You Don’t Have to Die at 55: Keeping Healthy Even as an AD

There’s an old belief that folks who go into assistant directing will only live to about 60. There was some truth to that back in the olden days of Hollywood where you were expected to be a screaming ball of stress 24/7. The real truth is that your job as an AD has an expiration date, even now with modern medicine and union standards keeping stress levels and dangerous situations in check. This is not a job you will have when you’re 70.

That said, ADs definitely have a tendency to get lost in the health of their production and not the health of their own body. We run ourselves into the ground, worrying about everyone else and barely stop and grab a water bottle for ourselves. We forgo sleep in favor of finishing call sheets and confirming plans. We grab junk food just to have something in our stomachs, or worse yet, not eat at all because who the fuck has time for that? We do these things even though we know none of this helps us, and often hurts us both physically and mentally. If I’m lacking sleep or hungry, I’ll be your worst nightmare and that’s not good for anyone.

Having recently worked on a set with another person who was known to go to the hospital during production, I wanted to have a serious sit down with you all, especially you crazy younger AD kids who have yet to know what a stiff neck in the morning feels like at 4AM while your alarm is screaming at you and your iPhone is blowing up with texts from the producer about a location issue.

Let me state two things that are the absolute truth:

1. You are not invincible.

2. You are not getting younger. 

Your health matters. Nothing happening on set is more important than your health. Without your health, you absolutely have nothing. No amount of money or work will make life better than having your health. As you get older, this will become more and more true. But I can tell you’re rolling your eyes right now (oh to be 23 again!)

But it’s so haaaaard to stay healthy on set with all these sick people and long hours! I’m going to eat this entire pizza and drink myself into an early grave!

Sure, that actually sounds great. Hell, I had pizza and beer today. There’s really nothing wrong with treating yourself after a long day on set. That said, we also shouldn’t be dismissive of our bodies just because we work in production. I swear, there’s simple things you can do to take charge of your health even when you’re in the death grips of production.

Listen to your body. It often screams at you.

We have a very complex system of nerves and hormones and sensors that tell us what’s happening internally every minute of the day. We’ve just become used to only paying attention to what we want to pay attention to. Things like constant back pain, fatigue despite getting proper sleep, random fevers, and digestive problems can all be indicative of larger health issues going on. Do not ignore these problems. Not only could you have a serious health issue, you are also taking yourself right out of your career. It’s hard to concentrate on what you’re doing and make solid decisions when your body is screaming at you. Don’t be dumb. Get regular physicals and pay attention to anything abnormal.

Exercise or just get off the couch and touch your toes once in a while.

Yeah. That’s right. Don’t spend your entire day off on your ass watching Netflix. Oh believe me, I know the desire to not move ever again is strong sometimes, but you will feel infinitely better just by stretching the muscles. The problem with working in production is that your body gets out of whack by doing repetitive motions all day without any variety. Some muscles get overused and others atrophy. Many ADs I know of (and myself in the past) had issues with feet and shin pain from walking constantly on hard concrete. Or wake up with stiff muscles that get sore throughout the day from just carrying our stress in certain parts. You don’t have to spend crazy amounts of time in the gym, or even break a sweat, but going for a nice evening stroll, or a quick jog, or even doing some light yoga before bed helps get all your muscles moving and gets the blood flowing to your organs. I personally maintain 4-5 vinyasa yoga sessions a week varying from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how much time I have that day. Sometimes I do a physical class and other times I just pull up a youtube video to follow along with. Any bit of physical activity outside of just working will help immensely.


At all costs, get as much sleep as you possibly can. Forgo that True Detective marathon you were planning if you have to. I know this sucks, but when you’re working a feature, you’re going to cherish every minute you get with your eyes closed. Not only do we feel mentally better when we get proper sleep, our bodies get a chance to heal from the day. This is super important when you’re working long hours on your feet with barely enough time to urinate before they’re screaming for you to come back to set (do they even care about 10-1 anymore? It used to be a sacred time). You need sleep for your immune system to fight infection, your metabolism to regulate, and your muscles to repair any damage that may have been sustained while chasing after 13 background actors who went the wrong way and somehow ended up in the studio executive’s lobby. Sleep is your best friend, your set medic, and your bottle of bourbon all in one.

Eat your fucking veggies.

And I’m not talking about a watery iceburg salad or some mushy green beans out of a can. This is a real duh statement here, but vegetables are a very important part of your diet and it’s easy to forget them when you’re at catering staring at a four pans of grilled steak tips and BBQ ribs. Even vegetarians forget about vegetables on set. I’ve found myself running straight for the rice or pasta option and skipping right over the charred broccolini (I’ll never make that mistake again… mmmmmmm…) Not every set will have good vegetable options, sadly (producers, you can fix this!) but try to heap your plate with good, clean veggies whenever possible. Its ok to throw some meat and grains on there, but don’t make either of them the majority of your plate. As we all know, after lunch on set is prime time for yawns and the best boy passed out in the electric truck. The easiest way to combat the post lunch zombie apocalypse is to make veggies a priority at lunch. The nutrients will help keep your eyes open and not spike your blood sugar levels. They’re also vital to keeping your immune system strong, which you will be grateful for when the office PA starts sneezing all over the distro they just handed you and basecamp has quarantine tape from the actress who brought the black plague with her from the last production she worked on.

Maybe not drink so much damned soda.

Jesus lord do people love their soda. I’m guilty too. But it’s utterly trash. It’s disgusting if you really break it down. It’s basically taking water, pouring a half pound of sugar in it and blowing some bubbles into it. That’s what soda is. It’s diabetes in a can. And yet oh so refreshing. Especially on set. Or is it? The reality of soda, even on set where we all seem to think the rules for keeping healthy do not apply, is that it’s empty calories, it’s dehydrating, and it makes you tired quicker by crashing your blood sugar. And don’t get me started on digestion. And yes, this even applies to diet soda, which is the biggest load of bullshit since the invention of high fructose corn syrup. I worked with a guy who only drank diet coke (“I don’t drink water, it’s boring”) and then always wondered why he felt tired all the time. Your body can’t do anything with soda. Drink water. Drink tea. Hell, drink coffee. Just stay the fuck away from soda on set.

Don’t be patient zero on set.

Callsheets should also include “No infestation of any airborne disease without written consent from the producer or UPM” at the top. For. Real. Every show I’ve AD’d has had a plague sweep through the crew, taking them out one by one like bodies during the black death. I do remember having a particularly bad flu come upon me during one day on set. I woke up that morning feeling like sunshine and rainbows and left that day with the grips threatening to call an exorcist. There’s nothing fun about coughing while trying to call roll and there’s no greater fear than the fear of losing a lung as you echo a director’s “cut!”. I have so many stories of sick crew members but I always wonder why we poor bastards still show up even when our house is being sterilized per order of the CDC. Yes, we have to work, we have bills to pay, no one can do what we’re doing and therefore we need to be on set even though we’ll spend more time with the medic than with our own department. I’ve been sent home by a director because I was leaning against a wall slurring into a walkie and sweating through my t-shirt. If you feel like total and utter shit and you know you’ll make everyone else feel like total and utter shit, don’t go. Stay home, get rest, let yourself heal. Do yourself, and all of your crew and cast too, a favor.


You know that feeling where you get so stressed out you can actually hear the blood flowing through the veins in your temples? So stressed that your heart feels like you’ve swallowed 14 cans of Red Bull in 2 minutes? No? Jeeze, how long have you been an AD? Seriously. ADing is that sort of stress almost from the moment you wake up and look at your phone to the moment you’re falling asleep that night and checking your phone one last time. Hell, you’ll have stress dreams about showing up to set naked and realizing you scheduled a huge stunt day when the stunt double isn’t available. It’s the 24 hour stress channel. You have an entire production riding on your back and it’s fine line between having a stroke over a scene change and looking “too relaxed” to the producers who then voice concern about your ability to AD. Finding that middle line is almost impossible. Almost. There are things you can do when you feel like your head is going to explode. You can excuse yourself to the bathroom, let your 2nd or 2nd 2nd keep eyes while you take a moment to reset your heart rate and think of a solution. This has been one of the more effective approaches, but it’s not always practical (you can’t AD from the bathroom). Sometimes just having your AD team there for you to bounce ideas off is just the trick to feel better. Venting helps too, but that should be done with caution… don’t say anything that will end with your foot in your mouth later. Breathing exercises are also helpful although you may feel silly trying to stable your breathing while 4 producers, a DP, and a director stare at you to make a decision. I think most importantly we need to just remind ourselves that 9 times out of 10, these situations will be laughed at over beers later. Put the situation in context. Was anyone killed? No? Ok, you’re doing fine. Take a deep breath and keep going. (Yes, I need to tell myself this constantly and I fail at it sometimes). Off set, you can do any number of things to release the day’s stress from working on a hobby you enjoy to massage, meditation, etc.

I do realize all of this advice is common sense, but we forget common sense often when we’re on film sets. Especially ADs. We’re fucking invincible, right? Nothing can hurt us! This is bullshit. When you start focusing on your health, the rest of your life follows. You make better decisions, you maintain a better mood, and you live a longer, more enjoyable life when you’re not spending it stressed, sick, and in pain. Just because the production demands a lot from you doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own well being.


Submitted by pechente

Words can’t express.


Submitted by pechente

Words can’t express.

Source: shittyrigs

how to budget for a film

Wrong department. The 1st AD does not do the budget. And while I can budget for small projects, it is not my area of expertise.

26 March 5 Anonymous Permalink
Settle an argument for me? Does a 1st AD go to casting?

Not usually. Sometimes a director or producer will request the 1st AD to come along to casting, but that’s not normal with the job.


Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, is the only woman EVER to win a Best Director Oscar. Only 4 women have ever been nominated. Women made up only 6% of Directors for the top movies of 2013. There were NO female nominees for directing, cinematography, film editing, writing (original screenplay), or music (original score) during last year’s Academy Awards.


Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, is the only woman EVER to win a Best Director Oscar. Only women have ever been nominated. Women made up only 6% of Directors for the top movies of 2013. There were NO female nominees for directing, cinematography, film editing, writing (original screenplay), or music (original score) during last year’s Academy Awards.

Source: womenofkwmc

I saw that in one of your answers, you said that you didn't go to college for a film degree, but rather worked on sets and learned from that. I was wondering how you even got on any sets at all? Every single set or any film related job I have ever seen requires a degree related to film. So I was just wondering how you got in and started? Thank you tons. This blog is so helpful.

Don’t know where you live in which you see a film degree required to get hired for sets. I have never encountered this. That said, I DO have a film & video production degree (BFA), but I have never once been asked about it.

16 March 8 Anonymous Permalink
How does one manage to work on film projects and have a day job at the same time? I imagine it's pretty difficult to figure out as the entire crew needs to be off work and able to be on location.

They don’t. Film IS a day job. You have to understand that. It’s not a hobby people do on the side. You can work small film gigs on weekends, but it’s been years since I worked a non-film job. This is how I make money. At some point, you make the decision to stop working non-film jobs and start throwing yourself in full time to film work.

3 March 15 Anonymous Permalink
I found a film school named Film Connection that has, for lack of a better word, campuses in every major city in the U.S. This school doesn't have traditional classes, with one Professor to thirty plus students and high tuition. It is a six to eight month apprenticeship/mentor based program with low tuition and allows for networking. My initial consensus is that this would be a much better option than a traditional film school that hands out useless degrees. What are your thoughts?

My thoughts are that there’s no school that will teach you properly what you learn from working on set. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - film school is for connections. The rest comes from working on as many sets as possible. I didn’t learn to be an AD from film school. I learned from working all over set and working under other ADs and asking questions. Don’t spend tons of money on something that you can get for free. If you heart says to go to school, by all means, do it. That is your choice and I’m sure you’ll get something out of it. But if you’re asking me to pull from my background, everything I needed to learn about production, I learned from actual production.

What's your advice for trying to get gigs? Right now, I'm kind of stuck in this purgatory. I have experience 1st ADing on music videos and a few short films. But even with that on a resume, I can't seem to branch out and make new connections. Or if I do, its the typical work 5 days for free, and we won't give you a script to line until the day before...

You’re a spring chicken and that’s the truth. I went through the same thing when I first started 1sting on films. I’d get some paid scraps here and there and I would do a lot of weekend projects/small projects for free to get my hands dirty and meet people. If you’re worth anything, this will pay off soon enough. But it does take time. Being a 1st AD is an experience thing so keep picking up everything you can, learning all you can, and the bigger gigs will eventually come along.

I've read that BA's and MA's in Film are frowned upon in Hollywood. Do you think this is true? I was considering going to the largest film school in my region of the U.S.

Ha! I haven’t even seen anyone even ask for a BA/MA in any job interview I’ve had. I guess it depends on what you’re planning on doing as a career in film. Production is very different from writing is very different from theory is very different from teaching. But in terms of being frowned upon? I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the real truth is that unless you’re going to become a film professor or a film critic or write film theory, producers by and large do not care whether you have a degree in film or not. I have a BA in film and video production from a big art school and never once have I been asked whether I have a degree or not.

Hey I'm working on my first project with SAG actors. I know they have strict hours but I don't know if it's 10 or 12. Can you offer any pointers I might need for working with SAG?

It’s 8 hours officially with a 12 hour turn around. Your producer dealing with the SAG contract will have all your project’s specific terms in regards to the SAG actors, but do know that you will need to keep their time on set short even if you run 12 hour days. Also make sure they get a proper weekend turnaround or else the production will be charged for a 6 day workweek. Again, it’s best to talk with your producers as they are the ones working out deals with the actors and SAG and may have worked out a different agreement with the actor.

Good luck!

Update from IATSE 491 ⇢


Local 491 president

Status Update
By Harrison M Palmer
Train Tragedy Update. Following up on the MIDNIGHT RIDER incident: There was not a full ‘tech scout’ prior to the “dream sequence” being shot on the train trestle. It was a pre pro/prep/camera test day & NOT a ‘production…

Hi Michelle, I am currently attempting to break down a script for a short film. The script is 15 pages and 13 of them are one long scene where there is a conversation going on between two characters, one on camera and one off camera. That's pretty much the whole film. How would you break it down prior to dropping it into scheduling software. I'm using lightspeed eps which I find very useful and superior to moviemagic.Your help will be greatly appreciated. Many thanks. Greg

I’ve done long or complicated scenes broken up and labeled by parts. For example, your scene 2 is 13 pages long. Obviously you’re not going to shoot all 13 pages in one day. I mean, you could… it’s been done a bunch of times… but no one ever recommends that and I certainly don’t. Regardless, this needs to be represented in the stripboard.

During pre-pro when you’re making the BD sheets, you can break the scene up into parts. Say you’re filming scene 2 over the course of 3 days. So as not to confuse the hell out of the crew by labeling it scene 2 with all 13 pages represented on each day, you can split it up by saying “2pt1” (or “2ptA”), “2pt2”, etc. You’ll need to create several breakdown sheets for the scene, each sheet representing each part.

You can then divide the amount of pages of the scene per part anyway you’d like. It’s also entirely up to you how you divide each scene up. You can make each part according to shot, cast, angle, wardrobe and makeup changes, etc. Whatever works best for those days and the production as a whole.

You can also use this technique for complicated scenes that you know you cannot shoot out in one day or would like to spread out over several days. Say you want to shoot out all the dialog on a scene, but save the car crash at the end of the scene for another day. This is a great way to represent this in the schedule without causing any confusion or forcing your crew to prep for shots that aren’t even going to be filmed until the following day. This also makes it easier on your UPM to budget for special equipment/additional labor, etc.

I have yet to check out lightspeed but I’d like to give it a go. Movie Magic is great but it drives me up the wall sometimes.

Happy scheduling!

From the set I’m currently working on. RIP Sarah Jones, and to all crew who have died on the job.

From the set I’m currently working on. RIP Sarah Jones, and to all crew who have died on the job.

Listen Up Aspiring Producers! Safety First. Above All Else.

I’m going to start this first by saying that my heart goes out to all who were hurt and affected by the tragedy in the Atlanta film community this week. Especially towards Sarah Jones, her friends, family, and coworkers. I know no amount of words can ease the grief they are feeling but I want them to know all of us - the whole film community - is there for them and supports them.

If you’re unaware of what happened, you can read about it here.Basically, a production was doing camera tests on a railway. The production decided to do some shots without explicit permission from the railroad on a train bridge. A train came up “unexpectedly” and hit a prop that was on the bridge. The prop’s debris injured several crew members who were running to basecamp and killed one girl when a piece of debris caused her to fall on the tracks and get hit by the train. It’s an awful accident.

And the ensuing finger pointing has been nothing but downright ugly.

This all hits too close to home for me. And I’m sure other ADs have been in these situations. Since I’m working my way up through indies as a 1st, I have definitely encountered my fair share of shady producers and even some directors who have willingly thrown their cast and crew into shitty situations.

Being the 1st AD in unsafe filming conditions fucking sucks. I’m not going to say that in any less crude terms. It. Fucking. Sucks. The 1st is stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Overall, their job is to ensure the picture gets made within a timeline and if possible, on budget. They often are a mouthpiece for not only the director, but also the entire production department. And sometimes the production department wants them to enforce things that deep down, they know are wrong. Very wrong.

When it comes to the safety of the crew and cast, no movie is worth dying for. Let me say that again: Safety Comes First. Before All Else.

Can I make that any clearer? Here’s what I’ve experienced a couple times in indies: Some producers straight up don’t give a fuck. They treat their production staff, crew, and even cast like they are expendable. Like they’re dirty diapers that can be tossed once they’ve been used. There are many producers who think they are invincible, think they can make anyone do anything by waving a dollar at them, and believe they can do no wrong. And they love to throw their 1st ADs under the bus.

I have been reprimanded for calling out safety violations on a set. I have had producers and directors go behind my back to perform an unsafe shot, not allowing me the chance to put my foot down or warn the crew ahead of time. One particular instance of this happening almost killed my entire shooting crew and myself. Simply because the director wanted the stunt driver to go ten feet beyond the safety line. He whispered it to the stunt driver as I was calling roll. And I only know that because an SPFX tech overheard it but couldn’t speak up before action was called. The stunt driver was a green guy and really wanted to impress so he went for it, lost control of his vehicle (we were filming in sand next to a trench, the safety line I established was based on lots of rehearsing and making sure the car could slide to a stop without going into the trench), and crashed into the trench our crew was filming from. The crew got out of the way at the last fucking second. The gaffer walked over to the crashed car, picked up the bumper, which was under the front tire, and yelled: “This almost was me!”

I’m surprised he didn’t walk. I’m surprised we all didn’t walk. We should have. I remember very clearly yelling at the director, “well, you got your fucking shot. Hope you’re happy.” And I was reprimanded for saying that. I was reprimanded for being angry that the director went around me and all of the crew that were supervising the safety on the show. I made the director upset because he made a poor decision and cut his 1st AD out of it. The director was not reprimanded for his actions. Only I was. Because of my tone.

That particular show had a lot of problems outside of that, all in which any time the crew’s safety was compromised, either myself or my 2nd were made to feel like we would be fired, have our careers ruined, and our paychecks stopped if we said anything about the safety violations on the show.

THIS IS NOT OK. To this day, I shudder about that show and what it could have done to my crew, many of whom are dear friends that I work with again and again. And whenever I see slimy indie producers cutting corners in regards to safety, I run the other fucking way. I want nothing to do with that. You do not cut corners with people’s lives.

I’ve certainly made my mistakes along the way as a 1st and a 2nd, allowing some sketchy situations to go down. Mostly because of inexperience. I know better now. And I have honed my own red flag radar enough to mostly avoid productions which have a disastrous producing team. But in the end, it’s up to the producers, as the overall bosses of the set, to establish a safe work environment. Producers who ridicule, threaten, and harass ADs and crews who call out safety issues on sets should have their credentials stripped immediately.

It’s really not all that difficult to work with safety regulations and still get your shots. It only takes proper pre-pro to avoid a lot of accidents on set. The last feature I was a 1st on a couple months ago had several scenes in which I had to work with law enforcement and the production team to make sure OSHA rules were met:

  • A scene on a moving ferry in live waters. I worked with the ferry operator and the national coast guard to ensure the ferry would not collide with other ships.
  • A scene in a live oil refinery. Crew had to wear eye and head protection at all times and we had a refinery foreman with us to make sure we were safe while climbing around the tanks, and only allowed a small amount of us to physically be in the rafters.
  • Several scenes involving underaged kids riding motocross bikes through the streets. Always had a stunt double with a specialty in motocross riding on site, as well as a medic, for any of these scenes. The police were notified of which neighborhoods we would be filming around and they would often come out and check up to make sure everyone was ok. The stunt doubles also provided a proper motorcycle process rig for when we needed CUs of the young boys on the motocross bike. It all took time, but no one was injured. And the end result was worth it.
  • Several scenes with fire rigs involved. We worked with the town’s fire department to ensure we had firefighters on site. They also lit and controlled a large bonfire for a scene. We also had them oversee our SPFX tech who had a fire rig in a truck. We had several small boys beating up on a vehicle, so proper precautions were taken to ensure that the vehicle had no gas tank/or presence of gas, that police and medic were right near by, etc. The biggest injury we had was a small cut on an actor’s leg, which was promptly cleaned and bandaged in a way that wouldn’t hurt continuity and the actor felt comfortable to continue to perform.

This was all for a half-million dollar drama, not even a big budget action or horror film. Even the simplest of scripts have scenes that could put a crew in jeopardy. Its not hard, and it’s really not all that expensive, to communicate with local law enforcement, fire departments, and safety agencies to create scenes that are visually pleasing and safe for everyone. It just takes time and patience. And that comes from above - from the producers. It’s up to the producers to establish those relationships and communicate the production’s needs to the right departments. Your first AD is the enforcer of these rules, but unless you’re paying them a producer rate or points on the back end, it is not up to the AD to instigate these connections.  You as a producer should know OSHA rules inside and out, you should know what authorities to be contacting for your production’s needs. Then you bring your ADs up to speed and keep on them about ensuring safety on set. You make sure your ADs know how to clear guns and weapons on set, you make sure they know who to contact if there is an issue, you make sure there’s a fucking medic on every scene involving stunts. This all falls on the producers.

There are things that will happen out of our control. We won’t be able to safety seal everything without shutting down production, locking ourselves in our rooms, and hiring a security team to search everyone who comes within a ten mile radius of our houses. Accidents happen. But there’s a lot we can prevent with just a little bit of forethought.

If I seem a bit tense and angry in this article, it’s because I am fucking angry. I’m angry that a wonderful, talented person lost her life because producers were not thinking of their crew’s safety. I’m angry that her friends and family and coworkers have to go through this grief right now while the production company throws blame every which way but themselves. Producers run the show and should own up to their mistakes and learn from them, and yet, and especially from what I’ve heard in regards to this Savannah company, some producers never learn. And now it’s cost them a life.


Indie producers (not just the ADs) need to know all of the safety issues inside and out in regards to any location their crew is working on. They need to make sure all proper authorities are aware of exactly what the crew is doing. They need to make sure the crew does NOT stray from that, that “guerrilla” shots are not hastily set up without a safety check, etc. No shot is worth dying for.


Assistant Directors don't always yell. Sometimes we write about stuff. Because I'm a workaholic, I sometimes feel the need to document the things I see and the questions that are raised while going through the most insane process of making a director's dreams come true. About me: My name is Michelle. I am a (currently) non-union First Assistant Director working out of Austin, TX. I hope to one day join the DGA and direct my own scripts on the side, but until that time comes... Got questions? Comments? Complaints? A project you want me to AD? (I'm cheap!) Email me at - You can also find me on the good ol' twitter -

Ask me anything