Foot in the Door: 10 Things a Production Assistant Can Do to Stand Out

I have done my time as a production assistant and have worked with hundreds more, and I thought it was time someone put together a list of what exactly makes a good PA.

Here’s my top 10 list when I’m thinking about rehiring or promoting.

1) Show up ready to work.
Be early and wear something appropriate. This can be difficult to guess, and it’s OK to ask. Appropriate attire for a PA could be a three-piece suit or a one-piece swimsuit, depending on the day. Be comfortable and if you think you might need something, bring it.

2) Be prepared on set.
Do you have a tool chest and a flashlight in your trunk? Did you bring an extra jacket and an umbrella? A road map and sunscreen? Producers often forget the small details when they are making big plans and are very grateful when someone can step up to handle the simple but big problems.

3) Don’t step on toes.
If your opinion is wanted, it will be solicited. Remember that there may have been a dozen meetings or years of market research backing up these odd decisions. Always assume that the producer is knowledgeable and informed. On some sets, you may find that PAs are only supposed to carry certain gear, or not allowed to help with the camera or lighting departments. Figure this out as quickly as possible and get out of the way when necessary.

4) Put down your cigarettes.
If the producer isn’t taking a break, you shouldn’t be either. Silence your cell phone, stop checking Facebook and don’t ask if you can smoke. Production teams are exactly that: teams. They need to play together and break together to function effectively.

5) Know the area.
Many producers travel across states or countries and aren’t going to know where to go for whatever the production needs. A good PA will know where things are in the neighborhood. If you’re not from the area, look up the basics before you get to set. Office supply stores, supermarkets and coffee shops are a good place to start.

6) Be tough.
A good on-set PA should be able to lift at least 75 pounds and stand all day. Being able to bend steel is a bonus. If you’re not in shape, you’re probably not going to make a great PA.

7) Have a career plan.
Great PAs are great because they aspire to be more. PA-ing is an opportunity to network with people that have the job you want, learn the trade and become more comfortable on set. If you’re there for the free lunch, maybe you should be working at McDonald’s.

8) Anticipate issues before they happen.
This will be easier the more you know about the project and your production company. When you have down time on set, check the weather and if it changes, update a producer. If you see an actor getting cold, grab a blanket for them before they step off set. Producers tend to focus on their biggest problem, so when you have time, you can be focusing on the smaller ones.

9) Don’t whine.
It seems so obvious that I shouldn’t have to mention it, but every shoot has someone who can’t stop talking about not having a good time. Maybe it’s how you cope or how you bond with the crew, but please find a way to stop. If your feet hurt, buy new shoes. If the insects are bugging you, bring insect repellent next time. And if you don’t like it, quit. Negative attitudes are poisonous.

10) Research the project or client.
Take some time to know what it is you will be helping create. If it’s a commercial, what other commercials has the client commissioned? If it’s a film, ask for a copy of the script. Research the production company or companies involved. Knowing as much as possible about who’s paying you and who’s paying them can give you a leg up on the competition. MM

Jon Kline (www.jonkline.com) is an independent moviemaker and cinematographer from Wisconsin. His credits include producer-cinematographer for Six Bullets and 355, visual effects supervisor for The City is Mine and digital color grader for The Tailor. His upcoming cinematography credits include The Darndest Things, The Machine and Everybody’s Gay.

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