What Does an Assistant Director Do?

MARCH 2, 2020
An Assistant Director and crew on Stumptown (ABC).
Stumptown (ABC)

Background Actors interact with many people on set, from the wardrobe department to production assistants, but their main points of contact are often Assistant Directors. Aside from giving you direction in a scene and signing off on your voucher, do you know all the ways an Assistant Director helps a production run?

What is an Assistant Director?

Assistant Directors (ADs) are in charge of managing the set during production and act as a liaison between the director and the rest of the crew. Those unfamiliar with production jobs may confuse Assistant Directors and director’s assistants, but they are two different roles. A director’s assistant usually works in an administrative capacity throughout all phases of the production process.

While the director is in charge of the creative vision of a film or TV show, the ADs are responsible for figuring out the logistics to make that vision come to life. Every set is different, but for most productions there is a First Assistant Director and Second Assistant Director. Sometimes projects with large background calls will also hire a Second Second Assistant Director to help manage Background Actors.

1st AD

Before filming begins, the First Assistant Director will create a long-term production schedule by breaking down a script to determine all the elements needed for each scene, including which principal actors appear, how many Background Actors are needed, props required, etc. Then they’ll create daily shooting schedules and coordinate with department heads to ensure everyone is ready when production starts.

If you’ve worked as a Background Actor before, you know to listen for certain cues like “background” and “back to one.” To make sure the camera, sound, and other crew members are ready, the 1st AD will “call the role” before the director calls action. Once a take is cut, they will then either reset the talent or alert the crew to set up the next shot.

During an interview with Casting Director Nikki H., First Assistant Director Michele Azenzer Bear said showing up on time and being professional are great ways for Background Actors to impress Assistant Directors on set.

“What I really like is when somebody shows up on time . . . because my whole job is about time management,” Michele said. “I look for Background Actors who actually want to be there, who listen, who follow directions, who understand what it is they can lend to production.”

2nd AD

Second Assistant Directors coordinate with the First Assistant Director to create call sheets and schedules for the next day and are responsible for production paperwork, like your vouchers.

Working with talent, including Background Actors and Stand-Ins, is also part of a 2nd AD’s typical day. They make sure all talent arrive to set on time, work with Stand-Ins during rehearsals, and direct Background Actors on where and when to move throughout a scene.

When working with Stand-Ins, Second Assistant Director Molly Rodriquez told Casting Director Sara V. that she looks for people who are hard-working team players.

“If you’re a background artist on set, I would say pay attention and watch what the other Stand-Ins are doing,” Molly said. “Whether you’re green or not doesn’t really matter. As long as you have a good attitude and pay attention, that’s like half the battle right there.”

To hear more from the people responsible for directing Background Actors on set, check out the Assistant Director category of our Articles.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Assistant Directors