I want to share a bit of insight as someone who has been a PA in Hollywood for a good while now. I’ve worked on the Paramount lot, I’ve worked on some big network projects. I’ve had lunch with some of the biggest gaffers, ADs, and DPs in the industry. Here’s the hard truth.
I always wanted to direct. I figured it would make the most sense to become a PA in LA and work my way up, but that’s a very difficult plan. I worked my way up into pretty consistent, paid work - I was PA-ing on a set at least every week. The problem was that, because rent is so extremely high in LA, most PAs can’t even afford a studio apartment. Roommates, crammed into a few rooms, and most all of your check disappears after the month is over - just to survive every week. I didn’t really care - I love the work. I figured it would get easier.
I started talking with the ADs I met and many of them had told me the job was not what they thought it would be. Some crew members explained how they felt “enslaved to the industry” because their skills were not transferable to any other workplace. Gaffers explaining how they were trying to find a way to get off set early to see their kids for the first time in weeks, camera operators going back to school to get out of the 14-hour days so they can try to recover their broken marriages, ADs with bloodshot eyes, limping in pain from 20 years of long, laborous days. Producers trying to find work that is more stable because they haven’t been able to put down roots after moving around the world the last 15 years. It doesn’t get easier.
Almost every day I work 12-14 hours. And the amount of work you put in doesn’t matter. You could work 6 hours and meet a PM who will get you work for the next 6 months, or you can day-play for months and not meet a PM with an opening. It’s all chance. It’s all luck, and most of the people that succeed are relatives of the crew or cast. I’ve met nephews and nieces of the biggest movie stars - they’re the key PAs. The art PAs? Kids of the art director.
I enjoyed my time in LA, and I learned a lot from my experiences. My passion will always be film, but I am considering another career choice. I don’t think climbing to the top as a PA is a viable path anymore.
I love film. I will always love making films. But the industry is a machine. It’s painful. It’s not glamorous. Know what you’re getting into.