PRODUCTION ASSISTANT OVERVIEW
On a film or television set, a production assistant is one who works within a specific department or with various departments, as needed, to get a variety of tasks completed. A Production Assistant, PA, position is an entry level position into the film industry whether working in the production department, electric, wardrobe, etc…
PA JOB DESCRIPTION
As stated, the Production Assistant position is an entry level job into the film industry.
Generally, PA’s are doing all types of odd tasks on set. Some of those tasks range from getting coffee, food orders, taking out trash, cleaning up, sweeping and a variety of other tasks.
With that said, being a PA is a great way to get familiar with the multiple departments that exist in a film/television set. And as you become familiar with the various departments you can come to a conclusion as to which one you would like to work in. Upon figuring out which department you would like to work in, comes the opportunity to get hired in that specific department as you have proven yourself as a PA.
For example, after being on set as a PA you may decide that you would like to work in the Camera Department. You would at some point communicate that information to the Key PA or to the Production Coordinator and they will generally make a way to move you to that specific department.
But do keep in mind that often a department will hire their own Production Assistants, so it may take time to move into a specific department if they are fully staffed, if at all. That can all depend on the size and length of the shoot and exactly what needs to be accomplished.
HOW MUCH DOES A PA GET PAID?
According to Salary.com the average pay for a Production Assistant in the US is $32,966. And as stated on their website, the range can vary from $31,592 and $34,390. Factors that can determine the level of pay include, experience, education, certifications, additional skills, etc.
A PA position is ultimately a freelance position. A PA works from project to project. Once a project is complete, a PA is unemployed until he/she gets on another project. A production assistant will generally make between $150 to $250 per day. The determinants are how much he/she makes per hour and how many hours he/she works.
In some cities some PA’s can make more than in others, however, due to demand for those jobs, negotiating a desirable rate can be challenging as there is often someone else willing to take the job for the pay the production has already established.
Below are a list of websites where you can search for production assistant jobs:
PA AS A CAREER
As we have made it clear, a Production Assistant is an entry level position. Generally, no one is looking to make a career as a Production Assistant. Once you get your foot in the door as a PA you’ll want to figure out what department you want to work in and make that a career.
For example, if you decide that you want to stay in the production department then you may start to work your way up to a Key PA, then to a 2nd 2nd AD and eventually become an AD.
With that said, due keep in mind that PA’s work long hours, 10 to 12 hour days and in many cases, 14 hour days, Monday through Friday. Many times PA’s are the first on set and the last to leave set. And on occasions a PA may even be called to work on a Saturday or on a day off if there is something that the production decides needs to be done on that day. As a PA, you may even get moved around from one department to another if the need be to get a specific task(s) done.
As demanding as that sounds, it’s working as a Production Assistant that earns your stripes to get promoted into other departments of positions.
PA PROMOTION ROAD MAP
Getting a job as a PA is not the end all, it’s the beginning. Becoming a Production Assistant is the door to opening the possibility of becoming a crew person. All departments need PA’s. You need to decide which department you want to work in and stare in that direction.
If you’re into decoration then you may want to work as a PA in the art department and make your way up. There’s a road map that you must follow to make your way up each department. Many of the unions will accept PA hours as a way of getting into the union.
As highlighted, all of the departments in film and television need Production Assistants. The best way for you to make your way up in the film/television industry once you get in as a PA is to have a clear objective on what department you want to work in. You will then work in that department and develop skills that will make you valuable on set and thus create a demand for your skills which equals more job opportunities.
GETTING HIRED AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
If you want to get hired as a PA, the internet is a great tool. You can do a search online for “production assistant jobs” and a bunch of opportunities will populate. However, to give you a better chance of finding a Production Assistant position and to continuously keep finding production assistant positions, we encourage you to be in a city where lots of movies, whether for film or television, are made.
Sure, there may be a PA gig available in your town, but how many more are available once that production wraps up? That is the advantage of moving to a major city where film/television production is constant. Some of those cities are New York City, LA and Atlanta, among others.
WORD OF MOUTH
Though productions place ads online and elsewhere when they are hiring PA’s, the most sure way to get a production assistant is via word of mouth. When the head of a department is looking to hire PA, personal references make a difference.
A Production Coordinator is more likely to hire a PA based on the reference from a trusted PA than from a resume that’s in his/her inbox. With that said, be sure to get connected with working PA’s. Let them know that you are looking to get in the industry and that you want to be a Production Assistant. Share your information with them and let them know that you can be reached at any time for a job interview for a PA or additional PA position.
An easy way to meet working PA’s is to peruse a movie set and look for the people doing set lockdown, handling crafty services, etc. Working PA’s generally the first ones to know when PA job opportunities are available.
As a bonus, be sure to let as many people as you know, family and friends, that you are looking to get hired as a PA. Thus if they hear anything they will let you know. You never know who knows who and how information about your PA position pursuit can trickle to the right person.
In the meantime, keep at it. Join PA Facebook groups and other social media PA groups and continue to build your resume by working on friend’s and other people’s independent film projects.
A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT MUST KNOW
Some must know things if you’re going to be a Production Assistant that will bring value to a movie set are strong organizational skills, knowing how to read a call sheet, being a clear communicator, among other skills.
Being a clear communicator is a strong point as your higher up will feel confident in you and trust you with more responsibility. There are other skills that are valuable depending on the department you are working in as a Production Assistant.
In addition to the aforementioned, it is crucial that you have a great attitude when you’re on set. Keep positive and smile even when you are being asked to do multiple tasks and are being asked to work in multiple departments. Be nice, friendly, polite and keep a smile on your face. Production Assistants with a poor attitude may get fired, or if they make it through the job, they may not get called back for another one.
The tasks that Production Assistants are tasked to do are usually jobs that other people on set won’t do, therefore do them cheerfully. This will ensure that you go noticed for the right reasons and it may very well keep receiving calls for other work opportunities and eventually move you up the hierarchy of your department.
Again, a key to all of this is a great attitude.
REQUIREMENTS TO BECOME A PA
To become a Production Assistant there isn’t a formal education requirement or training requirement. Becoming a PA is usually something that you learn on the job. Therefore, when you’re a Production Assistant, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s actually a requirement. You’ll ask questions, get answers and learn.
With that said, you will want to not be asking the same question multiple times. You should be able to learn and fast. By doing so you will garnish knowledge that will make you valuable on a movie set and people in key positions will want to hire you for other jobs.
Though some people attend film school before taking on a PA position, it is not a requirement. The reason is because PA work doesn’t involve technical skills, but rather doing jobs that support the production.
As a PA you should be figuring out where you want your career path to go. That is, which department do you want to work in and specialize in the skill(s) that is going to make you valuable to that department and keep getting you more work.
A PA SHOULD KNOW
For pretty much every department in film/television production there is a union. However, there is no union for Production Assistants. Film/television department Unions have specific requirements for you to join them and a certain amount of hours as a PA can/help get you in. Working as a PA is a way to get you in and move you up.
If you’re going to be an effective PA then you need to have the proper equipment. These are some of our recommendations and they may be exactly what you need to not look like a “noob” or “green” when you’re on set. Yes, that is what brand new PA’s to the film/TV production industry are called when they aren’t seasoned in the industry.
Therefore you want to do your best, not to just play the part, but to look the part. The following will help:
RECOMMENDED PA GEAR/EQUIPMENT
This Radio/EMT Combo Pouch with a belt loop is perfect for keeping PA necessities (sharpies, paper, pens, flashlight, etc) and it has a place designated for walkies.
Speaking of walkies, you’ll be handed one on set, but you don’t want to look green with the “BK” headset. Yes, that’s what they call the headset they’ll give you on set, a BK! Do you get it? Like the headsets that employees at Burger King, BK, wear on drive thru? Those may be fine for the fast food environment, but they’ll make you look “green” on a movie set.
Therefore, get a Walkie Talkie Surveillance Headset. This headset is compatible with Motorola CP200 walkie talkies which are the industry standard.
It’s very likely that as a PA, you will be doing outdoor lock up. If it starts raining, which does occur, you will need a poncho.
Ponchos will work when it rains. But what about when it starts to downpour or you have just been in that rain for too long? That’s when a rainsuit comes in and it will be the refuge that you need. Check out the Coleman 20mm PVC Rain Suit.
FAQ To Become A Production Assistant
What are the fundamental skills you need to become a good Production Assistant?
To become a Production Assistant some of the fundamental skills that you must have are, communication skills. You need to be able to communicate well with everyone on set and offset, if you’re asked to go on an errand (coffee, equipment pick up/drop off, etc).
Being patient as a Production Assistant is fundamental as you may be asked to do multiple things by multiple people and you need to get them done gracefully. But be sure to ask questions if you don’t know exactly what is being asked of you. But do your very best not to look overwhelmed, even if you are. Be patient!
Additional skills include interpersonal skills, time management and flexibility. You must also be able to read a call sheet and the ability to understand a budget.
Is it necessary to have a degree to become a Production Assistant?
No, you don’t have to have a degree to become a Production Assistant. However, many people with film degrees, or other degrees, seek to enter the film industry production side as Production Assistants. Therefore, it can get competitive because the hiring personnel may give preference to a candidate with a degree versus one without a degree.
How should a Production Assistant dress for the job?
Production Assistants are advised to wear comfortable clothes that correlates with the work environment that they will be in. Production Assistant work hours are long and they’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable in the clothes they’re wearing throughout the work shift.
Bear in mind, PA’s spend hours on set, hours standing on their feet and they do plenty or running around getting assigned tasks done.
Exactly what to wear as a PA is also determined by the environment you’re in. That is, indoors, outdoors, cold, hot, rain, etc. Whereas in one scenario shorts, a t-shirt and sunscreen will do, but in another it may not. In other words, be mindful of the weather that you’ll be working in.