Understanding the Different Types of PAs On-Set

Posted on: May 16, 2024

Photo Credit: lucky boy studios // Shutterstock

By Benjamin Hickson

Starting out as a production assistant (PA) is often the first stepping stone to a career in film and TV. For many of us starting out in the industry, it can be difficult to find exactly what role you want to pursue on-set. Being a PA is a great way to figure out what department is right for you.

The role of PA is known for providing essential support across various departments and encompasses a diverse array of specialized roles, each with its own set of responsibilities and contributions to the overall production process. Whether you aspire to work closely with talent, assist behind the scenes or specialize in technical aspects of production, there’s a PA role suited to your interests and strengths.

Here are 8 of the most common PA roles and their unique responsibilities.

Set Production Assistant (Set PA)

Set PAs are the most versatile and instrumental. Their job is to assist in ensuring the efficient execution of filming schedules and day-to-day operations. They work closely with assistant directors (ADs) to coordinate the movement of talent, crew and equipment. They handle critical tasks, such as distributing call sheets, managing communication through walkie-talkies, coordinating transportation and maintaining overall set organization.

Set PAs are the linchpins that synchronize the intricate dance of production elements during shooting. They assist various departments and are allowed the opportunity to learn a lot of essential on-set skills.

Office Production Assistant (Office PA)

Office PAs provide indispensable administrative support from the production office. They tackle paperwork, manage filing systems, answer phones, handle office supplies and run essential errands, such as picking up deliveries or documents.

Office PAs are the logistical backbone of the administrative side of production. They work closely with producers, production accountants and office managers. These PAs are tasked with ensuring that everything off-set runs seamlessly by scheduling meetings and coordinating logistical aspects to keep the production office functioning efficiently. 

Talent Production Assistant (Talent PA)

Talent PAs are one of the most coveted roles, as they get to interact with talent on a daily basis. They are dedicated to meeting the needs of actors and play a pivotal role in supporting on-screen talent. Their duty is to prioritize the comfort and readiness of actors by ensuring they are well informed about their schedules and have everything they need during filming.

Talent PAs may assist with communicating wardrobe changes, manage personal belongings and provide general support to help performers stay focused and prepared on-set.

Runner/Production Runner

Runners are similar to a set PA in that they are required to be versatile multitaskers who provide support across various production departments. They are tasked with running essential errands, transporting equipment or documents between locations, going on supply runs and offering assistance wherever needed on-set. Runners are unsung heroes that contribute to the overall efficiency of production.

Art Production Assistant (Art PA)

Art PAs are given an opportunity to specialize in the art department and help them with anything they may need. They also play a crucial role in maintaining continuity and aesthetics throughout filming. As an art PA, you can learn on the spot and help contribute to the visual storytelling of productions. They assist with set decoration, prop management and art supplies, ensuring that the creative vision of the production design team is brought to life on-screen.

Camera Production Assistant (Camera PA)

Camera PAs are integral to their department and they provide assistance with setting up cameras, lenses and accessories, as well as managing technical aspects, such as batteries and memory cards. They are given the responsibility to transport and protect the camera equipment on-set. Camera PAs learn the basics it takes to work with camera equipment and through hard work can one day progress in the department.

Location Production Assistant (Location PA)

Location PAs specialize in assisting the location manager with the filming locations. Often they are in charge of keeping the set clean, communicating with land owners and helping to lock down areas in use on-set. Alongside location managers, they handle logistical details related to permits, parking and access to locations. Location PAs also assist with crowd control and minimizing disruptions in surrounding areas during filming, which is one of the most important roles—safety and quiet on-set are a necessity.

Post-Production Assistant (Post PA)

The post-production PAs are perhaps the most specialized type. They are required to have a basic understanding of media management and editing, so that they may assist the lead editors and story producers. Post PAs assist with logging footage, organizing files, managing media libraries and performing administrative tasks that facilitate the editing and finishing processes. They must become experts in streamlining workflows and ensuring the timely delivery of final products.

These positions offer hands-on learning opportunities and serve as crucial stepping stones toward broader careers in entertainment. All PA roles are an opportunity to learn and grow your skills so you can gain insight into the inner workings of production and cultivate essential skills for success in the film and television industry. Use this list to build your on-set knowledge, and go forth to pursue the career you’ve always wanted.

Benjamin Hickson is an aspiring producer and production coordinator who has 4+ years experience working on various film and TV projects. He has a background in Public Relations and served for six years in the military. He also has passion for travel and aims to increase LGBTQ+ representation in the entertainment industry.

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