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10 things every Production Assistant should know:
When I first started working in the film industry I was working on very very small productions….the kind that didn’t pay or only paid $50 a day. I was still NEW to the industry at the time so I was essentially "paying my dues" as most people would say. I believed that this type of work was temporary but I didn’t necessarily know how I would get onto bigger and higher paying projects. Below I have outlined a few KEY tips to getting that next big job.
Realize that every job is an interview.
You may have landed your first job as a PA but have you landed your next one? What about the one after that? While you are working on set KNOW that almost anyone in the film crew can recommend a PA to the AD staff, Coordinators or Producers. If you work super hard, show people kindness and go above and beyond people will notice….and those “people” will recommend you on future projects.
2. Always show up on time.
Yes it can be hard to make it to set sometimes….especially if your call time is 4:30AM, you only got 5 hours of sleep the night before and you have an hour drive ahead of you. Don’t let excuses or your lack of motivation get to you. Do WHATEVER you have to do to be on time. Lay out your clothes the night before, set three alarm clocks and take a hot shower if you have to. Being on time is super critical in this industry and in some instances can get you fired if you walk in casually late. Always budget contingency time (10-15 minutes) should there be a wreck on the freeway or your car decides not to start.
3. Come Prepared.
Before you head to set STOP and ask yourself if you have everything you possibly need for that particular day. If you are shooting overnight do you have a flashlight? If you will be out in the desert do you have a hat and sunscreen. Even though it only takes a few minutes to hook up my walkie surveillance on set I like to do this at home so the minute I land on set I'm ready to go. Make sure your phone is charged and you bring a charger brick fully charged. Remember you could be in the elements for 12-14 hours so you don't want to forget that ONE thing that will make your day less comfortable.
4. Read the Call Sheet and Sides.
Take a few minutes when you receive the call sheet and sides to actually see what is happening and who is working. You never know when a crew or cast person may need information about the day that can be found on this very important piece of paper. This is your opportunity to save the day by knowing where things are and what is happening.
5. Carry Hot Bricks.
Hot Bricks are the industry term for “charged walkie batteries.” The minute a crew person has a “Dead Brick” your job should be to zip in and replace it flawlessly. In addition to carrying hot bricks it is a good idea to setup a charging station at each location to keep charging the "Dead Bricks".
6. Anticipate the needs of the SET.
There will be times when you are on a SET where you may find yourself standing around waiting to be told what to do by an AD. In general there will always be something to do in addition to lock-ups whether that’s throwing trash away, offering the crew water, setting up lunch, moving directors chairs…etc. When in doubt don’t be afraid to ask one of the ADs if there is something you can do.
7. Echo the ADs
One of the main responsibilities of a Production Assistant is echoing rolls. If you are doing a lock-up on SET and the 1st AD says rolling, cut, new deal, pictures up, background action it is expected of all the SET PAs to echo "YELL" one of the before-mentioned words. Don’t be timid. You want to echo so loud that the entire neighborhood hears you….well that is except for certain occasions when you need to be discreet like inside a working office building. Be loud and proud about these echoes because it assures the rest of the crew what is going on and they will know when to be quiet so that a take is not ruined.
8. Dress the part.
Consider wearing good tennis shoes that will be conducive to standing for 12-14 hours. Wear comfortable clothes but make sure they are useful and can hold a belt. Avoid being too casual like showing up in basketball shorts or sweat pants. In many instances its helpful to dress in darker colors (black/grey) so that your bright yellow shirt is not seen as reflection on camera.
9. Learn proper Walkie Etiquette.
Now for many individuals that have never been on a set before this can be one of the most intimidating things to learn. If you aren't sure how to use a walkie properly ask one of the ADs to show you.
Here are a few examples....
Instead of saying on walkie...does anyone know where John is? You might say does anyone have a "20" on John?
If someone asks where you are refrain from saying general terms like I'm right here. Be specific and say I'm next to the crafty truck.
10. Stay in your lane.
Yes you may have graduated film school and been a DP on numerous short films but if you are working as a PA for whatever set you are hired....make sure you are focusing on the duties and tasks that refer to PAs. Don't touch equipment or help other departments without prior approval. Depending on the budget of the film will depend on what types of tasks you may or may not be able to help with.