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6 Tips for Your First Job as a Production Assistant

Nowadays working as a production assistant almost seems like an integral part to becoming successful in the film industry, so here are some essential tips for the job.

If you are an aspiring filmmaker, chances are that you will work or already have worked as a PA on a film set. While being a PA means long hours and frequent stressful situations, the experience you can gather this way is invaluable – not to mention the people you meet. If you prove yourself as a PA and make the overall filming experience more comfortable for everyone, you will get noticed, directors, and producers will higher you again, and help you on your way of becoming a filmmaker. Here are some simple tips on how to shine as a PA:

1. Stay motivated

Keeping your spirits high is the simplest, yet most important piece of advice for anyone working on a film set. When everybody has been on set since 6 am and it’s 6 pm, with a couple more shots lined up, don’t let your fatigue sap your energy and good mood. Even a single person on set can really drain the whole team of their motivation, by staring at their phone a lot and constantly asking questions like “How many more shots?” or “When will we be done?”. I was once told by a camera assistant, that she doesn’t care whether we have all the footage we need or not, because she would simply leave at six (when shooting was scheduled to be over). This teaches us two lessons: First of all, there’s always over-hours when working on a film. Second of all, if you don’t show motivation, no matter if you’ve been shooting for 2 or 12 hours, you won’t get hired again.

2. Be prepared

As a production assistant, you’ll be constantly taking care of all kinds of small tasks, reaching from creating a floorplan of the shooting location to stacking the buffet up with donuts. Some of the assignments coming your way may not be communicated to you; instead, you are simply expected to carry them out as part of your job. While these assignments vary from set to set, there are some that never change. For instance: If there’s a shot scheduled at a different location, make sure that everything that is not needed until the transition is packed up and ready to go.┬áThink ahead when it comes to more concrete wishes of individual members of the production team. Try to understand the director’s, producer’s and actors’ habits and workflows, so you know what they’ll want before they themselves know it.

3. Be punctual

This one kind of falls in line with the prior tip. Be punctual, so you can be prepared, when everyone else starts working, which means that being punctual as a PA means being over-punctual, which means being on set at least half an hour before the rest of the team.

4. Keep your ears open

As a PA you are not only on set to carry out tasks. Often people will come to you with more or less simple questions regarding the schedule, actor’s whereabouts, lunch-plans, and so forth. Try to keep up with everything that’s going on on set, so you can give whomever a quick rundown if needed.

5. Communicate (clearly)

Onset communication is key. With everyone being busy and highly concentrated at all times, it’s best to keep what you have to say short and clear. If you make a mistake, you can make it much less of a mistake if you immediately let your supervisor (and whoever else might be affected) know. In case you are sent to bring something, but can’t find it and end up not bringing it, inform the person who gave you said task and you can solve the problem together. If you don’t tell anyone though and the moment arises in which said object is needed and it isn’t there, production has to stop and you don’t ever want to be responsible for that.

6. Learn as much as you can

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, working as a PA is a means to getting your foot in the door, not a life-long occupation, so try to soak up as much knowledge as possible. When you have some free time, observe your colleagues and the way they work, and in case there’s a break for everyone, ask them what you want to know. From my experience, people on set are always eager to share what they know and will connect to you over your shared passion for film.

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