Working as a 1st Assistant Director

One thing I didn’t really understand until I started working on sets was the role of the assistant directors. In this three-part blog I will break down the roles of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rdassistant directors. Let’s start at the top. The role of the 1st Assistant Director is a very important one on any set and thinking that you can get away without one is a big mistake. You will want to have your 1st Assistant Director hired as early as possible; the 1st plays a very big role in pre-production.

Responsibilities of the 1st AD in Pre-production:

  • Breakdown the script: this means going through the script and making note of any and every aspect of the script that will require attention. This could be making note of props, sounds, special effects etc. Check out Breaking Down Your Scriptfor more in-depth details.
  • Break the script down into 8ths of pages: once you have experience with this you can do this by eye, but when starting out it is best to mark the pages. Each script page gets broken down into 8ths; this information is useful for both schedules and call sheets. Each page of the script should equal about 1 minute of screen time.
  • Create the schedule: This is a task that requires input from all department heads, as well as the director and the producer. To make your life easier I recommend Movie Magic Scheduling. Your shooting schedule should outline the order in which you plan to shoot and all of the required talent and special needs of the scene. It is also very important to work with department heads here and figure out how long scenes will take to shoot, find out whether or not pre-calls are required and plan out the timing of everyday.
  • Breakdown sheets for all scenes: these can be made easily in Movie Magic Scheduling and they are great to distribute to all departments. They are detailed sheets that highlight all the notes you took when breaking down the script. Movie Magic Scheduling is available from Amazon.com 
  • Create a One Liner: this is a document that shows the scenes you will be shooting and the order in which you will be shooting them. It is a quick reference document with the most important details like the scene number, scene name, one line of description, time of day and how many pages.
  • Complete a Day out of Days: this is a chart outlining the cast members and the days they are working. This is for you to know how many days each cast member needs to be paid for. This should be completed once you have finished the schedule and is also subject to change.
  • Have a list of all locations: it is good to include the real name of the location as well as the name used in the script. Your locations manager should provide this list to you, if you have one, if not the production coordinator should have this.

Once you have these documents made and sorted you can have your 2nd AD begin work on the Call Sheets. When shooting begins the paperwork shifts to the 2nd AD and as the 1st assistant director your responsibilities shift to the following.

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