Although it does not pay well, being a production assistant (PA) is one of the most valuable experiences you can have in the film industry. The role teaches you about how a film set works and gives you the ability to connect with many working professionals. It can be your foot in the door to an exciting career and if you're good at your job, it can lead you to many more jobs in the future. So, how do you become a PA? What makes a PA good at their job? We’ll go through that and more in this blog post.
As we discussed in an earlier blog post about how to get started working in the film industry, a production assistant is an entry-level position that is responsible for a wide range of delegated tasks that support the film crew. The tasks will vary based on different departments, but they are usually simple or menial in nature. There are also different types of PAs.
People generally think of set PAs when they hear the term "production assistant". Set PAs work on the physical set of a film or television production and perform tasks to support the cast and crew. The tasks will vary by day but you'll basically be doing the needed tasks that no one else wants or can do. The tasks could be...
It's important to be ready for anything on any day. Just because you did certain tasks the day before does not mean you will do the same tasks the next day. A film set is completely erratic and coming prepared will make it easier to move up in the future. Different departments on a film set, such as art, camera, and wardrobe may have their own production assistants for extra support as well.
PAs who work in the office for productions are called "Office PAs". Office PAs support productions by handling clerical tasks or by aiding the writer's room. The general tasks include...
In general, your job as an office PA will be to support the production coordinator and keep the office running smoothly whereas a set PA will help the ADs keep the set moving smoothly. Lastly, we have the Post PA.
Post PAs are very similar to office PAs but the difference is that they work during post-production instead of principal photography. Post PAs work in a post-production office where they perform various tasks to support the editors and post-production producers. The tasks for a Post PA generally include...
Being a PA is a valuable stepping stone into the film industry. It gives you great insight and practical experience in how to be an effective crew member in a humbling way. A PA is always on their feet, ready to do what needs to be done and often does not get much appreciation for how hard they are working.
Production assistants have many important tasks and must know a lot of terms to be successful. There will be a lot of things happening on set and no time for anyone to break down the nuances of a film set. To help you avoid the mistakes that come from learning by doing, we have prepared a list of things to know before you get on set.
Points! - What crew members and you should yell out whenever carrying something near people as a safety precaution.
C-47 - A normal clothespin. Used in many departments but frequently in electric and grip.
Video Village - Where the director, cinematographer, producers, and others will watch the footage as it's being recorded on a monitor.
Stinger - A high-quality extension cable.
Martini Shot - The last shot of the day but not the last take.
Hot Brick - A fully charged walkie talkie battery
10/100 or 10/1 - This means I'm going to the restroom.
Call Sheet - Using the director's shot list, the assistant director creates a schedule for every day of filming. Then, they distribute the schedule to cast and crew members, informing them when they are required to be on set.
Crew Call - The time the cast and crew are generally expected to be on set.
Call Time - The time everyone needs to be on set which will vary according to the call sheet.
Hot Set - A set that is currently filming.
Craft Services or Crafty - An area where crew can get snacks in between lunch.
Holding - Similar to a waiting room. This is where extras or background actors will stay until needed on set.
This is the typical organization of walkie talkie channels on a film set.
"Copy that" - Confirms you heard and understood what was said.
"On it" - Confirms you are working on the referenced task
"Going off walkie" - Announces to everyone that you will be taking the walkie off briefly.
"Eyes on [Blank]" - This is how you ask if anyone has seen an item or person.
"[Your Name] for [Name]" - This is how you announce who you are and who you are trying to get into contact with.
"Go for [Your Name]" - This is your response to being called upon.
"10-1" - Bathroom break.
"Take it to two" - What people say when they want to have a private conversation. It means you should switch to channel 2, which is kept clear for such occasions.
"What's your 20?" - Means what's your location?
"Flying in" - Means you're coming to set with the requested person or item.
"Go again" - How to ask someone to repeat themselves.
"Spin that please" - This means you (if instructed) should disseminate the information to other walkie channels.
The one thing you don’t want to be as a production assistant is unprepared and as the helper of the film production, you have to be prepared for almost anything. Here is a list of things that every production assistant should bring with them to set.
You don't want to be on set in flip-flops or sandals. Not only is it unprofessional but if a C-stand or heavy object falls on your foot, you could be out of commission for a bit. It's ideal to wear shoes that are durable and have stronger toes like hiking boots.
There are many reasons why it is a great idea to bring back up clothes. It may rain. It may be muddy. Either way, it doesn't hurt to bring an extra pair of clothes to change into.
Outside of walkie-talkies, your phone is the main source of communication to the ADs and whoever else may need your help. Try to keep it on you and charged, but remember to turn your ringer off.
Whether it's unique coffee orders or something integral to the set, sometimes you are going to be given complicated instructions. In these cases, having a notepad and pen is a lifesaver to remember every detail of what someone told you.
A swiss army knife is a great tool to have at your disposal on a film set. The variety of tools included inside make it extremely valuable for many departments, especially camera or G & E.
When you are on set, it’s a good idea to keep your lighter handy just in case someone needs one. You could be the hero by offering yours when they don’t have theirs. In addition, this is a great opportunity to bond with crew members.
Try to always arrive earlier than your call time on the call sheet. The more present and helpful you are, the more you'll be appreciated... eventually.
Even though you are in the lowest position on set and your job is to help everyone, there is still a hierarchy. Typically, since you are an assistant to the production department, that means you will answer to the producers, the ADs, or a Key PA.
When the cameras are rolling, it's time to be quiet which means it is your job to inform everyone around you to do precisely that. Of course, you want to do this in a respectful way. Don't tell people to shut up.
If you are given instructions that seem a bit unclear, it's okay to ask questions to clarify. Don't smile and nod, assuming you'll figure it out as you perform the task. Better to be safe than sorry.
Never sit down and never stand idle on your phone. The role of a PA is basically a trial run to see if the crew members want to work with you again. If they see you on your phone or sitting down, even if you've been working the hardest all day, they will probably jump to assumptions, which you want to avoid.
Make your presence known on your walkie. Say "over" to confirm what someone said and be responsive when someone asks a question. If people know how to get a hold of you, you are much more likely to be given tasks.
Walkie-talkies will eventually be dying left and right. Instead of running around set to give people new batteries, you can keep them on you and hand them out as you run into crew members.
No one needs to know what you think of the shot or if you think an idea is dumb. Keep your opinions and ideas to yourself.
Film sets are stressful, and people typically don't want to deal with negativity on set. Be a breath of fresh air to your crew members by maintaining a positive attitude. No matter how tired you might be.
Eventually, you'll begin to understand how your set works. The hierarchy. The crew members. And then eventually, you'll be able to anticipate what crew members need. Morning coffee? Sides? Giving people what they want before they ask for it is a sure way to get noticed.
The key to a great PA resume is keeping the format easy to read while highlighting all of the reasons you're able to do the job. PA resumes, however, are a little different than regular resumes.
For one, if you have past set experiences, you don’t need to list out your responsibilities in your role. Producers are familiar with the roles on a film set and the responsibilities that come with them. Producers are already busy and they don’t have time to read a lengthy resume. Make your resume breezy and easy to spot the important details such as film credits and skills.
Here's a barebones example.
It may also be a good idea to add who you worked under on the past film sets. The director, UPM, AD, Key PA, the film industry is about connections and if the producer sees a familiar name, that may make your resume stand out.
Whether you’re just starting or are an established professional, these resources will be helpful for finding jobs as a PA or otherwise.
Facebook and social media are invaluable resources for freelancers. Here are a few Facebook groups to join in order to find threads of gigs:
These sites are a great way to find PA jobs around the country in an office or on set.
Film Commissions are government-run film councils created to attract different film productions to their state. Film commissions know all about the productions shooting in their locality. You can search for the film commission nearest to you here. Call them and explain that you are seeking experience and were wondering if any large productions were shooting near here anytime soon. Once you get the number to a film production office and call them, make sure to reference whoever gave the production's number to you at the film commission office.
Being a PA requires patience, grit, and the ability to keep calm even in stressful situations. However, you'll find that as long as you have those qualities and learn how to network through the tips above, being a PA is not only rewarding but also an excellent stepping stone to bigger and better things.