Amber M. Sherman is a 1st Assistant Director based in New York City. A 1st AD is the Directors right-hand person, they manage the running of a set so that the director can focus on the actors.
In the following interview, Amber shares the reasons why she felt drawn towards this job role, a breakdown of her typical work day and her advice for student filmmakers.
What was your first paid job in film and how did you get it?
My first paid film gig was a local wine store commercial in Buffalo NY as a camera PA. I got $50 bucks for the gig. Thankfully it wasn't a long day. I got the gig, I think, through Craigslist. When I first started Craigslist was a really great resource for crew gigs. This was while I was in school. I searched for gigs constantly online to fill my school breaks and weekends.
I searched for gigs constantly online to fill my school breaks and weekends.
What attracted you to the 1st Assistant Director job role?
I guess by nature I'm a control freak, I'm super organized, and love to problem solve and figure out puzzles/problems. Working as an AD the project/film I’m working on, to me, is a big puzzle. Trying to figure out what scene and shots go in what order to make the most out of the time there on set. I also was attracted to the leadership aspect of being an AD.
Throughout my schooling days, I was always a captain of some team or president of a club. I also was in JROTC so leadership was a very big part of me. So, naturally filling the AD position felt like home to me. As an AD you are leading the crew, you set morale, and I like that position.
Did you attend a film school or study film at university?
I didn't attend any official film school. To be honest, going into college I wasn’t thinking about working in film as a future. I was always involved in photography though. I went to school initially to major in political science. I wanted to do that and minor in history. I thought my future was in politics. My first semester in school was rough, I almost failed out! I hated my classes! Which was weird because I loved school and learning. I was also on a division 1 rowing team so that was taking most of my energy and my academics were suffering. I dropped the sports for a few semesters and got back on track and realized I had to go back to the arts.
I started in media studies, and it was too much theory and not enough practical learning for me. I wanted to get behind a camera! So, I transferred schools and got into a communications program with my concentration being media production. You basically learn how to make things (anything) from start to finish and that’s more practical like real-world clients.
I didn't know what an Assistant Director was until getting on set a feature as a 2nd Assistant Camera and actually saw one in action. Film schools from what I have been told, don't really touch on that position. I have heard that Full Sail does. I can't speak for all film schools. I hope they do cover it because it's a pretty important role on the crew.
Do you need film school to become an AD? No, but you need on-set experience. You need to know how the set flow works. You need to be familiar with how much time things take, only experience on set will give you that.
You need to know how the set flow works. You need to be familiar with how much time things take, only experience on set will give you that.
Can you describe a typical day for a 1st Assistant Director?
Well, a typical day for an AD starts as a prep day. You read the script. Break it down. Meaning you take each element by the department and figure out what each scene needs. You work a lot with your Producers, Production Managers, and Production Supervisors and Location Managers to figure out availability. Without location and actor availability, it is hard to build the schedule for a shoot.
After I break down a script, I get actor and location availability. I start to build a schedule from there. Once I have a schedule I start talking to department heads to get an estimate on things. How long will it take them to do certain things and I will talk a lot to the Director and Director of Photography. The 3 of us need to always be on the same page. For example, if the Director doesn't tell the Director of Photography that they want a certain shot to be a dolly shot, then the DP won't know to prep that, and I don’t know to make time for the dolly track build to happen in the schedule. Or maybe the DP wants a certain scene to take place during golden hour (sunset) I must know those things so I can build the schedule around those special requests.
I build the schedule for the shoot and depending on the project, I sometimes make send the Call Sheet out as well.
As far as my day on set. I start out by drinking coffee. lol. I then make sure people on set get sides (script pages for the day) I make sure I have a Call Sheet on me, my shot list for the day, and I then get the Director and DP together and we go over the day. Then we go over the shot list. I do this because sometimes they might change their minds. Or they cut a shot, maybe they added a shot. I need to make sure we are always on the same page and that we have enough time for said changes.
I let the company know we are in at crew call. I then must make sure the right actors are in Hair/Make-up/Wardrobe at the right times. I sometimes will start with a rehearsal at call, or maybe not. It depends on the situation. I also make sure all the crew knows where we are starting, what shot we are starting with, and how many actors there is going to be. I basically make sure everyone knows what we're doing throughout the whole day.
I also make sure that we don't waste time. I also let the DP know when she/he is taking too much time on something. I’m constantly pushing for everyone to be as efficient as possible time-wise. I also make sure the crew is happy. I try to make sure everyone is OK, and they have what they need. Most importantly I make sure everyone is safe. I’m the safety officer on set. If something on set seems unsafe, I will fix it.
Most importantly I make sure everyone is safe. I’m the safety officer on set. If something on set seems unsafe I will fix it.
What tips would you give to those interesting in pursuing a career as an Assistant Director?
Get on-set as much as possible. Watch everything. Observe as much as you can. It helps to be organized, have an analytical mind and like dealing with logistics, and people. You must work with so many people and with that comes different personalities. So, make sure you know how to get the best out of everyone.