If there is one title in film making that could entail an almost undefined list of potential job duties it is that of the Production Assistant (PA). Sometimes the PA is a general role that covers all extra needs on-set (usually smaller productions), or sometimes (on larger productions) there are specific PAs for each department (i.e. Camera PA, Art PA, Set PA etc.). But no matter how large or small a production, what the PAs end up doing on each production will never be exactly the same.
You could sum up this vast and varied role in one simple sentence: The PA is the foot soldier on set who simply does whatever needs to be done. This could mean that they pass out call sheets, or gather paperwork, or transport talent, or make coffee, or help out in a specific department. Like a foot soldier, the PA never knows where their next call (or task) may take them so they have to keep their skill set sharp to meet the ever changing needs around them. If you think this role comes with a lightweight skill set you would be mistaken, here are just a few of superpowers a skilled PA needs to bring to their job everyday:
- Preparation – Effective PAs are prepared. Always carry an extra copy of the call sheet, or extra walkie batteries, or water, or sunscreen, or band aids, or a multi-tool, or whatever might be needed throughout the day on set.
- Flexibility – Above all, PAs must roll with the punches. They are not the decisions makers, they are the foot soldiers willing to go wherever the job takes them.
- A Great Memory – Whether it’s names, coffee preferences, dates, times, or locations – The more you can remember the easier your job will be.
- Faithfulness to fully complete key but menial tasks – Someone has to guard doors, hold umbrellas, and fill water bottles all the way to the end of the day.
- Stamina – These days are long, you’ve got to be able to keep your energy up all day long. (Clif bars anyone?)
- Open Eyes – You should be continually looking for needs you can meet or things you can improve. This pro-active spirit will make you invaluable on any set.
- Knowledge of all Departments – You don’t need to be an expert, but knowing the general roles and terminology etc. of all departments can be super helpful.
- Professional – Believe it or not, but the PA is a mood setter on set. If you’re professional and joyful about what you’re doing that will rub off on those around you.
There is a common tendency in the film industry to look at the role of the PA as the beginner, the low person on the totem poll, or the one that couldn’t make it as a more important crew member. While it is true that the PA is often an entry level position, this characterization is a bit unfair. The vast amount of variety in their job means that being a PA takes a lot. Truthfully some of us probably couldn’t make it as PAs.
Everyone on set is important no matter what they do, and every roll fills a very special hole that no other can. Let’s value and encourage each other and the specialized skills each of us brings to set no matter what our titles are.
Everyone on set is important no matter what they do, and every roll fills a very special hole that no other can.
A Word About Safety
Be on guard, safety can take a back seat on set, and as a PA you might be asked to do things that are actually unsafe. Remember that the line between completely willing and totally foolish might be thinner than you think. It’s OK to say no and advocate for your own safety if you’re being asked to do something you’re not comfortable with.
For more info on being a PA check out these links:
What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to do as a PA? Share it in the comments below.