Neglected Crew #1: Assistant Director

When we watch special features for our favorite movies, we see a lot of interviews with people who hold positions we’ve heard of – or positions that have significant creative control. While an interview for every grip and catering manager would be a bit much, I think filmmakers on a budget should be aware of some under-represented crew positions that will make their productions go smoother.

Today’s Neglected Crew position is the Assistant Director (A.D.).

In my post about using a shot list, I mentioned the invaluable help that my colleague Zach provided on our most recent production. Although we didn’t give him the label of “Assistant Director” until after the production, Zach took charge of my carefully organized shot list and marking each shot off the list during production. With the clipboard in our A.D.’s hand, he was able to…

  • Call “Quiet on the set!”
  • Call out shot and take number (e.g. “Shot 34, take 2!”)
  • Check off shots on the list
  • Mark the number of takes for each shot
  • Mark which take was considered the best while on set
  • After a cut, notify us immediately of the next shot to keep us on task and prevent everyone from moving out of position.
  • Track progress versus estimated shooting time to ensure we were on schedule

For the most part, I made sure our shot list was clear, concise, and descriptive. Shots were also arranged in the most effecient order, getting cast in and out as quickly as possible while ensuring there was something to shoot while another person was taking a break, changing costumes, etc. Occasionally, the A.D. would jump further down the shot list and determine an appropriate alternate shot during unexpected downtime. Several of the tasks on the list above specifically help with editing.

My hands were full with the camera, and my co-director was busy with the actors; our minds were equally occupied with getting the best possible shot and the A.D. not only relieved us of some organizational stress, but also kept us from having to put down the camera and take our attention away from the actors. In almost all of our later behind the scenes photos, you’ll notice the A.D. somewhere on set with a clipboard in hand.

A.D. On Set

A.D. and Director on set for Bone to the Dog

This sums up a lot of the A.D.’s responsibilities on our micro-budget film set, but there are many books and resources on the web that describe this role in more detail. On a professional set, their job will be somewhat different, and there are often First, Second, and Third Assistant Directors to handle various tasks. To take your production one step further grab a clipboard, print out a shot list, and get an organized and assertive friend to join the team.

Read Also: Neglected Crew #2: Still Photographer

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