Do's and Don'ts for those just getting started in the production industry
Just starting out in the world of production and not sure where to begin? A lot of people new to the industry (or "green" as we sometimes call it) get their feet wet as a Production Assistant. This is a great way to gain on-set experience while exposing yourself to many different facets of production so you can decide which areas you gravitate towards and may want to pursue. PA's are often asked to wear a lot of different hats. So what makes a good PA?
1. Always be prepared.
Always wear tennis shoes/sneakers and be prepared to run, lift, hop, skip, jump, etc. if you're asked to. Have copies of the call sheet and schedule printed and on you at all times. Have your payroll paperwork filled out beforehand or have your time card prepped. Always bring a backpack so that you can quickly stash extra batteries, lenses, lens cleaners, waters or anything your crew hands you to carry. When I was starting out as a PA in the industry I was dubbed "Mary Poppins." I always had a backpack full of miscellaneous supplies: trash bags, permanent markers, pens for labeling cards, first aid kit with band-aids, chargers, extra walkie batteries and surveillance. Even though I looked like a huge nerd, producers always remembered me and noticed that I took the initiative.
Side note: "Always be prepared" also happens to be the motto of the Boy Scouts of America. And I bet those boy scouts make some outstanding PAs.
2. Think ahead. Be proactive.
This is along the same lines as always being prepared. Try to stay two steps ahead of the schedule. If you know there is going to be a company move after lunch, start preparing. Start packing up and organizing gear. Get rid of trash. Make sure coolers are filled with waters and the crafty table is replenished. Make sure walkies are charging and everyone has a fresh battery. Ask the PM if you can help with the call sheet for the next day. Ask if you need to go pick up lunch or call to confirm the order and delivery time. When I'm working with PA's, it's the people who seek out jobs rather than stand around waiting to be asked to do something that I always remember and make my first call for future shoots.
3. Always take responsibility.
If you mess up, own up. One of the first producers I worked with taught me this and it has continued to be one of my pillars of production. I respect the hell out of a PA who calls me to tell me they overslept but is on the way rather than getting a timid text five hours later. The blame game wastes time, and makes no one look good. If it was an honest mistake, the right people will not hold it against you. I promise.
1. Don't get in the way.
Be present but make sure you are always aware of your surroundings. If you're constantly getting in the back of a shot while texting or ruining the sound because you're talking, the producer will remember your name (and not in a good way). Or if you're constantly standing on A/V cables, MOVE.
2. Don't overstep your bounds.
This is a particularly big no-no on a union shoot. No matter how many student films you shot in college; no, you cannot touch the camera. Know your place on the crew. It's easy to feel unimportant, but don't make people mad who worked hard to get their title on the call sheet.
3. Don't be afraid to ask questions (but don't get annoying.)
Don't be afraid to ask questions when the appropriate time presents itself. Ask other PA's, ask the AC's, ask the production coordinator or producer. If the PM asks you to set up the walkies and you have no idea how, ASK. Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially if you don't know what you're doing. The fate and quality of your experience is in your hands.
4. Don't approach talent or ask for autographs.
Unless of course you're acting as a talent wrangler on set or you've specifically been instructed to interact with talent, don't approach them. I don't care if you're working with LeBron James and he's your idol and "you've read he's actually a super cool dude so it should be cool" — just don't. It reads as highly unprofessional and reflects poorly on the whole crew. This one should go without saying, but act like you've been there before. Along the same lines, don't post any behind the scenes pictures, videos, tweets or snaps on social media. This is not only frowned upon, it also goes against a lot of production companies' social media policies or NDA's and could involve legal action
5. Don't have a bad attitude.
This one is super important to me. Even if the world is crashing down around you and the shoot is eight hours into overtime, stay cool and stay positive. PA's tend to be the behind the scenes heartbeat of a shoot. If you're negative or complaining the whole time, you wont get asked back. No job is too small. If you're asked to stand in while light gets tested, you're going to be the best stand in out there. If you're asked to block off a street while sound is rolling, do it with a smile (and maybe a silent disco). It may sometimes feel like a thankless job, but almost everyone on that set knows how important you are to a successful shoot.
When I was an intern at a production company the summer of my senior year in college, the executive producer handed me a copy of "The Production Assistant's Pocket Handbook." That was one of the many things I made sure to keep stored in my Mary Poppins bag. It's a great resource to those new to the production world and not sure what to expect. I still have my copy and refer to it sometimes, or pass it on to PA's that ask for my advice.
Be humble and be patient. Most people don't break into this industry overnight. Take every opportunity you can, make a great impression, constantly work on improving yourself and your craft, and most importantly, love what you do.
About the Author
Melanie Martin is a Production Manager at ProductionHUB and a freelance Production Coordinator/Manager/Producer. Melanie has over seven years of experience on commercial, documentary, TV (reality and scripted), video and photography sets. Past projects include NFL Films documentaries, NFL Films Field Operations for the Superbowl, HBO's Hard Knocks, ESPN Monday Night Football Promos, Under Armour Brand Campaigns.