Second Assistant Director: Everything You Need to Know

A second assistant director, sometimes written as assistant director (2nd), helps the first assistant director on a film set. Key second assistant director and additional assistant director are also common names for the second assistant director. This title is also regularly shortened to second AD, 2nd AD, 2AD, or simply second.

What Do Second Assistant Directors Do?

Second assistant directors perform duties delegated by the first assistant director. They work on films, television programs, and other video content. The project’s director or producer hires the second assistant director, and they often consult the first assistant director on their choice.
Some of the second assistant director’s common duties include:

  • Breaking down the script with the first assistant director
  • Creating a breakdown and budget for extras
  • Discussing which character parts are cast and which are extras or walk-on roles with the director, producer, and casting director
  • Organizing read-throughs and director’s rehearsals
  • Confirming who needs to be on set each day and their transport arrangements
  • Using information about daily set needs to prepare call sheets under the first assistant director’s supervision
  • Distributing call sheets to cast and crew, usually via email
  • Organizing transport for cast members needed on set
  • Supervising cast members to make sure they are in makeup, in wardrobe, and on set when needed
  • Auditioning and supervising extras, including handling requisitions, release forms, and other documents
  • Updating the key production office employees on shooting progress and timings
  • Checking in with makeup, wardrobe, and catering to make sure they have everything they need
  • Writing daily production reports and notes, including script changes
  • Completing all other tasks assigned by the first assistant director

Very large productions may have a third assistant director or assistant director trainees working underneath the second assistant director. They will take on some of the duties listed above.

Essential Skills for Second Assistant Directors

Second assistant directors use a variety of skills to handle their responsibilities on set. These skills include:

  • Organization, time management, and multitasking skills to coordinate cast members’ movements and make sure shooting runs according to schedule
  • Verbal and written communication skills to confirm set needs, create call sheets and reports, and give clear instructions to cast members
  • Intermediate knowledge of film production concepts, including filming, lighting, and sound recording and mixing
  • Interpersonal skills to build relationships and interact with people in different kinds of roles
  • Computer literacy, including confidence using email, Microsoft Office programs, and Movie Magic Scheduling or similar
  • Delegation skills for identifying and assigning tasks to production assistants and interns
  • Teamwork for success working as part of a larger film production
  • Problem-solving skills for addressing challenges when shooting does not go according to schedule
  • First aid for giving medical care if the first assistant director is unavailable

Essential Qualities for Second Assistant Directors

Second assistant directors also tend to have common personality traits. Some of the qualities that help these individuals succeed include:

  • Diplomacy for speaking tactfully to cast members when they are under pressure
  • Attention to detail to make sure call sheets are comprehensive and distributed to all cast and crew
  • Efficiency to work quickly but to a high standard
  • Capability so that first assistant directors can feel confident in their assistance
  • Flexibility to adapt to any last-minute changes in scheduling and the sporadic nature of freelancing
  • Motivation to continue performing, even during long days on set
  • Calmness and patience for dealing with challenges on the job

Education for Second Assistant Directors

There are no essential qualifications for second assistant directors. However, a college degree or film school diploma in film and television can give aspiring second assistant directors a good understanding of film basics. These courses teach students how to operate film and digital cameras, frame and light shots, and record and mix sounds. Entertainment business courses are also valuable for teaching aspiring second assistant directors about contracts.

What to Expect as a Second Assistant Director

Getting started as a second assistant director can be daunting, but knowing what to expect will make this career journey easier.

How to Get Started as a Second Assistant Director

To get started in this career, follow these steps:

  • Gain experience before becoming a second assistant director. Most people acquire experience in lesser roles before becoming second assistant directors. Consider working as a production assistant, camera assistant, or camera operator, then working your way up.
  • Join the Directors Guild of America (DGA). Membership isn’t compulsory, but it is essential for working on projects that operate under a collective bargaining agreement where the DGA is a signatory. This includes film and television programs from most major studios and production companies. The DGA can also help second assistant directors secure better pay.
  • Apply for every job you can. Breaking into the industry can be difficult, so you shouldn’t be too picky with your applications. All projects can help you gain valuable experience and build your network and resume, no matter how big or how small they are.
  • Freelance. Most second assistant directors are freelancers, moving from contract to contract rather than securing regular work with any particular studio. That’s why it’s so important for second assistant directors to do a good job and network. People usually remember second assistant directors who perform well on the job. This can lead to repeat work and promotions.
  • Volunteer. While paid experience is valuable, you should strongly consider volunteering when you are first starting out. It won’t pay the bills, but it may lead to opportunities that will.
  • Ask for help. Second assistant directors are part of a tight-knit community. Seek out people who have the roles you want, and ask them for advice and guidance. The connections you make could be valuable to you in the future.
  • Prepare for long hours. Second assistant directors spend long days at work, often performing menial tasks. They are frequently among the first people to arrive on set and the last to leave. Preparing yourself for this will help you perform the work well with a smile on your face.

Second Assistant Director Salary

Salaries for second assistant directors vary from project to project. Pay rates depend on the hours required and the project’s budget. However, these professionals should make at least $200 per day.
Second assistant directors represented by the Directors Guild of America are entitled to minimum rates on union productions. For 2020-2021, the minimum weekly salary for a studio production is $3,749. For shoots on location, second assistant directors should earn at least $5,239.
As most second assistant directors are independent contractors, they must budget carefully for slow periods and set money aside for taxes. A good accountant can help second assistant directors manage their financial affairs.

Groups and Organizations

Along with the Director’s Guild of America, there are many excellent groups that second assistant directors can join. These online groups can help these individuals find work and advance in their careers. They include:

Working as a second assistant director can be an excellent step for anyone interested in a production career. You can learn more about working in this role and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute.

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