The Different Types of TV Director Roles
Just like there are a variety of acting roles, there are different types of TV directors who perform specific functions on set. As a Central Casting Background Actor, it’s important to know the crew members you work with and their role on the production. Here’s an introduction to the different types of directors who help bring TV shows to life.
From pre-production to post-production, a TV director is responsible for taking a script and turning it into a TV episode. Unlike in film, where the director is the head of the production and bringing their own vision to life, the showrunner is the lead authority on a TV series. TV directors come in on a per-episode basis to oversee production and capture footage that will fit within the established look and ongoing storylines of the show.
During pre-production (which can be as little as a week before filming), the director will work with other departments to secure locations, create costumes, and cast guest actors. Depending on the production or episode, the director may also work closely with Assistant Directors and Central Casting’s Casting Directors on the Background Actors needed for filming.
When the episode enters production, the director will help actors fine tune their performances and collaborate with the director of photography (DP/cinematographer) to set up shots. Then during post-production, they work closely with the editor, sound, and other teams to finish the episode.
First Assistant Director
The First Assistant Director (1st AD) is responsible for keeping production on schedule and acts as a liaison between the director and the crew. The 1st AD breaks down the script to determine all the elements needed for each scene, including which principal actors appear, how many Background Actors are needed, prop requirements, and more. Then they’ll create daily shooting schedules and coordinate with department heads to ensure everyone is ready when production starts.
During filming, the 1st AD will “call the role” to make sure the camera, sound, and crew are ready before the director calls for action. Once a take is cut, they will then either call to reset or alert the crew to set up the next shot. When you work as a Background Actor, you’ll need to pay attention for these cues, like “background” and “back to one.”
Second Assistant Director
The Second Assistant Director (2nd AD) coordinates with the First Assistant Director to create call sheets, handle paperwork (like Background Actor vouchers), and make sure all departments are on the same page.
Working with talent, including Background Actors and Stand-Ins, is also part of a 2nd AD’s typical day. They make sure all actors arrive to set on time, work with Stand-Ins during rehearsals, and direct Background Actors on where and when to move throughout a scene.
Second Second Assistant Director
On productions with a large cast or complicated filming schedule, production may hire a Second Second Assistant Director (2nd 2nd AD) to take on some of the 2nd AD’s responsibilities, like coordinating the Background Actors or working on the production reports.
Second Unit Director
To stay on schedule and expedite filming, some TV series have a second unit crew that films simultaneously with the main unit to capture footage for stunt sequences, inserts, establishing shots, and cutaways. The second unit director’s role is to oversee this crew and ensure the footage shot matches the look and style of the rest of the episode and series.
You can learn more about working with other departments and how they affect your role as a Background Actor in our articles Production Crew Members You Should Know and Getting to Know the Camera Crew.