So You Wanna Be a Motion Picture Production Assistant?

I believe that I have been exposed to the film and television industry since 2004 when I started with Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) Set It Up crew but I was not fully active until 2011 when I worked on Ultimate Redemption, feature film immediately after college graduation.

But I knew that I wanted to be part of this industry since I was seven years old when I wanted to be a commercial model but mom never let that happened. (She did take me to my first audition but then said it is too much commitment on her end. Then when I was twelve years old when I started writing screenplays. Despite my "career change" into the medical industry, I would like to be a Production Set Nurse/Medic one day; if that’s possible in Minnesota.

Imagine if you are an actor and you performed a stunt but got injured. Besides the time it would take to rush you to the nearest hospital or to call for an ambulance, as a Production Set Nurse/Medic, I can tend to your injury. Perhaps stabilize your wound.

Another example would be a production crew, for instance, a Gaffer who experience numbness in his arm. He is about to have a heart attack. I can perform CPR and use an AED when he goes into cardiac arrest. It would increase his chance of survival while on a production set instead of him waiting 15-20 minutes for the EMT to arrive. I have hands-on experience with medical emergency at the hospital. (Oh my goodness, I have so many stories to tell.) My CPR/AED certification for health care provider needs to be renewed every two years. In addition, with a film background, I feel that I am a strong candidate to assist on a film and television production. Though I'm not a license Registered Nurse yet so we can't talk about that yet. I do not have the ability to administer medication but I can still perform CPR and knowledge of how to use the AED.

On the other hand, I love being a Production Assistant. The best part is the ability to help in different department. I learned that I like to work with the camera and lighting department.

I have a few advices for those who are thinking about becoming a Production Assistant. (Though this does not apply to like half of my Facebook friends! You guys are all pros!!!)

First of all, remember STAR:

Swift:

Don't just stand there! If someone asked you for a C-47, you will run to get a clothespin! (Actually, no, don't run. That's not safe on a production set. Too many cables on the ground, too many expensive equipment, and it may be crowded on set. Accidents could happen.) Do not ask what it is for, what it is, or where to get it. If you have questions, ask another Production Assistants. But please hurry. Time is crucial on a production set. There is a lot to film in a twelve-hour shift. (Sometime there is overtime where you’re on set for sixteen hours in a hot and humid weather, you’re sweaty, tired, sunburned, and being bitten by mosquitoes! Oh, I’ve been there. Film & Television production life isn’t glamorous but I love it.)

Tactful:

Be professional. Basically know when you speak and when to be quiet. To know when you are needed and when to get out of the way. You do not want to step on anyone's foot.

Awareness:

Be aware of your surroundings. Know your call-sheet by heart. Be on alert. If you are wearing a headset, listen closely. Your Producer, if working on a TV-show or the Assistant Director on a film could be calling out for you and you need to answer your walkie-talkie right away. You also need to be attentive like not walk into their shot or talk to that other Production Assistant when the Director (Film) or Producer (TV) shouts "quiet on set... audio speed... camera speed... action."

Resourceful:

This basically just mean to adapt to your surroundings. Do you have a Swiss Army Knife to cut something? Do you know where the nearest restroom is? What restaurants and coffee shops are in the surrounding area? (You may have to pick up lunch and forty coffees at Starbucks or make 300 copies of appearance release).

On the other hand, if you have to drive your own car for these errands, be sure to keep track of mileage because you will need to fill out a mileage reimbursement form with that production company. You will need to keep track how many miles you have driven, what’s the location’s address, and some will ask why you have to go to that location.

Secondly: Never. Sit. Down.

It does not look professional for a Production Assistant to sit. Just standby and wait for orders. If nothing assigned, ask around if anybody needs help. They may not be aware that you are free and is available to help.

Thirdly, do not play on your phone!

It is unprofessional! Don't even think about taking pictures. Without knowing, you probably signed a 75-page contract where you promise to not take photos on set. (Young people, they never read.) In the past, I always asked to be safe. For example, I worked twice on "The Voice" and it is really cool. Of course I wanna show proof that I worked for "The Voice" but I also know that if I am caught snapping a photo, it could be my last time working with them. The best time to ask is during set break down. Go ask. Take your photo, if permitted. Put your phone away ASAP. Get back to work. You may not be called back to work if the Producer, Director, or anyone in the upper hierarchy sees you with your phone. You may not be called back if your photo that you captured on set is posted on your Facebook when you were not permitted to do so. Remember… you signed a 75-page contract!

If you see someone sitting down or playing on their phone. Please do not copy.

Another important thing on a production set is communication, communication, communication. Actually this goes for everyday life. Communicate with your crew. Learn to have good email, phone, and text message etiquette. Yes, sometime a Producer will text message you to ask if you are available for X day and month.

If you are on a walkie-talkie, please respond if you received the message. Simply say, "copy that" or "10-4." Also if you are using the walkie-talkie, keep your message short and simple. It is hard to hear when you’re talking a paragraph long trying to explain what happened. Just find the person and explain it in person. It is a lot easier. Plus, if you’re working on a 100-man crew, it’s easier because others don’t have to step on you; it means they’re not gonna interrupt your conversation by pressing on their walkie-talkie and cut you off from the rest of the crew. Furthermore, learn radio lingo. It will help.

Perfect for anyone who wants to be a Production Assistant and be well prepared on a production set should have the following:

1. Hard copy of the call-sheet

2. Gaffer Gloves

3. Highlighters

4. Sharpies

5. Pens

6. Notepad

7. Walkie Headset

8. Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman Multi-Tool Knife

9. Flashlights

10. Utility belt (to store your gloves, pens, notepad, etc)

11. GPS

12. Valid driver's license and clean record (you may have to make a Starbucks run!)

13. Gaff tape (if you are using gaff tape - be considerate. These are really expensive tape. Like $20/roll. If you use somebody else's gaff tape, ask for permission.)

14. Camera (if you are helping with Production Design team, you want to take a photo of prior to setting up because you do not want to upset the person who rented his house or whatever for you to make a movie. Imagine if they were upset because you misplace their $1000 painting. They might not let you film there again.)

15. Clipboard with a storage area.

16. Over-the-counter pain reliever, Band-Aids, gauze, medical tape, etc.

17. Lighter

18. Envelop (to keep your receipts in for reimbursement)

19. Hat

20. Poncho

21. Sweater

22. Jacket

23. Tissues

24. Loose change (for parking meter – some may not accept debit/credit cards yet)

25. Spare Batteries

26. Granola bars (but don't eat that on set!)

Finally, what to wear to a production set?

If you were doing theatre production or live event, I would say solid black from top to bottom. I have worked on theatre and live concert productions.

But for film, please wear closed toes shoes. No high heels. No sandals. No flip flop.

Jeans and T-shirt are the norm on set. I like to wear my cargo pants and T-shirt.

Most importantly: dress for the weather. Where are you filming? Are you able to move freely and comfortably?

P.S., do not jump to the front of the craft table when lunch is served. Unless you were told to do so, let the Producer, Director of Photographer, Audio Mixer, and everybody else goes first. I know that you are there on set for 12 hours, it's a long day, condition probably suck but remember that you are at the bottom of the hierarchy and I did talk about being tactful.

P.P.S., if you are uncomfortable performing any task: SPEAK UP. Ask for help. If you are like me and is uncomfortable driving a commercial van, TELL THEM! They will find another Production Assistant on set to do the task.

Finally, you may be asked to do weird tasks like babysit a child actor or watch over a camera as it is doing time-lapses but it is all part of a Production Assistant’s job.

Ask a lot of questions during the in-person or phone interview to know what are your expectations on production.

All right. That's a wrap. Good luck P.A.-ing!

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Posted on Wednesday, November 2, 2016.

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