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.

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