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Job Title: First Assistant Director, 1st Ad, Or Assistant Director

Job Overview

Frequently, the assistant director's first task is to break down the script and create a shooting schedule, estimating how many shooting days will be required at the various locations. This is reviewed with the director and/or producer, and adjustments are made based on their input and budget restraints. Throughout production, the first AD oversees scheduling and generating of call sheets, supervises the crew, sets up shots, and conducts run-throughs, coordinates and sets the background actors, and assists the director in every way possible to keep the production running smoothly.

In addition to his duties as assistant director, Arthur Anderson also co-produces films directed by John Woo. In that capacity, he is involved in the creative process almost from the moment of Woo's decision to work on a picture. For Windtalkers, Woo, the second unit director, and Anderson used toy soldiers on a board to work out action sequences, before bringing in a storyboard artist to illustrate the action they wanted to create. Next, Anderson typed up their ideas into script form and gave it to the writers, so that they understood what Woo was looking for in a particular sequence and could incorporate that action into the script.

Special Skills

The first AD must understand the entire filmmaking process and the role of each department. ADs should be excellent communicators, organized and thorough, and have the ability to manage and motivate people. Anderson suggests reading the book The Film Director's Team by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

To get hired on a production you need to know someone, which can be a daunting task for someone with no contacts in the industry. Volunteer to work on student films and nonunion projects so you can meet people, and hopefully impress someone with your work ethic. Save up money and be prepared that once you start looking for entry-level work, you may have to live for the first six months on little or no salary.

Most first assistants begin their careers as a production assistant. “The greatest thing about being a PA when you start out is that you don't have a lot of responsibility and you get to see everything that goes on. Pay attention to what all the people are doing on set.” Anderson attributes his advancement to the fact that he looked to be a hole-filler: “When I saw something that wasn't being done, I would volunteer to do it. I would listen to the ADs, to what was going on, and be there to help them.”

For anyone considering a job in the film industry, Anderson's advice is: “If you don't really have a passion to make films, don't do this. It's very stressful, in terms of the insecurity of having periods of unemployment. When you're working as a first AD on a big action film, you usually work 16 hours a day and your weekends are consumed with getting ready for the next week's adventure. It's hard on your family …”

Professional Profile: Arthur Anderson, Assistant Director/Co-Producer

Born and raised in the Bible Belt, Arthur Anderson attributes the source of his success to his strong spiritual upbringing and belief. During his senior year of high school, he prayed frequently to discover his mission in life. One day, while driving a tractor plowing fields, an inspiration told him, “I want you to go to Hollywood to make films.” He laughed at the idea, knowing he had no Hollywood contacts and no money to pay for film school, but a series of events over the next few years would point him in that direction.

Growing up in rural Charleston, South Carolina, Anderson often used his imagination to entertain himself. When he was five, his parents got a television set and he saw his first movie on that little screen. He first became interested in making films after his father bought an 8mm camera to photograph Christmas and other family events. “I would take the 8mm camera into the kitchen and shoot stop action, a frame at a time, of potatoes fighting each other.”

In 1974, he entered the University of South Carolina, majoring in acting and performing standup comedy on the side. He quickly determined, “if I wanted to eat three meals a day in South Carolina, this was not going to cut it,” so he changed his major to finance and management—a field that would later prove useful to him when he became an assistant director and producer.

What do you like least about your job?

“One of my least favorite things is that it is an insecure business. You don't have a regular job where you know all year long you're going to be working … Once a job is over, you really never know where your next job is coming from.”Arthur Anderson

What do you love most about your job?

“What I really love is, it is magic making films … I think of a motion picture as a director's painting on moving canvas. The brushes he uses to paint his images on that canvas are his cast and crew. It's my job to manage those paintbrushes. That's what I like most about it.”Arthur Anderson

He spent his summer breaks in Myrtle Beach, a tourist hot spot that swelled from about 10,000 residents in the winter to more than 100,000 in the summer. He began producing comedy commercial spots for local nightclubs with a college friend who worked at WTGO Radio, after the station signed off for the evening. When they returned to school in the fall, they took samples of their spots to advertising agencies and immediately started getting calls to create additional comedy spots. With his friend employed at a Columbia radio station, they again went in after the station signed off the air at night and cut the spots until they could afford to build their own studio.

By their senior year, Anderson and his friend had their own studio and had built a busy radio commercial production business. When a client asked if they also did television spots, the pair said, “No problem.” Having never before shot a commercial, Anderson ran out and bought a book on 16mm filmmaking and put himself through a crash-learning course. They enlisted the aid of another friend who was interested in filmmaking, got a camera, and learned on the job. Taking a microphone into the parking lot, they created their own special effects sound library by recording screeching cars and noises. By Christmas time, Anderson and partner Rick Page had landed a huge account, and their radio and commercial production company was thriving. But driving back to school after the holiday, Page died in a car wreck. With half of the company's creative talent gone, Anderson struggled to keep the business going while carrying a nineteen-hour course load.

Reading that production for a film called The Double McGuffin was coming to Charleston, Anderson's mother alerted him to the news, supplying a phone number she found in the newspaper. He connected with the extra casting director and landed a job assisting her, then went on to serve as a set production assistant.

Through connections he made on McGuffin, Anderson went on to work as a production assistant on The Brink's Job, which lead to Willie and Phil and Urban Cowboy. In 1979 he decided to relocate to Los Angeles. Having worked almost nonstop for the previous four years, he had already amassed more than 700 production days, allowing him to join the Directors Guild.

Anderson's first job as second assistant director was on the Oliver Stone directed picture, The Hand. Over the next few years, he continued to work as a second AD on a variety of features and television series. He met his wife, a former casting director, on a film set. They married in 1982 and had a daughter in 1985, after which Anderson focused on working as a first AD on television series, allowing him to stay in town until she was older. In the mid-1990s, he returned to features, working as an AD on Beverly Hills Cop III with director John Landis.

Through friends Barrie Osborne and Marty Ewing, whom Anderson had met on previous productions, he was introduced to John Woo in 1996. Hitting it off, the two began a successful working relationship on the movie Face/Off, which continued onto Mission: Impossible II, and Wind Talkers.

“John is one of the humblest and [most] creative guys you could ever want to work with. He's got a great heart … We have the same belief of making good moral films that tell a story.

“He listens to a lot of music. You could take one of John's movies and remove the dialogue, put music to the picture, and still understand the story.”


* “My philosophy in life is: treat other people the way you want to be treated. That has stood very well for me.”Arthur Anderson

* “It's all about attitude. You have to go with a positive attitudethe ‘Can-do’ attitude.”Arthur Anderson

Between working on features, Anderson returns to television, where he has worked on The Client, Pasadena, and Birds of Prey. He is currently working with Woo on Men of Destiny.

When asked what he credits his success to, he says, “Faith in God. I'm a pretty average person. My vertical relationship with God is the most important thing … God, family, and work; I never let those three things get out of proportion.”

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionDIRECTORS AND ASSISTANT DIRECTORS - Job Title: Director, Job Title: First Assistant Director, 1st Ad, Or Assistant Director