The 2nd Assistant Director (called 2nd AD for short) is the 1st AD’s right-hand person. They exist to make sure all of the 1st AD’s orders and directives are carried out. But in the film industry, each of these fancy numbered titles comes with its very own detailed job description. Don’t be fooled — the 2nd AD is not just the 1st AD’s errand runner. They manage a defined list of tasks that fall under the 1st AD’s jurisdiction:
In the office they…
- Create the call sheet, production reports, sides, and other breakdowns
- Update and communicate schedule changes on behalf of the 1st AD
- Communicate details to the cast & crew so they know when / where to arrive
- Oversee the cast / talent to make sure they get through hair / makeup / wardrobe and arrive on set on time. (this is often delegated to a PA)
- Make sure the cast, crew, and department heads have everything they need to do their jobs well.
On some shoots, they may also help on set by…
- Assisting the 1st AD as needed
- Directing background/extras
But that’s just the nuts and bolts, the physical things that they do every day. Just because someone is capable of carrying out that list doesn’t make them a great 2nd AD. More is required… so let’s look at the key qualities that make a functioning 2nd AD stand out as great.
A Great 2nd AD Is…
Focused on the future
As they work each day they are making the schedule for the next day. They are looking ahead and blazing tomorrow’s trail for the whole team. They let the 1st AD stress about how the crew is going to make-the-day that day and focus instead on what will make tomorrow the best day yet.
Engaged in communication
They don’t just send out the call sheet each night. They follow up, talk to people in person, and work overtime to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Aware of needs
They know and remember the unique needs and strengths of their cast & crew: who is reliable in a crisis, who needs extra down time, and who has severe food allergies. They are also aware of the stresses placed on production leadership and work make the production office a safe haven where clear thinking can happen and good decisions are made.
Able to lead… & follow
They are not in charge, but they are in charge of communicating what the people in charge said. Let’s be real, it’s a tough job. They need to be strong enough to delegate and communicate clearly, but humble enough to swallow their own opinion and support the decisions of production leadership.
They should always be seeking to bring order to the chaos around them. The creative process naturally creates a sense of chaos, but the 2nd AD is designed to counterbalance that chaos. They should always be looking for new ways to be more organized. Like a game or a hobby, they should always be thinking “the way we did it was good, but this new system would be better!”
Willing to delegate
They can’t do it all, so they have to be willing to ask for help and delegate tasks to productions assistants and interns. They know that there are no awards for overworked martyrs who won’t delegate or ask for help. They also know that delegation stretches and empowers those who are coming up behind them and helps to make all of us better and stronger.
Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “perfect” 2nd AD. Nobody is perfect, but somewhere in that struggle for perfection is the word “great” – the cumulative average of our highest highs and the lowest lows. The great 2nd AD will still make mistakes: accidentally send the call sheet to the wrong contact list, or forget to notify an actor of a schedule change. gasp Stuff happens. But the thing that makes any of us great is the ability to get back up and keep trying.
The great 2nd AD is someone you know will keep showing up and giving it their all, not because they can attain perfection, but because the cumulative average of great is something worth striving for.