We asked the first assistant director on Birdsong, Appropriate Adult, Tyrannosaur and tons more to give some advice to his younger self…
Hi Younger Dan,
So you’re beginning your climb on the assistant directing ladder. A few things for you to remember, which might help you along the way:
Enjoy and make the very most of being a runner. Don’t underestimate what a valuable opportunity this position provides you in gaining an insight to the many crafts which work together to produce quality results on set. Whatever the task in hand, whether making coffee, stewarding the public, or cueing a cast member, embrace each responsibility with equal enthusiasm and high standards.
One day, you’ll be in charge of turning the fridges off in a morgue before each take! Not a regular work place responsibility, but if you don’t turn the fridges off, the camera can’t turn-over. This will make you a vital cog in the process, and for that you’ll be delighted to be sat in the dark, surrounded by some rather quiet folk, with your finger firmly on the button!
"You may not always be in a position to help but by being aware and listening, it’ll increase your chances of being able to do so in the future."
There are many conversations, processes, decisions being made, and occasionally heated moments, constantly taking place on the peripheral of a set, which will never (and should never) reach the set itself. Take note and be aware of all of these. Without them, the set will grind to a halt. You may not always be in a position to help but by being aware and listening, it’ll increase your chances of being able to do so in the future. Challenge yourself to head off as many foreseeable situations as you can in a day to help save time both off- and on-set.
You are the eyes and ears of your assistant directing colleagues. Together you have a duty to work effectively as a team, and lead the smooth running of a shoot day.
Always familiarise yourself with the 1st assistant director’s plan for a day. Study your call sheet before each day, so you’re as aware as possible of what to expect.
Every member of the AD team has a responsibility to communicate the plan, and relay any amendments. An efficient cast and crew will be more successful in adapting to unforeseen schedule factors – weather, performing animals, certain shots taking longer than expected… the list is endless!
While a cast and crew share a single goal on set, they will each have their own priorities and areas of expertise to think about. Respect each and every one of them, the skills they have, and their experiences, from which you can learn a great deal (whatever their craft).
"Never let anyone tell you you’re being too polite. You can be direct and assertive, whilst remaining well mannered; there’s a difference."
You’ll be expected to be approachable, friendly, helpful and informed at any time of the day. However you’re feeling, whatever pressures you’re under, keep smiling, remain positive, calm, and remember: “nothing’s a problem – there’s always a solution.” Like any good 1st AD, always have a plan, and always know what you’re waiting for. This is a broad statement, but one which can be applied to multiple scenarios.
When production budgets put an increasing strain on the aims, aspirations, and visions of sets – manners continue to cost nothing! Never let anyone tell you you’re being too polite. You can be direct and assertive, whilst remaining well mannered; there’s a difference.
Good luck young Dan, and if you ever make it to the top of the assistant directing ladder, remember to share all you’ve learned with those who share your love and passion for our industry, a gift for which we’re immensely lucky to be involved with. Love every opportunity, every experience, every challenge, never stop listening, never stop learning, and above all: be proud.
Visit Dan's IMDb proflie: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1311708/