Why Would You Want To Be a Production Assistant?

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A production assistant's job can be one of the the most harrowing in Hollywood. Not that it's physically difficult. Going on coffee runs and copying scripts isn't hard, exactly. But it can be emotionally taxing to be blamed for everything all the time, while simultaneously having no control over anything. You spend twelve to sixteen hours a day obeying the random whim of nearly every person on set or in the office. And at the end of production, you look at the finished work and realize there is no one thing you can point to and say, "I did that." Knowing all that, who would ever want to be a Production Assistant? Well, you, presumably, if you're reading this article. And it's a good thing, too. Being a Production Assistant is the best possible education. Film school is nice and everything, but film professors are ridiculously separate from the filmmaking process as it exists today. I had a professor who referred to editing as "temporal design." Maybe you skipped film school, and figured you can learn everything from books and the internet? Sorry, that doesn't work, either. Take the Internet Movie Database, for example. IMDb is the largest database of credits anywhere, and has a section for the "camera and electrical department."  

Production Manager - Problem Solver

"IMDb is the largest database of credits anywhere, and has a section for the camera and electrical department."

If you've ever worked on a real show, you'd find that categorization hilarious. No one in Hollywood has ever put those two together. Grips and electrics, maybe (although each would object to being lumped with the other), but camera and electrics? Shorts and student films have their value, but you're still not going to learn what a professional set is like. By virtue of finishing a film, every one of those jobs on IMDb got done, sure. Someone hung a light; she was an electric. Someone else put a flag up; he was a grip. But he was also probably the sound guy, and she stocked crafty between takes while script supervising. And you probably didn't even bother with a costume designer or set decorator. No, you need to work on a real show in the real world to learn what's really going on. PAing is a great place to start. It's the only job where you interact with everyone, and so you'll you learn what everyone does. Some people skip the Production Assistant experience; they take jobs at camera rental places or post houses, and focus on a single department. (Some set their sights even higher.) Maybe you're lucky, and sold a script right out of film school. You go from zero to producing TV in nothing flat. That's how you wind up with producers who don't understand why you shouldn't have the wrap party on the same night as the last day of production.  

Production Manager - Problem Solver


"If you want to be a producer or director, you should have the humility to start out as a Production Assistant."

But the hard truth is, you're probably not going to be a director. Seriously, the odds are way against you. Still, they say shoot for the moon and land among the stars. So which star do you want to land on? Do you want to be a cinematographer? A production designer? An editor? Now is the time to figure out what department suits you best. Every department has its own personality. A grip is very different from a hair stylist, and neither are remotely like a production supervisor. No one wants to be a PA forever. But everyone should be a PA once.  
About the author: "The Anonymous Production Assistant, or "TAPA" to fans, is a production assistant who is anonymous. That's all the bio you're going to get."

Some other fairly great articles we've written:

The ORIGINAL 13 Signs You Work in the TV & Film Industry

24 Camera Department Tips

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