An assistant director’s responsibilities on a film set include tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. They must also look after the crew’s health and safety.
The roles of an assistant to the director and assistant director are frequently confused, but the responsibilities are entirely different. The director’s assistant manages all of the directors during development, pre-production, on set, and post-production, and is frequently involved in both personal management and creative aspects of the production process.
Historically, assistant directing was a stepping stone to directing work; Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa were both ADs. This was when the role was broader and included all aspects of filmmaking, such as set design and script editing. This transition into film directing is no longer common in feature films, as the role has become more logistical and managerial. With the exception of James McTeigue, it is now more common for an assistant director to move into theatre production management or producer roles rather than directing.
The role of assistant director is frequently subdivided into the following sub-roles:
The first assistant director (first or 1st AD) is in charge of the entire production and supervises the second AD (2AD). The “first” reports directly to the director and “runs” the floor or set. The first AD and the unit production manager are two of the highest “below the line” technical roles in filmmaking (as opposed to creative or “above the line” roles), so the role of first AD is non-creative in this strict sense. It is their responsibility to keep the production on schedule throughout the day, communicate with the entire crew, and ensure the safety and security of the crew and the shot itself.
An assistant director must be very good at estimating the length of a scene. (A scene a few pages long on the screenplay can sometimes be shot quickly, whereas a half-page emotional key moment can take all day.) In collaboration with the production coordinator, the second assistant director (second or 2nd AD) creates daily call sheets from the production schedule.
The “second” also acts as the “backstage manager,” liaising with actors and putting the cast through make-up and wardrobe, relieving the “first” of these responsibilities. The “second’s” responsibilities include supervising the second second assistant director, third assistant director, assistant director trainees, and setting up background (extras). Contact us for more information.