Filmmaking / Directing : Career advise, should a director do 1st AD jobs by Patrick Carelsz

Patrick Carelsz

Career advise, should a director do 1st AD jobs

Hello fellow filmmakers, I need some career advise for directing who has done a 1st AD job. I'd like to hear some opinion if this is a good a thing or not. Is it helpful for your own directing career? Love to hear your advise.
A friend of mine is doing a promising project and asked my help me to be his 1st AD. He has not the right skills to be a full director, but he's learning. I'd like to help help him to get the best out of him with this project.
So I thought to help him in this process, to be his wingman. He suggest me now to get the title as a 1st Assistent Director. The question in my mind is: "what is it in for me?". Is the role as a 1st AD good for my own development or not?
I hope to hear your opinion and advise.

Eduardo Maciel

Welcome Patrick!

Dan MaxXx

Yes, you're gonna be a better filmmaker. Start learning skills other than being the rockstar director. Practice your organization skills, work with union and non-union cast & crew. do daily call sheets, run sets, get paid $$$.

David Trotti

Being a 1st AD is a great training ground for being a director. But ironically most great 1st AD's don't want to be directors. I have been a 1st AD for a long time. I have also directed. Check me out on imdb to see my credits.
The worst kind of 1st AD (other than someone who just doesn't know what they're doing) is a frustrated director who undermines the real director on the set. I like to think of the role of 1st AD as the foreman on a construction site. I deal with all the logistics and scheduling so the contractor can focus on bringing all the esthetics together. The 1st AD needs to be part cheerleader, part psychologist and full time human clock and schedule-master. The job also is to keep the director calm, focused and on task.
One of the reasons I feel ADs, actors, editors and DPs can evolve into great directors is they are exposed to many different directors and can learn from their different approaches (good and bad) and steal from their bags of tricks. One of the handicaps of jumping right into directing is you don't get to learn from other directors' successes and failures. You have to make your own mistakes and learn the hard way.
I would certainly recommend being a 1st AD on your path to directing because it will help you understand the underlying logistics of filmmaking and let you learn the craft. But you will only grow by working with experienced directors.
That said, here are things I feel make a strong first AD.
1) Remember you have two bosses: the Director and the Schedule. You must always support and protect your Director, but sometimes doing that means compromising the schedule. You must always have your eye on the schedule, but know when to push and when to back off. I schedule scenes I know the director feels are important with padded time. I schedule scenes I know the director feels are expendable in ways we can steal time from them.
2) Have a thick skin. People on set are passionate. They are stressed. They will snap and lash out. Your job is to be the adult, be the cheerleader and be the sympathetic ear. You must also be the formal face of a calm, controlled professional work place. You must let slights and insults slide and keep people focused on the job. You must keep petty squabbles from blowing up into work stoppages. There will be times when you need to (and be expected to) crack the whip and yell, but those times should never come from a place of anger or fear.
3) Be your director's advocate and sounding-board. You must always support your director. If you have a criticism or suggestion, go somewhere private and have a chat. Always be positive. Even if you have to say "no" to something, have Plans B through F ready.
4) Safety - above all else Safety! You are responsible for set safety. Everyone has a right to a safe work place. Walks sets before hand and know all the exits in case of fire. Hold safety meetings at the beginning of each day and on new sets and absolutely before every stunt, effect or anything hazardous. Do not let your director do anything that will put someone in harms way. There are many safety protocols and bulletins to keep people safe. Follow them. But also apply common sense and keep your own eyes open. Encourage safe conduct.
Good luck!

Doug Nelson

Yes, starting as a 1st AD is a good step on your career path. The 1st AD position gives you a sound understanding of the various skills and techniques required to put the picture on the screen. When you advance to Director, your job will have more to do with why that image goes up on the screen: First you learn how, then you learn why.

Rakesh Malik

Remember that the AD's actual boss is NOT the director. It's the producer... and you should keep that in mind during the shoot. It is not the AD's job to support the director, it's to make sure that the people who actually ARE there to support the director are as able as possible to do their jobs.
I've run into too many ADs who think that they're co-directors, and they've caused me no end of frustration, and usually caused significant disruption and delay. The best ADs were ones who got together with me before the shoot to go over the shot list and required setups, helped to figure out how much time, equipment, and crew we'd need for each setup, and planned things out accordingly.
When things go south, you don't make the director decide on the plan B; the director, if doing their job, is likely to be completely disconnected from the technical stuff that's going on, because that technical stuff is why there is a DP, Art Director, and HMUA. The director shouldn't have to make decisions about a Plan B without their help and advice.
Big thing... almost as big as safety: keep the team working as a team. You do not ever, under any circumstances, make decisions or give the director advice that should be coming from another department head. EVER. You give the director blocking and staging advice without the DP's knowledge, and you've hosed the shot (been there. The AD advised the director very poorly, and the newbie director didn't realize that the AD was clueless, and we ended up with one of the film's biggest shots being unusable. BIG mistake).
Do not make the mistake of thinking that you are co-directing. Your job as AD is to help everyone do their jobs. It's an important job, often thankless (which is baffling, as I REALLY appreciate having a solid AD on set who has my back so that I can have the director's back), so IMO ADs deserve a lot more respect than they tend to get.
It's a great opportunity to learn from a lot of folks though; you end up having to work closely with the director, art department, DoP, and wardrobe while prepping the shoot. During the shoot, if you did a good job, you'll have lots of time to observe and learn, except when you have a fire to put out.
Be a good AD, and you'll end up choosing (or grooming) a great AD to work with when you're ready to direct. But you'll probably also be very hirable as an AD once you get a reputation for keeping things organized. Directors and DoPs especially will love you for it.

David Trotti

Good notes Rakesh.
You never want to undermine or weaken the Director/DP relationship - which is probably the most important relationship on set. Or any relationship between a department head and the director (though sometimes you have to be the filter...).
The AD is a hub of information and coordination between departments and a facilitator of dialogue. Simple things like making sure Costumes knows that part of Script Day 3's work will include a greenscreen 18 days into the shooting schedule (so check with VFX and the DP before putting anybody in chroma green please) and double checking that when the DP and 1st AC and Key Grip talked about a three axis head on a thirty foot Technocrane at a practical location, that the Line Producer budgeted for the extra manpower, locations has permission to put it on the property and transpo knows there's another big trailer that needs landing somewhere near the set.
But I do disagree about not giving advice. Again it comes with experience and requires tact and situational awareness. I would always put the DP front and center as part of a decision making process on set. But I also need to be part of that process to make sure the director proceeds from an informed position. There may be a whole lot of other factors involved that any single department head may not be aware of. It's like chess. Part of the job is to present options and advising the best options at any given moment, but as the game proceeds, the number of options start to become more and more limited. If you haven't made good choices by the time you reach the end game, it's too late.
I am a firm believer that the War is won in prep, but you still have to win a certain number of battles ever day to get there. I had a 1st AD mentor early on whose mantra about any tough schedule was "Berlin by Christmas." You have to believe you can do it. But you still have to plan for the day you reach for a bridge too far.

Rakesh Malik

"I am a firm believer that the War is won in prep" as am I. That's huge.
Solid prep is the reason that on my last four film productions we wrapped on time or early nearly every day of shooting. We had a plan, and we followed it -- and as a result, we had time for several extra shots that we didn't plan for because we thought of them on set.

Michael Rogers

Patrick, you question prompted some invaluable insight and advice. Take the job.

Patrick Carelsz

Hello all,
Thank you for all your advise. It's good to read the experience of others on this side. I've spoken to the director and discussed my expectations for the role.
I'd love to learn from other Director if I could work closely with them. But in this case it is different. He is not the skilled director and he asked my help as the experienced one. So basically it's the other way around. His project is promising, but his skills is far away from what he would like to achieve.
As I read all your advices I'm still not sure if I'm the man for the job if it comes to have a thick skin. (ps, it's a no-budget thing) So I will put a lots of time as an effort. So I took the challenge I will see what it wil bring me.

Debbie Croysdale

@David. Great input on being a 1st AD. Directors are lucky when they get someone like yourself.

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