1st AD BASICS: FOR RUNNING A GOOD SET
In prep: you create the shooting schedule, in consultation with PM, director and all departments. You lead tech surveys of locations, and the production meeting with all keys. (You don’t attend rehearsals with actors or creative meetings with director/DOP/art dept – but you should meet with director regularly to review all creative decisions, especially shot lists – and thorough location visits with director are recommended.
On set: you run the set – the Aaron to the director’s Moses – you are the bridge between the PM and the director. Your responsibilities to both are equal: you work to support the director getting the best scene possible – getting her vision on screen -- in terms of performance and coverage; you work to ensure the production stays on schedule.
Indie film sets tend to be more polite and supportive than industry/TV sets – for instance, indie 1st AD’s don’t scream or yell (even in TV they don’t really yell much any more) – they don’t need to, the crew respects them – it’s really an old-fashioned cliché that American sets (and Firsts) used to be quite harsh and loud – they’re not any more. Indie 1st’s demonstrate their authority and their control of a set by being respectful, efficient, focused, calm, and setting a tone of relaxed, alert professionalism.
Respectful: know everyone’s name on set – and make sure your call sheet has a full cast/crew list, so you (and everyone) can consult when you forget someone’s name. Especially the PA’s and dailies!
Efficient: always be thinking ahead to the next shot, the next scene – and ensuring that every dept is doing the same (e.g. letting art dept know that “after the next set-up, we’ve cut scene 7, and so will be moving on to the kitchen set before lunch”)
Focussed: you’re the centre of the set – you never leave set (except for 10-1) – often director will be off working with actors, but you stay on set with camera crew while they’re lighting – you can be their stand-in
Calm: the crew, the PM and especially the director need you to be calm, especially when things go wrong. Everyone takes their cues from your mood – so be conscious of communicating a vibe that says “We’re working on a solution – it’s all gonna work out if we work together.” Most of all, the director and the DOP really need you to be calm – not breathing down their neck, constantly worrying them about the clock or the sunset – but instead, calmly contributing wisdom and solutions – “Let’s take a minute and talk about the next scene, maybe we can simplify the coverage?’
Alert: Always be on top of what every department is working on – and what they should be working on, in relation to the schedule, the scene, and what’s coming up next. Your job is not to police the other departments – but to help each department do their job better.
DON’T gossip or goof around too much – sure be in a good mood, but chatting means you’re not staying alert to what else is going on.
DON’T yell. The crew won’t respect you.
DON’T single anyone out. Mistakes happen – people mess up. Don’t embarrass or criticize any crew or cast member, especially in front of others. Instead, the 1st AD’s job is to get everyone focused on finding a solution together – and supporting the person who has messed up – diffusing any anger/resentment, putting things back in perspective.
DON’T be a clock-watcher. Or at least, don’t appear to be one.
GENERAL TIPS FOR FIRST AD'S…
ABOUT HOW TO RUN A HAPPY, PRODUCTIVE AND EFFICIENT SET...
1. State the obvious: even experienced crews sometimes need to be reminded what to do next -- "Let's get the set ready."
2. Keep the info flowing: announcing "Camera's on the move," "We're going to go again."
3. Keep the tone positive: "We're fixing a light" or "We're doing touches" -- NOT "We're waiting on lighitng" or "Waiting on hair"
4. 1st AD always stays on set -- you're the anchor -- keeping everyone focussed -- suggest to the DOP that you be stand-in for lighting etc. (thus the crew gets used to you being at the centre)
5. 3rd AD always stays with actors -- this is the crucial walkie relationship
6. DPR's: lets use em this year! They track how the shoot day goes... (again, tone is positive, not judgemental)
7. Introduce actors to DOP, props, continuity, camera operator, sound -- all the people who will be speaking directly to the actors
8. Shot-lists: you get a copy, the director MUST keep their original -- and yes, it will adapt -- so think of your role not as the guard dog but as a second pair of creative eyes -- e.g. have the directors back -- make sure they're not cutting shots that they're gonna need in the edit --
9. A first AD is not a guard dog or a time keeper -- the coverage that is shot is essentially a COLLABORATION between DOP (the footage), director (the story) and 1st AD (time) -- your contributions are crucial to keeping things on track, both practically AND creatively
10. When you need to remind the director or DOP that it's time -- do it quietly, personally -- don't put them on the spot in front of the crew
ADVICE FOR DIRECTORS, DOP’S & PM’S…
HOW TO BEST WORK WITH YOUR 1ST AD…
1. In prep: 1st needs your shot list to schedule the one-line – because they’re counting number of set-ups, not just number of scenes.
2. At prod mtg with keys, review onset procedures (SPLURTS) so everyone is up-to-speed and on the same page. For 1st blocking of the day to happen at call time, ALL depts. need to be on side – hair, make-up, costume, camera, lights, art, etc…
3. In prep, review shot list for each day with 1st – all of you TOGETHER are responsible for coming up with a shooting plan which works and is realistic, given all the logistics –
4. On set: the 1st is there so that the rest of you can focus on your various specific jobs – so let them know you trust them and respect them.
5. NEVER go by hear-say about other crew members (“it’s so-and-so’s fault that we’re running late”). Always ask the 1st first, get their opinion – probably all sorts of factors are involved. AND… by the same token, DON’T assume the 1st AD is to blame – often it’s out of their hands, and the slow-down is more because of a glitch, a mistake, and especially… the director and crew not following good on-set procedures!
* CALLING THE ROLL *
When you start a new scene, here’s the order of call’s:
"Private Blocking is up" (w/Director DOP 1st Actors)
"Blockings Up" (Director shows the crew the blocking, reviews all coverage)
"Lightings Up" (DOP has the floor, lighting the scene)
"Rehearsals Up" (Actors called back to set, full rehearsal with camera, sound)
"Quiet on Set"
"Action on Rehearsal" (Director or 1st can call this)
"Cutting on Rehearsal"
"Pictures Up – Lock it Up –"
"First Positions" (actors and camera go to first positions to shoot master)
"Last Looks" (for hair, makeup, costume)
"Roll sound" (if shooting double system)
"Roll camera" (if shooting single system – sound plugged into camera)
"Camera: Mark It"
AC with slate/clapperboard: they say "Scene and Take # and mark it"
Camera operator: "Frame"
(scene plays out)
(Director wants another take)
"Going Again. 1st positions."
(repeat until you have a good take – and in some cases, a safety).
"Punching in for a close-up (popping a lense) "– always a good idea on almost every shot – takes an extra min (your editor will LOVE you!)
In film: checking the gate.
"Moving on" (to next shot). Tell the crew what the next shot is.
After you’ve done all your shots in this scene…
"It’s a wrap on scene X".
"Private Blocking up for Scene Y."
BOLD ITALIC are notes/comments on what is actually said on indie and industry sets today -- what's current and appropriate.
One of the 1st AD's responsibilities is to "call the roll". Over the years, special procedures have been developed for this task to achieve maximum efficiency during shooting, which is usually some variant of the following:
1) "Waiting on..." Though not technically part of calling the roll, 1st ADs may keep the set focused by frequently calling out which department is responsible for a delay in rolling a take. If the lights need to be adjusted, the 1st AD calls out, "Waiting on gaffers". If the actors are still in their trailer, the 1st AD calls out "Waiting on talent", etc. However, such calls can be regarded as applying excessive pressure to the department in question, and especially in the case of actors, are often avoided.
Never done on Canadian sets -- would be considered very rude to single any department out.
2) "Final checks, please" (or "Last looks"). Once everyone is in place, and rehearsals and blocking have finished, the 1st AD calls out, "Final checks" or "Checks". This is the signal for any last minute adjustments, especially to hair, makeup, wardrobe and props.
Here we say "Finals."
3) "Quiet on the set" (or "Lock it down" or "Picture is up"). The 1st AD calls "Quiet on the set" to alert everyone that the take is ready and imminent. "Lock it down" is also a signal (particularly on location) to ensure nothing interrupts the take, crucial for Third Assistant Directors, as this is their primary responsibility during a take.
'Quiet on set' means cut the chatter, very close to shooting; 'Lock it Up' (not down) is for whole crew to assume positions for shooting, and for set to be secured, in terms of traffic, sound, doors being closed, fans turned off, etc.; 'Picture's up' is more useful and specific, distinct from 'Rehearsal's Up'.
4) "Turnover." While some ADs say both "Roll sound" and "Roll camera", "Turnover" signals both the camera and sound departments to start rolling. The sound department will roll first (sound stock is cheaper than film, so this minimises the film footage used for the take). After a second or two, the sound recordist will confirm that the recording equipment is running at the correct speed by calling "Speed". Hearing this, the Clapper-Loader immediately calls out the scene and take numbers so that these details are on the recording. Simultaneously (or within a very few seconds) the Camera Operator or Focus Puller will roll the camera, and immediately the camera is confirmed as running at the correct speed, will call for the Clapper-Loader to "Mark it" (or "Smack it", "Bang it", "Tag it", etc.). This is done by showing the slate ("clapper-board") on camera, and bringing the clapper down to make a synchronisation point for audio (the sound of the clapper) and picture (the two parts of the clapper being seen to come together). With the slate quickly taken out of shot, and the camera refocussed or repointed as necessary for the opening framing, the Camera Operator calls "Set" or "Frame" to indicate that all is ready to capture the action.
1st AD: Quiet on set... First positions... (for actors & camera to assume 1st positions for start of scene)... roll sound.
Camera Operator (once framed up on slate): Mark it.
Clapper-Loader: Scene & Take Numbers, then claps the slate. If it's not a clean 'clap,' or if it's off camera, Clapper says 'Second Sticks' and it's done again. (Continuity ensures Scene Angle and Take Numbers are correct on slate -- some Clapper boards also include Shot -- a sequential counting of set-ups from 1st day of principal to picture wrap -- useful in your edit for searching and reference . Though every film is different, 15-25 setups per day is average, so a 5-day short would be 75-125 set-ups total.
Camera Operator: Frame.
1st AD (only if there's extras): Background Action.
Same as above if shooting dual system, but if you're doing ‘single system’ -- sending sound right into camera (practical on indie shoots): Roll camera...
Camera: Mark it... (rest of call is same)
5) The 1st AD then calls "Action" (possibly preceded by "Background Action" if extras must be in motion before the main action commences), although the Director might perform this function if he/she prefers it.
Director always calls Action.
6) Only the Director says "Cut". Correct.
7) After the Director has called "Cut", the 1st AD will check whether the Director is happy with the take, and conclude the roll with a direction such as "Going again" or "That's a take two" if another take is required. If the Director does not want another take, the AD will call "Check the gate" (a signal for the Focus Puller or Camera Assistant to confirm that the camera has not malfunctioned during a take, and that there is no hair or fluff in the aperture ("gate") where the film is exposed). When the camera has been checked, the call from the Focus Puller or Camera Assistant will be "Clear gate!". Then, if the scene is complete, the AD may call "Moving on" or "Next scene". These announcements cue all departments and the ADs on set as to the next steps they must take. For example, "Going again" may require a reset of elements in the frame (extras, cars - anything that moved) back to where they started, which the 3rd AD will oversee.
1st AD: 'Going again' for next take, or, if you’ve got it -- 'Check the gate' 'Gate's clean, moving on.'
Director tells continuity her preferred take – this is info for the editor – (in the old days, on film, when the lab would only print selected takes or ‘selects’ --
1st AD announces what the next shot is, based on the previously decided upon angles of DOP/director. 'Private Blocking's up for next scene.' This is when director, actors, DOP and 1st AD do blocking -- rest of crew stands down. Gaffer and sparks do NOT start lighting next scene -- camera crew & grips do NOT start moving camera -- they must wait to be shown a blocking.
When blocking is ready to be shown to entire crew, 1st AD says 'Blocking's Up' -- so crew knows to come to set and watch. During blocking, DOP and Director stand where 1st camera angle (most often the master) will be. Director shows the crew the scene, then describes the coverage: the master and the coverage. This gives all departments a clear sense of which direction the scene is being covered in, and how many set-ups to cover the scene.
AC throws down marks with tape for all actors positions during blocking.
Sometimes you'll run the blocking for crew, and need to make further adjustments -- for blocking, lighting, camera -- and then run it again. Ideally, the scene is ready to go, you've figured out all creative and practical logistics, the crew gets to watch it once and then is ready to go to work.
Once scene is lit and camera/dolly are ready, 1st AD: "Rehearsal's Up". Full rehearsal with all depts, including sound. (If it's a big emotional scene, or involves kissing/sex, actors sometimes hold back a bit during rehearsal -- but ideally, the rehearsal should be as close as possible to how it'll actually play, so crew can react to actual actions for camera framing, and actual sound for recording levels.
Other calls -- 1st AD: "Punching in for CU" "Popping In" (if shooting with primes, means popping a lens). "Turning Around" -- shooting coverage from opposite side. "Block shooting" -- means similar angles from different scenes are grouped together, and may require costume changes between set-ups.
CLOSED SET: 1st announces "Closed Set." for intimate scenes, especially with nudity. All crew except essential crew must leave the set. Monitors are hard-wired (wireless is turned off). Best idea is to be very matter-of-fact about Closed Sets -- downplay, don't make it into a big deal -- it's just sex/nudity, after all. The more relaxed the crew is, the more relaxed the actors will be. Match this with fundamental respect for your actors -- ensure they feel supported and protected. On-set wardrobe (not a PA) should be standing by with bathrobes. Make sure set is warm and comfortable.
The above roll sequence can be varied by, for example, eliminating the sound calls and the clapping of the slate if the shot is mute or "MOS" ("MOS" is a universal abbreviation for "MitOut Sound" - supposedly mimicking German directors in the early days of Hollywood sound films). At other times, for expediency (e.g. if the shot begins with a closeup of a closed door which then opens), the slate may be shown at the end of the take rather than the beginning. In this case, once the sound is rolling, there is an audible announcement of "End board" or "End slate" -- We say 'tail slate' -- so that the editing department knows to look for the sync marks at the end of the action. At the conclusion of the action, the Director will still call "Cut", but the 1st AD (and possibly others) will immediately call "End board!" so that the camera and sound recorder are not turned off before the clapper is clapped. Also, as a visual cue to the editors, the clapper-board will be shown upside down on camera.
Abbey: 2nd last shoot of day.
Window: final shot of day.