They’re the first on set; they’re
still working when everyone has
gone home; they rarely have a
moment to even go to the bathroom;
and they’re generally sleepdeprived,
with the sorest feet.
They have to keep the production
moving. They’re the Assistant
Directors and they probably have
the toughest job on set.
Lorien Gray, Robin Bonner
and Richard Abramitis all
learned the ropes on the DGA
training program. Gray works primarily
as a Second Assistant, but
has been a First on some lowerbudget
films. Bonner works on
feature films and television series,
including five years on ER starting
as a Key Second, then moving
up to First. First A.D. Abramitis
does features, movies of the week
and episodic television. He’s currently
working on the TV show
Strong Medicine. They talked
with Below the Line.
Below The Line: What personality
traits does an A.D. need?
Lorien Gray: The ability to be
organized and handle details.
The way I like to describe it,
they need to be able to see
the forest and the trees.
Richard Abramitis: You need
communication, the ability to
compromise, the ability to be
diplomatic. There’s a quote: “A
movie is a loose association of
competing agendas stumbling
towards a common goal.” I
see my job in prep as making
sure I’ve talked to different
departments. Asking questions
nicely. “Do you know we have
a green screen? He can’t wear
those green tennis shoes otherwise
his feet will disappear.”
Usually I’m told, “We know.”
And then hope that I don’t have
the unfortunate occurrence
that on the day everything’s
been set up for a green screen,
somebody orders a blue one.
Robin Bonner: Stamina.
which comes with experience.
When an A.D. is first
starting, they obviously don’t
know what to do. They’ve got
to pocket the ego and ask.
Gray: (That’s) one of the judgment
things you need to have:
when to call the First and say,
“Look there’s a situation developing.”
If there’s a problem,
you need to communicate.
Bonner: I’d rather have
somebody come up to me
and say “I have no clue what
I’m doing” than to guess
and do something wrong.
BTL: What’s the toughest thing?
Bonner: There are a lot of
things that are hard about
being an A.D. I can handle any
of it if I have enough sleep.
Abramitis: Keeping it moving
forward is difficult. Sometimes
you’re the traffic cop. You have
to have one eye on the clock and
one eye on the set. Everybody’s
having a great time, but now
it’s time to bring that to an
end and move on. On most
shows time equals budget and
you’ve only got so much.
BTL: What’s the fun part?
Abramitis: It’s usually a fun
place to work. There are creative,
intelligent people all the way
through. If you get a good show
and it looks good and you did it
on time, you feel good about it.
Gray: The fun part for me is
doing all the unexpected things,
the weird stuff. One of my funniest
moments on the set, they
were going to blow-up a Jeep and
the Key Second calls me over
and says “See that field beyond
the Jeep? That’s the debris zone.
If anybody is in that field, they
can get hurt. So I need you to
go stand in the field and make
sure nobody comes into it.” I was
like, “Okay, but what happens
when the Jeep blows up?” He
says, “Look up. If you see debris
coming, move out of the way.”
Bonner: One of the best times
was shooting Star Trek: First
Contact. We were shooting in
Angeles Crest Forest for two
weeks of nights. It was freezing
cold and rained the first couple
of days, but I can’t tell you how
much fun it was to spend the
whole night working outside
in this beautiful setting with
a great crew and a fantastic
cast. It was a great experience
all around. I love working with
the people. I enjoy getting in
the trenches and figuring out
the game plan, then carrying
it out. When you get the day
done in fewer than 12 hours
and you’ve gotten good work,
that’s a big pat on the back.
BTL: So it’s not just cracking the
Bonner: Some people believe
you have to yell and scream
and be nasty to run the set. I
was instructed as a First to yell
and curse more. I don’t agree.
Everybody responds differently,
but I don’t know anybody who
responds to (that approach) well.
Abramitis: You want to be
heard. You want everybody to
know that when you ask for
quiet that’s what you mean. I’ve
been lucky. I haven’t worked
with many yellers in my time. I
think experienced crews are not
intimidated by those people.
BTL: What’s the worst situation
you’ve ever had?
Abramitis: Thankfully, I’ve
been on sets where safety’s
been good and we’ve managed
to avoid injuries. I did miss an
actor once. I forgot to put him
in the scene. I was like, “Wait a
second, he’s not even on the call.”
You make a mistake. It happens.
If it happens once in 10 years
you don’t have to feel too bad.
Gray: It’s hard to qualify worst
because you go through your
day averting one disaster and
recovering from another.
Bonner: So many things popped
into my head. My first day on
a show (as a trainee) the First
calls. I turn around to run,
tripped and fell down the honey
wagon stairs. I had to get on
the radio and say, “I can’t come
right now, I’m bleeding.” This
was when I learned that running
is not a good thing on set.
Gray: The actor came back to his
trailer because we were setting up for his last scene of the day.
A few minutes later, I see him
driving away. Having an actor
leave is probably one of the biggest
disasters in my little world.
BTL: What’s the biggest
responsibility an A.D. has?
Bonner: Getting the day done
within the hours allowed.
Keeping the set safe. We can
be held criminally negligent.
Abramitis: In recent years, we’ve
become the de facto safety officers.
I take that very seriously.
You’ve got to assess dangers.
Gray: According to OSHA
safety regulations, the First can
pay huge fines and go to jail.
I’ve heard of shoots that were
in the hills during fires. The
wind shifts and there’s fire on
the hillside. It takes about two
hours to break down a show.
Does the A.D. say, “Everybody
run for your lives” and abandon
the equipment or try to pack up
as much as possible, running the
risk that the crew can’t get out?
BTL: What are your survival tips?
Bonner: Get as much sleep as
you can. Take care of your feet.
Spend the money on the good
shoes. Buy two pairs. Get a good
podiatrist. Last year I ended up
getting shots of cortisone in my
feet because they were so painful.
Gray: You need good socks and
every kind of layer known to
mankind available at a moment’s
notice. I remember we were
shooting one quick thing on a
backlot and it started to rain. I
immediately pull out rain gear.
The other crew couldn’t believe it.
Abramitis: I consider it a
marathon, rather than a sprint.
Realize it’s going to be a 12- or
14-hour day and mentally prepare.
When you wrap, go home.
Work and sleep. If you’re sitting
in the local cantina until
3 a.m., the next day on the set
is going to be miserable.
Gray: Strange as it may sound,
go to the bathroom as much
as possible. You’ll be busy
and won’t have time. Many
A.D.s die of kidney disease
because they’ve ruined their
kidneys by holding it in.
BTL: How do you operate day to
Bonner: Getting a position on
a film is very hard. Be proud of
accomplishing that, but realize
that a film crew is a team. It’s nice
to say I worked on the number
one show in America, but that
is not enough. It comes down to
the people. I’ve worked on shows
where every morning I started
my day with 15 hugs. That’s a
great way to start your day.
Abramitis: We’ve all got our
different styles. When you get
to be a First, your personality is
reflected in the way the set gets
run. Hopefully you’re consistent.
You listen to people and pass
things along and get the information
to whoever needs it.
Gray: I like describing a shoot
as a series of relay races. The
A.D.s are setting up and breaking
down, making sure people
move from one race to the other.
Everybody’s working hard, but
it may be your turn to wait until
you get the baton. When you
do, run like hell until you’re
done. Then you have to start all
over again with the next race.
They’re the first on set; they’re