Tips for a PA: On Set for the First Time?

I haven’t answered any reader questions in a while. Sorry. Here’s one —

I just got my first pa job on a tv show and it’s coming up this weekend. It’ll be my first time on a “real” set and though i’m excited, I really nervous as well! I’ve been reading through your posts and they’re super helpful, but is there anything I should know going into this for the first time? I’ve only ever been on set in film school, unfortunately, and I really scared I’m going to look like and idiot! – Jessica

I got this email a while ago — so I hope it all ended up okay. For the sake of this post, I’m going to act like I just got this email.

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Well, Jessica — here’s the thing. You are going to look like an idiot. BUT THAT IS OKAY! Because you’re new. Unless you lied to the person who hired you, they know you’re new as well. So, Relax, it will be fine. Just keep your ears open, always pay attention, and be willing to learn and do anything.

You WILL be put into positions where you have no idea how to proceed.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find another PA who looks like he/she knows what they’re doing, introduce yourself, and take their lead.  You’ll pick it up fast. If you screw up and the AD yells at you over the walkie — you’re not alone. Happens to everyone at least once.

Don’t, however, ask questions over the walkie. If someone tells you to do something and you have no idea what they’re talking about, say “copy that!” and then run to your closest PA buddy and ask them what the hell the AD was talking about.

Quick tip: ALWAYS know where the actors in the scene are. They tend to wander off set. If the A.D. asks something along the lines of  “Anyone have eyes on ACTOR X” — a quick response from you could mean brownie points.  (I had an A.D. who would randomly ask me where a certain actor was even if she knew where he was, just to make sure I knew where he was…. )

Hopefully you aren’t put in charge of locking up the area where the grips hang out. They will most likely not listen to you when you’re telling them to be quiet. And then you just feel like an asshole.

If the A.D. yells cut — YOU YELL CUT. If the A.D. yells rolling — YOU YELL ROLLING. That’s one of the P.A.s main jobs. It’s called “echoing” and you do it during “lock-up”. This is so EVERYONE on set knows to shut the fuck up.  If you don’t do this, any respectable AD will yell at you.  And the grip who just walked into the shot will yell at you because the A.D. just yelled at him for walking in the shot.

I’m sure there are a million other things I could tell you, but they’re not coming to me.

Anyway — I hope you enjoyed your first day on set. If you read this, leave a comment on how it went! And share your tips!

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