First Assistant Director
(aka First AD or First)
The First Assistant Director (AD) is the Director's right hand person, taking responsibility for a number of important practicalities so that the Director is free to concentrate on the creative process. During pre-production, First ADs break down the script into a shot-by-shot storyboard, and work with the Director to determine the shoot order, and how long each scene will take to film. They then draw up the overall shooting schedule (a timetable for the filming period). Once the film is in production, Firsts are in charge of making sure that every aspect of the shoot keeps to this schedule.
First ADs' main duties are assisting the Director, co-ordinating all production activity, and supervising the cast and crew. They are also in charge of a department of other Assistant Directors and Runners. Overall, they provide the key link between the Director, the cast and the crew, whilst also liaising with the production office, and providing regular progress reports about the shoot.
Before the shoot, the Firsts' main task is to create the filming schedule, working in careful consultation with the Director in order to fulfil his or her creative ambitions. When drawing up the shooting schedule, First ADs must also be aware of budgetary constraints, cast availability and script coverage. Preparing the storyboard, overseeing the hiring of locations, props and equipment, and checking weather reports, are all key pre-production duties for Firsts. During production, they must ensure that everyone is on standby and ready for the Director's cue for action.
First ADs' core responsibility is to keep filming on schedule by driving it forward, so they frequently make announcements and give directions to co-ordinate the cast and crew. They also control discipline on the set, supervise the other Assistant Directors, and oversee the preparation of the daily 'call sheet' (a document detailing daily shooting logistics, which is distributed to all cast and crew). Firsts are also responsible for health and safety on set or location, and must take action to eliminate or minimise hazards at all times.
First ADs must be authoritative team-leaders and motivators, whilst also being approachable team players. They need exceptional organisational and time-management skills. The ability to plan ahead, trouble-shoot and pay close attention to detail is vital in this role. Being an excellent communicator, with tact and diplomacy skills, is also essential as they must routinely deal with problem or even crisis situations. They must also constantly prioritise tasks, and may be frequently interrupted, the ability to multi-task is crucial. Firsts work long and often unsocial hours on a freelance basis, so a strong commitment to the job is essential. As they also usually work under highly pressurised and stressful conditions, a flexible and positive approach is highly valued.
No formal qualifications are required to become a First Assistant Director. Extensive industry experience gained through working on set or on location is the key route to develop the necessary skills. Most First ADs start as Runners, before progressing through the other Assistant Director roles (Third Assistant Director and Second Assistant Director). This route may take a number of years.
In particular, Firsts need specific experience in planning and budgeting (and how this affects scheduling), as well as in-depth knowledge of, and qualifications in, current Health and Safety legislation and procedures. Regular Health and Safety training courses should be undertaken, in order to keep this knowledge up to date. A full driving licence is generally deemed necessary.
Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the BFl's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future2, a network of Academies have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is UK's creative careers advice service; for detailed careers information and advice, visit www.creativeskillset.org/careers.