Often, the role of assistant director is broken down into the following sub-roles:
- The First Assistant Director (First or 1st AD) has overall AD responsibilities and supervises the Second AD. The "first" is directly responsible to the director and "runs" the floor or set. The 1st AD and the unit production manager are two of the highest "below the line" technical roles in filmmaking (as opposed to creative or "above the line" roles) and so, in this strict sense, the role of 1AD is non-creative.
- The Second Assistant Director (Second or 2AD) creates the daily call sheets from the production schedule, in cooperation with the production coordinator. The "second" also serves as the "backstage manager", liaising with actors, putting cast through make-up and wardrobe, which relieves the "first" of these duties. Supervision of the second second assistant director, third assistant director, assistant director trainees, and the setting of background (extras) are parts of the "second's" duties.
- The Second Second Assistant Director (Second Second or 22AD) deals with the increased workload of a large or complicated production. For example, a production with a large number of cast may require the division of the aspects of backstage manager and the call sheet production work to two separate people.
- The Third Assistant Director (Third or 3rd AD) works on set with the "First" and may liaise with the "Second" to move actors from base camp (the area containing the production, cast, and hair and makeup trailers), organize crowd scenes, and supervise one or more production assistants (PA). There is sometimes no clear distinction between a 2AD and a 3AD. Although some industry bodies (American DGA) have defined the roles in an objective way, others believe it to be a subjective distinction.
- The Additional Assistant Director (AAD or Additional) or Fourth Assistant Director (4AD or "Fourth") or "Key Production Assistant!" (Key PA) may have a number of duties. Most commonly, the AAD has two broad job functions. One is the contraction of the duties of an AD where the AD acts as both 2nd AD and 3rd AD simultaneously. For example, a production with a large number of cast may pass the 2AD call sheet production work to that of the AAD, especially when the 2AD is already performing the additional work of a 3rd AD. The other main use of an AAD is as an adjunct to the 3AD and 1AD for logistically large scenes where more ADs are needed to control large numbers of extras. The "Additional" may also serve where the complexity of the scene or specialized elements within it (stunts, period work) require or are best served by a dedicated AD in most respects equal to a 1st AD - directing and controlling a number of other ADs to direct action to the satisfaction of the 1AD and the director.
- A production assistant is one of the lowest crew in a film's hierarchy in terms of salary and authority. They perform various duties required of them by ADs.
The sub-roles of assistant directors differ among nations. For example, the distinction between second second AD and third AD is more common in North America. British and Australian productions, rather than having a second second AD, will hire a "second" 2AD experienced in the same duties, and trained to the same level, to allow a division of the duties. 3ADs in Britain and Australia have different duties from a second second AD, and the terms are not synonymous.For example A "third" may just be a crowd scene specialist, with seniority, and even higher pay than the second AD of that production.
Many times, in Hollywood film making, especially studio productions, the First A.D. is the first person hired on a film, often as soon as the project has been green lit for production. An assistant director must be very good at estimating how long a scene will take. (Sometimes a scene running a few pages long on the screenplay can be shot relatively quickly, while a half page emotional key moment may take all day.)
When producers visit their production sets or floors, the First A.D. is the one they will want to listen to and get answers from. Often, this person will provide the objective view on progress being made, problems that may be foreseen, and solutions that may be found. The director is often insulated from these discussions, except when inevitable.
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