This summer has been hell on earth for me. Not because it’s been 107° every-freaking-day in Texas since May, but because I’ve been doing the unthinkable in the professional world: I have been Producing the Same Project I am also ADing.
And it’s finally fucking over.
It’s not the project itself that wore me out, it’s the double duty-ing. Some hats are just not made to be worn at the same time, no matter how logical it seems in the beginning.
And while I was able to not have a single day over 12 hours and the director was very happy with what was filmed and the project came in under budget, I felt like I was not emotionally able to be there as a 1st AD as I should have been. And honestly, I will pick 1st AD over Producer as a title every single time. Why? BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I AM FIRST AND FOREMOST: A 1st ASSISTANT DIRECTOR.
So why would anyone even think of doing such a thing to their production? Money is usually the 1st reason. Control is the 2nd. When you work on dysfunctional low budget sets enough, you start to dream of how you would run things and how perfect it will be. And who knows best when it comes to fuck ups on the production end trickling to the film set? Your Assistant Directors. So, in the beginning, it seems totally logical to have the producer be the AD or vice versa, I mean, shit, they already run things anyway and know what needs to get done in order for the set to run…
So why the hell is this a bad idea? Let me explain my summer in ten ways:
1. You cannot be in two places at once. This is physically impossible.
Science has not developed an insta-clone device in which we can physically put ourselves in two places at once. Unless you believe and I mean really live the Many Worlds Theory… The reality is that Producers need to have the ability to leave set at will to negotiate, put out fires, scout, meet, etc. Assistant Directors are useless off set unless they’re the 2nd AD. Your job is to run set. You cannot do that from a meeting with an investor.
2. If you’re doubling up as an AD/Producer, you most likely cannot afford a Production Manager either.
Which means, in the middle of a complicated camera set up in which the director and DP is trying to explain blocking and what needs to happen, you’re most likely going to be asked for petty cash to get ice for the coolers and we need an equipment damage report for that stinger the AC accidentally closed a door on and caused a gash in, and oh yeah, when do we get paid? I have child support I need to get a check to.
3. Assistant Directors aren’t usually privy to and an expert in financial wheelings and dealings.
No seriously, I did not get a business degree or a financial management degree. Ledgers? Tax forms? Escrow accounts? Investing is a high risk activity clauses?! What world have I entered here? I wanna go back to set, please.
4. You have to be the douchebag you usually complain about.
Fake smile. Firm handshake. Freshly pressed business attire. Gag reflex. I get why producers do what they do. You sometimes have to be someone completely different from who you actually are in order to appease the industry folks that you wheel and deal with. On set, we snicker and make jokes about producers and the lavish illusions of Hollywood, but once you have to be that person just to not lose the location or get the agent to not pull their actress at the last minute, there’s a whole new appreciation for even getting to day 1 of filming.
5. Pre-production is double the hell it normally is.
As an AD, I often spend pre-production getting to know the director/producers, picking my staff, breaking down the script, building a solid production schedule with as few company moves as possible (and hopefully, even fewer overnight shoots and fuck you fridays), reviewing shotlists, talking to stunts/special effects/vanities about set up times, planning and running tech scouts, checking in on rehearsals, relaying changes to department heads, and getting as familiar with the mechanics of the production as possible.
As a Producer, I have to be locking in locations, building contracts and crew/cast deal memos, making sure that paperwork gets signed, arguing with agents, building and keeping tabs on the budget, hiring crew, renting equipment, securing insurance, making sure we have parking/bathrooms/holding areas, renting production vehicles, negotiating backend deals, keeping the director motivated, keeping the director’s vision from bloating to impossible to achieve proportions, making sure department heads aren’t steamrolling their first hands, playing babysitter and therapist all at the same time. And that’s before I even get to dealing with the assistant directors.
6. I am in constant contradiction.
Producers and ADs are very often very different creatures. I’m very mechanical as an AD. I run set and make sure everyone has what they need to do their jobs well and efficiently. I am thrilled to set marks for background and call the roll. But the things I desire as an AD are not always what I desire as a producer. As AD, I feel you’ve gotten the shot in those 15 takes and it’s absolutely time to move on (considering there’s no overtime if we go over 12 hours). As a producer, I want you to keep going until you have every single fucking frame of that shot a brilliant masterpiece or else the investors are going to pull out and the whole thing’s gonna fall apart. As a Producer, truthfully, the shot sucks and we should spend another 45 minutes resetting and getting it right. As an AD, it’s not my fault your shot sucks since you declared you didn’t want my opinion on the blocking anyway. Next time don’t spend an hour setting unmotivated blocking and ignoring the cries of your crew. No more time. New deal.
7. I have to pretend to like demanding/diva-ish talent.
I am admittedly a crew AD. I come from a working class background and have a working class mentality in everything I do. I have a hard time with people who automatically assume they are above everyone else simply because of title. I know I am not alone in this as an AD. Actors and Actresses who come off as Divas are a prickly bunch and many like things a very specific way or nothing at all. As an AD, I can push past them and let the director pamper any fragile egos. They don’t give two shits if the 1st AD liked their performance anyway. But if I’m producing as well, suddenly I have to be their best friend/therapist/on set flirt/and yes man. Or else I’m going to be hearing from their agent.
8. During filming, there is no one to put out the fires ahead of time but yourself.
One of the DGA 1st ADs I really admire once said that the 1st AD represents the present, the set, the actual on the day filming… the 2nd AD represents the future, the next day of filming and prep work, and the 2nd 2nd AD represents the past, what happened on the day and statistics.
A producer is all three at once; he/she is vigilant of past, present, and the future. When I’m on set as an AD, I barely have time to approve the next day’s call sheet, nevermind making phone calls to appease angry location owners for next week’s filming who are upset that the location agreement spelled their name wrong. I have no one looking ahead to fix things before they are a problem, and trust me, there are always problems.
9. Your crew are confused by your position.
This is pretty self explanatory. You are simultaneously the person to bring problems to and the problem itself. The crew will become frustrated when they realize that there is no filter/buffer between them and the Above the Line. And they will also be frustrated when they need something to be taken care of off-set and you are… on set. And if you leave set to take care of what they need taken care of off-set, then they become upset that you are not on-set running the set and telling them exactly what is going on.
10. If it sucks, it’s your name on the project.
As a producer, I am supposed to be overseeing the creative and making sure the director is making wise creative decisions with the budget he/she has. As an AD, I am not responsible for the overall creative feel of the movie. The director can, and will, overrun any creative ideas I might have. As a Producer/AD, I have no one to blame but myself. And that is more pressure than I ever want from any one production that is not my own script.
In conclusion, I declare that I will never do both again, unless I have a strong team of other producers around me to take care of things while I am running set. I cannot be in two places emotionally and physically at once. I am filled with relief that this project is done and what we shot looks really good and we did not go over financially so the director has post-funds to start with. I feel like we have a small victory with this project, considering my other producer was also the gaffer (another double duty that should never happen). But as for me, I am going to save my tension headaches for my own scripts and continue to do what I do best: being the assistant director.