Saturday, February 14, 2015

Five Things That an AD IS Not

The list could certainly go on, and there is certainly nothing more wonderful  than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis" - Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

If you have a Facebook account (and who doesn't), you have come across an increasing number of links to - for the lack of a better word - "articles" that count down some random list.

You know the ones.

"Seven Things You Never Knew About Kale"

"Six Actors You Never Knew Were Episcopalian"

"Eight Things You Should Never Ask A Hot Dog Vendor"

They are usually the internet version of those magazines you grab at the checkout counter that alternately tell you of a new cure for cancer, or how they know your favorite TV celebrity is actually a visitor from another galaxy.

Sadly,  more and more of them are now part of more respected sources of news.

I used the terms articles in quotation marks because most of them are the type of off-the-top-of-your-head jottings any of us could come up with,  and often do, in places like this - blogs.

As with everything else I do, I probably over-think this blog. I pour over every word, research,  and scratch ideas that fail to come to full fruition.

That does not make this journalism, or high art. However,  if you're going to ask others to use their minds to read something,  you should use yours first.  Yet, these "journalists " who are getting paid to offer up something, are satisfied with these frills - or, really,  no-frills - offerings. As someone who had the pleasure of working with future CNN correspondents, PBS news hosts and network news execs* in college, I find this a soft-core excuse for journalism

This will be one of those.

One of my regular First ADs and I have been friends for many years, and we occasionally share an adult beverage  (or more), as well as our incredulity at the lack of awareness of what a First AD does.

Now, there are a few great blogs on being a First AD (like the one offered by my blog-sister Michelle ), so rather than offer five things your AD does, I will offer five things that you should not expect from your AD. (I use the male pronoun because AD in question is male; your AD's gender may vary.)

#1. First ASSISTANT Director Does Not Mean He Should Help You Direct.

Inspired by my AD's latest experience.

In a group email, the producer asked the director if he had sent a shot list to the AD, who he had just hired.

Now, they had just fired their last DP. The director asked if he were to send it, could AD put the shots in order of shooting.

AD was brazen enough point out that could not happen yet, as he a)had never been on a scout of the location (s), b) had yet to meet the DP, and c) had yet to speak with the director.

Director was upset and decided to go with another AD.

It is my belief that misconceptions about what an AD does start in film school,  where the AD is inevitably someone who, as the t-shirt suggests, just wants to direct. As such, they love having long conversations about the perfect angle, blocking,  mise-en-scene and any other aspect of directing.

In Europe,  I understand that being a First AD is a path to directing. In the U.S., that is not true, and ADs who offer directing advice don't last.

Now, most experienced First ADs have been around the block enough to be helpful when needed in that department. More often, they should be focused on keeping things moving.

Which leads me to #2.

#2 A Good AD Can Lead You to Set, But He Can't Make You Shoot.

This goes for the director and the DP. Let's deal with the director first.

The director must have the scene blocked, and then be ready to shoot. Directors generally call action on takes, and ultimately must decide if they are satisfied and ready to move to the next set-up.

When faced with an indecisive director,  good ADs will employ a series of tricks to keep them moving. Some will anticipate and start to call the roll when they sense the shot is ready but the director is still wavering.  Stan used to encourage me to do this, and let the director stop me if they weren't ready. This was a tactic only to be used as last resort, as it has the potential to cause conflict and undermine one or both.
One of my favorite versions of this was a tough-talking, chain-smoking Mama of an AD who, when she wanted to push a director to move on from one setup to the next, would call out, "Movin' On. You don't want to put your foot through a Rembrandt. "

As for trying to get a slow DP to move faster, suffice to say you cannot ask a DP to shoot when they are not lit or when they don't have frame. I've pissed off enough DPs that I will leave it at that, as I've covered this ground before.

Yes, keeping things moving is part of the ADs job, but that doesn't mean ...

#3 The AD is (Not) A "Grip With An Attitude"

This was the exact phrase a producer once (incorrectly ) used to describe a good AD.

A truly good AD moves the crew along with communication,  and, not unlike a good sports coach, will use various means to encourage a crew to move as quickly - albeit still safely - as possible.

Most crews want an AD to keep everything moving quickly,  as they don't want to spend endless hours on set when they can get home. In those rare occasions where a crew is slow or, let's face it, just a bit lazy (hey, it can happen ), private discussion or talks with department heads are options.

This does not mean screaming at them like the above drill sergeant. 

Past high school football,  this technique rarely goes well. I always remember, and have often reminded more vocal ADs,that we in production may be figuratively be doing some heavy lifting,  but the crew is literally doing it.

Speaking of grips, I once saw an encounter between a bellowing AD, and the grip whose face he decided to get in, which is right on point.

The grip put down the equipment he was carrying,  took a breath, and said,  "I have two speeds, and if you don't like this one,  you definitely aren't going to like the other one. "

#4. The AD is Not a Script Supervisor

I have waxed and swooned about my love for the skill and.craft of script supervisors here. Suffice here to say that it requires laser-like focus on the action, which is impossible if you are also trying to make sure the actors for the next scene are through the works**, checking with art department if the next set is dressed, directing background action, and setting lock-up.

Yet, while no reasonable producer would double the 1st AC job with Best Boy Grip, I still see "keeping script notes" as duties listed in low-budget AD ads.

Somehow, smaller crews means "cut production people " first to many digital producers.

This leads to an even more common pet peeve that is becoming all-too-common.

#5. A First AD Cannot Prep Call Sheets.

The First AD is responsible for the schedule and everyone knowing said schedule. Long ago, in a movie - making galaxy now far, far away, call sheets were invented to distribute this information.

A proper call sheet is a work of art; a finished symphony; a perfect diamond. It also has a great deal of information to fill out, much of which can change right up until it is published. My favorite 2nd AD created a call sheet template (not the one listed below) so perfect that I would hire just for the call sheet alone, if not for the many other fine qualities he brings.

The First AD makes the major decisions on call times and what will be shot, but it is the 2nd AD who must get all this info loaded into the call sheet, in addition to all the other things he is doing. The call sheet is time-consuming and requires some free hands.

Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion shown above, vowed to not rest until he had saved all sentient beings. He struggled to meet the needs of so many, and his head split into eleven pieces. Amitaba Buddha, seeing his plight, gave him eleven heads to hear the cries of many, but when he reached out to them all, his two arms shattered, and, to once again aid him, Amitaba Buddha blessed him with a thousand arms.

Many a 1st (and 2nd) AD can attest to feeling like their head was going to split into eleven pieces, but all are limited to two arms, and as line producer, I do not have the power of Amitaba Buddha to give them any more.

More and more, First ADs are hired, and then told there will be no budget for a 2nd AD. This means often training a PA, which almost always mean it will be wrong for at least a few times - and teaching call sheets should not be part of the AD's job.

Now, on a very small shoot, with a very small crew, if everyone is fine with gathering everyone and just telling them where, when and what tomorrow, great. However, there is a reason for call sheets, and not having them will cause some level of confusion. 

You can have a proper call sheet and a 2nd AD, or a First AD alone and you do the best you can. You can't have both. Just don't go screaming at your First AD when the Best Boy Electric (I've been picking on grips too often) shows up at the wrong time or the wrong place.

I'm sure every department has it's own complaints. If you ever wondered about the types of things ADs bitch about when they need to blow off some steam, this is a small sample.

*Richard Roth of CNN, Ray Suarez formerly of the PBS News Hour and now with Al jazeera America,  and Bernard Gershon, ABC News and now Gershonmedia.

**Hair, Make-Up and Wardrobe

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