Do you have a decent calendar or daily planner handy? Get one and make sure you use it. Be sure to write down every appointment, gig, or activity you have going on throughout the year. Why? You need to keep track of the days you have available. When that phone rings and the person on the other end wants to know if you can do a three week shoot in November, wouldn’t it be nice to have an answer for them right away? Remember, if they called you, then there’s a chance that the person on the other end of the phone line is sitting in front of a list of people that they can call. So if you don’t have an immediate answer for them, then perhaps the next person on that list does. Thus, you could lose your window of opportunity.
Be sure to be very forthright with your schedule. Be up front about any scheduling conflicts and work out all the scheduling details BEFORE you agree to do the job. There is nothing worse than being the person that bails on a production without warning — or one of those people that start making it an issue half way through the shoot. People that do this need to realize just how much damage they can be causing to a production… and to their career.
Want to be a superhero? Finally, your opportunity is here. It’s time to get an edge over other production assistants that you work with — or at least stand out. Being prepared will help you do just that. Being prepared isn’t just showing up fifteen minutes early. There’s still a ton of stuff that can be done to make your day go by easier, and to help you stand out from the crowd. Here’s a breakdown:
a) When you first get a call for a PA job, write down every proper noun that you hear during the conversation. Write down the name of the production, the company making it, the names of any crewmembers, etc. Then later that day, you can dig up their background information on the Internet. You can look up their past works, and get an understanding of who they are and how they operate. Face it, the more you know, the cooler you are.
b) Be sure to also write down the addresses of the shooting locations. What I’d then do is go to one of those Internet map sites (like on Yahoo.com or Mapquest.com) and, paired up with a trusty copy of the yellow pages, I’d begin looking up critical businesses and their proximity to the shooting location. I’d look up hardware stores, restaurants, grocery stores and equipment rental companies. I’d then enter their addresses into Yahoo.com’s map service and print out a map to each business. It’s never good to assume that the production manager has had a chance to round up such information. This way, if anyone on set needs a PA to run to the store to pick up something, you’ll be able to save the day. After all, you have a map to the nearby Radio Shack. People will notice your “mad preparation skills” and appreciate your effort. If not, then at least they know who to go to for help.
c) Do you have a tool belt, or a shop vest? Get one. Sure, you may not feel like you need one if you find yourself spending the entire day holding a clipboard for Richard Linklater, but face it – eventually, one day, you’ll need one. So you might as well get into the habit of having some basic tools with you. Some of these tools could include a tape measurer, a level, a small staple gun, pliers, a crescent wrench, a knife, some C47s, zip ties, a flashlight, and other various items. If anything, it can’t hurt to have them ready and waiting for you in your car — should you need them.
3. On the Set
There are several things you must learn about working as a PA on the set of a film production. Here’s a quick list:
a) Don’t talk on set unless it is encouraged or asked of you to do so. Even if it looks like everyone is doing it, remind yourself that you are trying to make a good impression. Is it necessary to open your mouth? Is it your job to offer suggestions or start conversation? Keep your lips buttoned. Save the chitchat for the craft table. However, don’t be a social misfit. There may be times in which people will want to hear what you have to say. Wait for those times to present themselves to you. Don’t go off and create them on your own. However, if there is something that HAS to be said, respect the proper chain of communication. Don’t bother the director. Find the 2nd A.D. or whomever you are supposed to answer to. Again, however… USE COMMON SENSE. If you notice that a light overhead has gotten too hot and has set some curtains on fire… feel free to say a word or two, and take necessary action. It just might be appreciated.
b) Don’t be a complete robot. Understand your job. Make sure it’s been defined for you. If you are essentially there to offer a hand, and you find yourself currently with nothing to do, FIND something to do. Do this by either talking to the person in charge of you, or by using common sense. If you see the art director struggling to carry a giant trunk up three flights of stairs, offer your assistance. However, make sure you don’t just start grabbing equipment unless you are cleared to do so. Wouldn’t it suck if the location was 75 miles from the nearest town and you accidentally dropped their only camera? Just remember to do what you are told to do so, and use common sense and you should be OK.
c) Being a “No show” could kill your chances of finding more work. If you’ve set up an interview, been assigned a shooting schedule, or scheduled an audition and just decide to not show up or call, you are not going to last too long doing film work. As a matter of fact, quit now. Sure the interview may have been for a no pay position, but remember one important fact – word of mouth is a bitch. If you are a no show, or cancel 30 minutes before your audition/interview, it just may kill your chance of ever getting work with a large string of filmmakers. Remember, film communities often exist as circles of communication. Word will get around if you are unreliable or inconsiderate. Sure, sometimes things may happen at the last minute – a babysitter not showing up, or your car breaking down. Just make sure you contact the filmmaker ASAP. Explain to them your position and apologize. Sure it still will bum them out, but at least now they are aware that you aren’t a complete jerk.
Does all of this sound like a ton of nonsense? Well, if you only want to be a P.A. for the quick cash, then my suggestions probably are excessive. In that case, maybe you should just show up and go through the motions of being a production assistant. However, if you are desperately trying to break your way into the business, preparation and a strong work ethic are your only friends. If you push yourself, people should take notice and appreciate your presence. If not, then at least you’ll be able to tell yourself that you gave it an honest effort.
Adam Hackbarth is co-producer of the Film Threat DVD release April Is My Religion as well as co-writer of the Sub Rosa Extreme comedy “Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction.” He’s still trying to find his place in the industry. If you’d like to help him, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org