7 Tips on How to Survive Being a Production Assistant
For many of us, being a production assistant was the first job we took in our filmmaking careers, and may be the first one you're considering for yours, as well.
If you've never been on a film set before, you may be wondering what a PA does—believe me, it's a lot more than lovingly handing water bottles to the cast and crew and trying to take up as little space as possible. Luckily, RocketJump Film School slapped a GoPro on real life PA Colin West McDonald to show you what a day in the life of one is like.
Like I said before, your job as a production assistant is more than just dolling out water. You're there to help the 1st Assistant Director make sure that the production has everything it needs, which means you'll be doing tasks for pretty much every department. It's difficult to say exactly what you can expect to do on any given day, but suffice it to say you'll be doing everything and anything the 1st AD asks of you, whether that's moving things from point A to point B, wrangling cords, or setting up props.
Since your job is hard to pin down, here are a few tips on how you can best do the myriad of tasks asked of you to do in order to be the best PA you can possibly be.
Communicate clearly and promptly
Communication is vital between a 1st AD and a PA. If you're asked to procure something for the next shot, your 1st AD needs to know that it's being done, so the cast and crew aren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs. So, update your 1st AD on 1.) whether or not you're the one getting it done, 2.) whether or not you can do it, and 3.) the status of it being accomplished. Don't be afraid to let them know there's a problem with getting the task done—bad news is better than no news.
Be present on your walkie
Again, communication is key here. When something comes through on your walkie talkie, the best thing you can do is respond, because that gives your team an clear idea of who is and who isn't available. This doesn't mean you're always going to be the one doing the task, but letting your team know your status just makes a production work smoother. Even if you're going to the bathroom, let someone know—give them the ol' "10-1". Disappearing PAs slow down production and you definitely don't want to be the one responsible for that.
Always have "hot bricks" on hand
A very simple, but very important part of being a PA: having "hot bricks" (fresh batteries) for walkie talkies on you. When someone on set needs some, you'll be there to hand them over, and in return you'll get some "cold bricks" to charge for later use.
A good PA is always anticipating what people on set are going to need, whether that's a pen/pencil/sharpie, fresh battery, or shoulder rub (not that—but maybe that—couldn't hurt—or it could). It's not necessarily a ding against you if someone has to ask you for something, but providing something before they have to will earn you a huge gold star.
Make sure the set is clean
It's your job as a PA to keep the set and surrounding areas clean. So, make sure you're taking care of any trash accumulating around craft services, sets, or anywhere else. And don't let it fall by the wayside, because when your 1st AD has to remind you to pick up messes, that means they've taken their focus off of the project to put it on something silly like garbage.
Don't be shy to lock up the set
When it comes over the walkie that quiet is needed on set, you need to make sure that you lock up, which means telling those around you that, yes, the camera is rolling, and yes, it's time to be quiet. I remember having a problem doing this, because I was, to be honest, really, really shy. But don't be! You're helping everyone involved, especially the director, ensure that they get a shot free of unwanted noise. But do it respectfully. Seriously, don't tell people to shut up and don't come down on them like you're their parent.
Find ways to speed up production
Essentially what all these tips help you do is speed up production. Communicating clearly and often, having supplies readily accessible, cleaning stuff up, locking up the set, and even making sure everyone is in line to get fed during lunch will make the day go so much faster. You're there to pick up the slack, so the cast and crew can really focus on making the project the best it can be.
PAs are so important to making a production run smoothly. What advice do you have for someone just starting out as a production assistant? Let us know in the comments below!