When first stepping foot on a professional film set, there is a wealth of industry-specific terminology that you will be expected to know. All of these terms, titles, and phrases can be overwhelming at first but by familiarizing yourself with all of this terminology in advance, you’ll give yourself a leg up. In this article, we’ll break down what a Second AD is and answer the question what does an AD do? We’ll also cover how the position is different from a 1st AD, and how to be the best 2nd AD possible.

What does an AD do?

Who is the 2nd assistant director?

You would be forgiven for thinking that a 2nd AD is like a backup for the 1st AD but that is pretty far from the truth. The 1st and 2nd ADs work in conjunction on set but perform completely different tasks. To put the 2nd AD's role into context, here's a complete breakdown of the various film crew positions.

Breaking down the acronym is the first step in defining 2nd AD. The “AD” stands for Assistant Director in 1st AD and 2nd AD. Now without further ado, let’s take a look at assistant director duties in film.

If you encounter any other unfamiliar terms while reading, out Ultimate Glossary of Filmmaking Terms is a great resource for looking up definitions.

2ND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR DEFINITION

What does a 2nd AD do?

A 2nd AD generates call sheets, shepherds the movements of the cast, wrangles extras, and provides support in carrying out the orders of the 1st AD when possible. Like the 1st AD, they provide critical assistance to the efficiency and productivity for the production. A film set is a giant mechanism with many moving parts and while positions like the Director or Cinematographer focus on the creative decisions, the assistant directors are busy working to keep that mechanism up and running.

Second AD job description:

  • Distribute call sheets
  • Shepherd talent
  • Wrangle extras

2nd AD salary

Important distinctions for a 2nd AD

There are two important distinctions to make clear when looking at the Assistant Director film job description.

First: an Assistant Director is not the same as an assistant to the Director. An assistant to the Director would be the Director’s personal assistant who brings them coffee, handles the personal schedule, etc, whereas an AD in film production is a member of the film crew with tasks of their own.

Second: the title “Assistant Director” might sound like someone who assists in the actual directing of the film but you would never find that included in an Assistant Director film job description because it is untrue. The best way to think about an AD’s responsibilities is that they help alleviate some of the workload that would otherwise be placed on the Director’s shoulders, thereby allowing the them to focus more of their time and energy on their most important tasks.

Beyond Film School covers the 2nd AD job description

While a 1st AD sometimes has the unfavorable duty of being strict and laying down the law on set in order to keep things moving, the best 2nd ADs in film production are usually well-liked by the talent they work with.

With filmmaking being such a hurry-up-and-wait business, there’s a lot of downtime, and a good 2nd assistant director who really earns their salary will keep actors from growing bored or restless while waiting around.

2nd AD job description

What are a 2nd AD’s duties?

The duties included in a 2nd AD job description are twofold.

Off set, it’s the 2nd Assistant Director’s responsibility to ensure that everyone involved with a production is kept up to date on all pertinent information. The Second Assistant Director is responsible for generating and distributing daily call sheets based on the shooting schedule.

We have our very own custom call-sheet templates that you can use when preparing for your next production or you can generate electronic and shareable versions with StudioBinder's Call Sheet Builder.

On-set, a 2nd Assistant Director’s responsibilities include serving as a liaison to talent. The 2nd AD’s job will be to shepherd actors through makeup and wardrobe and lead them between the green room and the set. The 2nd Assistant Director’s responsibilities also include organizing and positioning extras or background talent. Most directors want to focus their attention on the principal cast, so it is the 2nd Assistant Director’s responsibility to take the extras off of their plate.

The 2nd AD works under and reports directly to the 1st Assistant Director of the film. The 2nd AD will typically remain in communication with the Assistant Director of the film at all times through a headset and/or walkie-talkie. For more, check out these 2nd AD production hacks and the essential walkie-talkie lingo you'll be using on set.

2nd 2nd ad job description

Is there a 3rd AD?

The answer to this simple question is actually rather complicated. In Hollywood, there is not traditionally a 3rd AD role on a film crew, however, that is not true for other countries. Some different film industries around the world do make use of the title “3rd AD,” so depending on where in the world you plan to build your career, you may or may not encounter the 3rd AD title.

What they do use in Hollywood, however, is the term “Second Second Assistant Director” or “2nd 2nd AD.” This position is equivalent to “3rd AD,” but where some film industries continue numbering with 3rd, 4th, and 5th ADs, Hollywood typically doubles up on 2nd Assistant Director jobs. In theory, on a particularly large film set you could find a 2nd AD, a 2nd 2nd AD, a 3rd 2nd AD, and so on, though two 2nd ADs is often enough for even large-scale productions.

The role of a Second Second Assistant Director is to help split the workload for large scale productions. A film with massive sets and hundreds of extras is likely to find itself utilizing the “Second Second” role. A 2nd 2nd AD reports directly to the 2nd AD who in turn reports directly to the 1st AD. This hierarchical structure is designed to keep the film’s Director free from distractions and focused on their primary directorial duties.

Film Crew Hierarchy Graph

Film crew hierarchy graph

2nd assistant director salary

Becoming a 2nd AD

If you are interested in 2nd Assistant Director jobs for yourself, there are some steps you can begin taking toward that goal right away.

ADs are a part of the directorial department. When hiring for the directorial department, Producers sometimes look for individuals with college degrees in filmmaking, though some Producers will not care one way or the other about a degree. Receiving an education in filmmaking may be one way to give yourself a leg up over the competition but it is not a surefire way, and a strong education can often be less important than on-set experience in the eyes of a Producer.

So how do you gain on-set experience? There are a couple of ways. The simplest entry-level position on any film crew is as a Production Assistant, also known as a Producer’s Assistant, or simply as a PA. Working as a PA can also help you to begin forming relationships with industry professionals in addition to benefiting you with on-set experience.

2nd ADs are eligible for the Director’s Guild of America, or DGA. Membership in this guild is mandatory when working on certain productions that operate under the DGA collective bargaining agreement, but this is something that won’t come into play until after you have already been working as a 2nd AD for some time.

Independent productions are almost always easier to get involved with than union productions, so indie film sets are a good place to get started. Be aware, however, that the 2nd AD position on a film crew is one that may be cut from some small-scale productions in order to keep the crew size small and to save on budget.

Luckily, on small, indie productions that are making use of the 2nd AD position, the role may be considered an entry-level position, and you may be able to get started right away… just be sure to prepare well ahead of time.

UP NEXT

Efficiency hacks for a 2nd AD

If the 2nd AD position sounds interesting or appealing to you, or even if it’s a role you have performed before, you will find a lot of useful information in our list of pre-production hacks to become a more efficient 2nd AD. There are many useful tips and tricks for becoming the best 2nd AD you can be.

Up Next: Hacks for a 2nd AD →

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  • Sam Kench is an internationally-awarded screenwriter, independent filmmaker, and film critic. Lover of foreign films; hater of American remakes.

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