Direction Department

Within the film industry, the Direction department is a subset of a larger occupational group referred to as ‘Production’.   Perhaps the best known role within the Direction department is that of Director, the person who is ultimately responsible for the creative vision and overall style of a feature film.  Within this department, the Director is also supported by a number of Assistant Directors, who ensure that the Director’s artistic ambitions are achieved during the filming process, by providing logistical, organisational and time-management support.

Other roles in the Direction department include the Script Supervisor (who oversees the continuity and edit-ability of each sequence as it is shot).  The most junior role is that of Runner, which encompasses a wide range of general support duties, and which is also conventionally accepted as the entry-level position within not only the Direction department, but within the film Production sector as a whole.

The UK film industry enjoys a very high profile internationally, and is considered a centre of excellence in terms of its production, technical and post-production departments.  However, its overall productivity (and therefore its demand for staff) fluctuates greatly depending on financing, and on the flow of projects.  It is therefore difficult to calculate exactly how many people are specifically employed in film Direction roles, or even in the Production sector as a whole at any one time, as many of the skills required are interchangeable with those required by the large television and theatre sectors.

Although a large number of HE/FE colleges offer Film Directing courses, as well as more general film production skills courses, the key requirement to succeed in this role is undoubtedly industry experience.  The vast majority of people working in this department begin their careers as Runners, or in junior assisting jobs, gradually progressing through the various Directing department roles.  Career paths in this department offer some flexibility, e.g., most First Assistant Directors do not necessarily become Directors – they tend to move into more senior organisational roles, such as Unit Production Manager, or Line Producer.

All roles within the Direction department of the film industry require a high degree of commitment and dedication.  The work usually involves long hours and varied work locations, so flexibility and motivation are important.  As the vast majority of jobs are on a freelance basis, practitioners must take responsibility for seeking work, and for identifying suitable training opportunities for themselves.   Other important qualities for these roles include excellent communication, interpersonal and organisational skills; a close attention to detail; and the ability to multi-task, to be a team player, and to work effectively under pressure.

1. The Film Director

The Director is the driving creative force in a film’s production, and acts as the crucial link between the production, technical and creative teams.  Directors are responsible for creatively translating the film’s written script into actual images and sounds on the screen – he or she must visualise and define the style and structure of the film, then act as both a storyteller and team leader to bring this vision to reality.  Directors’ main duties include casting, script editing, shot composition, shot selection and editing.  While the practical aspects of filmmaking, such as finance and marketing, are left to the Producer, Directors must also always be aware of the constraints of the film’s budget and schedule.  In some cases, Directors assume multiple roles such as Director/Producer or Director/Writer.  Being a Director requires great creative vision, dedication and commitment.  Directors are ultimately responsible for a film’s artistic and commercial success or failure.

Responsibilities
Directors may write the film’s script or commission it to be written; or they may be hired after an early draft of the script is complete.  Directors must then develop a vision for the finished film, and define a practical route for achieving it.  During pre-production, Directors make crucial decisions, such as selecting the right cast, crew and locations for the film.  They then direct rehearsals, and the performances of the actors once the film is in production.  Directors also manage the technical aspects of filming, including the camera, sound, lighting, design and special effects departments.

During post- production, Directors work closely with Editors through the many technical processes of editing, to reach the final cut or version of the film.  At all stages, Directors are responsible for motivating the team to produce the best possible results.  Directors must also appreciate the needs and expectations of the film’s financiers.

Skills
Directors must have exceptional artistic vision and creative skills to develop an engaging and original film.  Unerring commitment and a deep passion for filmmaking are essential, along with the ability to act as a strong and confident leader.  Directors must constantly make decisions, but must also be able to delegate, and to collaborate with others.  Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are vital to get the best from the filmmaking team.

Directors must inspire and motivate the team to produce the film they have envisioned.  They need an extensive understanding of the entire filmmaking process, from both technical and creative points of view.  A capacity for long hours of intensive work, attention to detail, and the ability to remain calm and think clearly under great pressure, are key skills for this role.  Directors also need great self-belief and the determination to succeed.

2. First Assistant Director

(aka First AD or First)

The First Assistant Director (AD) is the Director’s right hand person, taking responsibility for a number of important practicalities so that the Director is free to concentrate on the creative process.  During pre-production, First ADs break down the script into a shot-by-shot storyboard, and work with the Director to determine the shoot order, and how long each scene will take to film.  They then draw up the overall shooting schedule (a timetable for the filming period).  Once the film is in production, Firsts are in charge of making sure that every aspect of the shoot keeps to this schedule.

Responsibilities
First ADs’ main duties are assisting the Director, co-ordinating all production activity, and supervising the cast and crew.  They are also in charge of a department of other Assistant Directors and Runners.  Overall, they provide the key link between the Director, the cast and the crew, whilst also liaising with the production office, and providing regular progress reports about the shoot.

Before the shoot, the Firsts’ main task is to create the filming schedule, working in careful consultation with the Director in order to fulfil his or her creative ambitions.  When drawing up the shooting schedule, First ADs must also be aware of budgetary constraints, cast availability and script coverage.  Preparing the storyboard, overseeing the hiring of locations, props and equipment, and checking weather reports, are all key pre-production duties for Firsts.  During production, they must ensure that everyone is on standby and ready for the Director’s cue for action.

First ADs’ core responsibility is to keep filming on schedule by driving it forward, so they frequently make announcements and give directions to co-ordinate the cast and crew.  They also control discipline on the set, supervise the other Assistant Directors, and oversee the preparation of the daily ‘call sheet’ (a document detailing daily shooting logistics, which is distributed to all cast and crew).  Firsts are also responsible for health and safety on set or location, and must take action to eliminate or minimise hazards at all times.

Skills
First ADs must be authoritative team-leaders and motivators, whilst also being approachable team players.  They need exceptional organisational and time-management skills.  The ability to plan ahead, trouble-shoot and pay close attention to detail is vital in this role.  Being an excellent communicator, with tact and diplomacy skills, is also essential as they must routinely deal with problem or even crisis situations.  They must also constantly prioritise tasks, and may be frequently interrupted, the ability to multi-task is crucial.  Firsts work long and often unsocial hours on a freelance basis, so a strong commitment to the job is essential.  As they also usually work under highly pressurised and stressful conditions, a flexible and positive approach is highly valued.

3. Second Assistant Director

(aka Second AD or Second)

The Second Assistant Director is the First Assistant Director’s right hand person. The Second AD’s main function is to ensure that all the First AD’s orders and directions are carried out.  Seconds have two main responsibilities during production: they prepare and draw up the ‘call sheet’ (a document detailing daily filming logistics, which is distributed to cast and crew), under the supervision of the First; and they oversee all the movements of the cast, ensuring that the principal actors are in make–up, in wardrobe, or standing by on the set at the correct times.

On smaller productions, on which there is no Third Assistant Director, Seconds may also be responsible for finding and looking after background artistes (extras). Most Seconds also assist the First in liaising between the set or location and the production office, updating key personnel on the timings and progress of the shoot.

What is the job?
On each day of a shoot, Seconds must prepare and draw up the next day’s call sheet, (which involves confirming the details of who needs to be on set and at what time, the transport arrangements, extras required etc.). These details must be approved by the production office before the Seconds can distribute the call sheet to the cast and crew. Ensuring that everyone knows their ‘call time’ (the precise time they will be required on set) is a key responsibility – any delay to filming due to bad time–keeping negatively affects the day’s schedule and budget, and is considered unprofessional and extremely inefficient.

Once the day’s filming has begun, Seconds must ensure that all actors are ready for filming when they are required, which entails co–ordinating any transport requirements, as well as make–up and wardrobe timetables. In some cases, Seconds may also be in charge of finding extras, sometimes in large numbers at short notice, and co–ordinating their transport to, and activities on, the set or location.

Essential knowledge and skills
Seconds must have excellent organisational and time–management skills to co–ordinate arrangements and to make efficient plans. First–class communication and interpersonal skills are also essential, as Seconds must deal with a large number of people, convey messages and give instructions clearly, concisely and confidently. Cast members may be under pressure to learn script lines, or to hone their performance, and need to be dealt with tactfully and diplomatically at all times. Paying close attention to detail and always attaining very high standards of efficiency are vital skills for successful Seconds. To foster the confidence of First ADs, Seconds must consistently offer capable support and assistance. As the work is on a freelance basis, and involves long and unsocial hours, Seconds must be extremely motivated and always flexible.

Key skills include:

  • excellent organisational and time management skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • the ability to relate to a wide range of people
  • patience and tact
  • the ability to work effectively under pressure
  • flexibility and resourcefulness
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

4. Third Assistant Director

(aka Third AD or Third)

The main function of the Third Assistant Director is to support and assist the First and Second ADs in whatever ways are necessary on the set or location.  This can involve a wide variety of tasks, but the key duties of most Thirds revolve around the movement and activities of background artistes (extras).  Thirds may be required to direct the action of extras, or of vehicles appearing in the background of the shot, especially in large crowd scenes.  Thirds also act as messengers on the set or location, and are often required to convey messages and relay information to cast or crew members, usually by radio link.

What is the job?
Thirds are responsible for co–ordinating the extras to arrive at the right time and place for filming. Once the extras are on set or location, Thirds are in charge of preparing and cueing them, and sometimes also directing them, in any required background action. They must also supervise and look after they extras – they may be on standby on the set or location all day, despite only being needed for a short period. Thirds may have to keep members of the public out of shot, and off the set or location, so that they don’t interrupt filming, cast or crew.

Thirds may also liaise with the Location Manager, and may be given responsibilities with regard to the security and locking up of studios or locations after filming has taken place. Firsts or Seconds may also provide Thirds with specific information to add to the daily progress reports, before they are sent to the production office.

Essential knowledge and skills
Thirds must have excellent organisational and time–management skills, as well as a good stock of common sense and initiative.  The ability to take and carry out instructions with enthusiasm and efficiency is vital. Communication and interpersonal skills are also essential, as Thirds spend most of their working days interacting with a large number and variety of people. Diplomacy and patience are required when co–ordinating and directing large groups of extras. As the work is freelance and involves long and unsocial hours, Thirds must be highly motivated and always flexible.

Key skills include:

  • excellent communication skills
  • the ability to relate to a wide range of people
  • organisational and administrative skills
  • the ability to work effectively under pressure
  • flexibility and resourcefulness
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

5. Script Supervisor

A script supervisor (also called continuity supervisor or continuity) is a member of a film crew responsible for maintaining the motion picture’s internal continuity and for recording the production unit’s daily progress in shooting the film’s screenplay. The script supervisor credit typically appears in the closing credits of a motion picture.

In the most basic description, the script supervisor is the editor’s and writer’s representative on set, as well as being the right hand aide to the director and the director of photography. It is the script supervisor’s job to make sure that at the end of the day the film can be cut together. In that sense, they back up every department, monitor the script during shooting and make sure that errors in continuity do not occur that would prevent the film from being able to be compiled in the editing room.

In pre-production, the script supervisor creates a number of reports based on the script, including a one-line continuity synopsis providing basic information on each scene such as the time of day, day in story order, and a one line synopsis of the scene. These reports are used by various departments in order to determine the most advantageous shot order and ensure that all departments, including production, wardrobe, hair and makeup, are in sync in regards to the progression of time within the story.

Responsibilities

During production, the script supervisor acts as a central point for all production information on a film shoot, and has several responsibilities.

  • Continuity – The script supervisor takes notes on all the details required to recreate the continuity of a particular scene, location, or action. The supervisor is responsible for making sure that continuity errors do not happen. For every take, the script supervisor will note the duration of the take (usually with a stopwatch) and meticulously log information into a daily editor log about the action of the take, including position of the main actor(s), screen direction of their movement, important actions performed during the shot, type of lens used, and additional information which may vary from case to case. When multiple cameras are in use, the script supervisor keeps separate notes on each. These logs also notate a director’s comments on any particular take as to whether it is no good, a hold take (ok, but not perfect), or a print take (a good take). All of these notes are crucial not just for continuity – they provide the editor information on what the director’s preferences, any problems with any of the takes and other notes to assist the editing process.
  • Slating – The script supervisor interacts with the clapper loader (second camera assistant) and the production sound mixer to make sure that each take of exposed film has a consistent and meaningful slate, that the sound and picture slates match. The script supervisor also notes the sound roll of each sync take, and the state of all MOS takes. This ensures that there is proper identification on the film footage in the editing room so the editor can find and use the correct takes.
  • Script – The script supervisor is responsible for keeping the most current version of the shooting script. During shooting, the script supervisor notates any changes from the screenplay that are made by the actors, director or others during the actual filming process. If significant changes are made to the script that affect a future day’s shooting, the script supervisor is responsible for providing those changes to the assistant director’s team who then will distribute those changes to the rest of the crew. The script supervisor’s script is also referred to as their lined script because during shooting, a script supervisor draws a vertical line down the page for each different camera setup. Each line designates the start and stop of that setup, a quick note of what the shot description was and whether or not the dialogue was on camera for that setup. This allows the editor to quickly reference which camera setups cover which portion of the dialogue or action.
  • Production Reports – At the end of each shooting day, the script supervisor prepares daily reports for the production team. These reports vary in form depending on the studio or production company; however, they generally include a log of the actual times that shooting and breaks started and stopped, and a breakdown of the pages, scenes and minutes that were shot that day, as well as the same information for the previous day, the total script and the amounts remaining to be done. Also included are the number of scenes covered (completely shot), the number of retakes (when a scene has to be reshot), and the number of wild tracks. The script supervisor is the official timekeeper on any set.
  • Editor’s Notes – In addition to the production reports, each shooting day the script supervisor also compiles the continuity logs for the day’s shooting as well as the relevant lined script pages for the scenes shot that day. Those notes are sent off to the editorial staff to assist them in the editing process.

The script supervisor is the primary liaison between the director (who decides what scenes are to be shot) and the editor (who is usually not present during actual filming but needs to have exact records of the filming in order to do the job of cutting the film together.) The script supervisor is a technical rather than artistic position and is generally considered as part of the producer’s or studio’s staff. There is usually only one script supervisor on a given film production.