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What Does an Assistant Director Do?
Also known as the A.D., the assistant director works closely with the director and the production manager (the individual responsible for overseeing the budget). It is the assistant director’s responsibility to make sure the production remains on schedule. For larger budgets, the A.D. may also be classified into a sub-role, known as the First A.D, and there may even be Seconds and Thirds, depending on the production’s needs and size. However, this article will be focusing on the roles of the First A.D.
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Roles of the Assistant Director
The director and the assistant director must operate as a team. This is why the director is most often given the decision as to who he or she chooses to be their A.D. It is the A.D. who handles the ‘non-creative’ business matters and works as a facilitator between the department heads on the set. This takes the load off the director, allowing the director to solely concentrate on the creative aspects of the production instead. If they work well together as a team, sometimes the director and A.D. may continue working together on future projects.
The A.D. also establishes the mood of the set. The manner at which he or she is running everyone on the set differs between personalities, depending on the A.D.. Some assistant directors prefer a militant approach to keep everyone on their toes; others may use a more lenient approach. But no matter their directing style, the important thing is that the A.D. must have everyone’s respect and attention so that the production will stay on schedule. Following the schedule is the main goal for the A.D.
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The A.D. follows the production schedule (the overall estimated time to shoot the entire production, with the budget in mind.) The A.D. also is responsible for creating and issuing the shooting schedule (day by day schedule of each shot or scene) to the cast and crew. He should be able to estimate how long a scene should take to shoot which includes the time for setting up, breaking down, and relocating.
On the set, A.D.s should always be in the complete know of what’s going on, and they must also know projected details, whether how long a scene will take to shoot and/or any issues that may delay the production. In fact, this is why the producers, when visiting the set, are seen most often discussing the details with the A.D. It is the job of the A.D. to create the final board and schedule as well as the one-liners and day-out-of-days for the shoot.
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Duties During the Shoot
It is the assistant director's responsibility to set up rehearsals and read-throughs with the cast throughout the shoot. He serves as a liaison between the director and the cast and crew and is there to buffer any questions or disagreements to keep the shoot running smoothly.
During the actual shooting of scenes, the assistant director makes sure everyone and everything is lined up for the director to get his shots completed. The A.D. gets actors to the set and in their places and calls for quiet on the set. He also makes sure that all extras are in place and are doing their jobs.
At the end of each work day, the A.D. is responsible to report an update to the production manager concerning the breakdown of extras, stunts, vehicles, effects and multi-camera days. If the scene required to be shot is outside where everyone will be exposed to the elements, the A.D. must be up to par with the latest weather forecast and schedule accordingly with a backup schedule in case the weather will delay the shooting schedule.
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The Complete Film Production Handbook: Third Edition. Honthaner, Eve Light
All photos from author's private collection.