"Running the Show: The Essential Guide to Being a First Assistant Director" Book Review
Written by Liz Gill
2012, 248 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on April 11th, 2012
The assistant director (AD) is a title that many people do not fully understand. Those not working in film production may believe the job requires picking up laundry, making coffee and running errands as an assistant to the director. Low-budget filmmakers that operate with a crew of three people and a budget of $100 will often have an assistant director that is simply the director’s best friend, brought on to hang out and keep the director happy. Sadly, both of these definitions are completely incorrect and in the latter example, extremely offensive and counter-productive.
Running the Show: The Essential Guide to Being a First Assistant Director is a long overdue study bible for anyone with a serious need to work in the film industry. Author Liz Gill, a veteran assistant director (Safe, The Omen, Bloody Sunday), guides the reader through the minefield of endless responsibilities an AD faces on a daily basis with a friendly informative style that presents the answers in the least intimidating manner. Her approach is that of a wise friend in casual conversation over coffee. The AD’s job is of utmost importance and a production’s success or failure is often dependent on the skill level of the person in charge of running the show.
So, what exactly does an assistant director do? The first assistant director (1st AD) is responsible for keeping things moving in a way that allows everybody to be on time and working at capacity. This happens by way of meticulous planning and with the collection of as much information possible in order to limit the inevitable setbacks that occur while trying to film a project. The key to being a successful 1st AD is sharing the information and keeping everyone up to speed on what is happening and when things will be needed. It sounds simple, yet it can be anything but. At its best, an AD acts as the conductor of a top-notch orchestra, at worst the job resembles the task of herding cats.
On smaller productions the AD may also be the unit production manager (UPM), in charge of building the schedule and coordinating many of the day-to-day needs that will pop up along the way. It is one of the most important jobs in getting a production off the ground and requires a meticulous attention to detail. Breaking the script down into its basic elements and informing each department what will be needed on any given day allows everyone to follow the same basic blueprint to tackle each task efficiently. Film sets have been compared to both ships and factories in that each successfully operates when the departments work together and know what has to be done.
With this book, Gill takes you on a step-by-step tutorial clearly defining the responsibilities of each crew position. She approaches the process by creating an outline that lists at what point key elements need to be in place and when to do follow-up status checks along the way. There are informative tips on everything from how to respectfully direct the director without stepping on toes and also how to properly train a PA in what to bring to set and what will be expected of him or her. Most helpful, the book includes a companion website filled with sample production forms, schedules, budget templates, etc. There is also a Facebook page with additional information.