In Part 5 of How to be a good Production Assistant, I talked about the unfair and unspoken rule of never sitting down. As I mentioned, it seems kinda cruel but it’s because sitting down gives the posture of “I’m bored” or “I don’t feel like doing anything.” When you’re standing and alert you look ready to go and take care of the necessary tasks. However, even having the right posture doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of questions, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. That’s what Part 6 is all about!
Ask questions if you’re unsure about something. But try to keep it short. Most people understand that as a PA you’re probably still new to the business and might not understand that when the AC asks if you can find him or her another marker, that they actually want a dry erase marker. So just ask. It could go something like this.
AC: “Hey can you get me another marker? This one’s dead.”
You: “Does it matter what kind of marker?”
AC: “Oh yes, a dry erase marker. Not a sharpie. It’s for marking the slate.”
You: “Any particular color?”
AC: “Black or blue would be best.”
You: “You got it.”
You return with both a black and a blue marker.
You: “Here ya go. I brought you one of each just in case.”
AC: “Hey thanks!”
You: “Need anything else?”
AC: “No, but let me get your phone number. I still get calls to be a PA sometimes, so I’d be happy to pass your name along.”
Shazam! You just got yourself a new friend in the business who may just land you your next job.
Part 4 of “How to be a good Production Assistant” gave some good ideas for how to stay busy on set, even if you really have nothing to do. Staying busy and looking busy are very different and even though I’ve pretty much mastered how to look busy when in reality I was bored to tears, I’m not going to share those details here. That’s really a last resort sort of move. You’ll have to figure out how to do that on your own. Here’s part 5.
Don’t sit down. This one seems kinda cruel, but in all actuality if I see someone sitting down I assume they are not ready to take on a task. It’s tough but as a PA, I’ve definitely gone 16 hours without sitting down even for lunch. So if you haven’t done anything for 2 hours and the next 2 don’t look promising either, you’ve got to try and look engaged and whatever you do, don’t sit down. Especially don’t sit in the director’s chair. Yes I’ve seen this happen and it isn’t pretty. Of course, if everyone else is taking a break feel free to join in but as soon as they’re back to the job you should be up on your feet as well. It sucks, especially when you have nothing to do, but sitting down expresses to others “I don’t feel like being here and don’t bother me.”
Part 6 coming soon!
The previous blog (How to be a good Production Assistant; Part 3) talked about how to take initiative and anticipate what’s coming next. If you’ve already done all that and you still have nothing to do, here are some tips for what to do next.
Stay busy. If you’ve already asked what to do and you’re still just standing around, find something useful to do without being in the way. Ask if anyone could use a bottle of water or a snack brought to them. Many times cameramen, talent, directors, ADs, sound mixers and others aren’t able to step away from their gear or their job and therefore forget to eat or stay hydrated. Just make sure not to bug them when they’re in the middle of something important. Depending on the shoot, you may not be able to address someone directly but there should be someone below them that you can check with instead. Other tasks you could do without asking are picking up trash (soda cans and chip bags can end up all over the place), walking by each department and maybe even checking in with them to see if they need anything, tidying up the craft service table (unless there’s a craft service person on set), reminding folks to put on sunscreen (if needed), see if anyone needs a new walkie talkie battery and anything else you can think of. Again, don’t be a nuisance. Your job is to be useful without getting in the way.
Stay tuned for Part 5!
Finding enough work in the production world can be very difficult but sometimes it can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. For example, I have actually gotten a job like this.
Me: (putting packets together for the next day’s shoot.)
Big Producer: (from another project talking to his Production Coordinator) “We need a craft service PA for next week’s shoot.” (looks around, spots me working) “Hey what are you doing next week?”
Me: “Uh, working for you?”
And just like that, I worked on that shoot and many more projects with that producer. After you do land a job though, you need to work hard to get called back again and again. Here’s Part 3 of How to Be a Good Production Assistant.
Take initiative and anticipate. Over time, you’ll learn what things can be taken care of without being told, but if you’re really new to the scene, just ask. Don’t be a nuisance, but check in with your direct boss (Production Coordinator, Producer, Assistant Director, Key PA, etc.) to see if there’s anything they need done. As you get to know certain people you work with often, you’ll begin to learn what things they may need done and you can be on top of it before they even ask. It’s that simple.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked for advice on how to get started in the film/tv/commercial production business. Well there are lots of ways to land that first gig (mandy.com, craigslist.org, contacting local production companies, asking around), but the most important thing is to make sure you get called again and again. Here comes part 2 of How to be a good Production Assistant.
Carry a notepad and pen, everywhere, all the time. As a PA, whenever someone would ask me to do something, they didn’t want to have to repeat themselves or answer a bunch of questions later on. As soon as someone would start talking, I would whip that notepad out and start writing, unless I realized they were just asking me for a bottle of water. Too many times I would think I could remember it all, but on my way to take care of one task, I would often get stopped again and again by others asking for other things to be done. If I didn’t write them all down, something would have gotten missed.
On that note, it’s also good to have lots of pockets to carry a notepad, pens, extra walkie batteries, etc.