Friday, February 12, 2010

The Assistant Director's Bible

My friend Craig wrote this document on tips for Assistant Directors...its very well-thought out and true, so I thought I'd include it here...just in case there are any aspiring ADs out there!

Close the Set: the Assistant Director’s Bible
by Craig Ormiston

You are in charge. Sure, the director might have the vision and the producer might be paying the bills, but you run the show. Your responsibility, your skill. You keep the clock. You stay under budget. And not to alarm, but you (in part with the key grip) are legally liable for anything that goes wrong. Keep the set safe, happy, and alive.

Ten Verbs of Wisdom for a Healthy Production

1. Inspire. Arouse in your crew an eager want. Remind them that they’re not at a desk. They have the best job in the world. Make them happy about doing what you suggest.
2. Anticipate. Production is like doing a jigsaw puzzle on a waterbed – plan for the worst. Identify at least five things that could go wrong during each scene and plan for them. No shoot is impregnable.
3. Name. A person’s name is the sweetest sound to them in the world. Know everyone’s name. Say it to them often and always embed it in every request.
4. Smile. From the bottom of your heart. It’s contagious. A happy set is an efficient set.
5. Listen. Let each person do the talking. Collect as much information as possible. Know everything.
6. Forgive. Never criticize, condemn or complain. If someone made a mistake, they already know and should not have to hear it again. If they don’t know or make the mistake a second time, call attention to it indirectly.
7. Assure. Encourage crew by making every fault or mishap seem easy to correct. Be confident. If you are not confident, be confident about not being confident. Get people to feel confident about you.
8. Request. Ask questions instead of directly giving orders. Let the other person feel like the idea is his or hers. Nobody likes being told what to do. And nobody likes being yelled at. Do you?
9. Pacify. Avoid arguments. Never tell someone they are wrong. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. If you cannot avoid an argument (or cannot resolve other people’s arguments), do not let the crew see it – move ugly out of the way.
10. Praise. Make each person feel important and necessary. Reward good work with honest and sincere appreciation. Acknowledge what each person is doing right. Commend every improvement.

The Production Meeting
1. Debrief the previous shoot. Always begin with a compliment.
2. Throw down a challenge. Give the crew a reputation to live up to. Your crew will take you more seriously with clean, pretty paperwork. Assume they don’t want to read it, so make it worth looking at.
3. Distribute sides for the upcoming shoot. Read every line of action aloud to the crew. Highlight every little prop, stunt, set dress, costume, vehicle, effect, movement, etc. and stop as you read to ask each department if they’ve got it taken care of.
4. You are in charge of all people and equipment. Make sure both will be there in time for the shoot. Make phone calls. Double check. Call sheets should be detailed and to the point (but never rely on them!). Remind the crew that being on time is late in this business - call time is work time, not coffee chitchat time. If you move call times earlier or later than planned, call each person.
5. You cannot cure a disease by suppressing symptoms. Address problems directly and invite everyone to be honest about their issues. Do not leave the meeting until solutions are reached and hands shake. Discontent grows like a tumor if not treated quickly.

Collaborating With the Director

1. Spontaneity is laziness. Don’t let any director or crew member convince you otherwise. Creativity lies in the battle plan, not the attack. “Wingin’ it” is not an option.
2. Wrangle the director and cinematographer on location or set to walk through the coverage, commit to shots, and schedule them efficiently. Do this as early as possible, but AT LEAST do it the morning before the shoot. Order shots for the day to accommodate lighting and inspire the director to be okay with that. Know every shot better than the director does.
3. Train the director to tell you whether or not he or she likes the take immediately after taking it. If they are not happy and you have time to get it again, announce“we’re going again” without delay. If the director is happy, check with everyone else first. Never announce that you are “moving on” until director, camera, and sound all confirm that they accept the take.

On Set
1. Start the day off with circle time. Get everyone’s attention, wish them a good morning, and inspire them. Take control. Remind everyone about safety and identify specific concerns (no matter how small). Make sure no one has any questions. Get the director to talk the crew through the day’s coverage. Simple and quick. Then orchestrate the first setup.
2. Learn to speak efficiently before you can act efficiently. Tell the truth. Honesty is a virtue. Stick to the facts. Say what you know, not what you think. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Misinforming is more harmful that saying nothing at all. Teach everyone to do the same.
3. Only three things should ever be happening on a film shoot: rehearsing, lighting, or shooting – and nothing else. Know what we’re waiting for.
4. Remember that everyone read the script.
5. It’s your job to coordinate background. Give extras a role. A name. Specific blocking. Make them feel like actors and not extras. Keep them engaged and away from the craft table.
6. Yelling “quiet on set” is ironic. The crew knows this, too. Set an example. Ask everyone to quiet down quietly if you can. And remember: people like hearing their name; if you target the source of the yap by name, that person will listen.
7. Keep producers and the director up to date on time. Never surprise anyone with the clock. Constantly stay in touch with crew heads. Ask for time estimates AND make your own based on what needs to be done. Set time deadlines and update everyone on the countdown. Five-minute warnings are important.
8. Make sure boom and camera are talking to each other. They should be best friends. If the boom slips into frame, it’s everyone’s fault. Unite the departments.
9. People need to do their job – and nobody else’s. If anyone has a problem or concern about another department or crew member, make sure they tell you first.
10. Keep everyone out of the actor’s eye line. Have your back to them if necessary. Don’t move during a take. Do not let any member of the crew concern themselves with anything outside their department during a take – especially performance. There’s nothing they can do about it anyway.
11. Take good notes. Times, problems, delays, names, injuries, everything. Have your 2nd A.D. help you take notes and monitor attendance.

1. Keep rehearsal simple. Get the crew to stand where the camera will be. Make sure everyone is paying attention while the director runs through blocking. Then walk through the coverage.
2. Show, don’t tell. Make sure the crew hears AND sees what you and the director imply. Keep everyone on the same page. Invite questions.
3. There are three types of rehearsal: blocking, marking, and tech rehearsal. Blocking demonstrates for the crew where the actors will be so the scene can be lit; marking refines blocking to collect focus and cue marks; and tech runs the scene as it will be shot.
4. When the actors are rehearsing, the crew should be quiet. When the crew is lighting, the actors should be quiet. Keep actors away from set as much as possible and always know where they are. Have the actors present as soon as you are ready for them.

1. Safety means liability, and liability is omnipresent. The producers dread lawsuits. If you don’t care about safety as an A.D., you are a wallet with a huge hole in it. The fewest accidents happen when you are shooting stunts; accidents usually happen when the shoot is easy.
2. Record every accident on the production report, no matter how small. Always be honest on the report – it is a legal document and will be reviewed. This piece of paper might keep you out of jail.
3. Know where the fire extinguisher and first aid kit is. Keep multiple paths clear as fire exits. Always have an out and let the crew know where it is.

Be yourself and don’t be afraid. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. This job is not for the squeamish, but I know you can do it. Making a movie isn’t hard – people are hard. Lead well and you will win. If the day goes well, you get the credit. Don’t stress. Be flexible. Making a film is an organic process. It is an art. Have fun and love your job; if you do, people will love you.


  1. impressed!! thats a good piece for ADs to follow on set n elsewhere. this gave wisdom n jitters at th same time.the knowledge gave confidence n amount of work brought a cold vibe in th spine. in the end, felt tonnes of theory cant match a callsheet of work on set :-)

  2. This is a good piece for ADs to follow on set and elsewhere. This gave wisdom and jitters at the same time.