The Beginner’s Production Assistant’s Guide to Success
Posted on: Jan 04, 2023
Congratulations! You’ve scored your first job as a Production Assistant (PA)! If this is your first time on-set, you should know that your learning will go far beyond what I can cover in this blog. Productions are complicated things that you really have to experience to understand, but I wanted to share a few tips that I think every PA should know prior to showing up for their first day. Trust me, there’ll be plenty of time to learn how to wrap cords and take down C-stands, but starting with these tidbits will ensure that you go into your first day primed for success.
Use your phone
Productions live and die by communication; one person getting the wrong call time or location can throw an entire project off-course. Keeping an eye on emails and texts is a sure-fire way to make sure that you’re where you need to be, when you need to be there.
Treat the call sheet that you (hopefully) got the day before as if it’s written in pencil. Pay attention to it, and make yourself familiar with the content, but understand that things in the world of production are always changing, so being up-to-date on texts and emails can save you from making costly mistakes.
Make sure that you’re communicating effectively with your on-set contact. No one sets out to run late, but if you know that you won’t make your call time, give them a heads up so they can make the necessary adjustments.
Ask “what can I be doing?”
As a PA, this is the most important question that you can ask while on set. Truth be told, Production Managers and Coordinators should be the ones delegating on-set tasks, but if you find yourself standing around awkwardly, simply ask a nearby crew member if there’s anything you can do to help them out. Not only is this an easy way to stand out and show initiative, but it’s also a great way to meet people and familiarize yourself with the different roles and departments.
The hope here is that as you get more experience, you’ll go from treating this as a question to ask others to using it as a tool to create your own on-set checklists. Obviously, you still need to be in tune with the people around you so that you don’t overstep, but anyone who does on-set work for a living will tell you that a self-guided PA is truly priceless.
Advocate for yourself
A lot of discussions about success tend to focus on what you can contribute to the bigger picture, but the truth is that you can’t really succeed if you’re not looking out for yourself. Yes, there are unions. Yes, producers should be making sure that crew members are taken care of but at the end of the day, your well-being is your job, and no one will advocate for you the way that you can.
When I first started out as a PA, I gladly took whatever was offered to me without asking for more. It was only when I started working as a coordinator that I realized I should have been negotiating rates, and asking for per diems, and even lodging where it made sense. Sadly, a lot of Producers see crew members as line items that can be whittled away at, so it’s up to you to make sure that you’re equipped with what you need to succeed.
That also means that it’s up to you to keep track of any extras that you might find yourself doing. Using your personal vehicle for errands? Keep track of the mileage, and include it in your invoice. Working past wrap? Log those hours and make sure that you’re paid accordingly.
Regardless of producer responsibilities, it’s up to you as a freelancer to make sure that your ducks are in a row when it comes to payment. Look into software like QuickBooks, and utilize the tools that they offer to make invoicing easier. Make a deal memo, and have whoever hired you sign it so that the terms of payment are clearly documented.
If it comes down to it, don’t be afraid to bug producers about late payments. With so many on and off-set tasks, it’s easy for things to fall between the cracks, so no one will fault you for following up with a text or email.
You’ll learn pretty quickly that being a PA is special because it allows you to touch more of the production than most people on set. Depending on the project, you could find yourself running craft services one day, and assisting the props master the next. With so much opportunity in front of you, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but my hope is that these tips will be a sufficient launching pad for you as you step into your new career.
Good luck on your first day!
Ready to get to work behind the scenes? Staff Me Up has more than 8,000 production assistant jobs that you can apply for today.
Carter Murphy is a North Carolina-based Production Coordinator with 7+ years of production experience. When he’s not staffing shoots and processing invoices, he enjoys reading, listening to music, writing, and watching movies.
Photo provided by Carter Murphy
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