Schedules, call sheets, logistics, phone calls, locations, transportation – you name it. The Assistant Director position is full of challenges, but it can also be a really rewarding job.
In June of this year I had the opportunity to work as 1st Assistant Director (1st AD) on the short film “Rubber Ducky” that was shot primarily in the Anchorage, AK area. I’ve never really worked the AD department before, so I knew going into it that I’d be in over my head. Schedule and logistics are something I’m not naturally good at, but I knew it would be a valuable experience for me, and the director wanted me to give it a try!
I learned a TON during the process, and so I thought I’d share some of it with you. Now, keep in mind that I was also producer on this project in addition to 1st AD – so some of these things won’t necessarily apply to you if you’re only the AD, and some will come from my experience as a director. But, either way, I hope you find it helpful!
1. Make sure that you have all of the pre-production done as early as you can.
There’s nothing worse than trying to run a shoot without enough prep work done ahead of time. Doing it all last minute only causes a lot of headaches! Not only does it take a TON of time to acquire location permits, insurance, etc. etc., but your department heads really need to have it in hand with plenty of time to go over and thoroughly look through it and understand the project.
Since I had several other projects going on simultaneously, I didn’t have as much time to put into the pre-production as early as I should have, and that meant not only did I not have all the scheduling nailed down until the week before the shoot, but we literally went into production still needing several key locations. God was gracious and we were able to secure them before we had to shoot – but starting it all way earlier will give you a lot more margin and leave room for all of the unexpected.
2. Be intentional about asking questions about everything.
It’s the job of the AD to make sure that all of the details of the shoot have been taken into account, and (as much as possible) to think through and plan for all of the possible variables.
And when I say make sure you know the details, I mean THOROUGHLY know the details. There’s SO many things that are easy to overlook in the planning stages! Just in terms of locations, where is everyone going to park? Do you have to pay for parking, and who is going to be in charge of making sure that the parking is paid for? How far away is the parking, and how far will the crew have to haul everything? How much time is that going to take? Where are the bathrooms at each location? Where are you going to set up to eat if you’re on location? There’s also a ton of other factors that you need to take into account, such as how busy are these locations on different days? Are you actually going to be able to park there when it comes time to shoot (or will that parking lot be full on that day of the week)?
Make sure that you’ve thoroughly considered everything that is going to go into each location, each setup and each shot. Ask lots of questions!
A big part of the challenge was that I live here in the mainland, and I had no way to actually go to any of these locations until we went on the tech scout the day before shooting started. If I was to do it again, I’d for sure try to add a Locations Manager – someone who was local and could go to all of these locations and take note of all those variables.
3. Make sure everyone is up to speed and knows the plan for the next day before they knock off for the day.
This was a huge lesson, and something I’ve seen ring true on so many shoots. It’s super important to take time out at the end of each day to go over all of the details for the next day of shooting, and make sure everyone (especially department heads) are on the same page for what’s happening next. The schedule can change hour by hour, and even whole days get moved around due to weather.
So, to keep everyone on the same page and ready to hit the ground running the next day, they need to have that schedule and plan in hand before they go to bed that night. That way they can prepare mentally and physically for what’s next!
4. You need more than one person in the AD department.
It’s easy on small shoots to wear WAY too many hats, and in the process to actually make it impossible for you to do any of your jobs as good as you could if you could focus on one thing. I know it’s not always possible, but if you can (even if you have a smaller shoot) I’d recommend having multiple people on the AD team. You just can’t physically be in two places at once, and if you can have someone working on the schedule and call sheets for the next day while you’re managing things on set, it’d be a huge help.
I was so thankful that Hannah Kenney also doubled as 2nd AD when she didn’t have to be doing BTS work, but I think having another person dedicated solely to the AD department would be the best.
5. Focus on your job, even when you feel useless.
There’s going to be times on set that you’re just standing there “doing nothing”. Maybe it’s the way I’ve grown up, or maybe it’s just my personality – I don’t like to stand around when other people are working! But the fact is, even though I could go and help with something else, really you’ll just be making yourself unavailable to the department heads and slowing them down. Focus on your job, and let others do the rest. If you’re the director, just be the director. If you’re the AD, just be the AD (just try to always look busy in the BTS photos). ;)
There are a lot of things I’d do different if I were to do it again, but I’m thankful to have learned many good lessons, and that we still managed to complete the film on schedule!
I can’t say that AD’ing is something I would want to do as a full-time job, but I am thankful for the experience and I know it will be really helpful in my career as a filmmaker – whatever position I hold.