Category Archives: Tips for a PA

Goodbye TAPA – You Will Be Missed.

I started reading The Anonymous Production Assistant back when I was in Film School to better prepare myself for the strenuous task of becoming a Production Assistant.  After reading a couple articles, I quickly fell in love with the blog, and I distinctly remember one weekend when I sat down with a case of PBR and read the entire site from the first post. I laughed and learned, thoroughly enjoyed the fight with PA Boot Camp, and… got inspired.

He hadn’t posted since November, but sometimes he took breaks, so I’ve been awaiting his grand return to the blogging world for some time.  Today when I saw that he had actually posted, I almost did a fucking flip out of my chair. Unfortunately, the post was to say that he is leaving.  🙁

All is not lost however, for he wishes to keep the site running, albeit with a new writer — a new TAPA to keep the site alive.  So if you think you’ve got what it takes, head over to The Anonymous Production Assistant’s Blog and send him an email.

If it wasn’t for TAPA, I wouldn’t be reading any of the blogs I link on my blog roll right now, because I found them all through his site.  If it wasn’t for TAPA this blog probably wouldn’t exist, because it was his site that inspired me to start my own.

I hope you’re departure is a sign of something good. You were loved and you will be missed. I hope you get that writer’s PA gig you always dreamed of.

Cheers.

Tips for a Production Assistant: Set Lingo

Walk onto a film set for the first time and you will quickly realize there is an entirely different language you must learn, in order to communicate effectively with those around you. Here is a list of general set lingo. Be sure to check out Walkie Lingo as well.

Above-the-Line: Producers, Directors, Actors, Screenwriters and all the people who have “creative” input.

A.D.: Short for Assistant Director. If you’re a set P.A., he or she will probably be your boss. For more info go here.

Apple Box: A wooden box used for many different things.  Sizes include;  full apple, half apple, quarter apple, and pancake.

Base Camp: Sometimes located away from set. This is where the trailers, parking, and meals are usually located.

Below the Line: Everyone not “Above-the-Line”.  This is the crew and makes up most of the production.  (Interesting Note: I think the budget for “Below-the-Line” and “Above-the-Line” usually evens out to about the same. Which is depressing.)

Bogies: Unwanted people in the shot, usually pedestrians, are called “Bogies”.

C-47 or Bullet: A wooden clothes pin.

Camera Op or C.O.: Short for Camera Operator – For more info go here.

Crafty: Nickname for the craft services table.  This is where all the snacks and drinks are.

Crossing: It’s polite to say this to the Camera Op if you’re crossing his frame.

Cube Trucks: Large white trucks with lifts that look like cubes. Each department usually has their own. E.g. The Production Cube.

Day for Night: When planning on shooting a night scene, during the day on stage.

D.P.: Short for Director of Photography or Cinematographer.  For more info go here.

Honeywagon: Portable trailer with bathrooms and dressing rooms.

Hot Points: If someone yells this, move out of their way. They are probably carrying something pointy and/or sharp.

Genny: Short for the generator which supplies power.  Usually on a truck.

Lanyard: The thing around your neck that says you’re part of the production, and have permission to be on set.

Last Looks: Usually yelled by the A.D. to Hair, Make-up, and Wardrobe to hurry the eff up with the talent.  Shooting NOW!

Layout Board: Large strips of cardboard or other type board used to protect floors on location.  Sometimes people use carpeted mats as well.

Locations: Short for Locations Managers. See more here.

Lockdown: Term for standing around making sure people don’t walk onto set during takes

Abby Singer: Aka “The Abby” — Term from the second to last shot of the day.

Martini Shot: Aka “Martini” – Term for the last shot of the day.

Pass Van: Short for Passenger Van.  These vans drive people where they need to go.

Pictures Up: A warning that they’re ready, and the camera is about to start rolling.

Pop-Up: Short for the Pop-Up tents all around set.  Usually, each department will have one to shade people and equipment.

Production or the P.O.: Short for the Production Office. This is where you will find the Production Manager and the Coordinators for various departments…usually.  Also where you fill out paperwork and time cards… etc.

Props: Any item on set that is touched by an actor, in accordance with what is written in the script.  Otherwise it is a set decoration.

Rolling: When footage is actually being shot.

Settle in: See “Pictures Up.”

Show: Whether it be TV or a Feature, everything is called a “Show”.

Talent: Actors, Models, Musicians — People being filmed on camera.

Transpo: Short for transportation.  These are the guys who drive everything.

Travelling: If someone is outside of the location, or walking to set, they are “traveling”.

Video Village: A camp of monitors and chairs.  This is where the video feed from the camera goes so that producers, directors, and other above-the-line people can watch what is being shot.

Hot Brick:Term used for a charged walkie battery.

Cold Brick:Term used for a dead/dying walkie battery.

I will update this list periodically. Feel free to comment and add more lingo!  I will put it up on the list.

Also check out:

Tips for a Production Assistant: Working for No Pay Part 2

“The Slave Ship” by J.M.W. Turner – The practice of eighteenth century slave traders who would throw the dead and dying slaves overboard during the middle passage in the Atlantic Ocean in order that they might claim the insurance for drowning.

I did a post a little while back about Working for No Pay. I still think this could benefit you IF you think there is an opportunity to work with great people who could possibly help you get PAID in the future. I did it, and it worked well for me. However, there are people in the industry who don’t give a shit about you. I was just on Mandy.com and I ran across a this:

All interested PA must reply with a resume and picture.

Are you kidding me?  Since when does a Production Assistant need head shots? Oh yeah… since RACISM and SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

All PA’s must be available both dates and must possess the following qualities: Reliable, Dependable, Enthused with with productions, Must have transportation to and from the facilit, Ability to work well in a fast pace invironment

OK! Where to begin?  First, notice their complete lack of ability in spelling words. Second, I’m not entirely sure there is a difference between being reliable and dependable. Third, even though these are traits that any good Production Assistant should have, I find it a little insulting to be demanding these things of someone that you’re NOT PAYING!

All PA’s will be required to sign an agreement confirming their committment to the project.

Yes. Let me get right on that. Idiot. Also, despite what you may think, not everyone jumps at the opportunity for IMDB credit and free food. Last time I checked, Nationwide wasn’t accepting leftover chocolate covered espresso beans or roasted seaweed snacks as payment for my premium car insurance.

Just be careful out there when accepting any lo/no/deferred jobs is all I’m trying to say.

Tips for a PA: Advice from Sam

One of my readers, Sam, has added some valuable advice for a new PA, on my previous post Tips for a PA: Hard Work and No Pay. Here is what he had to say:

I’ve been a PA on some smaller TV shows and I was an unpaid intern on a big, 50 million dollar Hollywood project, and I can say that it is not easy.  My tips are as follows:

– Never sit down:  If a Producer sees you sitting without some sort of paperwork in front of you, they assume you are not working at all. Wait until lunchtime to sit down.  If your legs get tired, then lean on something.

– Never stand near another PA during set-up, wrap time:  Those times are the busiest, if a Producer or Chief PA or Second Second AD sees you, they assume you are being unproductive.

– Live and die by the walkie talkie:  If you are lucky enough to have a radio, keep it attached to your ear at all times, and do not speak unless you absolutely need somebody/something. Before long, the sound the walkie talkie will be easy to listen to, even during multitasking, like an internal monologue. When you do speak, make sure you don’t “step-on” someone who was already talking. Always lower the volume before a take. This brings me to the most obvious thing which is:

– Never ruin a take, ever: This seems obvious, but I’m always surprised to see how volatile even the most controlled of studio environments can be. For this reason, I recommend that you overcompensate by being basically motionless and utterly silent during takes, with your phone shut off, no matter where you are. There will be exceptions to this rule, but get in the habit of being the most silent, most still person on set each and every take.

– Wear a name tag on your first day. Introduce yourself briefly. Make them feel comfortable coming to you for help with anything.

For extra credit: bring nice cigarettes and share, you’ll get bonding points from the smokers.

Great advice Sam!

Also check out:

Tips for a PA: Downtime and Cold Calling [UPDATED]

I had three jobs last week.  Two of them were for a producer I did a free gig for (she’s awesome), and the other was a small commercial shoot, for a friend of a friend.  How many shoots do I have this week? A big fat ZERO.  I guess that’s just how the industry goes sometimes.  Slammed one week, nothing the next. Now that I’m not working, what am I doing? Feverishly checking my inbox every 5 minutes, and looking for more work.

As I sit down and write this, I’m already working on my third cup of coffee, and I’m taking a much needed break from the horrible process of cold calling random productions. Before taking up this wretched task, I sent everyone that I worked with last week an email, and thanked them for giving me the opportunity to work my ass off. I also let them know what my availability is (which at the moment is, ANY TIME!!).  So, now that I’m fresh out of contacts… here is where the cold calling begins.

Basically, this process involves finding every single production in town, tracking down the number for each of their production offices, calling said offices to ask if they’re currently hiring PAs, and then sending my resume off to some black hole email address, that will more then likely never be checked.  I can’t help but feel like this is a lost cause.  The people I’ve spoken with, always sound like they have no idea what is going on.

Me:  “Hi, my name is _______.  I was wondering if you were hiring PAs?”

Them:  “Umm… I think we’re all staffed up, but you can send your resume to BLACKHOLEOFRESUMEDEATH@usuallygmail.com.”

So, who can help me in this situation?  Do I try and force the person on the phone to get me in contact with the 2nd A.D. or the Production Coord? I need a cold calling master to train me in the ways of artificial sweetness and unflinching persuasion.

What’s the best method you’ve found for obtaining info about the productions in town and their respective office numbers? Right now, my process consists of vigorous google searching, followed by determining whether or not they’re shooting in LA, followed by IMDB Pro research, followed by telephoning the main production office, and asking for the show’s specific production office number.

In the meantime, I’ve created a google docs spreadsheet to keep track of every production I call, as well as; when I called, the office number and email, who I actually spoke with, and when I should follow up. This will help me keep track of the madness I am currently throwing myself into.

[Updated: 10/24/13]

I’m going through some of my old posts cause I’m sitting at the production office at 10:00pm bored out of my mind and I couldn’t help but laugh at this post.  I am now that person on the other end who sounds like they have no idea whats going on that directs you to the black hole email address… and it really is that simple. Either I’m going to say we’re all crewed up, but feel free and send us your resume, or I’m going to say something along the lines of “I THINK we’re all crewed up” because I really don’t know the needs of people until the minute they’re brought to my attention. If someone is suddenly like “WE NEED A PA!” Then I’ll be like, “Great! I have a black hole email address filled with PA resumes.” Then I SCAN through them quickly, pick out some winners, and give them to whoever asked.

Irony.

Also check out:

Tips for a PA: Sweetened or Unsweetened?

This tip is a short one, but it will save you a lot of time and energy.

When I order a coffee, I usually get… a coffee.  If I’m feeling crazy,  I might get an iced coffee. Apparently, coffee comes in many different combinations and flavors. As a PA, you will often be tasked with getting people their caffeinated liquid of choice.  This is when your handy dandy notebook comes into play.

When someone asks you to fetch their “Iced-Venti-Double-Macchiato-Soy-Latte-Green-Tea-Pumpkin-Chai” make sure they specify whether they want their “Iced-Venti-Double-Macchiato-Soy-Latte-Green-Tea-Pumpkin-Chai” sweetened, or unsweetened! The last thing you want, after parking a mile a way (there is never a place to park near a coffee house in LA), and standing in line forever (there are always 900 people in line brandishing iPads, and sporting trendy blazers), is to have the barista ask, “Sweetened?” …and you have no idea. Saying, “Well, she’s a chick, so she probably wants it sweetened.” is the wrong answer. Then, once you find a way to fit all of that coffee on your body, somehow survive the mile back to your car, and drive all the way back to set, you will learn that she actually wanted it unsweetened.  Now, you get to go back to “Coffee House X” and fetch her an unsweetened “Iced-Venti-Double-Macchiato-Soy-Latte-Green-Tea-Pumpkin-Chai” before she snaps, and kills the locations guy.

People are very particular about their coffee. Get every detail right! Sugar or “Sweet n’ Low”?  One packet or two? Milk, 2%, or soy? Sweetened or unsweetened? Now, do this with 6 different orders. You are NOT going to remember. Write it down. Be detailed. Be Awesome! Get everyone’s name as you’re taking their orders. Make sure the barista writes the names on every cup.

People can be bitches without their coffee. Become awesome at it, and you will turn into “that guy who’s awesome at everything”!!

Any PAs out there have crazy coffee run stories?

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Tips for a PA: Walkie Talkie Lingo

A PA without a walkie is a talking sandbag. – Unknown AD

As a PA, you are going to be on the walkie a lot. You will quickly find that there is a certain walkie lingo that you must learn, if you don’t want to look and sound like a complete retard. Let me attempt to explain how some of this works. It’s pretty straightforward. Also be sure to check out Set Lingo.

When you first get your walkie: If you are given a headset, plug it in. Turn the walkie on. You do this by turning the nob on top. Make sure you are on the right channel. Usually, you will be on channel 1, but be sure to check with your supervisor to confirm this. Hit the talk button and say: “Radio Check” or “Walkie Check” . Someone will then respond: “Good Check”.  This means everything is working properly. If no one responds, something probably isn’t working.

Channels: Different departments can be on different channels, but the main channel will most likely be channel 1. Channel 2 is usually left open for one-on-one conversation. If you need to have a private conversation, or a conversation that lasts more than a few seconds, you should issue (or will be issued) the following instruction:  “Switch to 2” Then, you (or the person you’re speaking with) should respond with: “Switching”, or, “Copy, Switching to 2”.  When the private conversation is over, one of you should issue the term: “Back to 1″ to which the other person should respond with: “Copy that, switching back to 1” The reason it’s done this way, is because only one person can be speaking on a channel, at a time. You don’t want to be jamming up a main channel that people need, and you don’t want to annoy people with conversations that they don’t want to hear.

(Also, on that note – No goofing off over the walkie. Unless you want the AD to take it away from you, and make you look like a child in front of the whole crew.)

Frequently check to make sure you are on the right channel, and that your walkie is still working properly. If you don’t hear anything over the radio for a long time, you should probably do a walkie check.

Remember to keep fresh batteries on you or somewhere close – at all times!

“Does anyone have eyes on _____” – Term used when trying to find someone who doesn’t have a walkie.

“____ to ____” – Term used when requesting someone’s attention: “John to Bill”

“Go for _____” – Term used when acknowledging a request: “Go for Bill”

Copy/Copy That – Term used to indicate that you understand the instructions, or tasks you’ve been given. Make sure to respond EVERY TIME, that way people know you actually heard them.

“10-1” – Term used when someone is in the restroom: “Going 10-1” or, “Where is Mary?“, “10-1“.

“What’s your 20?” Term used when attempting to locate someone: “Bill, what’s your 20?

“Flying In” – Term used when bringing someone, or something, to the set. The someone/something “flies in”.

These are some of the more frequently used “walkie lingo” terms.

If anyone else has more on set walkie lingo let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

Also check out:

Tips for a PA: Clothing and Accessories [UPDATED]

There are many different things people will tell you to bring on set with you as a PA. I’m just going to include the things that I, personally, have found useful. This list will definitely be be updated as I get more work.

  • GOOD SHOES. You will be running around all day, and your feet are going to hurt. Try to get some comfortable shoes.  Spend the big bucks if you have to.  Some brands that have been recommended to me are; Merrell and Keen. I wear Merrell, but it’s all about personal preference.  I would also recommend getting some good Gel Inserts as well. Also, make sure your shoes can breathe. Steel-toe is not really necessary as a PA. [UPDATE: I actually pretty quickly switched from my Merrell’s to a pair of Nike Running Shoes. They were my favorite on set shoes. They’ll run anywhere from $100 to $150… but they’re def worth it. They come in different types of comfort vs lightness… so try them on and get what works for you. Plus they look good. Always good to get shoe compliments on set.]
  • WEAR LAYERS. Always check your call sheet for weather conditions, but I still recommend wearing layered clothing.  It could be cold in the morning, hot during the day, and then freezing cold at night. If you’re stuck standing outside, making sure no weirdos get on set all night, and it’s chilly –  you will want a jacket! If you know it’s going to be warm for the whole shoot, you can wear some cargo shorts (pockets are your friend), but I would still recommend jeans, or something similar.
  • KNIFE. Just in case a homeless person tries to rape you, or a bunch of little kids threaten to trample you, because they heard Justin Bieber was on set. But more practically, someone will always need a knife.  When that happens, you will always come to the rescue. [UPDATE: I always carried around a Husky Utility Knife
  • Lighter – Even if you don’t smoke, someone else will!  If they need a lighter, you’ll become a “Godsend”.
  • Sharpie — Always carry a black sharpie on your person, at all times. You WILL use it.
  • EXTRA “BRICKS”. A “brick” is a walkie battery. Someone always needs one, and it’s your job as a PA to get it for them. It will also save you time, and energy, if you carry a couple fresh “bricks” on your belt.
  • HAT, SUNGLASSES, & SUNSCREEN. The sun is your enemy when you’re outside for 14 hours. Protect yourself! You don’t want some dermatologist scraping melanoma off your face with an exact-o-knife in 20 years.
  • Camera – Don’t run around taking pictures of everything on set. But, if you happen to be working with the art department, they will love you for taking continuity pictures of the set(s), before they tear the place apart.  Then they will need you when it’s time to put everything back in its place.  Also, it’s probably a good idea to take a picture of any damaged items on location, BEFORE you begin tearing it apart, so that when they try and sue you later on, you can prove it was already damaged.
  • PEN AND NOTEPAD. As a PA you will be going on runs. They will send you out to get coffee, lunch, ice, 8 different packs of gum, vegan salad dressing, small and large water bottles, straw hats, spray on sunscreen, and just about anything else they can think of. Write this shit down because you will forget.
  • CORKSCREW. Whether it is attached to your knife or not, you will want to have one of these close by. Just the other day I had someone asking me for one because the talent wanted to drink a half a bottle of wine before her photo shoot. Just another way to come to the rescue of those in need.
  • GPS. Whether on your phone, or standalone, you will want some sort of GPS. You will be sent on a lot of runs. You will find that the ability to quickly navigate to the closest Trader Joe’s or StarBucks is instrumental in being a good PA. [UPDATE: My GPS ended up breaking… which turned out to be a good thing because I actually learned how to drive around LA. But I also got a smart phone since I wrote this post… and the maps on that is really all you need.]
  • SCISSORS. Put these in your PA bag as well. I’ve found them useful.
  • DRUGS. Have a good assortment of Advil, Tylenol, etc.

That’s all for now. Check back later for more advice and insights.

Any PA’s out there have something important to add?

Tips for a PA: Hard Work and No Pay

I’ve been in L.A. for a week now, and I’ve already finished my first gig as a Set PA. It was two, hard, 14 hour days of running around, and working my ass off! Luckily, my hard work payed off, and the producer said she would be calling me back for work very soon!

My first bit of advice for those looking to break into the Industry as a PA — Take any job, even if it’s for no pay, and work your ass off.  People really do notice. You wouldn’t believe how many lazy people are out there. Getting in is the hardest part. Once you’re in, and you work hard, you will get more work! If someone asks you where something is, instead of telling them where it is, go get it for them! Always be on the lookout for someone who needs help, and periodically check-in with your supervisor to see if you can make their life easier – in any way possible!

My second bit of advice is:  NO COMPLAINING!  Once you’re on set, you will quickly notice that literally everyone, doesn’t like someone else on set – and they ALL want to tell you about it! My advice: Listen to everyone, repeat nothing! By listening to everyone else bitch-and-moan, you quickly become a trusted confidant.  If you end up bitching and moaning, you’ll just become one of those people who… bitches and moans.

Be friendly! When there is downtime on set, engage people in conversation. Learn about everyone. Relationships are more important than “connections” so work on building them.  People are more willing to hire someone they like to be around, instead of that guy who works really hard, but is also a dick (and there is ALWAYS one of those guys).  Try to have at least one personal conversation, with everyone on set.  It will come in handy later.

Advice #4. Learn everyone’s name. Study the call sheet if you have to! This is really important. As a PA, you will be on the walkie a lot. It’s hard to call someone on the walkie, when you don’t know their name. Plus, calling someone by their first name, makes them feel like they’re actually important to you. That you care actually enough to remember them. Trust me, it goes a long way.

Advice FIVE. Send follow up emails. Bring a call sheet home and email everyone you worked with. Tell them you had a great time working with them, and that you hope you get to work with them again, soon. Make the emails personal. Remember that one personal conversation I told you to have with everyone?  Reference that conversation in your email.  Tell them that you hope their cat starts to feel better, or whatever, and that if they ever need a hard worker, they shouldn’t hesitate to call. Attach your resume for their convenience. People love this. Again, it’s all about building relationships.

These are the 5 basic things you can do to (hopefully) attain more work, and begin building stronger relationships that will (once again, hopefully) further your career.

Have you ever worked for no pay? Did it pay off in the end?