I have directed shows with a 1st AD and without one. I can tell you the differences in how the sets were run and how much of my time was focused on the actors instead of the petty problems that surface during a shoot. The best thing about having a 1st AD on a film is the amount of my time that is freed up to focus on bringing the story to life.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that out of all the national and international productions that I’ve directed, only those pictures with a 1st AD won major awards for “Best Director.” The first time I noticed this pattern was at the U.S. and International Film and Video Festival where I was competing against thousands of directors. The ability of each director was high and the only difference between the top ten were subtle nuances that required a 100% focus on their craft.
A good 1st AD is extremely valuable to a director and his creative process. It frees him up to work more closely with the actors, bringing such depth to their characters that the audience is compelled to watch the movie again. This freedom also gives the director more time to develop his shot list with the DP, focusing on the cinematic vision that drives the emotional beats within the story.
Some of the key responsibilities managed by the 1st AD are below:
- Run the set.
- Develop the script breakdown.
- Work with the director on the shooting schedule.
- Manage the schedule.
- Coordinate production activities.
- Manage the 2nd and 3rd ADs and oversee the Runners/PAs.
- Oversee the blocking of atmosphere.
- Be the liaison with the production office.
- Be the link between the director and the cast & crew.
- Oversee the publishing of the production reports.
- Oversee the acquisition of locations, props, and equipment.
- Oversee the development of previs or storyboards.
- Keep up to date on the weather reports.
- Manage set/location discipline.
- Work within budget limitations.
The qualities or skills of a great 1st AD are:
- Time Manager.
- Trouble Shooter.
- Detail Focused.
- Crisis Manager.
- Risk Mitigator.
- Knowledgeable of Health & Safety Laws.
- And, Flexible.
Great 1st ADs are hard to come by, but are worth every penny. Most directors can make a really good film without a 1st AD, but he typically can’t focus on the subtle nuances of the story, while staying within budget, unless he has one.