Production Assistant Career Paths: What Kind of Jobs Do You Get?

production assistant career paths

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog. My most humble apologies. Things have been crazy. Trying to find work. Moving into a new apartment. Trying to pay my bills. Surviving my insane move to LA. I’ve been here for a little over four months now, and I am slowly settling in. It’s been an adventure so far, and I promise I’ll continue my life updates shortly! But for now here is my once a month post… 🙁

A reader has a question.

Reader Question:

Hey, I’m a senior year in college pursuing a degree in Communications with an emphasis in Entertainment Studies. As of now I have yet to decide which area of the Film Industry I’d like to work in and in research came across your blog & had a few questions if you don’t mind. First, I have many interests in the field & have been trying to find one to focus my efforts into. My front runner right now is Casting & I was wondering if you knew anything about how Casting is ran or any tips on getting into that area? My other question is about P.A.’s, & what are the different career paths they lead to? Also, how long do most people work as a P.A. before moving on to something else? Would you recommend working as a P.A.?
Thanks for your time!

-Keri

Thanks for the question, Keri!

I honestly don’t know much about the casting department. As I said in my last article on production assistants, you can be a set PA, and art PA, an office PA, a writer’s PA, and yes, even a casting PA.  Just about every department can have a production assistant depending on how big the show is. If you want to get into casting, I suggest learning as much about it as possible and trying hard to get in contact with a casting director or agency and ask about becoming an assistant in that department. Again, it’s all about who you know. Make some contacts in that department and let everyone know what job you want, and eventually, someone will (hopefully) hire you. You have to be proactive.

Production Assistant Career Paths

What kind of production assistant career paths are out there? It all depends on what department YOU want to work in. If you want to be an AD (assistant director), you can work your ass off as a set production assistant and learn as much as possible about being an AD. Eventually, you can start getting jobs as a non-union 2nd 2nd AD, then a 2nd AD, then a 1st AD. Once you have enough days on set, you can get into the DGA and make the big bucks.

BEING A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT DOESN’T GUARANTEE YOU ANY JOB.

The production assistant career path is not like most career paths. There isn’t a standard promotion hierarchy. Being a production assistant helps you learn about the industry by working IN it. It’s WHAT you do WHILE working as a production assistant that counts. You want to work in the art department and become a prop (property) master or a set dresser? Meet the art department on set as a PA and let them know. Then work your ass off and stay in contact with them. Maybe they’ll call you to be an art PA. Then eventually you can start doing set dressing with them once you’ve learned enough about the art department by being a PA. Then you can use that experience and your new art contacts to try and get into IATSE, the union all the art people are in.

Do you want to be a grip? While working as a PA, talk to the grip guys and let them know. Do you want to work in camera? Meet camera people. A PA only becomes what they want to become, and what they work hard to become. It’s not a position that naturally gets promoted to another position.

HOW LONG DOES SOMEONE STAY A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT?

This also depends on the person. There are production assistants out there who are PAs FOREVER. You only get promoted when you actively try to learn other departments and move into another position. I’ve been working as a PA for four months, and every time I’m on set I let the 2nd AD know that I’ve run talent before and worked as a 2nd 2nd before, so they give me more responsibility. I’ve already done a non-union commercial out here as a 2nd AD. But if I want to join the DGA, I could be working as a PA or Non-Union AD for years before that happens. (I don’t want to be an AD).

THE SHORT ANSWER

While working as a PA, find what department you want to work in and let everyone know. Meet and stay in contact with as many people in that department until they give you a job.

WOULD I RECOMMEND WORKING AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT?

Only if you’re serious about working in the film/tv industry. Being a PA honestly sucks ass. It’s not a fun job. You’re on set before everyone else, and you’re the last to leave. You’re the last to eat lunch. You’re usually working nonstop for 12-16 hours. If you sit down, you get yelled at. Don’t dare use your phone while working. You are a machine that does what you’re told without question. The only reason I’m doing this is because I love the field I’m working in, and I have a strong desire to move up. Nobody likes being a PA, but it’s necessary to get where you want to go.

Now I have to go to bed because I have another 12 hour day tomorrow.

Until next time…

13 Replies to “Production Assistant Career Paths: What Kind of Jobs Do You Get?”

  1. Good answer. Being a PA is a springboard position offering an up-close-and-personal look at the nuts and bolts process of making television or feature films. Whatever you learned in film school, you’ll never know what it really takes to make it in this industry without firsthand experience — and unless you’re one of those utterly driven single-minded types who knows EXACTLY what he/she wants from the biz, you’ll need to participate in that process to figure it out. That’s one reason you start as a PA — not to make any real money, because you won’t — but to learn about the industry and yourself. 12 Point is right — after that, it’s all up to you. Landing a PA job allows you onto the playing field, but you’ll have to make the rest happen. Nobody is going to hand you anything — you’ll have to earn it every step of the way.

    The truth is, not everybody is cut out for this biz, and it’s important to figure that out as soon as possible. If the answer is “yes,” you’ll find a way. If not, it’s better to face reality while there’s still time to do something else with your life.

  2. So true! I think PA-ing is a filtering process, as well. If you can get through all the hard stuff, put up with the attitudes, work your butt off for months on end and for extremely long days all while figuring out how to pay your bills on a small pay rate – well, then you might just have the chops to make it in the film industry.

  3. Thank you for your info very helpful. Boy wish I had the internet like this and the drive of someone asking me what I wanted to do with my life when got outta high school. Now at 36yrs and happily married and two kids later my desire for this industry still in me. I have a strong work ethic and think I could have done this had I been aware of this job description years ago. Oh wish could turn back time.
    Currently there is going to be a film in my town I just found out about for next couple days. I emailed casting agency looking for locals for traffic scene to hopefully be apart of that and get to see first hand how it all works briefly. Again Enjoyed the info n ur articles

  4. {A PA only becomes what they want to become, and what they work hard to become.} *Slow clapping steadily builds up to a thunderous roar* This…Is…Just….Yes. Just officially, my go-to motivational quote now, when external, not even asked, unwarranted voices want to express their not cared for opinions of what a “practical” and “normal” path is for me; While, I am actuating my dreams. Thank you so much!

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