Assistant director

Also known as:

  • 1AD
  • 1st AD
  • First
  • First AD
  • Assistant director
  • AD

What does a first assistant director do?

The first assistant director (AD) is the director’s right hand. First ADs plan the filming schedule, working with the director, director of photography and other heads of department to ensure an efficient shoot.

In pre-production, they break down the script, analysing it for what will be needed in terms of cast, locations, equipment and crew. They lead recces, going off to locations to assess their suitability for filming.

Then they input the scripts into Movie Magic software, which helps them work out what to film and when, depending on the availability of cast and locations. They write the shooting schedule and work out how long each scene will take to film.

During filming first ADs manage the set, which leaves the directors free to focus on the actors and framing the shots.

Watch

What’s a first assistant director good at?

  • Visualising the script: read the script and know what this means in terms of cameras, locations and cast, understand the director’s vision
  • Planning: analyse what is needed for a shoot, and co-ordinate the schedules of various departments including camera, make-up, hair, costume, design and visual effects, think ahead
  • Multi-tasking: pay close attention to what is happening in one shot while getting ready for the next one
  • Innovation: think of creative solutions under pressure when the unexpected happens
  • Communication: able to let a wide range of people know exactly what is required of them and get them to work together, ability to listen to the director

Who does a first assistant director work with?

Second assistant director (2nd AD)

The second is the main off-set contact with some of the other departments such as production, locations and facilities. On each day of filming the second must prepare and draw up the next day's call sheet. Once filming begins, seconds ensure that all actors are ready for filming when they are required, entailing transport co-ordinating and make-up and wardrobe timetables. Seconds may be responsible for finding extras and coordinating their transport and activities on set. 

Third assistant director (3rd AD)

Thirds are the 1st AD’s right-hand man on set. They are responsible for coordinating extras, preparing and cueing them as well as sometimes directing them in any required background action. They may have to keep members of the public out of shot or off the set and location and will liaise with the location manager with regard to the security and tidying up of studios and locations after filming. 

Crowd assistant directors (2nd crowd AD, 3rd crowd AD, Crowd PA)

Crowd ADs coordinate larger crowds of extras for the background of scenes, helping to organise the transport and logistics of shooting with a crowd. They may also direct members of the public or keep them off-set.

Floor runner

Runners do anything required to help the shoot. See separate profile: floor runner

How do I become a first assistant director?

How do I become a first assistant director?

This is a senior role that requires many years of experience. Most first assistant directors start out as trainees or floor runners and work their way up. Go to our floor runner job profile for details of how to do this. You can to apply to ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder.

At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art, art and design, photography, film studies, business studies, drama and theatre, graphic design and maths are useful. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Business
  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC National Diploma/ Extended Diploma in Business
  • Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design

If you want to go straight into a job, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
  • Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design

Work for an equipment rental company:
Contact a company like Panavision or ARRI Rentals. Ask if you can become a runner for them. That way you will get to learn more about the kit and build up contacts in the industry.

Get a degree:
A degree isn’t essential but if you want one, look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select ones in filmmaking or film and television production. We recognise courses with our Tick award where they offer training in the relevant fields, dedicate time to building a portfolio, and have strong links with the film and TV drama industries.

Take a short course:
You might like the National Film and Television School's (NFTS) Movie Magic Scheduling course.  First aid courses are useful too. ScreenSkills lists relevant training courses on the website. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills and see if there is one in directing or production.

Network:
Go to ScreenSkills events, especially Open Doors where you can meet people who work in the industry. Give people in the AD department your details and ask if you can do work experience.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there’s a Facebook page or other social media group for people making films or videos in your area. Join it. Create a ScreenSkills profile.

Become a trainee:

Apply for ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme.If you are successful, you get placements, make contacts and build up the industry knowledge to get work in film or TV drama.

You might also be interested in…

Being a line manager, if it’s the organisation that appeals to you. If you’re more interested in the art of photography than the management of it, have a look at the director of photography job role.

Further resources

Some other job roles in production management


Back to production management