With many 2nd AD’s seeking greater flexibility in their role, either due to emerging lifestyle desires, parenting or other obligations, it seems the role and requirements of the profession must now present itself to a next-generation of 2nd AD’s.
However, there are key arguments to be considered as the notion of an AD ‘Job share’ comes into fruition. How do we breathe new life into the industry, while staying true to the role of a 2nd AD? Additionally, how does redefining the traditional methods of doing the job of a 2nd AD pose potential risk or change to the profession? We hear from both a 2nd AD who has trialled the split-shift system, as well as those with an appetite to see change.
It is first worth mentioning why ‘split-shift’ is suited so specifically to 2nd AD’s. Traditionally, 2nd AD’s start much earlier than the shooting crew, finishing later than them too. Their approach to trouble-shooting as well as work beyond official working hours makes production far more intense, with the same standard and benchmark on their performance unwavering. AD Guild 2nd ADs know all too well the trials and challenges that make the role so unique, as well as the term “comes with the territory” that has often been used to describe the profession.
“Throughout my 20 years as a 2nd AD I have taken for granted that working in this industry requires some form of self sacrifice” shared Carlos Fidel. “We work so hard that we prioritise work over ourselves and our families, leaving us in need of recovery time long after picture wrap”
The desire to move towards a fairer, more flexible working environment has been spotlighted industry wide. Mental health seems to be a key factor driving the split-shift demand, as well as lifestyle choices such as parenthood and other practical means to working in a more stable and sustainable way. However, the infrastructure to cultivate this environment is not currently in place or openly available in the UK.
“You have to consider that the AD department structure hasn’t really evolved in twenty years,” Carlos continues. “Advances in technology and tougher production demands have impacted on the job, pushing weekly timesheets to an average of 80hrs. This can be eased by split shifting 2nd ADs, as well as give them rested clear thought and energy to perform at their best at a consistent pace throughout the entire length of a production''.
While this particular AD has participated in split-shift systems across almost 200 shoot days in Germany, it required two components vital to the successful introduction of this movement; the flexibility and support of the production managers and the 1st ADs.
Carlos continues; “The support and openness of the production companies to discuss the idea together in a collaborative manner, was essential. My conversations were easy to start as stricter labour laws in Germany (protecting crew member’s turnarounds) made 2nd AD’s timesheets an issue, especially when the authorities eventually directed the penalties towards individual producers and not the production company as a way to help enforce compliance”.
“In general, productions in Germany (at all budget levels) are more used to the concept of split-shifting all crew who work longer hours. “For UK teams, individual attitudes across the whole hierarchy may need to adapt to be more accepting of the idea…and more importantly, to understand that the system is not a sign of weakness on anyone’s part, but that it brings an additional layer of strength to the department and to the production.” shares Carlos.
From a UK perspective, there is still a long way to go. Although UK production companies are now much more alert to the issue, their endorsement for the concept of job sharing may help to cultivate an open environment in which PM’s perceive split-shifting as an acceptable alternative for getting the exact same job done.
Of course, most 2nd ADs enjoy the challenge, and intensity, that comes with maximised hours and the responsibility of the role, and have the personal circumstances to continue on as always. So clearly, the split-shifting set-up is not for everyone, nor should it be. It is also not appropriate for every job either. However, when it is appropriate, split-shifting as a concept allows us to rethink how to deliver all the high demands of the job, challenging the paradigm as a profession, while also being acutely aware that job-sharing does not equal ‘less effort’ or ‘self investment’.
Most importantly, it is not just the 2nd AD’s that can benefit. Major pro’s include production houses benefiting by reducing costs and minimising overtime, as well as happier, healthier members of the team. Sharing tasks between two can balance the strengths and weaknesses of each person, as well as future-proofing production particularly as COVID-19 and other health risks increase the risk of poor attendance and performance.
That being said, there are also aspects of job-sharing that are less advantageous. For some, the financial repercussions of working 40hrs per week may not be viable. For others, restructuring one’s trusted workflow and the distribution of responsibilities at the unit base may be too far outside their comfort zone.
However the technological support and the ‘remote-world’ were also an asset. These included adapting a workflow of shared live documents online (something that had already been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic), offering greater efficiency and seamlessness that may not have been possible, or imaginable in a less tech-dominant past.
A 2nd AD who has admitted to suffering with burn-out, views split-shifting as a beacon of hope for the entire 2nd AD community. “Besides how beneficial this is to parents, another benefit to job sharing is to alleviate the pressure on new 2nd ADs” shares Yolanda Sangareau. “Job-sharing would definitely help with the overwhelming information and rest needed to properly tackle the role as a new 2nd AD. As things stand, learning to be a 2nd AD is like learning to drive on a race track, other drivers expect you to know”.
The notion itself, as brilliant as it may seem, still requires a shift in our approach to traditional ways of getting the job done, as well as a shift in the values of the role; from personal recognition of a job well done to it being a team effort. It requires the industry to be self-reflective and think inwardly about the sustainability of the role, and find solutions and support that creates a thriving AD environment. Not only this, a change as subtle and as progressive as this can make the role more accessible and inclusive to new and emerging AD’s who as ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen-Z’ have alternative values and expectations of a healthy working environment, differing from previous generations.
In a world where ‘burn-out’ has symbolically gone from a sign of success and a ‘job-well done’ to a sign of poor mental health and wellness, there is no doubt the split-shift system will be slowly welcomed. However, as a first step, it must be presented by the industry as an asset, not a set-back, with a collective openness from all.
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