So you've done everything you can think of to prep during pre-production. You now find yourself on set. Here are 8 production hacks for a 2nd AD to put into practice immediately.
This tip should be present for any position because attitude severely affects the overall atmosphere of the set. Even if the people you deal with are incredibly hostile toward you, reciprocating a bad attitude on set is never productive .
As a 2nd AD, you are going to be interfacing with more people than anyone else, including actors who are exerting a lot of energy toward giving a great performance. Your role can have a major effect on their comfort level when performing.
Instead, be a catalyst for optimism. As stressful as a situation may seem to you, 2nd ADs do not have as much creative stake in the film as the director or producer. They will almost always have more anxiety to deal with, so the least you can do is stay positive.
2. Be an advocate for safety
While the 1st AD will cover most safety policies, they can’t have their eyes everywhere on the film set at once. Familiarize yourself with common safety practices, and take note of all the information that the 1st has shared at the safety meeting. That way you can be someone to catch things that the 1st AD may miss.
This is especially true for talent on film sets. Actors are usually so focused on their performances that they often don’t take care of themselves. Politely make sure your cast members are drinking enough water, and eating healthily as these factors can lead to exhaustion, nausea, or fainting. If you encounter an actor using drugs or alcohol then you have full jurisdiction to intervene as it can lead to liabilities with other cast or crew members.
For electrical safety, make sure the gaffer is recognized as the authority. When power supplies are limited, crew members should check in with the gaffer before they plug anything into the walls (even a phone charger). Once again, you may not be directly responsible, but you are an invaluable set of eyes for ensuring safety of set.
3. Recruit Any Miscellaneous Positions that Haven’t Been Filled
There are times when a last minute position needs to be filled. Finding someone to fill that role is an opportunity for you to shine as the 2nd AD. Did the producers fail to recruit enough PAs for an intense day? Step in and blast out communication to as many able-bodied hands as you know.
Sometimes, certain positions go overlooked entirely. For example, having a set photographer is expendable, but provides great promotional behind-the-scenes material and builds on-set enthusiasm. If the production hasn’t already, find someone that can fill the role. Just remember to clear it with the production unit first.
4. Assistant directing actors
In terms of specific tasks that a 2nd AD is responsible for, this is arguably the most essential one. One of the more common delays when filming on set is when an actor is not ready to shoot. If everything is running smoothly, an actor should arrive on set, go right into makeup then wardrobe. It should be long after that when they’re called to set.
At the beginning of the day, check in with the make-up artist to see how long that will take to prep actors – it will vary drastically depending on the character. When talent arrives to set, greet them and guide them to make-up. If they show up early, let them know what time they should be expected.
While filming you will be responsible for making sure that the talent has everything that they need and are comfortable. You don’t have to overdo it and act like their servant – this will irritate everyone. Friendly check-ins will be just fine. If they do have complaints, see if there is something you can say or do to keep them at peace.
If an actor needs to step away or make a phone call, get an estimation of time. Regardless of where they go, make sure they tell you where, so it can be relayed to the 1st AD. At the end of a filming day, say goodbye to the actors, and confirm they know what time they are arriving the next day.
5. Brace yourself for extras
As has been stated, your primary responsibility is people. This includes extras!
Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of a 30 person crew, your team starts filming a massive crowd scene with over 100 extras. In instances with large crowds, your set may also have a 2nd 2nd AD to take point. However, let’s say the position was overlooked, and it falls on you to manage the big crowd.
More often than not, extras won’t have the faintest idea of what they’re there to do. Most extras arrive solely for the promise of some kind of perk, be it money, being on screen for a split second, or the chance to rub shoulders. Depending on the director, it is likely that you or the 1st AD will be left in charge to position and direct extras. Remember that their purpose is generally to fill the frame and give the sense of a crowd. Watch the monitor and use them to fill as much as possible.
Most extras have no idea just how much time it takes to prepare each shot, and if they’re coming to set for a glimpse of stardom, they probably weren’t expecting it to be tedious in any way. As a 2nd AD, do what you can to keep their patience maximized. Don’t make them any promises you can’t keep, but always treat extras with respect. If they are too difficult to work with, you have full jurisdiction to remove them from set. However, once the cameras are rolling and the extras feel themselves being caught on camera, the hard feelings will quickly wane, and they’ll be happy just being there. You just need to foster them to get to that point.
It’s also common practice to use available crew members as extras, especially on lower budget projects. Just make sure to ask if they want to do it before thrusting them into the scene.
Lastly, don’t forget that anyone seen on screen needs to sign a liability waiver/talent release before they leave. If you have a busy day of extras, print out a fat stack.
6. Always keep your phone charged
Make sure you can be reached by phone at all times. You should be prepared to field calls 45 minutes before first call time as crew will reach out en route with questions. Don’t forget to charge your phone the night before! You are going to be fielding a lot of calls.
You’ll also want to bring your charger to set. There isn’t always a guarantee that you’ll find a place to charge it on set, so be prepared. If you’re in a remote location, bring a backup battery like the mophie.
Charge up in your car on your way to the location to keep battery levels as high as possible. If you have an available power source, charge whenever you can to stay accessible. Lunch and make-up /wardrobe may be good places to get a 5-10 minute charge.
And remember, stop checking Facebook and Twitter on set. Building your personal brand may seem important, but over the course of a long day it will drain your battery fast. Save your phone for only the tasks at hand.
7. Build rapport with your 1st AD
Unlike actors, who are more easily annoyed when you check in too often, you can never communicate with a 1st AD enough. By the end of one shoot you should be extremely well versed with one another.
During stressful shoots, the 1st AD may look to you as a confidante they can express their frustrations to, and let off some steam. Ideally, you should offer a level-headed and positive perspective. Your input can drastically alter the 1st ADs state of mind, and in turn, the overall tone on set.
If you feel like your 1st AD isn’t doing their job as well as they should, be prepared to offer honest but not overly critical feedback. For example, if they aren’t giving you enough notice to bring in the actors, explain this to them so they can make adjustments. Over the course of filming you’ll both be supporting each other and continually refining your workflow. See this process as a positive thing, and not a point of contention.
8. Mistakes are inevitable. Learn. Grow. Have fun.
Finally, remember that no matter how much preparation you put together, not everything will go as planned. How you respond to an issue is more important than the issue itself. Being open and honest, apologizing for confusion, and mitigating any blame is essential. There is a famous Maya Angelou quote that says:
“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As someone whose job requires so much communication with the cast and crew, this could not ring more true. Stay humble, always be respectful, and continually work on improving your dynamic on set. Every film shoot offers its own learning experiences, but make sure you have fun along the way .
If you regularly work as an assistant director, let us know if you’ve found this useful. Do you have any other tips that relate to either a 1st AD or 2nd AD? Share your ideas in the comments.
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