The assistant director, or first A.D., plays a crucial role on any film or television production. She has a wide range of duties, both before and during filming. Her overall job is to make sure the director can fully focus on the creative process. An ideal assistant director needs good people skills and must be well organized.
Before the cameras start rolling, the assistant director works with the director to create the shooting schedule. The schedule lists which scenes will be shot on what days, and how long the overall filming will last. The assistant director must be aware of actor and location availability, as well as budget constraints. He must work alongside the location manager to make sure each scene's location is secured. Learning how to plan and budget for the schedule is essential.
Once shooting begins, the assistant director keeps the production moving forward and making sure it stays within budget. He is in constant communication with the Heads of Department for props, wardrobe and other production areas, making sure everyone is prepared for the upcoming scene. For example, if a certain prop is needed, the assistant director makes sure it's ready to go. He also supervises the daily call sheet, which informs cast and crew where they need to be throughout the day. If a particular scene cannot be filmed because of bad weather, actor illness or any other reason, the assistant director works with the director to figure out another scene to shoot. The assistant director must also maintain order on the set.
The assistant director ensures that all safety rules and regulations are followed. In California, for instance, state law requires the assistant director to hold a safety meeting with each Head of Department before filming each day. She might meet with the stunt coordinator to ensure that the actors are properly trained and equipped for any action scenes. The assistant director must follow state guidelines for any child actors in the production. These vary from state to state, but all require the child to have a work permit and limit the number of hours the child can be on set. If the child is in school, an on-set teacher must be provided.
Although no specific qualifications or degrees are required, most assistant directors have prior experience on a set or location. An assistant director may start out as a runner, or production assistant (PA), and work his way up. Working as a third and second assistant director offers the experience needed to become a first assistant director.
Getting Started and Moving Up
Besides working up from a PA job, aspiring assistant directors can join training programs that place them on production sets under the supervision of trained professionals. Dedication is the most critical attribute, as assistant directors work long, stressful days. Some assistant directors make a career out of the position, while others move on to become directors or producers.
Based in California, Noel Shankel has been writing and directing since 2002. His work has been published in "Law of Inertia Magazine." Shankel has a Bachelor of Arts in film and writing from San Francisco State University.