Today the Educator of the Forum, Chris Cobb, is giving us a look into his world as a 1st assistant director. (If the director gets assassinated he has to step up and get sworn in, lol.)
Once done with the article, feel free to stop over by the forum and ask any questions.
PRIOR TO A DAY IN THE LIFE
A typical day on the set for an AD is actually two days — the day itself, and the day weeks or even months prior where I planned for this day. Because the first job you do on any production as a 1st AD is to breakdown the script into what I like to call “units of work.” This is a structured process of going through the script line by line, breaking each page down into 1/8ths, and extracting all of the information needed to shoot each scene — cast, props, location, etc.
Once I have the script broken down, I build a production board, which then becomes the shooting schedule. Then on that day on the set in the not-so-distant future, cast and crew will be shooting according to the schedule I created a few weeks back, when I broke down the script.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Even though every day is different, the routine of accomplishing the day’s shoot has a fairly standard rhythm to it. The goal as I see it is to create a space around the director for her to focus on the purely creative aspect of each scene, and leave the logistics to me. The guy on the set with the bullhorn, screaming for “quiet or the set” and “roll camera”? That’s me. If I do my job right, the director will focus her energy on the time between when she calls “action” and “cut.” Although I should add that I’ve never used a bullhorn in my life, or screamed on a set. Most good ADs don’t.
As 1st AD, I’m responsible for creating the schedule for the day, running the set, managing the crew, prepping the next shot before we’re done with the current shot, and ensuring that all elements required for each scene come on and off the set as needed. I communicate all of this to the cast and crew in the call sheet they receive the day before, and then I manage the day’s workflow based on it.
The first shot of the day is always a big push from the AD team. That’s where you set the cadence of the day and the tone for the production. Some days you know you’re going to pop the first one off fast, and other days you know you’ll need to carve out 6 hours for an intricate lighting set up or a dangerous stunt.
But shit happens. Things go awry. The sun disappears and the heavens rain down on you. Ok. Here’s plan B. There’s our rain set. Here’s the new schedule. The flexibility is necessary. As we shoot, I’ll be flicking little notes all day long at my 2nd AD so that she can make sure she puts them in the production report, and so that she can prep the call sheet for tomorrow’s work for me to review by lunch.
Shooting all of the scenes on the schedule is what the day’s work is all about. The process is straightforward — each department makes their particular contribution (props brings the props, makeup does makeup, etc.) and we repeat that process until we have enough to edit with. Then we’ll move on to shoot the next scene. And we’ll do that for 12 or more hours a day.
As the day winds down, the 2nd AD will have the next day’s call sheet ready for me to sign. The goal is always to have it ready to hand out when I call wrap.
After wrap, the 2nd preps the production report for me to sign, and then my day is finally over. The next day, I show up and do it all over again.