November 2001
So You Want to Be An Assistant Director? : Roger Bobb Has Some Advice

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

So You Want to Be An Assistant Director? : Roger Bobb Has Some Advice

Over the past five years, Roger Bobb has become one of the hardest working , most sought after First Assistant Directors in the independent film community. He has worked on over 30 feature films and television shows. In the past year alone his films have been in competition at Cannes, Sundance and Toronto film festivals.

His career started when he was accepted into the DGA's prestigious Assistant Director Trainee program. This highly selective program which accepts only six applicants a year, enables chosen applicants to learn the ins and outs of major feature filmmaking for a two year period under the guidance of some of Hollywood's top directors and producers. Roger was fortunate to work with such legendary directors as Woody Allen and Robert Altman.

Upon completing the program, Roger immersed himself into the New York independent film community and quickly rose to become a First Assistant Director. His many credits include “NYPD Blue,” “New York Undercover,” “Copland,” “Witness to the Mob,” and “30 Years To Life.”

Recently shown on Showtime was this year's Sundance Best Dramatic Feature winner, “The Believer,” which Roger also worked on.

Roger is pleased to talk to and share his experiences in the film business.

WM: What inspired you to get into this business and why this position?

RB: I have always had an interest in film. When I was younger my brother and I used to walk around our house quoting lines from movies all the time. Until Spike Lee's film “She's Gotta Have It” came out I had always thought that movies were something that rich white people made in Hollywood. But that film really demystified the whole filmmaking process for me and made me think that hey maybe I can be involved in this too. The Assistant Director (AD) position is just something that came naturally to me since I am a know-it-all and quite the control freak.

WM: Describe the duties an AD and the difference between a 1st, 2nd and 2nd, 2nd AD?

RB: To put it simply during filming the director is in charge of directing the actors and the action and the 1st AD is responsible for everything else. You can always spot the AD because he is always standing next to the camera. I emphasize standing because rarely if ever do 1st AD's sit, there is far too much going on for that. The 1st AD is responsible for hiring his team which consists of a 2nd AD a 2nd 2nd AD and several production assistants. With the 1st AD always on set he or she often has either the 2nd or 2nd 2nd AD nearby to assist with running the set which can include keeping crew on schedule, setting the background actors, coordinating the arrival and departures of actors to the set, making sure that the set is safe, dealing with any work related union issues . The other AD is responsible for the things going on off set such as making sure that the actors get to set, making sure that other actors needed for the rest day are being picked up and brought to hair make up or wardrobe, preparing the call sheet which is the schedule of work for the next day and communicating what is going on with the production office and to other department heads. Of course all this work is done under the constant supervision of the 1st AD. It is a very high stress job. One day I had one of my assistants count how many questions I get asked a day and it averaged out to about one every 5 minutes for 12 hours.

WM: Some would say that your work is more like a producer since you don’t do much directing. Would you agree?

RB: Yes the term Assistant Director is sort of a misnomer, the AD is usually hired by the producer or production company to ensure that the director has everything that he needs to complete his vision while also ensuring that the principal photography is completed on budget and in a timely, efficient and safe manner. The only time that AD's get to be even remotely creative is when we are setting the background actors on a film which is a true art unto itself.

WM: Who supervises your work?

RB: No one really supervises the work but if you are falling behind schedule the producers will be the ones to talk to the AD and replace him or her if necessary.

WM: What’s the best and worst part of the job?

RB: There are so many great things about my profession. I've been able to meet and work with some fascinating people and go places and do things that most people never get to experience in a lifetime. I feel truly blessed to be able to make money doing something that I love. I know that not many people can say that. The worst parts are the long hours and working with people who don't have an appreciation for film and are just in it for the money (read: spoiled brat actors).

WM: Minorities have a low percentage in the acting field, is it the same in your field?

RB: It's actually worse in this field. According to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) which is the union that governs film and television Directors and Assistant Directors there are less than a hundred African-American DGA 1st AD's in the country! It is difficult to get into the union as a First AD because unlike getting in as a director where you can basically just get hired and get in, you first have to work a certain number of days as a PA to become eligible to join the union. Then if your fortunate enough to get into the union, you have to work a certain amount of days as a 2nd-2nd AD then as a 2nd AD before you become a first. There is a lot of nepotism and cronyism in this industry but slowly and surely we are beginning to make some headway thanks to conscious directors like Spike and John Singleton both of whom have done a great job in getting African Americans into the various film unions. That should be a lesson to all those up and comers out there. A pet peeve of mine is when black directors and producers don't make an effort to hire black AD's - we are out here!

WM: How difficult is it for minorities to secure work as a 1st AD or AD’s? How do you get your assignments?

RB: It's really a word of mouth type of industry. It can be difficult, it's all about developing relationships with producers or production companies. Contrary to popular belief, film crew members are primarily independent contractors which means they are self employed when they do not work for the film studios. They are contracted to work on a project-by-project basis. The great thing about it is that your as good as your work so if you do a good job the producer or production company will either hire you or recommend you again and if you suck then they won't, it's that simple. I have been fortunate to have worked relatively consistently because I have been willing to do lower budgeted indie films in addition to studio films. Obviously the more people you work for increases your possibilities for future employment with them or someone they recommend you to.

WM: Can you make a living as a 1st AD?

RB: Absolutely and a pretty decent living at that. The minimum weekly salary for a DGA First Assistant Director is currently around $4,000. Of course the hard part is getting in the union and working consistently.

WM: Which advice would you give to someone who wants to enter this field?

RB: First and foremost is that you have to have a passion for film and the process of making films. This can be a tough business with the ego's, politics, long hours and just plane crazy personalities. I can't imagine doing it as a career if you don't have a passion for it - there are a lot of easier ways to make a living. I would also advise learning everything you can about all aspects of film. It's actually not that difficult to break into film if your willing to intern for a while.

WM: Which do you prefer to work on, TV or film?

RB: They both have their advantages and disadvantages but I prefer film. While working in television is more consistent and gives you the instant gratification of seeing a completed product several weeks after shooting as opposed to months or sometimes years later, it can become boring when you are working with the same actors and the same crew with the same general storylines all the time. Also the speed of television is much faster than film and there is much more pressure to move at a certain pace. In film you can move from project to project and usually get to shoot in a lot more locations.

WM: How do you feel when you work on an indie film that can’t land a distributor?

RB: I've worked on some of those types of films and the important thing to remember is that there are many factors that determine whether or not a film is going to get a distribution deal. Most of these factors have more to do with economics than whether a film is good or not. Anyone who went to the movies this past summer knows that just because a studio releases a film doesn't mean that it's any good. So you just try to make the best film possible, stay true to the director's vision, hope for the best and move on to the next one.

WM: What’s next for you?

RB: Although I have directed some music videos, I would like to direct a feature film. I am currently working on a feature film script called "Ms. Rockefeller" that I hope to shoot next spring. It's about a woman who tries to get her life back together after being in prison for 12 years. I'm very excited about it. I am also working on a business plan to start a black owned and operated NYC based independent film production company.

Roger is currently in pre-production on the upcoming feature, “Deceptions” starring Treach, Freddo Starr and Tyrin Turner. His email address is