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Clarification on Terms

Reader VJ commented on Friday’s post:

Where in the hell does an “assistant” anything – even Director – get off being a dick to anyone? Unless the actual director is an überdick, then I guess it’s ok.

But you would think they would save the dickery until they had a title without “assistant” right up front.

VJ is what most in the industry would call a “civilian,”  what Variety would term a “non-pro,” and what I personally describe as “a normal human fucking being.”

Yes, in any other industry in the world, the assistant-X is a subordinate to X, and will probably one day have X’s job.  But, generally speaking, ADs don’t grow up to become Ds, especially not in features.  ADs become UPMs, line producers, and producers.

You see, an assistant director doesn’t actually assist the director.  That’s the assistant to the director’s job.  (Kinda like the difference between a production assistant and an assistant to the producer, except they’re both very low on the totem pole.)

Despite the “assistant” in the title, an AD is actually a department head.  In preproduction, the AD writes the schedule (which is a lot more complex than it sounds).  During the actual shoot, the AD is the one responsible for making sure everything gets done according to that schedule.  While the rest of the crew may be thinking it with all of their might, the AD is the only person who can actually tell the director to move on, already.

In fairness to all those dicks out there, an AD is under a lot of pressure.  The old equation about time and money holds true in Hollywood, and if the production falls behind, guess who gets blamed.  And fired.

An AD has to know everyone’s job, at least to the point where he can tell if they’re doing it right.  If they’re not, the AD has to figure out a way to correct the course, whether that means encouraging the crew, screaming at them, changing the schedule, or just plain gritting their teeth and plowing ahead until the day’s done.

In a very real sense, it’s an AD’s job to be a dick.  I haven’t been around long enough to tell if the job transforms normal people into assholes, or if assholes are just drawn to the job.  Either way, I’d never want to be one.

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7 Responses

  1. Thomas Jefferson is right. One of the best AD’s I know will give you a “Why are you wasting my time?” look if you ask her stupid questions. She has what I like to call her dog-trainer’s voice for set. Off set she’s a wonderful, warm, funny woman. I doubt she’d get her job done being wonderful, warm and funny on set, though.

  2. ADs are strong people but the best are not at all assholes. But since the job requires such a strong personality a lot of loud, bossy people tend to show up.

  3. “I haven’t been around long enough to tell if the job transforms normal people into assholes, or if assholes are just drawn to the job”

    50-50. Sometimes the pressure transform you into an asshole :D.

    If you don’t feel any pressure, then you already are an asshole.

  4. There are good dick AD’s there are bad dick AD’s and conversely, there are good nice AD’s and there are bad nice AD’s.

    They come in all shapes and sizes but the bottom line is, if they can keep their shit together while telling the Dir to move on and to not break gaze, they are a good AD nice or dickish. lol

    It’s the screamers I had zero patience with. yelling my appear like they are important, but you don’t get that extra something out of crew that way.

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