How to Turn a Few Days On-Set Into a Sustainable Career
Posted on: Jul 13, 2023
Whether you’re brand new to the industry, are working with a new crew, have changed cities, are transitioning roles or departments, or are just tired of always being booked as a day player, here are some tips to getting called back and recommended again and again.
Establishing a Professional Reputation
Be Reliable and Punctual
When it comes to the entertainment industry, “on time” is often seen as being late. Establish yourself as the kind of person who shows up ready to start working the moment they clock in. On-set, time is money, and if you waste it you could be out of a job. Always allow yourself time for traffic, finding parking and making your way to the set or office.
Read your call sheet, or any information provided before you arrive. Bring the required gear with you (unless otherwise instructed, always bring your phone, laptop and chargers). Dress appropriately for the weather or stage requirements. If you’ll be going on runs, be sure to fill your tank and clear space in your car for picking up equipment or food.
Mobile Phone Etiquette
If you’re at work, you should only be using your phone for work. If you’re taking notes on your phone, let your manager know before you start typing while they are speaking. Remain professional on walkies (the norm for communication on-set) and in any group texts or email threads. Always silence your phone and alarms before walking onto the set.
Be an active listener. Give your total focus to anyone giving you instructions, take notes if appropriate, and ask follow-up questions as needed. When contacted via email, text, or on walkie, respond promptly and acknowledge that you understand and will take care of any tasks assigned. If you’ve been sent on a run or given a task away from the set or office, be sure to check in with updates. Common set lingo is to say “copy” when given instructions or orders to affirm you heard someone and are getting started on the task.
ProTip: Notify your manager immediately if something is off on-set that could push production back. You could be the one who saves everyone time and money by spotting something and speaking up.
Showcasing Your Value
Be the kind of person people want to be around. Working long hours on-set often means seeing each other more than we see our families and friends, and no one wants to hear whining or negativity. Be open-minded and willing to take on any task that heads your way. If you can complete menial (but crucial!) tasks with a smile on your face and show up the next day to do it all over again, people will notice and be more willing to hire you back.
Be creative and resourceful. If you’ve hit a snag, try to come up with solutions before asking for help. If you see your crew struggling to solve an issue and you have an idea, don’t be afraid to speak up. You never know when an idea that you have could save the day on-set.
Time Management & Prioritization
Learning how to handle urgent issues while staying on top of ongoing duties is key. Be aware of deadlines and build your schedule around them. When in doubt, it’s okay to ask your manager which task is most urgent. If you have runs to take care of, such as picking up or dropping off food, equipment, drives, etc., be aware of traffic patterns and avoid rush hour whenever possible. Give yourself enough time to pick up and check vendor orders before delivery. Select close locations if you are picking up coffee or food, and time your pickups so that food and drinks will still be hot.
Pro Tip: Be sure to triple-check every item of a food order before bringing it back to set to make sure nothing is missing! You don’t want to be the PA who comes back without someone’s order on accident and get fired from set (it happens).
Skills That Stand Out
There is always something to do. If you have completed the tasks you were assigned, don’t stand around waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Check in with your manager. If they don’t have anything for you right now, look around. Maybe your fellow PAs could use help, or there is something to clean or refill. You can also check in with other departments to see if they need a hand, but run it by your manager first. No task is too small. Putting a little extra effort and finesse into simple tasks like this will be noticed.
Keep your desk or space around you neat, so you can easily access anything you may need. Take notes and keep lists or charts for reference. If you are handing out walkies, keep a log to track them that is detailed and clear for anyone to use. This is also important when it comes to wrapping the day to ensure all walkies are returned.
Don’t be afraid to seem hungry. Managers would much rather hire someone eager for work than someone who acts like the job is beneath them. Showing interest in learning more about a specific role or department will help managers and department heads to guide you in the right direction. PAs are often asked to recommend other PAs, and working well with your peers is crucial.
Pro Tip: Check in with the person who hired you at the end of the day for feedback. Ask if they might be able to use you in the future. Sometimes this initiative is all it takes to be put on tomorrow’s schedule.
If you’ve booked even one day of work, you’ve already overcome one of the biggest obstacles in the entertainment industry. Once you’re on-set, it’s an even playing field. If you showcase a great attitude and willingness to work, people will notice. Be confident, ready to work and willing to learn. When you have the opportunity to meet a new group of people, make yourself invaluable. We all need a little help getting started, so once you get on-set, prove that they were right to take a chance on you.
Kealey McGray studied Creative Writing and Film & Television at the University of Michigan. She has worked in almost every part of the entertainment industry for the past 14 years including: live TV, unscripted TV, and scripted TV, as well as independent films, commercials, events / concerts, and for a major Hollywood studio.
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