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4 Tips for Being an Awesome Assistant Director

Noam Kroll

Working as an Assistant Director (AD) can be unbelievably challenging. To survive on set and off, take some key steps to position yourself for success.

Top image from DIY Film

Working as an AD is one of the most stressful jobs on set, but can also be one of the most rewarding. You are literally responsible for tackling more at any given time than any other crew member, and need to juggle logistical, creative, and technical aspects of your project without blinking an eye.

Many aspiring producers attempt to jump into the role of an AD before they are truly ready, which ultimately can negatively impact their productions and lead them to possibly even lose their jobs. So if you are starting to work as an AD or even thinking about it —read on. These tips will keep you from falling on your face during the filmmaking process and will dramatically increase your chances of success.

1. Be Really Involved in Pre-Production

Assistant Director Pre-ProductionImage from Sarah K. Shoen

When it comes to being an AD, the question isn’t “what does an AD do” but “what doesn’t an AD do”. This applies not only to your on set work, but pre-production/development time too. Don’t ever make the naive mistake of believing you are just going to walk onto set on day one and be able to do your job properly. It takes a lot of prep work to do your job well, so don’t ever try to skimp out during prep or it will show.

The success (or failure) you experience in your role as an AD is often directly related to how involved you are in pre-production. As someone who oversees just about everything on set, you are expected to know what’s going on every step of the way. You’d be flat out wrong to believe you could get away without putting in your time during pre-pro. As you hopefully already know, for many crew members you (as the AD) are their ‘go-to’ person for information.

If you aren’t prepared enough to assist them when you’re needed, you aren’t doing your job properly and ultimately shouldn’t be holding that position to begin with. Be committed to knowing as much as possible, for your sake and those around you. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you find an immense amount of self motivation when working as an AD, as no one else is going to tell you where to put in the extra leg work.

Also, never wait on the Director or Producer of the film to involve you in pre-production matters, as they each have a lot on their plate and are expecting you to rise to the occasion. Be assertive in your role. If you require information from the Director to do your job, tell them. Don’t wait to be included in the discussion… initiate it.

2. Communicate Exceptionally Well

Assistant Director: Communication
Image via DIY Film

If you’re not already an amazing communicator, you better get cracking on your communication skill set ASAP. As someone who liaises with the Director and pretty much everyone else on set, stellar communication skills are the ultimate key to your success in this role. You need to be able to understand, relay, and translate information quickly and efficiently while also coming across as an authoritative figure, and trust me – this is easier said than done.

The best ADs that I’ve ever worked with know how to command a room. They let department heads know when there is an issue, they keep the Director moving efficiently, and can quickly wrangle up every last crew member when the next shot is up.

If you aren’t 110% confident that you can handle this, then you have your work cut out for you. The good news is that 90% of what you need to do is mental. You need to understand your role and the responsibility that you have, and allow yourself to be confident and assertive on set even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

3. Delegate if Possible

Assistant Director DelegateImage from Cleveland.com

ADs always have a ton of work on their plates. As I stated earlier, they are usually the busiest crew member on set. That said, being busy doesn’t mean having to do everything yourself — one of the largest responsibilities of an AD is to delegate. While there are some specific tasks that an AD needs to tackle themselves, the vast majority of their work during production comes down to relaying information and delegating responsibilities as efficiently as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or assign jobs to your crew, as that’s what they’re there for. If your Producer or Director finds you trying to juggle too many things at once, they are likely to come down on your for it, as you aren’t actually fulfilling your responsibilities properly. It may feel like you are working harder than everyone around you (and maybe you are), but that doesn’t mean you’re doing the right work.

There are a lot of lines that get blurred when you work as an AD, since you’re wearing so many hats – but by default you should always attempt to delegate responsibilities (other than your key AD tasks) first and foremost, and only when those tasks can’t be delegated can you step in to get your hands dirty.

4. Never Micromanage

micromanage assistant directorImage from HowToFilmSchool

It’s always important to remember that there’s a balance to everything. Even though I mentioned above that you need to delegate as much as possible on set, you also don’t want to fall into a parallel trap of micromanaging your crew. Doing so will make them feel like you don’t trust them, and it will also waste a lot of your precious time that could likely be better served doing something far more productive.

You need to trust that your directions have been received and heard by your crew. Assuming you are working with professional crew members, you should be able to count on your team.

When you attempt to micromanage everyone, you’re assuming that you know how to do everyone’s job better than they do (whether you realize it or not) and it comes across very poorly on set. Let those around you shine; as an AD this makes you look good and leaves more time open for you to actually run your set.

In Conclusion

Assistant Director ConclusionImage from the Annapurna International School of Film + Media      

Being a great AD is much harder work than you might think, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off, even without much experience on set. Always remember to be assertive, understand your role inside and out, take part in prep as much as you can, communicate/delegate effectively, and never micromanage.

And just as importantly as everything we touched on above, you’ve got be incredibly hard working, exceptionally organized, and a master problem solver. Always remember that the better you are at your role, the easier it is for the Director to concentrate freely on the creative process in front of them. If you can accomplish that? You’re on the right track.

Here are a few more articles from PremiumBeat that cover the ins and outs of working on film sets:

Have any tips for being an awesome Assistant Director? What are YOU looking for in a great AD? Share in the comments below.