Inside the Assistant Director’s Bag of Magic Tricks

Written by Hilary Dorst

As an assistant director you are constantly on your feet and on the move. You’re the first to arrive and the last one out. It’s your set; you push the schedule and make things happen on time and on target. As such you rarely even get time to go to the toilet let alone sit and eat.

It sounds rough, and while it’s hard it’s also one of the most pivotal roles on set. To do it effectively you need to be alert and aware of everything that’s happening. This is where your AD Bag comes in handy. It’s the survival kit during the long hours on set when you’re answering questions and phone calls, making the shooting calls and decisions.

When I was Second Assistant Director on The Out of the Woods Project, I had my backpack in the crew holding area (I trusted my crew with my life so my bag was not going to be a problem) and my pockets stuffed with little things to get me through the day.


One of the most important things to have on you is snacks. Sometimes you can get to craft services, but scheduling can make long gaps between when you can get there. I have multiple problems with food: the dreaded food allergies and having to eat every three hours. It’s a pain. When you can get food from crafty it’s awesome.

If, like me, you’re slightly paranoid about cross-contamination then I highly recommend bringing snacks you know you can eat, especially if there’s limited variety of food in crafty.

When you’re on a student or micro budget film I strongly advise making sure you have enough. The crew is relying on you to be on top of everything, not passing out from lack of food or unable to think.

Personally, I brought apples, carrots, peanuts, snack bars (like granola bars), and M&M’s with me. If you can have more variety I recommend a trail mix with fruit, nuts, and M&M’s. You get the mental happy at seeing chocolate, but you also get the protein and healthy sugars needed from the fruit and nuts to keep going. It’s also easy to keep those in your pockets for when you get a second to snack.

I don’t advocate stuffing your face with food on set at an inappropriate time. Be sure set etiquette and professionalism is always maintained. If your apple is sliced, then eat a piece if you need to. Eat a couple of nuts here and there. You are there to do your job and do it well. The key is when you need to not just because food is there.


Depending on weather reports, location, and time of day extra layers may or may not be needed. When we were filming The Out of the Woods Project, in the woods… at night… in winter, I had multiple layers of clothes and a small blanket. I wore wool socks in my hiking boots, thermals, gloves, a toque (knit cap or beanie for non-Canadians), t-shirt, hoodie, winter coat, and a small blanket as a shawl.

The thing with this is to be prepared for anything based on the call sheet you get the night before. It will tell you what to expect. You should keep that in mind when packing the bag. If you are in a studio that’s the best and easiest to prepare for as you don’t have to worry about the weather.

Common items to remember for filming outside that I like to keep in my bag are sunscreen, insect repellent, hat, lip balm, flashlight/headlamp, and sunglasses.


The biggest key item is the water bottle. Hydration is so important for everyone. I always make sure everyone has their water bottle before we go to set.

Drink it all, and refill it. Repeat as necessary. Keep it close to you.

Sometimes you feel terrible and lethargic and it’s just dehydration setting in. It’s very important that no matter what you do, you hydrate. I personally hate the taste of water, so I make sure there is a hint of flavour to it to make me drink it. Do what you have to do to make yourself drink it consistently.


This one is walking a fine line. On a small film you need your phone on you constantly as you might be doing multiple jobs that require being in contact with the outside world. On The Out of the Woods Project, I had to email extras from our location to cast them or even see if they could switch days from my phone. With smartphones it’s more likely if you’re in a position such as AD, producer, director, etc you will be allowed to have the phone on you, on silent.

Phone calls should be avoided at all costs on set. If there is an emergency, that’s different, but there are on set medics if someone is injured who will make those calls.

If you don’t need it on you, leave it in your bag. Also don’t forget your charger or that would suck.


On our short films I tend to have a few key things on me just to make sure I can take care of anyone and everyone as needed.

I always bring my small first aid kit with extra bandages and disinfectant. I also bring pain medication, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, for those times when it’s needed. With pain relief they have to ask for it by name as “drug dealer” is not on the list of things I want to be in life.

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared”, for me I like to over pack my bag just in case something is needed, which it isn’t always and then it can get heavy. It’s trial and error as to what you specifically need for every situation, but the more jobs you do, the more you will find what works for you. I also love having a small bag or a lot of pockets to put the little bits and pieces in while the majority sits in my backpack. It doesn’t need to look like this:

As an AD you need to be in top form on set.

You need to take care of yourself before, during, and after shooting so you can set the tone. What you take with you to set to keep yourself running is important. Plan ahead and make sure you don’t forget anything important that you will need. Your crew and director will appreciate it.null



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