10 Things to know about being an AD

10 Things About Being an AD

 

What is an AD you ask? What does an AD do? You have a lot of questions don’t you stranger?! Well, friend, “AD” is an acronym for Assistant Director.  Now, I know the title may sound like this person assists the director, but don’t let that fool you–an Assistant Director actually works for the producer, and his/her main job is to keep the production moving and on time. On smaller sets an Assistant Director may also be in charge of all the paperwork that may be needed for certain people or locations.

If you’re interested in becoming an AD, or would like to know how to be a better one, follow us as we go through these 10 things to know about being an AD.

1. Safety First

Standing on the last step of a ladder that is on top of two bar stools in order to wrap a tiny piece of black foil over that one dinky stage light that’s just enough out of reach to warrant standing on tiptoes? What person in their right mind would do this you ask? Well you have obviously never met a grip in your video production experience. You want everything to finish your shoot on time but you also want to make sure everyone gets there in one piece. Safety is key in video production, and as Assistant Director you need to make sure people aren’t falling apart mentally and physically. I always like to check in with the fire marshall at the beginning of the shoot and introduce myself–you both have the same goal of making sure no one gets hurt as you’re all speeding along. Make sure everyone is taking the proper precautions and not skipping a safety step just because it will get the job done faster.

2. Get a Watch.

If time flies while you are having fun then its moving at ludicrous speed when you are hard at work. Shouting out the time every 15 minutes may be annoying (ok it is REALLY annoying) but it does actually help with the overall production speed. Your crew is focused on what they are working on, not the big picture. That’s your job. Get a watch, preferably a quiet one, that won’t entice the sound guy/gal to strangle you, and call out that time! Cell phones work for checking on time now and then, but you don’t want to drain that battery from all those checks.
Using your smartphone in Video Production

3. Smart Phones: Skynet becomes self aware.

I for one, await for the day we have robot overlords. A lot of people look at smart phones as a luxury, but honestly, in this industry, it’s a necessity–it’s mobile access. You need to be able to: look up directions, contact a certain vendor (google them and make that phone call), take pictures of extras, look up forms on google drive, email insurance claims to a location, and so much more that you haven’t even thought of yet. Let’s face it, if you could, you would drag an office cubicle around with you. Unfortunately you can’t, you’re too busy running around! I always carry my iPhone on me at all times, and now have recently gotten used to carrying an iPad as well. There are a ton of apps available for filmmakers that can make your life easier.

Some of which are:
Movie Slate | $24.99
Movie Magic | $29.99
Cinema Forms | Free
Magic Hour | Free
Shot List | $11.99
Teleprompt+ for iPad | $14.99

 

4. Cutting a Deal With the Talent

The talent may be late, the talent may be tired, the talent may not be rehearsed, the talent may want more time in make up. Whatever the case may be, you are going to need to get that person to arrive on set ON TIME. Now, they will probably be late now and then, but you may need to cut them a deal or two to stop them from using up precious time.

I’m sorry, it’s just so early!
How about I get you a nice hot coffee and send the make up to your house so you can get ready at your own place?
I’m so worn out from yesterday.
How about a nice energy drink that I have kept ice cold for you?
I need more time in make up.
Don’t worry you look gorgeous!!!!
I don’t feel gorgeous…
Gorgeous I say!
I’m in a monster suit….
I SAID YOU LOOK GORGEOUS.

If they want a break, offer them a snack and a beverage. If they feel uncomfortable with a certain shot, talk to the director and let them work it out. The talent goes through a ton of pressure in front of the camera as well, but as long as they are happily working you will be able to get things moving.

5. Getting Yelled At

You will get yelled at. Was it your fault? Probably not. People are stressed out and you will most likely be that one person to push them over the edge with your harmless question of “Oh, hey, how much longer you think?” That, or you’ll just be the closest and easiest target of vented frustration. Either way, you will get yelled at. My advice is to just let these banters or rants roll off and go on with your job. Understand that people are stressed out and moving fast–they are just venting to you. Keep Calm and Move Production Along.

6. Working Lunch

Unfortunately, this is one of those jobs on set that doesn’t truly ever get a break. Even when you are breaking for lunch you’re looking over paperwork, going over the next shot, or making phone calls. It’s always important that you stay hydrated and eat snacks for energy. Coffee is great for a boost but it doesn’t do much to keep you going for the long term. Keep snacks in your toolbelt! You’re no good to the crew if you are passed out on the floor from malnourishment.

7. Microsoft Excel is Your Frenemy

There are so many great pieces of software out there to help you get your production together. These programs will be your best friends, they organize your workflow. Then, while your back is turned, something will format or  be forgotten and the entire operation will slowly seem to fall apart. Rule #1: Don’t panic. Things get miss typed or overlooked on forms often. Try to triple check before you finalize any sort of release form, call sheet, budget, etc. If there is still a mistake, deal with it when you see it, don’t put it off. Always bring copies of the forms that you sent out. People will forget a copy at home and expect you to have extras for them. Finally, like any other program, quadruple save.

What a B.A. AD

8. Clipboards and Fanny packs

It’s not about the glamour. As an Assistant Director, you will need to carry a lot of things. More than your pockets can hold. If you are a female like myself, you will have realized that, for whatever reason, society has decided that women don’t need real pockets at all, just ones for “looks” (which is BS if you ask me). Fanny packs, tool belts, clipboards, and whatever else that could help you carry the random stuff you need.

What’s in my fannypack/tool belt?

 

9. Please and Thank You

What your mother told you when you were young was right. While you are spewing your orders (inevitablly spitting on PA’s that are too scared to wipe it off) don’t forget your manners! It is the one thing that I can say has helped me keep my friends on set. Yes, that cameraman may be taking forever to get the shot just right, so you may ask him to please get it done in less than 10 minutes so that everyone can move on. I also like to keep things “classy” and refer to everyone in their formal titles. It shows that you really do respect what they are doing for the production and you’re not just pushing them to be mean.

Instead of:
“PICK UP THE PACE YOU WORTHLESS PEON”
Try:
“Excuse me sir, I’m going to need you to get that done in about 5 minutes please. Thank you!”

Kindness goes a long way on long days.

10. Stress Attacks

I’m sure by now you have gotten the impression of just how stressful this job can be. If you can’t handle high level stress situations then this is probably not the job for you. It’s all about being able to handle any situation that gets thrown in your direction and handling it calmly. I really enjoy being organized and solving puzzles, so this is perfect for me! Things that I’ve learned that help with the high level stress:

  1. Make sure to take at least one full day off a week. Turn off your phone and don’t take any work calls or emails for the day, just relax.
  2. Go for a jog or walk before/after your gig to clear your head!
  3. I love dark chocolate and bring some with my while I’m working. Having something to indulge in when stress levels get high always helps.
  4. Video games help me blow off some steam after a long day of working. If you’re not into gaming try the gym or any other hobby that you enjoy doing.
  5. Give yourself a few hours out of the day to not have to worry about the shoot.

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The most important thing to remember about being an Assistant Director, is that it’s truly a rewarding job. I love the people who I get to meet and build relationships with on set and, honestly, wouldn’t trade that job with anything in the world. I get to go to crazy locations, meet talented individuals and geek out over gear all day. You may have to handle a lot of problems, but if you do your job right, people really do appreciate the hard work, and you get to view the finished project knowing you were a vital part of the team that got the product made. Now go out there and speed your production along!