I've been in this indie game for quite some time now. And much of that has been spent BEHIND the lens, not in front of it. However, behind the lens is not literal in my case. I am referring to being a 1st AD, Producer, Wardrobe Supervisor, Script Supervisor (my LEAST fave position but one of the most important in terms of majoring in the minor for editing and continuity purposes), et.al. However, I realize that many times, smaller productions don't realize how vital an AD or Assistant Director is, so they forgo that role and wind up overwhelmed and ill-prepared.
I talk a lot about my transferable skills from Corporate America. Well let me tell you, this summer I spent my time working on major sets on First Team (that means working as a Production Assistant directly with the stars of the film). During this time I saw the brilliance of AD's and also how a poor AD can lend to the clusterfu** that can be set life.
I came across a great article on one of my fave sites, Indiewire; it spoke about the importance of an AD, even for small budgets. I was excited to speak on this as I've worked both on my own and with my B.O.P. partner as a 1st AD on our projects and others, and I know I've made a difference in the work that was done. Not from a "pat myself on the back" standpoint. But from a "WTF happened?!" and "now here's what do we do" standpoint.
Often times when new filmmakers are ready to shoot, especially if they are writer/directors for the first time, they are not as in tune with the needs of the various departments and the need for an outside party to run that need analysis and help them get things together. Often you will have someone who feels that it's a small film, short shoot and micro-budget so they can do it. Or, my boy or home girl can help me, it won't be too much. This is a mistake for sure!!!!
AD is equal to ALWAYS DOING! AD's are always moving, working, planning, submitting, executing, etc. They are in pre-production before you shoot to help lay the foundation. They will familiarize themselves with the script, get the plan moving for who is working on locations, wardrobe, properties (props), etc. The 1st AD will be setting your days, working with your Line Producer (the money person!) to figure out what the money is looking like and getting that together. They will be executing location contracts, talent contracts and the like. They will ensure the scheduling for the shoot is accurate, and will know it like it's their name...because as the shoot unfolds that schedule will likely change and they will be the ones confirming that change does not disrupt the entire film and budget.
Once you start shooting, your AD - or 1st AD if there are tiers - is your Gal (or Pal) Friday. They are fielding all issues, problems, concerns and anticipations. They are ensuring the safety of cast and crew, they know who should be arriving when and where and if they are going to be late. Your AD is telling you how to maneuver the day so that it's not as negatively impactful when folks are late or if scenes are taking too long to shoot. They are the gatekeepers for the Director and DP (director of photography), as those folks have to concentrate and on their creative work, not tell someone about catering getting the lunch wrong.
If it's a mid-range budget and you have the monetary room then you can have a 2nd AD put in place. Films that have extensive background needs will absolutely benefit from a 2nd AD. Aside from assisting the 1st AD with whatever may be needed, like locking up the streets for a shot or repeating commands to ensure that everyone hears and that the set is ready, the 2nd AD will run the background. They will hire and round up all of the background actors for the various shots and days. They will hire 2nd Team (the official stand-ins for the stars or First Team) and walk them thru all directed blocking given for a scene. Your 2nd AD will likely assist with the paperwork to help the 1st AD - such as the Exhibit G's and SAG/AFTRA waivers. They should be on it to know that the day is getting long or late and background needs to wrap to save money and to get bodies clear of the set. All of those additional things that can help expedite the day.
In my experience as a 1st AD, each time I was doing more and learning more and contributing more. On my first indie feature, I was the 1st AD and the director was VERY green. Many things in the planning stages had been overlooked, as my partner and I came into the project at the very end of pre-production. Well if it were not for us being 1st and 2nd AD's...much of the film could have been a wash. On a documentary I worked on, as 1st AD I hired most of the crew and even casted a large portion of the interviewed cast. The director was a good director, but totally not into organization or follow through, so my partner and I once again saved the day as 1st and 2nd AD's. It's a repeated tale. LOL
So as you all are using this new cool weather to create, write and plan those spring flicks, winter shorts, or fall features...don't forget to do yourself the biggest favor ever and hire an AD. Be sure they can walk you through their experience, their knowledge of how a set runs, if they have any contacts that can help you crew up affordably but efficiently, etc. Check their resume...then two-step on over to IMDB and double check. Ha! Get references and see what others that they've worked with and for think of them. Most of my gigs as a 1st AD or even Producer were due to references and word of mouth regarding my skill set and efficiency.
And lastly, your girl O is absolutely for-hire. I am an actor, but trust that I enjoy my time in production as well. MOOREthanEnuff Media can crew up your ENTIRE project (budget and tiers respected). Also feel free to share your tales, recommend some people you know and give us a few anecdotes Shining Starrs! Good crew is hard to find, from above to below the line. So don't be stingy!!!