Being an assistant director is not easy work and mistakes can be made. Making mistakes is a part of the job but that being said; learning from your mistakes is one of the most important parts of any job. Everyone makes mistakes but not everyone owns them, be the kind of person that owns up to a mistake and then don’t do it again.
Below I have listed what I think are seven of the most common mistakes that assistant directors make, either when starting out or when they get over comfortable with what they are doing. If you think you might be guilty of any of the following, my best advice is to try to correct the mistake or people will soon stop calling you for work.
Mistakes Often Made by Assistant Directors
Over Confidence - To me there is not much worse than an assistant director that comes to set full of confidence that errs on the side of arrogance and then under performs at their job. This isn’t to say that I don’t want my assistant director to have confidence; I think being confident is a major part of the job but your confidence has to match your skills. An arrogant assistant director that isn’t very good at their job is only going to piss people off and make the crew lose respect for them. You need to focus on your ability to do the job and then with that, should come the confidence.
Under Confidence – To now go in the complete opposite direction, it is very frustrating when you get on a set and you can’t tell who the assistant director is because you can’t see or hear them. The assistant director is the voice on set, people look to the assistant directors to know what is happening and when. If you lack confidence and are not firm in your decisions and instructions then no one will listen to you and it will be very hard to keep the day moving as people will constantly be wondering what is going on. You need to be assertive and confident to get this job done correctly.
Easily Distracted – One of the most important skills for an assistant director to have is focus. You need to be paying attention to many things, sometimes all at once and you are also in charge of other people. No one wants to see the assistant director hanging out and chatting at the craft services table or sitting in a corner playing on their phone. I know you want to be the Angry Birds champion but there is a time and a place and set is not it. Keep your eye on what is important, make your day and lead the team. If people see that the assistant director isn’t focused then they too will lose theirs.
Unaware of Role – Before you take a job make sure you know what is being asked of you. I don’t think that it is fair to accept a job offer if you a) don’t know how to do the job properly or b) aren’t passionate about what you are doing. The assistant director is hired to do so much more than just call rolls and call out when you’re moving on. The assistant director needs to be heavily involved in the pre-production process of any project, the more involved in pre-production the smoother production will go. While on set the assistant director needs to oversee what is going on at all times. You need to be the person on set that has all of the answers and if you don’t have an answer then you need to know who does. Know the schedule, after all if you are doing your job right then you created it. Know what options you have should anything go wrong such as bad weather or someone not showing up to set. Never assume that you are only hired to say “roll camera”.
Micro Managing – The assistant director has a lot on their plate and they only make their job and life harder and more stressful when they feel that they can’t trust their team to do the job that they were hired to do. The assistant director oversees but doesn’t have to have their hands in everything. Trust that if you have given an instruction that it will get done, if you ask how long something is going to take then let that time pass before you start harassing the team. Trust your 2nd and 3rd AD’s as well, they are hired to make things easier for you, let them do their job so you can focus on yours.
Unable to Delegate – This one kind of goes hand in hand with micro managing except with this I mean don’t make yourself do all of the work because you are afraid to ask for help or don’t know who to give certain jobs to. You have a team for a reason, get them to work on things that you don’t have the time to do. Don’t be a martyr, share the work load and get things done as a team. Also know when someone is under performing, if you have tasked someone with something and they can’t deliver then get someone else to do it. Be professional, don’t worry too much about hurting someone’s feelings, keep your eye on what needs to be done. It’s nice to make friends at work but that isn’t why we do it.
Hoarding Information – I will admit that I get irritated quite easily but I cannot stand when someone is hired as an assistant director and they think that, that gives them power. Hoarding information as an assistant director is essentially the opposite of what you should be doing. I don’t mean gossip, I mean share things that need to be shared, don’t keep things to yourself until the last possible minute because you felt special knowing something that others didn’t. The best way to run a set is to be open and communicative, sharing information and problem solving is how you get the job done.
These are, for me, the seven biggest mistakes made by assistant directors. You don’t have to be new to make these mistakes, I have known people working for years as assistant directors that are still guilty of these things.
Be aware of how you are perceived and be aware of how smoothly your sets run. If you are sitting and wondering why you aren’t working more or getting more calls maybe consider that you may be guilty of one or more of these.