Second assistant director
Every 1st assistant director needs a “right hand man or woman” who supports their endeavors on a film set and can act as their proxy. That person is the 2nd assistant director or 2nd AD. While the 1st AD controls the action on the actual set while filming is underway, the 2nd AD is more of a liaison between that set and the production office. A lot of information filters through the 2nd AD. As with the 1st AD, they have to be aware of what is happening with the shoot while simultaneously preparing for what happens next.
If you’re considering working as a second assistant director, then there are specific skill sets that you’ll need to have in your arsenal.
The 2nd AD needs to be organized. Along with all the scheduling responsibilities, they also have to keep abreast of the coming and goings of the main talent and background performers. While they’re working on their paperwork, the 2nd will often report to the producers about the progress of the shoot day. Bottom line: They have to keep a lot of information going throughout the day.
One of the primary responsibilities of the 2nd AD is to generate the callsheet. This is the schedule for the day’s shoot that is based on an advanced schedule worked out by the 1st AD and the rest of the crew. The callsheet includes the list of the actors needed for the shoot day and any special requirements from the departments like stunts, costume doubles, special effects and/or props. It also needs to include maps to the location, parking instructions and information about the nearest hospital and where lunch will be set up. Setwerks is designed to help with many of these functions.
Many requests of the crew will be presented to the 2nd AD who will then discuss with the 1st AD and other Production department members. Much of the time they need to prioritize the tasks for the 3rd AD/Key PA. As with any film, it is all about following the chain of command. The 2nd AD will often be communicating between the makeup and wardrobe departments with regard to how long they need to get the actors ready and communicating with talent to get them on the set, on time. It's the 2nd AD's duty to make sure that talent arrives when they are needed, but also to make sure that all other tasks around talent are completed, such as paperwork like the SAG G's.
Ability to Delegate
The 2nd AD will need to delegate tasks through the rest of their staff. This means having the ability to effective explain a task and leave nothing to doubt. It helps when the 2nd AD understands the strengths of their crew in order to make effective assignment choices. There might come a time when there are PAs sitting around with nothing to do. The 2nd AD can always find something for them to do.
First Aid Training
On the big film shoots, there will always be medical personal assigned to the shoot. However, it helps if the 2nd AD also has basic first aid training. A single course can provide a lot of helpful information that can supplement any set nurse.
The 2nd AD should be prepared to utilize their own office equipment. It helps to have a good laptop and portable printer that can be set up in any production space. When the 2nd is using their own equipment, then there is less of a chance of a breakdown. Plus, they get to have a “kit fee” added to their paycheck.
The Main Responsibilities of a 2nd AD
As mentioned, the main responsibilities of the 2nd AD are to generate the callsheets for the shoot and coordinate talent. This callsheet is quite often literally signed off by the 1st AD, Production Manager and 2nd AD. It can’t be distributed without the these initials. When the signed off, the 2nd AD will then show an advanced copy to the department heads to get their input. Nothing should come as a surprise because everyone will have a copy of the master schedule that will be provided at the beginning of the shot by the 2nd AD.
Although the schedule has been painstakingly worked out in advance, it is never set in stone. When shooting falls behind schedule, then scenes that aren’t shot have to be added to a future shoot day. A lot of that depends on the location. All of this will be worked out among the assistant directors while the shooting is going on. It is a lot to keep track of.
The 2nd AD also has to make sure everyone on the shoot gets a copy of those callsheets. They don’t have to hand them out. Instead, they’ll delegate to the production assistants to make sure everyone gets one. Or they'll use a tool like Setwerks to generate them and send them via email and SMS.
The 2nd AD is also responsible for getting the actors to the set. This might begin with arranging for drivers to pick up performers from their homes or hotels. If there is a base camp where the makeup and wardrobe trailers are located, then the 2nd assistant director has to make sure there is dedicated transportation for the actors to get to the set.
Along with getting actors to the set, the 2nd assistant director needs to facilitate their needs. This begins with setting up the trailer and making sure any special requests are taken care off. Again, this is all about delegating, but the 2nd AD becomes the point person for those requests.
Manage Background Talent
In addition to handling the main performers, the 2nd AD also have to handle the background performers. These are all the performers who “fill in” the background of a shot. Background actors, sometimes referred to as extras, can number in a few dozen to a hundred. They all have to be set ready and that means being approved by the makeup and costume departments.
There will be holding areas for background performers that have to be properly maintained. It is also important for these performers to be kept informed as to the progress of the day. At wrap, the 2nd AD will check out the background performers by signing off on their vouchers. The only way they get paid is if those vouchers are handed into the payroll department.
Stand In for the 1st AD
Finally, the 2nd AD has to be able to stand in for the 1st AD to manage the set. There are times when the 1st AD will have to set away to deal with other issues or they will get sick or lose their voice. The filming needs to continue so the 2nd AD has to follow the protocols established by their 1st.
Quite often, 1st and 2nd ADs work together as a team going from one job to the next. Hopefully, the 1st AD will be grooming the 2nd to someday move up to the first position. Typically, when a 1st AD can’t accept a job because of prior commitments, they might recommend their 2nd AD for the position. In the film business, one job always leads to the next and you have to be ready to jump in.