Are you being supported as an AD with a medical condition?

Due to the demanding role of an Assistant Director, coping with a medical condition, visible or nonvisible, can be isolating.

We spoke anonymously to AD Guild members to understand if AD's are currently being supported with medical conditions by the industry, and what could help contribute to the improvement of their working environment. 

Many of the medical conditions discussed spanned from neurodiversity, eye conditions, genetic conditions, Chron's, Colitis and other gut conditions, as well as  fibromyalgia, all in which can be hard to manage during working hours on-set, alongside other demands placed upon AD’s in their normal working environment. 

“There is a lack of understanding [in the workplace]”, shared an AD Guild member. “I have crohns and I have recently had a producer make jokes about my requests for close facilities closer to the set.

Other members described their experiences dealing with a medical condition as an AD ‘really tough’ and ‘miserable’ due to the isolating nature of living with it, often in private, or if not, feeling unheard by production. This is inflated by the high and demanding performance levels expected of an AD, despite the medical issues they may face.

The environment cultivated on set, one that is demanding, performance focussed and often reliant on physiological and mental stamina, makes suffering with a long-term medical condition a lonely experience. Medical conditions are often disregarded, misunderstood or in some cases never discussed at all. Many members shared their fears around being open and honest with their employers due to fears around their  job security.

“I would never admit I have a condition for fear of not being booked again or being ‘weak’ especially as a woman”, shared another member, as well as others who expressed they were ‘suffering in silence’.

For one member their inflammatory gut condition makes their role incredibly challenging. They described a ‘flare-up’ as lasting anything from 24-hours to several weeks. “It is usually triggered by stress and anxiety rather than food, but food plays a huge role in managing it. I take my own food onto every job until I can suss out the catering.  However, on bigger budget jobs it's usually ok, but this is not always the case.” 

Unfortunately, the lifestyle requirements of ‘rushing to eat food’ or ‘standing up eating’ adds to the hardships currently faced by those with an invisible disease like this. The AD Guild member continued; “It's a vicious circle as the stress of not knowing whether I'll be able to eat properly makes it worse especially when working in locations or staying in hotels where preparing my own meals isn't possible.”

The pressure put on AD’s both with and without conditions is immense, with some members actively challenging the mentality around the ‘badge of honour culture’ of never sitting down, taking reasonable breaks, or consuming food during working hours at all. However others shared that the ‘long hours’ and ‘stress’ were ‘part and parcel of the job’, by offering a balanced perspective on the expectations of an AD's role. One member articulated that “the ‘industry’ does not accommodate”, stating they can “either get on and do the job or not.”

One AD shared their frustration around getting support, leaving them with the ultimatum in choosing between their career and their health. “Suffering with fibromyalgia the hospital won't help me due to the amount of stress that comes with our jobs. They will only help me if I give up my career in film and TV which I love!” 

AD’s also shared their fears around how their current lifestyle is impacting them later in life; “It is causing all kinds of problems in later life with chronic back, hip, knee and foot pain across the board and it's simply not necessary. It's not lazy to sit down from time to time during a 14 hour day….so our efforts to manage our symptoms so we can work effectively become misconstrued as being difficult or lazy.” 

Another AD flagged similar issues; “I can guarantee almost every AD will be suffering from some kind of musculo-skeletal problems as a result of years on their feet. We have a responsibility to the new generation not to ruin their future health.”

However, there are many positive experiences that were shared too. Many AD Guild members shared that they ‘privately manage’ their medical conditions as well as ‘learn to work with it’, as well as describing employers as ‘helpful’ in accommodating them.  Others expressed in detail the support they have experienced within their role as an AD.

“It really hampered me in getting my break into the industry as it can make running duties difficult. I have been lucky since re-entering the industry that I have worked with supportive 1sts, Producers and a supportive team in general who have been understanding and where possible other arrangements have been made ie working from home or not being expected to join in with heavy lifting etc.” they shared.

It also seems the more visible, mobility-related conditions evidence more support as an AD.  “One of my additional Supporting ADs needs a mobility scooter and Locations are excellent in understanding his need for ramps” shared an AD Guild member. “The Department is very adaptable and often moves cables to enable better access for him.”

Those that participated in sharing their views were asked what change they would like to see take place.  Many suggested simple and practical additions that would make a monumental difference. These include larger font sizes on call-sheets, a higher budget for higher quality nutritious food on-set, as well as the support of productions if AD’s require time to have hospital appointments and other medical commitments.

Education based changes were also suggested. These included more knowledge and training to deal with neurodiversity, such as how each individual brain approaches a task, as well as an open discussion when it comes to disability. Additionally, a greater understanding around the nuances of each medical condition as a production, and how to accommodate. 

Additionally, members also saw the post-COVID era as an opportunity to ‘move away from the 'old school' style of working’. This included an appetite for more options to work from home without ‘guilt’, fairer working hours, and a shift in mind-set that allows for more personal time and rest.

So, where can the AD Guild step in? Members suggested a collective voice within the industry pioneered by AD Guild. This includes pulling together to accommodate crew with a medical condition, advising AD’s on how to approach their employer to discuss their medical requirements, and putting frameworks in place for AD’s to have an open dialogue on health. Further points discussed were creating more synergies between catering companies and PM’s, as well as further investment into health and disability allowances on-set.

Thank you to everyone who provided anonymous insights on their experiences, AD Guild hopes to continue raising these issues and further developing the dialogue around this topic.