The 1st Assistant Director is not on set to coddle you. They’re on set to inspire you to get yo’ shit done.
I’ve had a barrage of questions about working with fascist dictator type newbie directors lately. So here goes:
First Time Directors should really look up what an Assistant Director actually does. And what they can do to help without being the director’s absolute yes men. Because they won’t be. Or at least, the good ones won’t be. That doesn’t mean the AD is going to be a raging asshole the whole time. It means that if they’re pushing back, they care enough about the project being completed… on time… within budget… and of the quality everyone all set out to achieve.
Newbie directors have this delusion often that they are the Sole Dictator of the Set and everything they say goes. They don’t like it when ADs question, push back, or completely dismiss even the silliest of ideas. Experienced directors know enough to let their ADs do the dirty work of getting the technical aspects going. They don’t burden the crew or the production overall with trying to micromanage the entire set. Unless they’re Kubrick. And Kubrick is dead.
Sometimes this is intimidating, especially if you’re a young AD. You will encounter a headstrong, maybe even completely arrogant, director that demands everyone do everything he says or else. And as much as you want to quit, punch the director in the face, and burn his car in the parking lot… you shouldn’t do these things. Keeping your head high and sticking to your guns will speak bigger volumes than rolling over and letting him have his way with you. Sure, that guy will probably never hire you again, but the flipside is that you probably wouldn’t want to work with that guy again… ever again. ever. no matter what. So who cares?
These type of directors come from a place of extreme insecurity. This insecurity may have come from something entirely not related to filmmaking. Maybe they were abused as children, neglected, dumped badly, or bullied every day at the schoolyard. Who knows? Whatever it is, they bring it with them and try to wield a power over everyone because they can. Because it’s the first time they’ve felt in control. Because they have a bone to pick with the world. Or better yet, they’re not confident in their own job and want to divert everyone’s attention away from that.
You don’t have to submit to their will. You were hired to run the set for the good of the production as much as you can humanly do. You won’t be able to please everyone… and that’s ok. But if you’re using your best judgement to get the shotlist done without running 18 hour days everyday and wasting colossal amounts of time on one insert, you’re going to impress the right folks for future work. Instead of getting mad at the director, get even. By doing the best damn job you can do.