The first assistant director on a film has always been important. But the position — also known as a 1st AD or assistant director — is about to be more important than ever, thanks to COVID-19.
Attorney David A. Pierce explained in a livestream webinar Thursday, presented by Slamdance and MovieMaker, that the 1st AD is generally the person on a film set responsible for making sure everything runs on time. But the 1st AD is also the person responsible for on-set safety.
Why is the person in charge of making things go quickly also the person responsible for safety?
To make sure no one rushes the safety person.
“Filmmaking is generally classified as a hazardous activity,” Pierce said Thursday. “People get injured, people die on movie sets, and the government is aware of it. And they want to see, even on an independent film, a proper safety manual that addresses known hazards. And now that COVID-19 is a known hazard… you’re going to have — separate and apart from your regular safety manual — a COVID-19 safety manual,” Pierce said.
As the person responsible for safety, the 1st AD will be the one responsible for enforcing the rules of the manual, Pierce said.
“People always ask you, ‘That’s so odd. Why is the 1st AD in charge of overseeing all safety issues?’ Well, actually, whoever first came up with this was really brilliant,” Pierce said.
He continued: “Because they understand that what is the 1st AD’s primary job duty to make sure that the production stays on time and on budget. And the 1st AD does that by making sure that they get all the shots that are required to be shot for each day of shooting. And the 1st AD is the guy with the bullhorn that’s saying, ‘Come on, people. Hurry up. Hurry up. … We’ve got to get this scene. Let’s go. Okay, check the gate.'”
“He’s the timekeeper. So it makes sense. … If [safety] wasn’t his responsibility, and his or her only responsibility was to make sure you get your days, you’re going to have a guy speeding. And speed leads to potential safety, hazards and injuries. So let’s make the same guy who wants speed be the same guy who is policing safety, so that you don’t go any faster than what is the proper rate of travel. So No injuries occur in the workplace. It was really, really brilliant.”
The 1st AD will likely work with a COVID-19 coordinator responsible for enforcing a slew of new rules around cleaning, social distancing, and more. You can watch Pierce’s full rundown on the state of COVID-19 regulations below. And please don’t make a film — no matter how big or small — without being fully informed.
Main feature photo above: DP Jay Silver and operator Evan Barthelman, 1st AD Jim Dougherty and boom operator Heather Bronge on the set of the 2015 film Reparation. No one will stand this close to each other unmasked for a very long time.