3rd AD – La’ Toyah McDonald

What is your job role and what does ‘a day in the life’ look like?

My role as a 3rd Assistant Director (AD) is to mainly assist the 1st AD, 2nd AD and the Director throughout a project from pre-production through to the last scheduled shoot day.  During the shoot I provide logistical and practical support on the floor to the 1st AD; communicating face to face or relaying information through a walkie-talkie.  If the Director’s monitor is not on the set during takes, I will be positioned beside them to keep the communication flowing to the 1st, cast and crew on and off the set.

I supervise and direct a team of ADs, the floor runners; allocating where each individual team member will be and relaying their responsibility.  I organise supporting artists; preparing story beats, movements and cued background action according to the requirements from the Director, Producer and the scripted pages.

I bridge the information from set to the 2nd AD at unit base; relaying any new updates as they arise and highlighting any issues that may need resolved.  I am responsible for the movement of actors, transport and crew as per the filming schedule; on the set between unit base or other locations during the working day.

I liaise with the location team (manager) and 1st AD on a day to day to assist effectively managing personal on site to affirm the safety of the cast, crew, staff and public efficiently. Whatever the environment we’re put into, my job is to organise people and play as a key communicator of information.

Have you had any specific training? Or studied a relevant course prior to working in the industry?

I have a bachelor’s degree in ‘Television and Media Practice’ as at the time I thought this would better my opportunity of getting work in the industry.  I would say that it was useful as an introduction but ‘on set’ shadowing and training is where you learn, and formal training isn’t essential to be an AD.

How did your journey begin, and what made you pursue this career?

As long as I can remember watching films and theatrical performances really captured my attention and drew me towards a career in the industry.

Following School, travelling and working within a customer service environment I set my sights on pursuing my career; choosing media at University. The course was helpful in establishing that this was the right direction to follow and aided my confidence in perusing work experience.  From the final year of my course I started to reach out to small local independent production companies, gaining experience as a trainee floor runner.

What was your first job as 3RD Assistant Director?

My first official credited job as a 3rd AD was on Series 6 of  ITV’s Vera.

What do you wish you had known when starting out?

I wish I had known that a degree would not be necessary to pursue this career but would say studying gave me a lot of basic insight and background knowledge into this career path.

What skills do you need to do this job?

Being a 3rd AD is a very active role and requires you to think on your feet in a practical and logistical way.  Communication, time and people management skills are essential for navigating the shoot day.  A good repour with everyone will make the job enjoyable and rewarding, plus you’ll gain more respect in doing so.

Preparing in advance – knowing everyone’s names and job roles, methodical with the organisation of crew radios, pre reading scripts/ breakdowns, highlighting important points on sides and call sheets, awareness of 1st AD & Director’s needs, knowing cast costume & Makeup changes for scenes and relaying your information.

It’s important to keep your cool and be aware of what’s happening now and what’s coming next.

As a crew each department will cover their own responsibility for the day meaning all elements should have been agreed and have been put into place; it’s all in the organising of all these moving parts.

What advice would you offer out to those looking to work in this Industry, and what should people be aware of when pursuing this role?

Gaining experience as a trainee is the best step toward in deciding on a future role within a department.  On the floor experience is an invaluable opportunity to shadow and learn on the job.

Attending networking events is a good way of meeting those working in the industry and are arranged across the year in most local areas. Networking events will allow you to connect with others who you may not have an opportunity to meet otherwise. These social meetings can be one on one and offer the opportunity for you to ask questions and get contacts for potential work experience opportunities. Social media groups and forums are also available.

Pursuing a role as an AD requires someone who can listen to instruction; think on their feet and is responsive to specific requests asked of them in a timely way.  Even small details may cause delays so being confident to ask questions if not understood goes along way.

Career highlights so far? 

There’s been many great highlights so far but as a 3rd AD the one that sticks in my mind would be our reimagining of Dunkirk for BBC’s ‘World on Fire’ in 2019.  These memorable days out on Blackpool beach were some of the most logistically demanding days of my career but so enjoyable!  To recreate the war scene of Dunkirk beach – our team alone required 24 AD’s; 10 of which were dressed as soldiers helping with the movements of our 300 strong Supporting artists.  These are the days that come to test your wits and make you realise why we do this.

What are your top tips?

If you’ve got this far through my questions and answers than you must have an interest in the possibility of either becoming an AD or at least intrigued by what we do. I’d say;

  1. Keep your eye on what’s going on around you and adapt;
  2. Be productive, focused and always keen to help;
  3. Bring your personality but be aware of your surroundings;
  4. Prepare for all the elements and wear for comfort – the days are long and constant;
  5. Be flexible and open to changes;

Just go for it!

Back to top