Filmmaking | How to Be a... | How To's

How to Be an… Assistant Director

1 May , 2006  

Written by Andrea Maxwell | Posted by:

Rosalie McManis shares her wisdom gained as an Assistant Director on Mom the Movie, screening at this month's Boston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.Also see the complete How to Be a... Series in the NewEnglandFilm Archives.

Who’s the one who makes sure the actors are in costume?  Who’s the one who gets each scene up and running?  Who’s the one who keeps the director from going crazy?  In many cases, as in the case of the film Mom the Movie, directed by Erin Greenwell and screening at the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in May, it’s the assistant director (AD). AD Rosalie McManis discussed how to be an assistant director with NewEnglandFilm.


You have to start somewhere.  This was Rosalie’s first time assistant directing, so don’t be deterred from trying if you’ve never done it before.

"I’ve worked as a PA, cameraperson, producer and executive producer on documentaries, TV magazine shows and I do consulting with companies about their projects," Rosalie says.  Having experience in the backstage points is key, so a director feels comfortable that you know what’s going on, and what needs to be going on next.

"I think going to film school or taking classes, and working as a production assistant in every department so that you know how it works and what it takes to get the job done," she says.  "The other thing to take into consideration is your personality. If you like pressure, stress and being the person who has to know what everyone else needs then this is the job for you."


A director will need a lot of little things, and the smaller the project, the bigger each person’s responsibilities.  So an independent film such as Mom the Movie is going to ask more of an assistant director besides fetching coffee.  Greenwell’s most common needs were that Mom the Movie be kept on time and under budget.  She needed to be assured it would all get done, that the actors and crew were "on time, and in the right place."


If you like hard work, assistant directing is the job for you.  It’s the job for a person who gets satisfaction from being on the ball at all times, despite sleep deprivation.  Rosalie’s favorite part was "the challenge to get it all done everyday."  Sound bad?  Not to Rosalie.

"I enjoyed every minute of it." The satisfaction of working on meaningful work is also part of the assistant director’s world.  The best part for Rosalie, she says, was "the collaboration with everyone working on the project.  It always amazes me how all these intelligent, creative people leave their egos at the door to help someone get their idea on screen."  And working with Erin, Rosalie says, is what made this particular project so meaningful.  "She is very talented and completely professional."

How to Get Started

Everyone gets started on each project in a different way, but in the case of Mom the Movie as with most others, it came down to who Rosalie knew.  "Erin Greenwell, writer/ producer/ director, and I had worked together at [our school’s] Film, Video and Broadcasting department.   She needed help on the film and I was between projects.


Things happen, things go wrong.  Rosalie was well aware of this fact and surprises didn’t faze her.  

"The only one that comes to mind is that we had a night shoot and the directions from Mapquest were not quite right.  I was the first one there so I was able to call everyone and guide everyone to the set."  Be prepared and be ready to go.

On the Set

An assistant director’s role in the artistic arena varies from film to film.  Generally they are there to make sure the director has a clear path toward his or her vision.  So Rosalie’s artistic involvement came in the form of helping the director she so appreciates, and also making things easier for the rest of the crew who Rosalie thinks highly of.  

"I really didn’t have to be too involved artistically because everyone that worked on the film knew what they needed.  "So it was just a matter of making sure it was on the set." The common day for an assistant director, in a word, is "long."  She says, "You’re the first one on the set, last one off the set and constantly busy all day long.  It’s a great job."

For more information visit For more information on the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, visit Mom the Movie will screen on Friday, May 12 at 7 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as part of the film festival.

For more information visit For more information on the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, visit Mom the Movie will screen on Friday, May 12 at 7 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as part of the film festival.