prep?

During prep an AD is constantly thinking about the schedule. If 90% of the schedule problems can be solved in prep then life will be easy… They are tasked with juggling all the constraints of schedule restrictions that come from actors, locations and the vision of the Director. It’s like playing a game of chess non-stop for weeks at end.

What is the thought process at the beginning of the day?

ADs are generally concerned with getting that first shot off. Once the first shot is taken then they can breathe and so can everyone else. Until that happens it’s managing a sequence of events.  They are in charge of holding a safety meeting, blocking, camera blocking, HMU process, Costume process, Dept Tweaks such as set dressing and lighting etc…

What does an AD think about in between shots/setups/scenes?

ADs have to be able to multi-task. There are many times that I’m having to simultaneously think about something for tomorrow’s schedule while focusing on today’s schedule while also considering the effects of next week’s schedule. It’s like managing a huge Tetris game that has a myriad of elements. If we move this scene here will it effect this actor’s avail or this location’s restrictions? We have to know a little bit about all the underlying constraints or we won’t be able to give intel to the higher ups. I often think that being an AD is like being a CIA operative. In a way you are on the ground where the action is happening and assessing a battle plan that you can report back to command.

What does an AD think about at the end of the day?

When most crew members are packing up gear and headed home….often the 1st AD and 2nd AD are reviewing tomorrow’s schedule and signing off on a call sheet. Tensions can increase when the day goes over causing a debate on the call time and turnaround issues for cast or certain crew members.

So how does the AD mind really work?

The AD mind is one that has to care about logistics and getting things done. They care about getting people home on time and getting all the shots at the same time. ADs should naturally want a great product and to keep everyone safe. Good ADs know when to push back and when to relent. When it’s a good time to actually go over or call grace and when it’s time to call wrap.

Conduiit – Accounting Software to Stay Organized

A few months ago I stumbled upon some software “Conduiit” that I really wished I known about earlier.

Conduiit.app is a Cloud-based purchase order, payment request and file management system that allows production management and finance teams to work seamlessly. (taken from their website)

5 Reasons you should consider Conduiit on your next Feature or TV Series:

  1. The approval process can be stream-lined. Stop chasing down producers, line producers and UPMs and asking for a signature to approve a purchase. This platform does that all in one place with the click of a button.
  2. No more check requests without missing documents. Once logged into the platform you can see if you are missing a w9, backup or additional missing docs.
  3. It’s easy to use. You can train any department in a matter of minutes without having to put them through an extensive accounting course. Whoever on your project is submitting invoices (art coordinator, location coordinator, etc…) will have access to the platform to keep all their invoices in one place.
  4. The data can be exported into almost any accounting platform. With powerful report-building tools you can download a .csv or .xls to send to your accounting or finance team to upload into their system.
  5. Reduce email clutter. It can be easy to let a vendor payment slip through the cracks with emails that may or may not go answered. With this platform, everything is visible to production and accounting and thus cutting down on the famous… can you get them to send a w9 email?

Episode 33 – David Venghaus Jr. – Working as an AD on virtual productions

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

In this episode we talk with David H. Venghaus Jr. (@davidvenghaus on instagram) about his his experience working as an AD on films that encompass VFX, Virtual Production and new technology.

Dave is a veteran DGA 1st Assistant Director who has worked on countless movies. A few of the films that Dave has worked on include two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, A Quiet Place Part II, Spider-Man: No Way Home and many more…

Ideas to stay healthy and sane when working on location

I often travel and work on location for 2-3 months at a time. When I do travel it can be challenging to stay healthy and establish new routines.

Below I have outlined a few ideas when traveling for work.

  1. Find a trail close by your hotel / living quarters that you can go for a daily walk or bike ride (rent a bike if possible).
  2. Consider joining a local gym for one or more months. I’ve done this several times even when the local gym doesn’t typically offer short-term deals I managed to negotiate a deal.
  3. Consider doing a group work out (yoga / strength training etc) at a near by studio.  There are several apps that often have classes based on your location. One of my favorite is MindBody or ClassPass.
  4. Do yoga or push ups in your hotel room using a youtube channel or other streaming service.
  5. Go see a chiropractor and/or get a massage.
  6. Have Factor meals sent to your hotel room and eat healthy.
  7. Research to see if there are any hiking trails close by. Consider making a goal to go once a week.
  8. Go to the grocery store and stock up on healthy snacks/drinks (low sugar / low carb).
  9. Meditate daily or three times a week. Consider using Headspace or Waking Up.
  10. Look for a local church you can attend once a week.

10 software essentials for your next movie or tv show

Below is a list of 10 software/app recommendations for your next movie or tv show!

  1. Setkeeper or Croogloo for sides, distro and watermarking
  2. Cinapse for real time set updates and more
  3. RABS for digital vouchers for background
  4. WrapTime for digital crew out times and crew lists
  5. Conduiit for cloud-based accounting system to manage vendors etc.
  6. Contract Book for managing legal contracts like location agreements and actor contracts
  7. Slack for crew collaboration and cutting down emails
  8. To Doist for sharing to-dos
  9. Sync On Set for dept continuity tracking ie.. costumes and art
  10. Frame.io or Alteon for camera file uploads and dailies

Stop using paper daily time sheets!

Everyone I know in production hates daily time sheets. Crew members loathe filling them out and ADs get overwhelmed with tracking them down and deciphering the bad hand-writing.

A new web-based app called Wrap Time has a solution to the out-time process with a digital approach.

7 reasons to consider Wrap Time on your next production:

1. 100% digital. You will be saving trees, toner and hours of man-power spent waiting around for out-sheets.

2. Raw data. An excel file is generated with the entire crews’ out-times that can be copy and pasted into any PR template. You can even automate the process with formulas so that your PR auto-populates.

3. It’s Fast. Crew Members will be able to submit their info in a matter of seconds once wrap is called.

4. Crew List. Besides collecting out-times there is a built-in updated crew list so that you have cells at your finger tips.

5. Time Card Accuracy. Crew Members will be able to review their times for each week so they have a central place to reference for when creating their own time card. You won’t have to print out PRs and pass them around….

6. Multiple Users. In addition to the AD staff using the console, Accountants and UPM/Line Producers can gain access so they can see what is happening real-time.

7. Easy to Use. Once the system is setup and key crew members are trained how to use it…updating a PR will be a piece of cake.

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Tips to sharpen your e-mail game and stay on top of everything

It’s amazing how much time one can spend on any given production reading, sorting, replying to and writing emails. Sometime the emails I receive look as if a third grader wrote them and other times I am impressed with the meticulous detail and thought that went into a certain “email message.”

Below I have come up with some tips to increase your email game and stay on top of everyting.

  1. Use an e-mail client. If you are a mac user you can easily use the Apple Mail client or Outlook for PC users. Using an e-mail client will allow you to manage your email easier by having your mail at your finger-tips. There was one point where I got so bogged down in emails that I switched to a paid mail client. I currently use Super Human and love it.
  2. Create a relevant title in the subject. Because we all get so many emails its important to title your email appropriately. If I worked in commercials and got an email about location update this could be confusing because I could be working on multiple commercials at the same time. I prefer titles that start with the project with a dash to the subject of the email.

    An example of a proper title would be: Movie Title – Crew Housing Updates

  3. Send the email to the right people. I know this may sound obvious, but there are so many times where an email does not properly get into the hands of the people that really need to see it. If you aren’t sure who to send the email to or who to CC or BC it is always a good idea to ask. When starting a new project ask your supervisor what type of emails he/she likes to be copied on.
  4. Use a distro program when sending emails to the entire cast/crew. There are many software applications designed to send company wide emails in the film industry. What I appreciate about these programs is that they allow you to be able to watermark scripts/documents and easily update the groups with a click of a few buttons. A few of the programs out there include Setkeeper, Croogloo, EP Scenechronize, Studio Binder and Yamdu. One problem with sending an email to 100+ people with gmail/yahoo etc is that many times emails of this nature will get flagged as spam causing the important call sheet email to go to someone’s junk folder.
  5. Collaborate with others on the content of emails. If I’m sending an important company wide email I like to get a second pair of eyes to see what could be added/subtracted. Consider using a google doc to write the email and share with others so they can tweak and make suggestions.
  6. Use an email signature. It’s NOT important to add your email address in your email signature in my opinion because this is redundant. Here is an example of an email signature…
              John Smith
              UPM | Name of Movie
               +1 123-456-7899
  7. Keep your email concise. Writing an email that is more than 5-6 sentences will dramatically increase the chances that the email will be read in its entirety. If you have to send a really long email consider that maybe the content of the email could be relayed at a meeting or in three smaller emails.
  8. Add a simple greeting and simple thanks. The greeting can be short like Hi All or Hi Crew. Consider ending the email with an encouraging word or even just thanks.
  9. Bold or Highlight important items. I’ve noticed that if I highlight certain sentences in yellow or red that they will really pop. DO NOT PARK ON SET will often be highlighted in YELLOW and same with COVID TEST upon arrival etc..
  10. Decide when to send an email. Just because you can send an email at 9pm on Sunday does not mean you should. Can the info wait? Yes there will be times that emails should go out on a weekend or when people are off, however if there are items that are non-pressing I find that its a good idea to wait and send the email at a time and day that I know most people will be in work-mode. If I do get an email on an off-day I will probably still read the email, however I will sometimes be annoyed and forget to reply.
  11. Add a call to action if necessary. If you need people to confirm they have received the email or need them to reply they will be at the production meeting I like to add something in the email that specifies.

    An example: Please reply “Got It” by 7pm tonight that you will be at the table read this Friday.

  12. Follow up on emails that were never answered. This is a common occurrence in today’s world. The non-response when you have sent an email that requires someone else’s attention and need to respond. There are several times when dealing with important issues such as city film permit that I will follow up and ask if they need any additional details.

    An example of a reply:

    Hi

    I just wanted to follow up on the email I sent on Friday. Do you need any additional details for the permit? I’m happy to jump on a call to discuss if there is anything unclear about the route for the process trailer.

    another example

    Hi

    Did you see my email about the location scout tomorrow? Do you have any notes?

  13. Attach the right items to the email as PDF. When sending complicated emails like a Call Sheet email I like to make sure that all the documents are in PDF format and are labeled properly. I like to attach the Call Sheet, Digital Sides, Map, Overhead, Safety Memo (if there is one), Shot-list (if avail) etc. Not having digital sides as part of the call sheet email is really unacceptable in my opinion. Having the sides allows every department the ability to see what is in the scenes without having to rely on paper sides which can sometimes be a hassle to keep track of etc..
  14. Add a meme when necessary. Memes can be fun and who doesn’t love a good one.

How to land your next film crew job

One of the challenging things about working in the film/tv industry is that you are most always looking for the next job/gig unless you happen to be lucky enough to work on a six month tv-series or the next Marvel movie that has an extended shooting schedule.

How does one land that next job/gig/position as an AD, UPM etc?

Below I have come up with a list of ways you can use to secure that next job.

  1. Know someone who is hiring. For better or worse this is the number one way to land your next job. Who do you know that is in a hiring position and is the “decision maker” on a project that is in development or in pre-production? Even if they don’t currently have a job opening..they may have an opening tomorrow or next week or next year. Maintaining relationships with people over the years and reminding them you exist can be paramount to securing that job that is currently vacant. More than just knowing this person who is hiring…is the person you know excited to consider you because you did an awesome job the last time you worked for them? People want to hire people they know who are great to work with…plain and simple.

  2. Know someone who knows someone who is hiring. If I’m in a position to hire someone and all the people I know are currently booked, the next method of securing that position is to ask others for trusted referrals. The referral is very important because it’s easier to trust other crew member referrals than a resume of someone I have never worked with. A referral could come from anyone really. I was once referred as a 1st AD by the craft service person…
  3. Apply for positions on Facebook. Yes I know not everyone uses facebook, however there are hundreds of film facebook groups and many groups specifically for ADs, Production, Line Producers etc. The great thing about facebook groups is that by joining these groups they will notify you of new posts.
  4. Apply for positions on Film Crew websites. Sites like staffmeup.com,  Mandy.com, IMDbpro.com are just a few of the many film crew websites out there were you can search by position and area etc.
  5. Check local film commission job listings. Many cities and states that have a film commission will also list an email that you can send your resume for upcoming projects and sometimes they might even list specific positions that are vacant.
  6. Update your avail on the DGA Avail List. If you are a member of the DGA you can list yourself as available once you login to the website in the availability section. Producers and UPMs occasionally will look at this list when trying to fill certain vacancies.
  7. Secure an Agent. Agents can broaden your network and help you to land meetings with Producers and Directors that once may have been impossible to get.
  8. Join a committee, organization etc. Expand your network and meet other people in the film industry by staying active and contributing in various ways that allow you make new connections.
  9. Research projects that get green-lit. Occasionally films that are about to go into production will be announced on the trades such as Deadline or Hollywood Reporter. In addition to the trades you can search IMDbpro to see what projects are tracking and contact producers and UPMs that list their contact info. Occasionally you may notice someone you know who is attached to a project which could lead to an open door.
  10. Remind people you exist. This is different for everyone but finding that way to network online or in person is important to stay present in people’s mind. Follow your favorite crew members on instagram or send an email/text to people with your updated resume letting them know you are avail and looking for work.

What Gets Measured Gets Improved

Peter Drucker said this phrase “What Gets Measured Gets Improved” 40 years ago. There is a lot of truth to this phrase for both individuals and companies alike.

When it comes to the film industry there are tools to measure the work day and often this is formatted in the (often outdated) form of a Production Report or PR. PR’s provide a lot of useful information such as out times, reasons for delays, scene completion info, hard drive data and more. While PR’s can be helpful they are often formatted in legal format that can be difficult to parse and really determine what the real problem areas are.

Several tech companies are working on solutions that will hopefully be alternatives to the standard PR.

One of these companies “Cinapse” has recently launched an exciting product Cinapse Live. What’s unique about Cinapse Live is its ability to track real-time info for the AD Dept that is often communicated over walkies, group texts or emails.

Having real time metrics can be very critical to finding solutions to problems and communicating that information efficiently.

My favorite part of Cinapse Live is the ability to change the day’s scene orders at the click of a button and then push notify the crew who are part of the app.

Book your demo today!