What Does a 3rd Assistant Director Do?

A 3rd assistant director, also known as a “second-second,” is not quite as glamorous as it sounds (no, you will not be directing the movie), it is none the less an extremely important job, particularly when filming overseas.

In 2019, Pioneer Media provided location services for Fangoria Magazine’s remake of the classic 90’s slasher, “Castle Freak.” For me personally, I originally joined the team to help on location services, but it was here that I learned my first huge lesson on filmmaking!

Be flexible.

When you start out in filmmaking (assuming your first role is not a Hollywood blockbuster) you will need to be extremely flexible. At Pioneer Media, we film in some crazy locations. Some of our local guys are top notch. Some, not so much. Always be prepared to be flexible. Roll your sleeves up and do what needs to be done. This is how I got my 3rd AD gig.

How does this all work then?

Well, the “first director” is the director of the movie, they are the important chap on set, the Scorsese if you will. Below the director is the “assistant director.” They spend their time fully with the director, acting as an extension to work with production staff and various department heads to create a schedule and overall workflow on set. When filming in foreign countries, the AD literally translates the director’s vision into reality.

The “second assistant director” is the assistant to the assistant director (following so far.) Like the AD is an extension of the director, the 2nd AD is an extension of the assistant director. Their job is to handle off set matters for the assistant director making sure actors and departments are ready for the day’s and following days’ shoot schedule. Generally taking care of a lot of important stuff! In my experience, at least when filming in Albania, she (all these jobs are open to men and women) dealt largely with the local Albanian crew.

Which leads us to the third assistant director, or the “second-second.” Technically, this means you are the assistant to the assistant of the assistant director. A lot of the time, the second assistant director is off set working on paperwork or handling future logistics. This is where the 3rd AD comes in. On shooting days, the 3rd AD picks up the slack and acts as a physical presence in and around the workings on set while the AD is working with the director.

In some respects, that would be the glamorous part of the job, rubbing elbows with actors and department heads. But the reality involves much more work (especially when you have little to no production assistants!) Some examples of the not so glamourous: fixing food for the talent, making sure there is toilet paper, and at worst, unplugging toilets!

It’s an intricate dance between the three assistants that make up the AD department and, in many cases, responsibilities can be less defined. Like any other department on a film production, communication between the three extensions of the director is key. Checking in with each other throughout the day will always keep things running smoothly.

If you are under misapprehensions about being involved in the movie business, I am happy to help set you straight. Days on set can be up to 18 hours long, and as a 3rd AD, you get to set before the actors, and leave after them. In many respects, you must truly be the jack of all trades. Setting up, cleaning up and helping all other departments get what they need done is just another day in the life of the 3rd AD.

3rd AD off set.

When filming on location in foreign countries, it takes a different spin to filming at home. In our context, it meant managing non-local actors and generally looking after the talent on set (and in some cases off set.)

You will not be filming every day (the crew needs a day off after all.) Your job, however, does not start and finish on set. This is where your job on location will be different when working in a country not of your own. In our context, at least, I was tasked with making sure the actors we brought into Albania were happy and comfortable in their environment and that they had everything that they needed. At Pioneer Media, we are extremely well traveled, but for many of our actors it was their first time out of the States.

Babysitting is as simplistic a way to put it. You will be tasked with looking after people’s interests, making sure their pickups are arranged and that they are not in the wrong place doing the wrong thing (more of a challenge that you’d think.)

Again, be under no illusions, it is not an easy job, nor are you at the top of the pecking order. You are though integral and if you are prepared to give 110% with it you will get a reputation and hopefully work your way up to the Holy Grail, 2nd AD!!!

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