The Assistant Director
Directing a feature film is very similar to playing a strategy war game; you need to know what each player on your team can or can't do. You must be able to clearly explain your vision, give orders, and trust that they’ll be executed. At the same time, you also need to keep your eyes on the ball and make sure that the job is done well. Filmmaking requires organization, discipline, and the ability to manage people, and no one does that better than the Assistant Director. The Assistant Director (AD) can sometimes appear to be your best friend or your worst enemy on set, sometimes both at the same time. It’s her/his job to make sure that the production stays on schedule by tracking daily progress, checking time, calling lunch, prepping call sheets, and keeping the peace on set. It’s the “keeping track of the schedule” part that can some- times cause friction between the AD and the director (for example, when the art gets in the way, and the director wants to squeeze in new shots that weren’t on the shot list, or when your artistic style conflicts with their time management). So, if you picked an amazing AD who you get along with fine, that’s great; otherwise, you might want to think consciously about how you are going to maintain a healthy relationship with your AD on set. Buy him/her a drink before the shoot starts and spend the hour talking about your overall game plan.
Ultimately, you are the boss on set, and what you say goes, but running a set like a dictator is the fastest way to get a mutiny on your hands and have people revolt against you. So, the best way to handle an AD is to consider yourself their partner; the magic word is “compromise.” If you decide to spend an extra 30 minutes on shooting something that’s not in the script, not on the call sheet, and not on the shot list, then you need to either,
(a) sell your vision to stop them from calling time every five minutes,
(b) compromise, remove a less important shot for the sake of making time. Because at the end of the day, the AD wants to do a good job, and doing a good job means that they may, at times, have to keep the director in check as well.
Another possible source of friction on set could be the pairing between the AD and the Cinematographer. Depending on the personalities you have on set, these fellas may sometimes be a source of conflict on set, and those conflicts are a real energy drain. The main reason for AD/DP conflicts arises from a virus that plagues every artist working on a movie set, the one that impacts the DP the most – it’s called being a perfectionist. When a DP with an eye for detail says that it’ll take 10 minutes to set up the light for a shot, he can count on the AD calling time after nine minutes, but most of the time, a DP’s 10 minutes turn into 30, or more, if not kept in check. So give your AD the respect she/he deserves and be willing to compromise; don’t piss your vision away, but don’t be a dictator either; find the balance.
It really takes a village to make a movie,
and I was lucky to have an incredibly talented group on Pickings.