So you want to be a production assistant…

I recently saw a post for something called the Production Assistant Bootcamp, where over four consecutive Saturdays you could learn to be a production assistant in film & tv.  For only $499.  And it made me laugh.  It made me a little angry about how people are always ripping off those who want to break into the business.  Because honestly, anyone can learn to be a good PA, if they have the passion for film (which can’t be taught) and can follow two simple words:

PAY ATTENTION

All the time.

Every freaking second.

Leave your phone in your car.  If I see you texting, talking, whatever, you’re going home.  The only call you should answer when you’re involved with one of my films, is mine (or one of my department heads).  And that would be when you’re on a run for something off set.

PAY ATTENTION.

I never want to be calling a PA’s name.  I want them standing by watching for when I’m about to ask for something.  And I don’t care if I’m asking for you to run and get a cable, to get me a coffee, to go feed the parking meters, to find me my co-producer.  Whatever the task.  Do it with a smile.  You’re a PA.  You don’t want to be a PA forever.  And the fastest way to stop being a PA and get promoted is to be a fucking fantastic PA.

Don’t EVER question or complain, or say something stupid like “I fed the meters last time, can’t someone else do it.”  The answer would be yes, someone else can, because you’re going home.

PAY ATTENTION

Watch how the lead crew members behave.  See how they handle gear.  If a particular department (camera, set design, whatever) interests you, during lunch (LUNCH, or perhaps hitch a ride with them during a company move) ask that department head questions.  We all love talking about film.  And we all like people who are as passionate as we are.

The worst PAs I’ve ever had came from NYU Film School.  No joke.  They were above everything.  They knew it all.  The best were people who just really loved movies and wanted to work on a film set.

Don’t dilly-dally.  If I’m sending you across the street to Starbucks for two coffees, I don’t expect you to be gone an hour.  Treat everything as if you were rushing to the hospital because your best friend was about to die, and you want to say goodbye.  Every second counts on a film set.  Everything is URGENT!

Once again: PUT AWAY YOUR GODDAMN PHONE (before I take it from you and crush it under the heel of my Doc Martens. And yes, I will do that without missing a beat.)

PAY ATTENTION!

Listen to what we call things, how we speak.  Every film set, every director has his own language.  If you have a brain, you’ll pick it up in a day.

And if we see you’re doing a great job, you will get more responsibility.  Though it means more work, it also means we trust you.  Cherish that opportunity, and ask if there’s even more you can do.

NEVER be late.  Arrive early, and don’t even think about leaving until the doors are being locked.

If you’re a guy, and I see you walking near a gal who’s carrying some huge case, and you don’t offer to carry it.  I will take you down in front of everyone.  I don’t mean to be sexist, but I want my male crew members to behave like gentlemen.  At least offer.  You’re a PA, when things are being moved your hands should never be empty.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN!

Don’t talk.  The last thing I want to hear when trying to figure out a shot, or when I’m about to interview someone important, is mindless chatter.  If you’re talking, you’re not paying attention.  Do NOT give your opinion unless asked for it.  Never comment out loud about how a shot looks, how a line is read.  That’s not your job.  And NEVER NEVRER NEVER talk to the cast members. NEVER give an actor your opinion of their performance, or how they look.  This will get you physically thrown off any good director’s set.  Don’t flirt.  Don’t have a one-night-stand with the hunky lead actor, because tomorrow when he barely remembers your name it’s going to be a distraction to you.  And if you’re distracted you’re not paying attention.

ATTITUDE IS EVERYHING!

A good attitude.  I don’t care if you drank too much last night and your head is about to explode.  I don’t care if you’re fighting with your boyfriend/girlfriend/parents.   That’s not my problem or fault.  Arrive on set smiling, and ready to work for the next 12 to 16 hours.  If you’re running in slow motion, or falling asleep in the corner, or crying on the phone, guess what…you’re not paying attention.

Those two simple words.  And yet you’d be shocked as to how many people fail at this job.  Perhaps their passion for film is not real, or not as deep as they might have thought.  Perhaps they’re just lazy.  Remember, short of a nuclear explosion across the street, the ONLY thing that matters is the film you’re making.

Oh,  and one last thing…

(pay attention)

There.  I just saved you $499.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “So you want to be a production assistant…

  1. Frances

    Was just on a set with a first AD who was ex military…attention was Paid. Efficiency so sublime it was truly poetry in motion. We all smiled. Several PA’s were ex military, and it was great to not only have them on the job, but be wonderful examples of the point you made.

  2. Thanks for the insight, I appreciate the savings. I’m on a quest to be a PA in NYC and the competition is so thick you have to fight your way in. Nepotism is the order of the day, so, without those connections, how to you get your foot in the door to be a PA? Everyone I’ve asked has held their cards close to the chest, unwilling to offer a glimmer of hope.

    • A lot of it is about making connections. Answer those Mandy.com and Craigslist ads looking for PA on indie productions. Probably no pay at first, but do a great job and that will get around. Get a few good letters of recommendations from producers/directors you’ve worked for. Anything to show you’re willing to go the extra mile. The more work you have under your belt, the easier it’ll be to get a foot in the door.

      • Great, thank you. My plan was to do volunteer work. I hadn’t thought of asking for references, thanks for that, also.

      • Josh

        Thanks for the post. I am a PA currently seeking work on features. I have a solid resume pertaining to TV as I have worked with many networks. I recently submitted for a feature filming in my area. I even spoke with the Coordinator and Location Manager, who both said they would hold onto my resume for dayplayer consideration as most of the full time PA spots were filled. I really want this experience. I would gladly work at an intern status just for the experience. How should I go about this? I have had a couple people in production tell me I should reach out in a friendly email weekly just to stay on their radar and let them know I am ready to work as soon as they need me. I just don’t want to come across as annoying. I also don’t want to risk not showing them how much I want to work on this film and how driven and persistent I am. Any thoughts? Thanks!

      • Yes, I would certainly reach out once, just once, with a friendly “checking in” email. Let them know your passion. When I’ve hired interns, passion trumps even experience. Let them know what it means to you. Hope that helps.

  3. Pingback: What Is Success? | The Anonymous Production Assistant's Blog

  4. Thank you for writing this! I’m trying to break into the business as a PA and this article is a huge help. Thanks again!

  5. Great Advice! I feel like this could be applied to any job, you should always be paying attention no matter what you do.

  6. Alex

    Basically good advice, but the phone thing is going to be different with every director. Don’t be doing personal stuff on your phone, but some productions are going to require you to use it constantly to stay in contact.

  7. Pingback: If you want to meet industry professionals, skip the mixers. | Guy With Typewriter

  8. Pingback: So You Want To Be A Production Assistant

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