How to become a 1st Assistant Director – Complete Guide

A First Assistant Director (or 1st AD) is the Directors right-hand person on a film set. They manage the set so that the director can focus on the actors. In the following post, you will learn about the 1st Assistant Director job role, how to find work within this job role and a breakdown of a typical 1st AD work day.

 
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What is a 1st AD?

A First Assistant Director is one of the most important highly ranked below-the-line job roles in film. This is mainly a non-creative job role, 1st AD’s are involved in the management of a crew and they are responsible for making sure that a film is shot on time and on schedule.

Job Role Confusion

This job role is not to be confused with the traditional role Assistant to the Director. In the past (1940’s – 1960’s) film directors had personal assistants that worked more closely with them on the creative aspects of the film. It is important to understand that the job role Assistant to the Director does no longer exist and is not a stepping stone to Directing. Film Directors may still have PA’s and occasionally within the Bollywood film industry, a similar Assistant to the Director role is still operational. However, this role is becoming less common and aspiring towards this role is not recommended. If you do wish to pursue directing please read my complete guide to Directing - Read Here.

Skills

This job role would suit someone who likes working with people and has strong managerial leadership skills. You would need to learn to be good at time management, understand health and safety on a film set and stay calm whilst under pressure.

Skills - Confidence, Leadership, People Skills, Time Management, Learn to produce Risk Assessments and be Health and Safety trained, Willing to work long hours

Pre-Production - Completing a script breakdown, attending location recces and HOD meetings, Creating a filming schedule

Production - HOD meetings, watch the blocking of a scene, making sure actors are in hair /make-up /costume on time, make sure all of crew are ready to start filming, calling the shots, responsible for staying on schedule as much as possible, responsible for health and safety on set (1st Aid Trained)

On Most Film sets the Director does not shout action. ‘Action’  is called by the 1st AD and they do so by shouting out a series of calls that goes as follows –

  • “Last Looks” (Last chance to check the actors, set, camera)

  • “Quiet Please”

  •  “Turn Over” (Press Record)

  •  “Speed” (Camera replies that they are recording)

  •  “Speed” (Sound replies that they are recording)

  •  “Scene One, Take One” (2nd AC Claps the Board)

  •   “Action!” The 1st AD shouts Action

Career Route

Unlike the above-the-line creative job roles in film, this particular role has a clear work route. You can start out as a Runner, progressing to 3rd AD until being trusted and hired within the 1st AD job role. Before deciding if this job role is a good fit for yourself make sure to get some on-set experience perhaps as a Runner or Production Assistant to see if this role is the right career for yourself.

You might like my film set runner complete guide – Read Here

Making your own film will help you learn the basics of film making. For initial experience, Independent film sets might need help on weekends, you can find these jobs online however work experience in film will likely be unpaid.

You might be able to find work full-time within the AD department. This work will be freelance and easier for students to pursue than someone with more financial responsibility. Full-time AD jobs might be found within television production companies. Alternatively, you may need to pursue AD work alongside another job, working weekends, holidays, cutting down to part-time work until being able to work this job role full-time.

Some film schools also offer workshops for 1st ADS, check out the best film schools near you to see if this is an option. For the right person, this job role could be a perfect fit. Like any career change this job role will take time to fully understand and make enough contracts in film to be trusted within.

You might like my interview with a 1st AD – Read Here

Job Role Outlook

The 1st AD job role is not easy, you will need to be confident and great at people management. like all crew job roles, you will be working long unsocial hours whilst on set. If you excel in this job role you can progress to major productions where a large salary is attainable. Occasionally 1st AD’s choose to become Directors or Producers.

Resources - Screen Skills - Assistant Directors Job Role Breakdown, Career’s In Film - 1st AD Breakdown Stephen Follow’s - How Much are AD’s Paid A List of the Best Film Schools In the World - Read Here