All About the 1st Assistant Director
The 1st Assistant Director has to be the biggest unsung hero there is as far as filmmaking goes. You know about the Director, the Producer, and even the Director of Photography. And you probably know exactly what they do. But when it comes to the 1st Assistant Director a lot of people have no idea what they actually do. So, let’s jump into what a 1st Assistant Director does!
What is a 1st Assistant Director:
The 1st Assistant Director (1st AD) is not the assistant to the director. They are not waiting on them hand and foot. A lot of people get that confused. The 1st AD is the right hand to the Director. Meaning they make sure the Director has what they need to make their vision come to life.
Logistics is the main gig of the 1st Assistant Director. Filmmaking contains a lot of pieces involving all the departments, cast and crew. They oversee all these moving parts to make sure on the day that the project starts shooting and everything is ready to go to roll that camera.
If you take away one thing from this post about the 1st AD, remember this – Logistics!
The 1st Assistant Director is the safety officer on set. They make sure that whatever is being filmed that day is safe for EVERYONE. Cast and Crew.
This is super important. Nothing is worth your life when it comes to Stunts, Special Effects, and filmmaking in general. 1st ADs want to make sure that they make the day, get everything that needs to be shot, but they also want to make sure that everyone is safe.
1st Assistant Director Responsibilities:
The 1st AD is in charge of building a shooting schedule for the entire shoot. From the first day to the last day of shooting. They need to figure out the most efficient and fastest way to shoot the project. 1st ADs are taking all the pieces aka the scenes and putting the pieces together to make an overall schedule.
They base this on what is needed for the scene, actor availability, location availability, and what lighting/equipment might be needed.
The voice of the set is the 1st Assistant Director. If someone is brand new to the set they’ll hear the voice of the 1st AD a lot and they assume they are the Director. Yes, the Director is a leader of the set also. It depends on the Director on how vocal they want to be, but the 1st AD needs to be vocal no matter who they are.
The cast and crew have to know what’s going on every step of the way, and the 1st Assistant Director is in charge of that. If someone is confused, lost, and has no idea what’s going on then it’s the fault of the 1st AD. This is where PAs really come into play – they help spread the message of the 1st AD.
The callsheet is really the bible for each day. It tells you what exactly will be shot, who is needed, and what is needed for those scenes. The ADs are in charge of creating this document. On a Union Set this responsibility falls to the Key 2nd Assistant Director. And the 1st AD and UPM approves it before it’s distributed among the cast and crew.
If the 1st AD is in a bad mood it doesn’t make for a good atmosphere. They are highly influential on the morale of the set. It is the 1st Assistant Director’s job to make sure to get the best out of everyone. Keep people happy, moving, and working efficiently.
As I said above the 1st AD is the safety officer on set. They need to make sure everyone stays safe. If something is dangerous they need to make sure the entire cast and crew are aware and how best to go forward. They need to hold safety meetings everyday. Even if it’s a small shoot in an apartment, god forbid there’s a fire, they have to make sure people know where the exits are and where to meet and gather outside if evacuation is needed.
Safety can not be stressed enough.
There should never be a moment where people are just sitting around waiting for nothing.
Time is literally money when working on a film set!
1st Assistant Director have to make sure everything aligns to take away that lagging time on set. As a 1st AD, I hate waiting for one department. Waiting for two departments makes sense. Waiting for one – well now we’re wasting time.
1st Assistant Directors have to make sure the crew is doing their best, and the flow of the day goes smoothly and efficiently as possible.
There are alway problems that arise on set. Maybe an actor is stuck in traffic – well, what can we shoot or do in the mean time to not waste time and money? The 1st Assistant Director has to figure that out. They have to think on their feet, and problem solve issues that come up.
With lots of people come interesting conflicts, issues, and clashing of personalities including film sets. The 1st Assistant Director has to make sure that everyone gets along to get to the common goal – finish the day. Every day the crew finishes they get closer to completing the project.
The 1st AD is very much the mediator if two people are not working together well. They have to get people past any problems they might have with each other.
Big Picture vs. The Small Details
Filmmaking is both of these 100%. The big picture is the end goal – the movie. The small details are all the pieces coming together to get to the end result. The 1st AD has to keep both of those things in mind. When they forget one of the those, things start to get messy, disorganized, and it makes for a long day and then people start working way more hours than they need to.
If you can’t communicate properly you shouldn’t be an AD!
ADs have to make sure that everyone on set knows whats happening every step of the way. Being a clear, concise, efficient communicator is vital!
Can Handle Many Things at Once
There are going to be moments where a lot of things are happening all at once, crew members have questions, and the 1st Assistant Director has to keep all those things in mind, and be able to inform folks, answer people’s questions, and act like it’s no sweat.
The 1st AD has to be knowledgable of all aspects of filmmaking. They have to be familiar of what each department entails. When they make the schedule they are using their years of experience on set to figure out how much time each scene might take.
There are a lot of people on set that are going to be negative Nancys, or crew members that see it as just a job. As a 1st Assistant Director staying positive improves set morale. Having a positive attitude make people work harder for you as an AD, keeps people in good spirits, and just makes for a better day overall.
The 1st Assistant Director is making decisions for the whole crew, and lead them in the direction the production needs to go in. A 1st AD is the authority on set. You can’t be a pushover. People need to listen to you. You have to have a good presence on set to lead the team to the main goal – finish the day on time!
Like I said above, things happen on set, problems arise and the 1st AD has to figure out how to move forward past those problems.
This also pertains to if the flow of the day.
For example: If the flow of the day is going too slow and production might not get to the last scene scheduled for the day. The 1st Assistant Director has to figure out where that scene can go in the overall schedule that they built. And this happens more than you’d think.
You could also have the opposite problem. If a production is moving too fast. What else can we fit in this extra time the crew now has?
Being a problem solver is what a 1st AD is.
Use those people skills to get the best out of the cast and crew. 1st ADs learn types of personalities and figure out how to get the best out of each person. Knowing how to talk to people goes a long way.
Handles Stress Well
Of course this is a given to anyone on set, but it’s more important for the 1st Assistant Director because they’re the voice. The 1st AD has all the answers, and you have to keep it together for everyone on set. They can’t lose it, breakdown, or just give up when the cards are stacked against them.
Some Things that Great ADs Do:
There are some good Assistant Directors out there, and then there are some great ones! The great ones have you leaving set in a good mood. Here are a few things that make a great 1st Assistant Director. You don’t have to do these things, but why not make everyday on set just a little bit better for yourself and everyone around you?
Keep it light
Humor is a good way to get the best out of the cast and crew. It can get very serious on set because every minute that goes by you’re burning money, everything is go-go-go. Just keep it light. Have fun. Remember, you’re making movies! How awesome is that?!
The Blame Game
When something goes wrong a great 1st AD won’t point fingers. They’ll want to move on and just solve the problem. Don’t waste time playing the blame game.
If you want to be a great Assistant Director learn everyone’s name. It’s a way to make a connection with that person, and it shows a bit of respect. Which leads me to my next one.
As a 1st Assistant Director you interact with just about everyone on set, and showing respect for each and every position goes a very long way. It gains you respect from the crew as well. Remember everyone on a film set is vital. They are there for a reason.
Staying calm is probably the most underrated factor in what makes a great AD. No one wants to work with someone who is stressed, angry, or just completely frustrated. Stay calm when things get rough.
I saved this one for last because it really is the best one.
Best for last!
Be grateful for the job you have. You’re working in the film industry! If you are thankful for your job that shows when you’re a 1st AD. It gives a nice vibe to everything you do on set, and how you talk to everyone.
Extend that gratitude toward your team of PAs, the cast, and the entire crew. Remember you can’t make this movie on your own. Thank your team, peers, and cast for their hard work. Filmmaking ain’t easy!
Being an 1st Assistant Director takes a lot of work, and it’s not for everyone. A lot of people hate being in this position because of how hard it is. Some folks are better suited for it than others, and it is a very thankless job. So, the next time you work with your 1st AD – thank them. 🙂
To get more details about the 1st Assistant Director Check out my video below.
Other Assistant Directors
If you’re working on an independent project you might only see one Assistant Director, but if you’re working on a Union Set than there are other ADs that are helping the 1st Assistant Director. Check out the whole playlist to learn more about them.
Have any questions about the 1st AD? Ask them below in the comments!