I had an audio mixer come up to me once in the middle of a shoot and tell me that I was the best A.D. that he had ever worked with. At first I thought that he was being sarcastic so I said, "yeah sure, thanks a lot". He responded, "no, I'm serious...I've never worked with an A.D. who has managed expectations, kept us ahead of schedule, and helped every department anticipate the next few shots as well as you do. You don't waste anyone's time."
I want everyone to experience the same pride that I felt in that moment as a result of my preparation, or I should more appropriately call it my "over-preparation". You see, that was actually only my 2nd time A.D.'ing and because I was miraculously trusted with the Assistant Director mantle on such a big budget shoot I wanted to make sure that I didn't fail my crew.
I had actually spent years on sets with other A.D.'s before I had the opportunity to act as one myself, and I learned a number of things from them that I both liked and didn't like that I use and avoid in my own work. The following are what I like to call the three fundamental principles of A.D.'ing.
1) Give Yourself Enough Prep Time
If the A.D. don't know, don't nobody know. They call the A.D. the show runner for a reason. Before the shoot the A.D. must know the production so thoroughly that any question or problem on set can be perfectly orchestrated through him/her. Budget time to spend on location before the shoot. Budget time with your Director. Budget lots of time with your Producer. Budget time to sit down and schedule as thoroughly as possible. Budget time to sleep before your shoot (protect your mind,
you're going to need it).
2) Budget Your Schedule Pessimistically
I have never gone past time on a shoot for one reason. I budget my schedule pessimistically. If I think set up time will take 20 mins, I give my crew 30. If I think it will take us 1 hour to get rolling in the morning I give us 1.5 hours. If I think a company move will only take 35 mins, I give us 45. No Director or crew member wants to hear the dreaded, "we're behind schedule", so stay away from those words by scheduling in a way that keeps you ahead of schedule. This beautifully manages everyone's expectations. Every crew loves wrapping 30 minutes early, which we often do on my sets because our schedule is so padded.
3) 3-Shot Rule | Every Department In The Know
Every department should know exactly what the next 3 shots should be from the mouth of the A.D. This is as simple as talking with each department before the next 3 shots are up. The A.D. is constantly showing them storyboards and double-checking to see if the setup time and shooting time are feasible on the shooting schedule with each department (this is more of a kind reminder and nudge for that department than anything).
This rule also applies to any changes made in the shooting schedule. Since every key crew member on set has a copy of the shooting schedule they also need to know the moment any scheduling changes have been made.
There is nothing more wonderful than a great Assistant Director. If you have any more suggestions on what makes a great 1st or 2nd A.D. please comment and leave me a note. We're all better when we learn together.