Top Underrated PA Skills
Posted on: Aug 10, 2023
Whether you’ve already worked as a production assistant or are eager to get started, you likely have an idea of the skills desired on-set or in the office. Some may seem obvious, while others may surprise you. Read on to find out more about skills you may already have without even realizing it, and how to position them to land your next gig.
Let’s review some of the basic skills the person hiring will likely be looking for in their production assistants. These can apply to any role whether on-set, in the production office, in the writers’ room, in post-production and more.
When you are given instructions in a fast-paced environment, it’s unlikely you’ll hear them twice. Ensure that you are actively listening while things are explained and that you are comprehending exactly what needs to be done.
Quick on Your Feet
This applies both literally and figuratively. Anyone hiring a PA wants someone who will understand and act quickly, but also who physically moves fast. Time is of the essence when shooting with a tight schedule, so getting tasks done quickly makes a big difference.
Strong & Capable
Working on set is often physically demanding. Gear and equipment frequently need to be moved, so physical strength and endurance is desirable. Be prepared for manual labor. Even in office-based positions, you may be lifting supplies, crafty, catering, costumes and more.
This really can’t be emphasized enough. Your co-workers and superiors want to work with someone who is pleasant to be around. Days in production can be draining. Maintaining a positive and resilient attitude will take you far.
Knowing the call sheet, knowing your way around set and having easy access to any necessary gear, supplies or documents someone may request makes you a go-to PA.
Problems are inevitable in production. Whether you encounter an obstacle during your own task that you can problem-solve independently, or you have a suggestion that may help a situation with your team, this is a highly desirable and noticeable skill.
Let’s get into some skills you may already have that many people don’t realize are incredibly useful as a production assistant.
Being a Foodie
That’s right. Your love of food can be useful in so many ways as a PA. If you are ordering lunches or catering, knowing great restaurants in the area is helpful, as well as instinctively knowing how to order food that will keep a large number of people fed and happy. This also applies to crafty and snacks. Keeping the office kitchen stocked with yummy snacks will result in happy co-workers and an easy win for you. Bonus points for knowing snacks and/or restaurants that fit specific dietary restrictions for those who have them.
Driving Big Vans or Trucks
If you are lucky enough to work on a union show with a transportation department this may not apply, but on non-union shows, it is often PAs driving talent and crew around. If you are comfortable and safe driving a cube truck full of equipment, a passenger van full of crew, or a sprinter or cargo van you will almost certainly be booked again. Do you own an SUV or pickup truck yourself? Are you willing to use it for production? That’s a plus!
Shopping as a skill set? Yes, really! This skill applies to more positions than you might think. As a costume or props PA, shopping is a huge part of the job. However, any production assistant may be asked to go shopping online or in stores. Crafty shopping is a common request, so knowing your grocery stores and getting in and out quickly comes in handy. You may also be sent out to buy something specific, such as putting together a gift basket for someone. Knowing where to go and what to buy in any situation is a very useful skill.
We can’t talk about shopping without talking about budgeting. Any time you are sent on a run that involves making purchases, it is smart to ask if there is an approximate budget or spending range. Whether you have been given this information or not, making choices in the store that save the show money is always the best decision.
Knowing your city, the studio lot or stages you are working on, or even the office building is a great skill. Knowing how to navigate the area when sent on a run and how to best avoid traffic means you will complete tasks more quickly. Knowing your way around the stages or workplace means you will be where you need to be in a timely manner.
Cast and crew are under a lot of pressure daily, and people can become emotional. If you are able to read the situation and quickly cheer someone up or turn things around, you could save the day. Ideally, everyone will be kind and professional on set, but in the event that a celebrity or producer is about to have a meltdown, knowing how to smooth things over and keep them happy makes a world of difference.
Doing Your Homework
Your “homework” varies depending on the type of show you’ve been hired for, and your position. For example, if you’re going to be the writers’ PA, familiarize yourself with any existing shows or scripts the showrunner and writers have worked on. Being able to reference the previous work of your supervisor is helpful in many situations. It also shows that you take initiative and are invested.
This one may seem obvious, but there’s a difference between scribbling things down and taking useful and detailed notes. If you had a knack for note-taking back in school, now is your time to shine. If you are being taught something for the first time, taking notes that you can reference to complete your duties again and again will help both you and your supervisor.
There are an endless number of skills that can come into use while working as a production assistant. Never doubt that any life experience or skills you’ve gained so far can be valuable and useful. I hope by reading this blog, you may have realized you already have some of these skills, or other hidden talents that you are ready to put into action.
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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