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DP's relationship with the AD ?


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#1 John Thomas

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 02:07 PM

I've had some great relationships with various assistant directors but on some jobs the two of us just bump heads. What makes for a successful DP / AD marriage? Who should wear the pants in that family? Do you have any horror stories or happy outcomes to share?
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#2 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 02:21 PM

I've only worked as DP with a real hard-core AD maybe once, and the reason we got along so well was because I was working fast and always ahead of his schedule...so I was just one less thing he had to worry about.

I think so long as you got your s*** together, work fast and you're good at quick problem solving during the shoot, it can be a fruitful relationship.

If you ever do work as a PA, you'll learn real quick what the best ways of keeping an AD off your ass are.
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#3 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 02:28 PM

While one of the jobs of the AD is to watch the clock and "spur" all on the set into keeping things moving, one of the signs of an unexperienced or just plain bad AD is to scream at people that are working as quickly and efficiently as possible to work faster thus stressing them out and inviting mistakes (sometimes costly ones) to be made.
These kind of AD's scream to give the impression that they are doing a good job and on the case etc.
It is rare that these people ever lift a finger to actually help things go faster.
It is important that the AD and the DP have a lot of respect for the film, each other and the director.
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#4 timHealy

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 03:01 PM

If you ever do work as a PA, you'll learn real quick what the best ways of keeping an AD off your ass are.


I don't think John Thomas or any DP for that matter, is considering working as a PA.

Best

Tim
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#5 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 07:51 PM

My AD relationships have been hit or miss (as is finding a good AD). I hate ADs that ask you how much time you need, and then ask me every 2 minutes how much time I need before my original time was up.

I like to explain how I work to the AD in the prep so we have some understanding of each other. Some ADs seem to forget that their job primarily ends at "bring the day in on schedule", where as the DP is "bring the day in on schedule while making the show look good" and the directors is "bring the day in on schedule and make sure the movie is great".
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 February 2007 - 10:40 PM

A good AD treats the DP and Director as a partners in crime to get the movie made on time but of a desired artistic quality so that everyone feels good about their work for the day.

A bad AD treats the DP and Director as enemies in getting the work done under 12 hours everyday and sees every bit of time lost trying to make a scene better as a waste. They get cynical and scowl at anyone's artistic pretensions or desire for quality.

A good AD is obviously a good organizer and scheduler -- if they do their prep work well and are allowed to create an honest, shootable schedule -- not a fantasy "best case scenario" concocted to appease producers who don't want to see a page or scene cut but won't add a day to accommodate them -- then a lot of their work is done by the time the shooting day arrives and they can concentrate on making the workflow between department go smoothly, getting the actors to set on time, etc.

There is a Holy Trinity on a film set of the AD, DP, and Director in terms of setting the pace of the shooting, and if one of the three is not fully committed to making the day and minding the time (meaning the DP and/or Director), then it's a disaster. However, sometimes it's out of all three of their hands, whether it's an Act of God that strikes the production, or a star actor or a producer who causes a slowdown.

Usually when I begin a workday, I ask the AD to tell me and the director where he thinks we should be at different times of the day, i.e. does he expect us to be done with the first big scene and start rehearsal for the second scene by lunch, etc. Then when we fall behind, we discuss what we can do to catch up. Sometimes if we fall behind and it's no one's fault, the AD (after clearing it with the Line Producer) will tell us he's found a solution by moving some little scene at the end of the day to some other part of the schedule that still works. Like I said, we should be partners in crime, trying to make the movie together.

What I hate personally are AD's who see that I'm working as fast and efficiently as possible and still complain that we aren't working fast enough, as if that will magically make the work easier to get done faster. One some level, the work is the work and a good AD knows that. If I'm asked to make it look like the sun is still up in a house with lots of windows at night, then the AD should expect that I may need some time.

I also hate the attitude that we should always make shots as easy to shoot as possible and never try harder. Sure, it would be easier if I just shot this close-up against a wall, but it would look better if it had some depth, but there are some AD's who seem to think that one should automatically shoot the close-up against a wall and then move on: "It's just a shot of a guy talking on the phone! Why do we need to see any background?"
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#7 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 12:15 PM

I have a lot of sympathy for A.D.'s and P.A's, because they are where the buck really stops on a set - if something goes wrong, no craft is going to take responsibility for it and neither is the producer, so the production staff ends up taking the heat and solving the problem.

Who knows, shooting a close up against a wall may just save enough time to compensate for some other problem later in the day - and when was the last time a shoot day ended early hehe)

So the next time an A.D. blows off steam - you never know it might be because he or she is getting blamed for a truck not starting or a light that didn't have extra bulbs or some gel not being on the set, and is just trying to keep everything on schedule. Or if they are asking you for time every two minutes, maybe they have the producer in their ear asking the same thing.

Anyway, A.D. is not a job I ever wanted)
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 February 2007 - 01:09 PM

You have to be willing to understand that everyone sees a film shoot from their own perspective -- but of course, you hope that they have the same ability to understand what motivates everyone else and anticipate it.

When a Line Producer seems to be cutting too much out of my budget, I try and remember that they are trying to do their job and have "x" amount of money to divide up between the departments. Of course, I also remember that they aren't the cinematographer and they should be relying on my judgements in terms of what I need and don't need to accomplish the movie.

What I hate are AD's, Line Producers, etc. who make decisions that affect my work without consulting me, like saying "we're shooting this film stock because I got a deal on it" when the budget is not so tight that there would have been some flexibility in choice. It's not that I don't understand why that happens, just that it pisses me off when a Line Producer assumes that it doesn't matter what stock I shoot a movie on, therefore it's not worth even discussing the issue with me.

I was going to do a feature -- that fell apart -- and quickly fell into conflict with the Line Producer, who basically wanted to tell me what shooting format, film stock, lab, post path, camera package, lighting package, etc. we were going to use for the movie. He didn't even want to discuss the alternatives. I felt that was totally disrespectful.

Most of my relationships with AD's have been pretty good, just as my relationships with directors -- probably because I'm fairly fast and efficient, I keep people informed, I'm organized on the set, I don't get emotional and confrontational, etc. That doesn't mean there aren't conflicts now and then. Moviemaking is very stressful and there are always moments when people aren't on their best behavior after standing on their feet for sixteen hours, etc.
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#9 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 11:41 PM

I'm starting a new show soon and am starting a new relationship with an AD. When we first met, we both took some time (away from the Director, Producer, etc - just the two of us over some coffee) to talk about how we both like to work, our requests and expectations of the other person, our experiences (good and bad) from past shoots, etc. I find this is a good way to be honest and clear about what everyone should expect. I tend to be extremely organized before I walk on the set, to the point that I own EP Scheduler and ask the AD to send me his/her schedule so I can get very familiar with the whole shooting schedule. You have to always be thinking ahead so you can tell the AD what the first shot is, as well as the next few shots ("after this Medium Shot, we'll turn around and be looking down the hall for a wide shot, then on to the shot through the front window...." - this lets the AD know how to prioritize what needs to be done for the rest of the departments). It's important to be accurate about your time estimates - going over is an obvious one, but if you come in too early, you can also screw up an AD - if you tell him 30 minutes, he/she may send off the actor for touch ups and such, and 10 minutes later you announce you're ready; now that AD has to scramble to bring that actor back and the set is waiting on him/her.

I work a lot with a great AD who has 15+ years of experience on every type of show - if I'm running early or late, I'll give him a heads up and we can make adjustments as need be. If he runs into an issue, he'll tell me and I can adjust my work to help him out. At lunch we'll review the advance schedule for the next day, and after wrap (and before dailies) he and I will do a final run through of the next day's work. After 3 features and a handful of shorts with him that have ALL come in ahead of schedule, I think open and honest communication, as well as a mutual respect for each other and the work you're each doing, are the keys to a good AD/DP relationship.

For those few AD's who scream and are always hovering to remind me of how long I have or don't have, I gently remind them that if they're hovering over me, that must mean every other department must be waiting on me as well, and unless those other departments are literally standing there, equipment in hand, ready to work, perhaps the AD's energy could be better spent getting everyone else ready. If that fails, I pull out my meter, hand it to them and say "If you can do it faster, by all means be my guest. Otherwise, please let me do my job."
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