Students on the NFTS Assistant Directing and Floor Managing Diploma, which is delivered in partnership with the BBC and supported by the Assistant Directors Association and the Production Guild are lucky enough to be taught by a whole host of experienced Assistant Directors including Neil Wallace who has worked as 1st AD on high profile series and films such as The Night Manager, Victoria, High Rise and A Royal Night Out.
We met up with Neil to find out more about the Assistant Director role and the kinds of attributes a potential applicant to the course should have.
What do you enjoy the most about the role of Assistant Director?
I love the fact that you do something different every day and that you are working with like-minded, creative and intelligent people.
What does a typical day look like?
There is no typical day as such but you can be sure that it will be an early start and a late finish and non-stop all day! The job is a lifestyle choice and you get to travel all over the world. For example, last year I started in the Canary Islands and then spent time in London and this year I’m alternating between London and New York.
What attributes does a good Assistant Director have?
The most important attribute to have is common sense followed by confidence, people skills and a good work ethic. Hundreds of people queue up to be runners but don’t last very long in the job so you need to understand what you are getting in to. An Assistant Director who has proven themselves to be good will be snapped up immediately. The biggest trick is to know when you’re ready to step up from a runner to a third and so on. You generally spend 3-4 years in each position before moving up.
What is the difference between a first, second and third AD?
The whole thing is run with a military structure and each role has a different set of people to deal with: The 1st AD runs the shoot and the floor and implements the plan while the 2nd AD is off floor at the base and looks after the cast and the unit including costume and make-up. The 3rd AD is the 1st AD’s ‘right-hand man’ and is also based on-set. A good 1st AD should take a step back and use the 3rd to be a run around allowing the 1st AD to interact closely with the director and the DoP; the director is the first person the 1st AD sees in the morning and is in the director’s eye line all day.
Why would you encourage someone to apply to study Assistant Directing and Floor Managing at the NFTS?
It’s an amazing industry to work in; it’s like nothing else so if you’re not afraid of hard work and can think on your feet, then there’s nothing else like it! You also get a great social life! Every three months or so, you meet up and it’s like a family all socialising together. The great thing is that over the years you see people you already know from previous films and you’re still friends. If you want to work in the AD department, the NFTS course is the only one that will benefit you as it’s vocational and gives you practical, on-set experience.
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