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Assistants to the Director

Even perfectionist directors who micro-manage every single detail of a project need some help. Or at the very least, they need people to yell at when the props aren’t ready or there’s not a single drop of coffee on the set.

Photo: Public Domain

1st AD

The director’s main focus during production should be on creative issues. Enter the first assistant director to take care of all the rest, or explain why they can’t actually have all the stuff that the director wants. In Pre-Production, the AD handles the script breakdown and scheduling for the production, working closely with the Unit Production Manager. Of course, that’s only when the project can afford to pay for both a 1st AD and a UPM, but either way, the 1st AD needs to have a firm grasp on the props, costumes and effects as well as when these things are needed on the set. Any technical questions about the production should go through the 1st AD. If it has nothing to do with character, story or visual style, then the 1st AD will handle it.

Pre-Production

In Pre-Production, the Assistant Director needs to prepare to take over the project from the Production Manager. In fact, a lot of AD’s transition into production management, so it’s not bad to have someone who wants to learn. Ultimately, you want someone who doesn’t take too much crap from others but can also listen to any grievances. Yeah, it’s a fine line in the personality department, but you will make them a member of your wedding party if they get the job done.

Safety

Part of the Assistant Director’s job is to be a bit of a buzz kill for the creative vision team. If the creative types are looking for the coolest way to do something, the AD finds the safest and most efficient way. The director is in charge of managing the crew, but the assistant director is in charge of managing the crew’s health and well-being. But be honest with yourself: as much as this project means to you, would you want anyone else to sacrifice limb or even life to realize your dream? And if your answer is yes, you should consider casting yourself as the sociopath in your terrifying psychological thriller.

2nd AD

A second assistant director might be a complete luxury for a smaller production. The 2nd AD’s primary responsibility is to herd the cast through hair, makeup and wardrobe, and then on to the set. A call sheet and walkie talkie will basically be glued to each hand at all times. People skills and an overall good attitude are more important than organization and attention to detail here. If the director intimidates everyone and the 1st AD constantly nags them, the 2nd AD acts as the cast and crew’s best friend on the set…or at least pretends to be while secretly getting the entire production to do what the director needs.

Production Assistants

Film sets and productions are creative environments where everyone works together in a spirit of inspired collaboration. So really, there are no bottom of the ladder positions here.

But there are production assistants (PAs).

If there’s a task that no one else wants to deal with, the PA is on top of it. But only because two or three people with more authority on the set have passed it down to the PA. The responsibilities may change based on who needs the most help that day, or simply who needs the most coffee.

Because, yeah, if anyone is fetching coffee and donuts, it’s the PAs, and they’re lucky to get reimbursed for all of that. A pen and pad are essential to write down all the crap people tell you to do, or even just all the lunch orders. Other tools that will help the PA: water, gloves and definitely a good GPS to figure out where the nearest coffee place is at 2am.

Have fun.

Script Supervisor | Continuity

Being a script supervisor is way less creative and powerful than the title suggests. Basically, the script supervisor looks out for any consistency errors in a scene. If you want to know why, just go on to any IMDb “Goofs” page to see how many jerks out there will point this stuff out.

During each take the script supervisor should be right next to the director, using a camera to make sure what works on set translates to a screen, or at least a partially shattered iPhone glass. If the suspension of disbelief breaks at any moment, hopefully it comes through on that busted smartphone screen, because the script supervisor needs to point it out immediately. Of course, it’s not a terrible job for anyone who likes to point out the shortcomings of others, but the script supervisor also has to be super polite when blaming people for their mistakes, which probably takes most of the fun out of it. And remember, the goal is to create a warm and friendly set, so if you can, you might just want to deal with the visa issues and import a script supervisor from Canada.

For More on Pre-Production Planning:

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