From Other Perspectives: The Assistant Director

I recently stumbled across a film blog written by an Assistant Director in Austin, Texas.  She has a rather passionately written entry about why a 1st Assistant Director should not also try to be the Producer on a crew:

While this is not the comparison that I am specifically looking at, I found that the comparison did help me to understand the Producer’s role more in relation to the film team:

1. Mobility

A Producer’s role is more mobile and less tied to the set.  They “need to have the ability to leave set at will to negotiate, put out fires, scout, meet, etc.”  Also, “Assistant Directors are useless off set.”

2. Financials

A Producer needs to be “privy to and an expert in financial wheelings and dealings.”  The Assistant Director does not, but this isn’t to say that no one else in the production hierarchy helps with budgeting.

3. Politics

“You sometimes have to be someone completely different from who you actually are in order to appease the industry folks that you wheel and deal with.”  There is camaraderie amongst the production crew as technical experts in their respective crafts, and it’s easy for them to joke about the politics going on above them, but producers are in the thick of that politics.

4. Tasks

She lists out specific responsibilities as well:

“As a Producer, I have to be locking in locations, building contracts and crew/cast deal memos, making sure that paperwork gets signed, arguing with agents, building and keeping tabs on the budget, hiring crew, renting equipment, securing insurance, making sure we have parking/bathrooms/holding areas, renting production vehicles, negotiating backend deals, keeping the director motivated, keeping the director’s vision from bloating to impossible to achieve proportions, making sure department heads aren’t steamrolling their first hands, playing babysitter and therapist all at the same time. And that’s before I even get to dealing with the assistant directors.”

On the other hand, the assistant director actually deals with the script, the set, rehearsals, etc.  Film is such a big affair that project management tasks have to get broken up across many different roles.

5. Personality

She makes this interesting distinction:

“Producers and ADs are very often very different creatures. I’m very mechanical as an AD. I run set and make sure everyone has what they need to do their jobs well and efficiently. I am thrilled to set marks for background and call the roll. But the things I desire as an AD are not always what I desire as a producer. As AD, I feel you’ve gotten the shot in those 15 takes and it’s absolutely time to move on (considering there’s no overtime if we go over 12 hours). As a producer, I want you to keep going until you have every single fucking frame of that shot a brilliant masterpiece or else the investors are going to pull out and the whole thing’s gonna fall apart. As a Producer, truthfully, the shot sucks and we should spend another 45 minutes resetting and getting it right.”

This really resonates with me because my experience as a producer at the ETC has moved between both these personality types.  Because we are on such small teams on our semester-long projects, a Producer needs to embody many if not all of the different aspects of producing:  On the one hand, being the administrator that makes sure everyone is being efficient and therefore being able to do simple mechanical work yourself that allows everyone else maximize their talents; on the other hand, being the manager that  needs the shepherd the vision and negotiate with everyone about compromise.

6. Scope of Time

Another wonderful subtle distinction between Assistant Directors and Producers:  “One of the DGA 1st ADs I really admire once said that the 1st AD represents the present, the set, the actual on the day filming… the 2nd AD represents the future, the next day of filming and prep work, and the 2nd 2nd AD represents the past, what happened on the day and statistics. A producer is all three at once; he/she is vigilant of past, present, and the future.”

I really like this one because it’s so elegant and easy to understand.  I wonder if other aspects of producing could be described by such properties – temporally, spatially, etc.

7. Responsibility

“As a producer, I am supposed to be overseeing the creative and making sure the director is making wise creative decisions with the budget he/she has. As an AD, I am not responsible for the overall creative feel of the movie.”

As mentioned in #5 above, the producer’s role is a lot more involved than their distance away in the hierarchy might imply.  Despite the delegation of so many tasks, they are ultimately responsible.

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