First Assistant Director
The first assistant director is responsible to the director, and is chiefly concerned with facilitating a smooth workflow on set and serving the needs of the director. This person begins work during pre-production and is typically handpicked by the director. In some instances, the assistant director may also be assigned the responsibilities of the unit production manager.
Once under contract with the employer, the first assistant director works closely with the director and unit production manager to organize the pre-production tasks. This includes contacting and hiring crew, renting or purchasing equipment, breaking down the script, and preparing a shooting schedule. In cooperation with the UPM, the first AD must take into account the production budget, crew and cast availability, location limitations, and the time necessary to achieve each shot. The second assistant director may aid him or her, where the production requires additional directorial staff.
When production begins, the first assistant director is primarily concerned with tending to the specific needs of the director, but also has a significant number of additional duties. He or she will prepare “day out of day” schedules and call sheets for the cast and crew, and ensure the documents are distributed to all relevant talent and staff. On set, the first AD will direct background action as assigned by the director and supervise crew. Typically, this means overseeing the set production assistants tasked with wrangling extras or holding back traffic at outdoor locations. Supervision of the cast and crew on set also falls under this person’s purview. When a second AD is on set, he or she is delegated the task of wrangling cast. If the first AD has been delegated the duties of a UPM, he or she may be expected to secure contracts and releases from the talent.
Skills & Education
A formal education is not a standard requirement, but a college degree in film and television production grants invaluable experience. The first AD must be familiar with camera operation and the techniques of framing an attractive shot, sound recording, and lighting. He or she must also understand the business and logistical concerns of production. A degree will provide the necessary technical training as well as an understanding of the production process from a managerial perspective, which will help in supervising crew. Additional courses or training in acting and directing is also beneficial; the first assistant director must be capable of coaching actors through a scene with regard to emotion, blocking, and the delivery of lines.
What to Expect
Those working under the title of first assistant director can become members of the Directors Guild of America, the organization that represents directors, assistant directors, and associate directors. Membership is not required to work in the film and television industry, but is necessary to work on productions that are signatories of the DGA and operate under a collective bargaining agreement with the guild. This includes most major production companies and film/television studios. Experience as second AD is expected before you move up in the ranks to first AD. To break into the directorial staff, you should have experience in the camera department (camera operator, camera assistant), and starting out as a production assistant is recommended.
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