The Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Effective Production Assistant

Anyone curious about the film industry undoubtedly knows how difficult it is to break in.  Most people, regardless of their education or background have to start at the bottom and work their way up from there.  One of the common entry points is working as a Production Assistant or PA.  Over the course of the last several years, I’ve worn various hats in my time with Rowlbertos Media.  When I’ve been on film shoots, my most common role has been that of a PA.  I’ve written this blog as a way to provide you with some tips on the Do’s and Don’ts of being an effective Production Assistant.

DO’S

  • HAVE SUPPLIES ON HAND

When you’re on a shoot, you should generally always have a bag of supplies on you, or at least readily accessible.  By supplies, you should have still needed for personal use, such as water, sunscreen, snacks, notebook, etc.  You should also have the tools needed for the shoot itself: extra camera batteries, important paperwork, chargers, tape, etc.

  • ANTICIPATE PRODUCTION NEEDS

Depending on what kind of production you’re on, you should, over time, be able to anticipate the needs of that particular shoot.  If you’re filming something like a music festival, for example, that could mean knowing the setlists for the performers so you can help the cameraman be efficient on where to be at a festival and how much time to devote to getting the coverage needed.  This can also mean knowing what type of equipment or supplies is needed for various aspects of a shoot.  The more efficient you get, the easier you’re job will be.

  • ALWAYS BE CHARGING

You’d be surprised how many batteries digital cameras go thru on a film shoot.  That’s why one of the first things you should do on production is finding electrical outlets you can use for charging batteries.  You should always have extra fully charged batteries on you, and you should always have dead batteries charging as well.

  • BE PROACTIVE

This should come as a no-brainer.  As a production assistant, your job more than anything else is to help make sure that the needs of the production are met.  Obviously, this fits in with my earlier bullet point about anticipation.  This is meant to build on top of that.  If you see that other crew-members need help with something, and you’re not currently doing another task, then you should offer to help.  That can be as simple as cleaning up or finding supplies, gear, etc.  In addition to the basic decency of assisting others, it makes you look good as well.

  • ASK QUESTIONS

Nobody working as a PA wants to just stay that way.  Everyone knows that this position is a stepping stone to something greater.  If you want to learn more about the various aspects of film production; ask.  This connects to my bullet point about being proactive.  It shows that you’re passionate about this industry and that you’re trying to learn as much as you can; otherwise what’s the point?  I should caution, however, that you should use sound judgment here, and don’t ask questions to the point that it gets in the way of getting the job done.  You don’t want to pester other crew-members while they’re focused on their work, because that could have dangerously negative effects, so use some tact about you ask questions and when.

DON’TS

  • BE UNPROFESSIONAL WITH TALENT

Every aspect of film production is important, but possibly none more so than talent.  Whether talent is a local business owner or an A-List movie star, you should always interact in a professional manner regardless of who they are.  If you happen to be working with someone famous that you might admire, don’t get starstruck to the point that you’re not able to properly do your job.  You’re both there to do a job, and the last thing you want to do is make the talent uncomfortable.  Aside from putting someone’s safety at risk, there probably isn’t a more surefire way to get yourself kicked off a shoot.

  • HAVE A NEGATIVE ATTITUDE

This is a no-brainer.  Everyone knows that being a PA isn’t the most glamorous job on production, but that’s no excuse to express any sort of negativity.  Pretty much everyone on a shoot has been where you are, and they certainly didn’t get to where they are now by having a bad attitude.  There are most likely going to be aspects of your job that you don’t enjoy.  Suck it up, and do it with a smile on your face.  It can only get better from there…mostly.

  • BE ON YOUR PHONE

Some productions, usually the really big ones, will just flat out not allow the use of cell phones while working.  For productions that aren’t as strict, you still shouldn’t be on your phone if it’s going to prevent you from properly doing your job.  For some of the shoots we’re on, I have moments where I can use my phone for taking pictures or posting on social media, however, I’m always doing it within reason.  Sometimes, I need to use my phone in service of the production, so that goes without saying.  Regardless, always use discretion when using your phone.

  • INTERFERE WITH PRODUCTION

Generally, you got into this business because you’re passionate about film.  I know I am.  Being passionate tends to mean having opinions, and you should make sure those opinions never get in the way of how a production is being handled.  Unless a crew-member specifically asks for suggestions on how to do something or is known for allowing suggestions, you should probably just keep your opinions to yourself.  There will come a time and a place when you’re allowed to make the artistic decisions you want.

  • SIT AROUND

Obviously, this stands with my bullet point about being proactive.  You should never be sitting around when there’s work to be done.  Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be breaks during a shoot.  I just want to emphasize the fact that if others are working, you probably should be too.  The last thing you want is for your fellow crew-members to think you’re lazy.

These bullet points should serve as a basic starting point for how to be an effective Production Assistant.  Hopefully they help you as they’ve helped me.  Of course the more experience you get, the more effective you’ll become.  Just always remember to work hard and have fun!

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