What Does a TV and Film Director Do?

AUGUST 26, 2019
Film director Greta Gerwig and a crew member looking at a monitor.
Director Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird (A24)

Ever wonder how a TV or film director brings their vision to life on the small or big screens? Directors have a lot of responsibility on film and TV sets, but did you know there are different types of directors who perform specific functions on a production crew? Here are some common director roles and how they all work together to create a movie or TV show.


A TV or film director is responsible for taking a script and turning it into a movie or TV episode, but their responsibilities can vary by medium. A film director oversees all the artistic and technical aspects of a movie. They are in involved in pre-production, production, and post-production to ensure that their vision of the script comes to life.

During pre-production, the director will coordinate with the unit production manager (UPM) to create a budget and hire production staff. They will also work with Casting Directors to cast actors, approve locations, and develop the style of the feature. Once filming begins, the director will help actors fine tune their performances and work with the director of photography (DP/cinematographer) to set up shots. Then when filming has finished, they work closely with the editors to ensure the final product meets their expectations.

In TV, the director is responsible for visualizing an episode from the script to screen, but has less creative input as they need to match the established tone and look of the show. While a film director is the lead authority on a movie set, the showrunner assumes that role in television. Many directors will be brought on during the course of a TV season, but unless they are also a producer or writer, a TV director’s input is focused only within the episode they are directing.

First assistant director

The first assistant director (1st AD) acts as a liaison between the director and the rest of the crew and is responsible for keeping the production on track. In pre-production, 1st ADs break down the script, prepare shooting schedules, and hire crew members. During production, they are tasked with keeping production on schedule, supervising the cast and crew, and ensuring that all safety standards are met.

You may be familiar with the iconic slate board clap and call to action before a scene starts, but there’s a lot that goes on before “action” is ever called. Before filming begins on a scene, the first assistant director will “call the roll” to make sure the sound, camera, and other departments are ready before filming begins. If you’ve worked as a Background Actor, you know to listen for 1st AD cues like “background” and “back to one.”

Second assistant director

The second assistant director (2nd AD) supports the first assistant director and directs Background Actors. Second ADs create call sheets for the following day and coordinate with actors, background, and other departments to make sure everyone is on set and camera ready. Before filming begins, the 2nd AD will instruct Background Actors where and when to move in a scene, which may involve crossing the camera. Second assistant directors are also in charge of the distribution and approval of various paperwork, like Background Actor vouchers and production reports.

Second second assistant director

Some larger productions may have an additional 2nd AD called the second second assistant director. On productions with a large cast or complicated production schedule, the second second assistant director will take over some of the second assistant director’s responsibilities, like coordinating the Background Actors or working on the production reports.

Second unit director

To expedite the production process, films and TV shows will often 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 project.

There are many roles on a production that are essential for getting movies and TV shows made. Learn more about the different types of acting jobs and the production crew members you should know.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Assistant Directors