The role of the 1st AD
Welcome back to our series about everything to do with film and video production crew! Here we explain every key role on a film set and how filmmaking works. Whether you want to be in the industry, or just want to learn more about filmmaking, we will provide you with all the information you need right here. Today we are talking about the role of a 1st AD, meaning the first Assistant Director.
The 1st AD is essentially the director’s right hand. They work with the director, director of photography and other heads of department to make sure the shoot runs efficiently and smoothly.
Responsibilities during Pre-Production
A 1st AD is present throughout both the pre-production and production stages of a film. They begin by breaking down the script and noting what will be needed for the production. This includes assembling or assisting in finding:
They often do this alongside the producer, although on smaller production the producer will often double as the 1st AD, as they know the details and needs of the film best.
Once recces for locations have been done, equipment lists written and planned, cast and crew selected and hired, the 1st AD starts scheduling the shoot. They need to take into account the availability of everyone involved as well as the locations and estimate how long each scene will take to shoot.
Throughout all of these steps they need to be in constant communication with the director and producer in order to stick to their vision and remain within the budget.
Responsibilities during Production
The 1st AD is essential during production for every day of the shoot. They must always be there to manage the set, allowing the director to focus on the actors performances and framing the shots with the Director of Photography.
They are responsible for keeping the shoot on schedule, making sure actors are ready, checking on the lighting, camera and art department and reporting back to the director on how much time each one needs. They should help keep the cast and crew motivated throughout the shoot and keep morale high. They supervise the rest of the assistant directors, the 2nd and 3rd ADs as well as any on set runners. In some cases they will also be responsible for health and safety on set.
What skills does a 1st AD need
If you’re thinking of pursuing 1st AD work, these are some of the skills you’ll require to be a good assistant director.
- Organisational skills: You need to be great at planning ahead, coordinating the schedules of multiple departments and always thinking ahead, making back up plans in case of unexpected issues.
- Multi-tasking: As a 1st AD you will rarely just be doing one thing, you’ll most likely have 5 different things on your mind at all times, planning the next shot before finishing the one they’re still on. So you need to be good under pressure and able to multi-task effectively.
- Problem Solving: You must be able to think of creative solutions to unexpected problems and stay calm when it inevitably happens.
- Script visualising: You need to be able to picture a script vividly in your mind when reading it, knowing right away what’s needed for it, what locations, what actors and what the director has envisioned for each scene.
- Communication: The 1st AD is constantly communicating with people from all departments and needs to clearly and concisely explain what is needed of them, you need to be authoritative in order to keep the shoot on schedule, but comforting to keep morale high. You must also be good at listening to the director and understanding what they need.
For information on qualifications that could help you become a 1st AD, you can visit ScreenSkills where they explain what courses and degrees could support this career ambition.
For an insight into the daily work life of a 1st AD you can watch the below video:
If you found this article helpful, or you’re looking to pursue a different career in video production, check out the rest of our series where we address various on and off set film roles, from the production runner to the producer.