So You Want To Be An Assistant Director?
If you've ever considered taking on the role of Assistant Director, here are some wise words from seasoned professional Dirk Tude (a fictional name that owes any resemblance to a real-life AD to pure coincidence) that might be worth heeding.
So, you want to be an Assistant Director?
You woke up one morning and thought ‘Yes, that role is the one’.
First of all you should probably check yourself in and see a therapist. Then start some profiles on fetish dating sites because you are clearly a bit of a sadist.
How about trying the Camera Department, they don’t get to eat lunch either? Or how about the Lighting team which has the less threatening potential of being zapped to death by electricity? There are so few genuine career Assistant Directors that if you meet one you should capture them and study them in a lab.
Still reading? Is it because of the passive/aggressive witty writing or you still actually think that becoming an AD is in any way a good idea?
Well, what’s your background? If it only contains a paper-round, media classes, media diplomas, media degrees and a one month internship for your fathers’ horse-owning friends’ brothers’ golf buddy’s small scale camera rental firm then you should probably go away.
Do you know what an Assistant Director is or does? Do you know historically where the role came from and how it mutated into the monster that exists today? If you think it’s just a crew member who stares at a clock, go away. If you think they just shout the loudest, go away. If you wonder why they often sound like an out-of-place Staff Sergeant who has forgotten they are not in boot camp then read on. Then go away.
If you think an AD wrote this then you might be right as it reads like the deflated husk of a once-human being, lashing out like a wounded caged tiger as delirium takes over.
Still want to be an AD? What’s your profile name on SpankMe.com again?
Tell me what you’ve lead to victory? What areas of what industries have you had serious management in? Where is the evidence of your natural uncluttered leadership style? Tell me about that time when you were in genuine peril and how you dealt with it? What are you like in a crisis? Where did you get that scar? If you’ve never been faced with getting out of a serious situation then go away.
Do you think most ADs want to stay doing that job? No. It’s a transitional phase, like most things. The Focus Puller usually wants to be a DoP. The Art Assistant often dreams of becoming the Production Designer. There’s always that top-table role we desire and think that hard industry graft is the way up. That’s one way to get there. But where does the AD fit in?
Was there an AD module in your university semester? If so the entire industry has just divided itself by zero and the world is slowly being sucked into a black hole under a desk at Ravensbourne. It shouldn’t be taught anywhere. Knowing of the role’s existence is better knowledge than the 3000 word essay plus your student credit of ‘1st AD’ on Duncan’s short film ‘A Day in the Life of a Penny’ in which you just stood there with a clipboard and nothing else between your ears.
You think that becoming an Assistant Director is the step behind becoming a director? You want to be a director? Buy business cards with your name on plus the word ‘Director’ next to it. Congratulations you’re a director now. Oh you also need a vicious talent that no education in the world can teach you. About 2% of an AD workload has anything to do with being a Director. An AD is a contradictory amalgamation of logistics, structure, legal, managerial, admin, crisis-aversion, policy, law, bureaucracy, creative, rule-breaking, leadership, health/safety, personal trainer, psychological, manipulation & trouble-shooting skills and many others not yet listed.
A Producer is the closest role than anything but you don’t get to chase the money and they don’t get to see much of the film being made as they are too busy chasing the money. The Producer is your only boss but you spend most of your time with the Director and DoP. You’re pulled one way and pulled the other. Who came up with this role? Who put all these elements together in one person and said “There, this makes sense.” Someone who should go away. But the AD is not the type of person to have the time to care about that. They’re too busy being pulled in fifteen different directions at once while all other departments get to focus on their one thing, mostly.
Want to be a good AD? Then try to know every single element of every single department. Know your Preston from your Bolton.
Good for you. Sounds like you’ve got the crisis-management skills, the stamina, the unflinching nature and the planning skills of an engineer. But I’ve saved the best for last: Even with all these skills and responsibilities you still get to be the most hated person on any project.
Even after all those months of planning and script breakdowns and logistics to ensure that every person on the project gets the best, fairest and safest approaches to their workload, even after standing your ground on serious issues of health and safety which could affect your crew, even after becoming the Devil’s Advocate when dealing with each tiny detail of a complicated actor-lead schedule and even after you’ve spent a lot of time understanding a unique new group of egotistical, insecure, talented, brilliant people – they all hate you even before you’ve met them.
It’s the AD’s curse.
You do all this prep and you’re still on the back-foot, having to gain people’s trust at the same time they think you’re a tosser. It’s crushing and the reason that most people fail at being an AD.
So you need that thick skin. Make sure the insults and nicknames like ‘Cockweasel’ slide off you. Let those ‘I’m going to punch you’ looks mean nothing. That hero actor you’ve always wanted to work with? He thinks you’re a dick. Hating you is standard and helps him stay in character. And they’re a great actor so you have no idea whether they mean it or not.
If you can do all this with a smile on your face to the end of a project then maybe we could talk.
Do you have an anonymous but therapeutic rant about the industry you'd like to get off your chest or warn the up-and-comers about? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.