Taxes Question

Catching up on some emails and I saw this:

Hey! Im interested in starting out as  production/casting assistant to get into the industry. I came across your blog about how much PAs are paid and wanted to know if you are paid on a day rate how are taxes taken out? is it like being a 1099 contractor? Im not sure if this is a stupid question but I really just want to know so I am prepared.

Usually when I work short freelance jobs, like commercials and photo shoots, I try to get on a 1099 so that I can write off everything during tax season. (You can write off a lot if you’re working freelance). Sometimes you don’t have an option and they’re ONLY going to pay you 1099, but if not I try to file with them as an independent contractor.  If you’re doing a long job, a few weeks to a month or more, they’ll probably put you on payroll. Even some day long jobs will try to put you on payroll. When on payroll — taxes come out like any normal job. Even on a day rate… because it all breaks down to hourly in the end.

Hope that answers your question!

A Bitter Taste

Fuck It

When I started working in this industry I noticed something. Everyone seemed like they hated their lives. I would run around as a PA, so eager to serve, and notice that all the grips, teamsters, and props guys were all really angry people. Everyone pretty much seemed like they would rather take a hammer to the eye than work another day. Don’t get me wrong, I became friends with a lot of them, but I noticed how bitter everyone was. As if their job was the worst thing on the planet. I didn’t get it. Why were they working in the industry if they hated it so much? I was overjoyed to be working on set. Watching how everything came together. Meeting a ton of new people. Making connections. Working on TV shows and movies! Living the dream and starting a life. A new adventure every day.

About 5 minutes ago I realized I have turned into that bitter, angry, below-the-line ball of stress and nerves. I have become what I didn’t understand, and it only took 2 years.

So let me educate those who were once like me, eager and free. It comes from getting paid way below what you think you should be getting paid. From working 14 hour days making minimum wage — where overtime isn’t worth your time. From figuring out that working your ass off and hardly working yields almost the same result in pay, respect, and recognition. The eternal lingering sense that you’re not doing what you really should be doing to get where you want to go. It’s a real kick in the balls of motivation. But you need to continue. You need to work harder, and stronger, and faster. You need to show everyone how much they depend on you. But the harder you work, the worse it feels when you don’t receive the recognition you deserve. Which makes you angry. It makes you bitter. It makes you hate everyone around you. But you stay.

Why do you stay? Because deep down you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. This is exactly what you want to be doing, you just want to excel at it. Make more money at it. Be better at it. Gain the appreciation and affirmation of your peers. So you stay. And you hate. And the more you try to change the world around you, the more it shits all over you. And when you clean up all the shit and become a reinforced blank canvass ready to take on the world, you get shit on again. And this happens forever and ever until your that 50 year old prop master with a permanent scowl. Ready to snap at any moment. But you still stay, because something about your job makes you happy, and keeps you going, and you’re not exactly sure what it is. But it’s there, rooted deep in some unyielding part of your being, telling you that you can make it. That you will be happy some day.

I now understand.

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…

Life Update: Befriend the Bitches

After not having work for 4 weeks, and then getting a brutal job and spending a week in severe pain, and then working a commercial shoot were I experienced some bitching, I got offered a crazy job that lasted me a week and a half. It was hell, and irritating, and awesome all at the same time.

Something happened on that shoot, that I’ve noticed on other shoots since then. When some people are under extreme amounts of stress, they can be highly volatile and hard to be around. In fact, one may say that they become downright horrible to be around. When encountering these unfavorable people, it is man’s first instinct to react to unfriendly/bitchy behavior with equal or greater unfriendly/bitchy behavior. I suggest a new approach. Be friendly/stay out of their way.

When you’re a friend to the unfriendly, you could soon become “the only person that bitch likes”. People will warm up to you eventually — in most cases. Also, as I have experienced, when you meet them in a less stressful situation, E.g. The Wrap Party, they can be quite pleasant and surprisingly fun to be around.

In a nutshell, Don’t judge a book by its — 6am “I haven’t had my coffee we have to shoot way more coverage than we have daylight and my in-laws are staying at my house” — cover.

Also. Happy 4th of motherfucking July! Meat, Beer, and Fireworks. America!

Life Update: Keep in Shape

A little while back I wrote an article on not having work for 4 weeks. I was going crazy. I sent out a shit ton of emails letting people know I was available. Nothing was coming up… until. BAM! I got a job. It was a one day gig. If I only knew what I had just booked…

Arrived on set at 10am. On a beach. “Alright” I said, “This could be interesting”. Interesting indeed. I worked my ass off harder than I’ve ever worked in my entire life. It was fucking brutal. I got in my car to drive home at 6am. That’s right. 10am-6am with two 30 min meal breaks. 20 hours on set. Welcome to Hollywood.

The worst part was that I had just gone 4 weeks doing absolutely nothing. Sitting in my computer chair working on websites, writing, and playing video games. That’s like, 4 weeks of atrophy, to running on the beach for 20 hours. I really hurt myself. Bad idea. When I got out of the car after driving home I literally couldn’t walk without locking my knees. Climbing up stairs wasn’t accomplished without searing pain. The next week was spent sleeping for 12 hours a day and overloading on pain killers. It was bad. To this day, 7 weeks later, my knees are still a little fucked. After a long day on set I can really start to feel the pain again.

So my first bit of advice. Keep in shape. I don’t care what you have to do. Go for walks, go jogging once or twice a week. Just keep your legs in good shape so you don’t do something stupid like I did. Now I’m just hoping I don’t have chronic knee pain for the rest of my life.

Don’t Be a Bitch Part II: Coffee Run Woes

Make sure you check out part 1 of the Dont Be a Bitch series.

If you see the Director or Producers walking around with a special cup of coffee, that means there was a coffee run and YOU WEREN’T INCLUDED. So fucking deal with it. Don’t bitch about it. Even if bitching will eventually get you your special brew, you’re still that guy who was bitching on set. But “it’s not fair!” Yeah, OK, you know what else isn’t fair? The producers day rate compared to yours. He probably secured the budget that got him that coffee in the first place. Now you’re the guy making him spend more money so that your below-the-line ass can have a double machiato frapawhataver. You also take up the AD’s time to send a lucky PA(me) on another coffee run. You see that brown box on the craft service table? That’s called a traveler. That’s what you drink out of. When you decide to become a producer or director, you can have special coffee also.

Lesson? Don’t be a bitch.

Don’t Be a Bitch Part I: Lock-Up Woes


Today, while on “Lock-up”, I was reminded of when I played baseball in grade school. Way out in right field on a sunny day with nothing to do but watch the other kids play. So bored that I eventually sat down and picked at the grass — and when the ball was finally hit to me — I didn’t catch it because I wasn’t paying any attention. Except now the ball is a really bitchy woman who resembles someone you might see on a show called The Real Housewives of Hell.

I understand that it’s annoying when a production takes over your apartment complex or local park. I understand that no one told you we were going to be here. I understand you don’t have anywhere to park now, and that you pay your taxes, and that you “come here everyday to walk your dog at 5:00pm”. What I don’t understand is why you have to be a bitch.

I am paid an insulting amount of money to stand around all day with the sole purpose of keeping you from parking in crew parking or walking your dog right into the middle of the shot. So when I ask you very politely to move, why do you have to be a fucking bitch about it? I’m just trying to let you know that in about 2 minutes a giant police escorted “shot-maker” truck pulling a classic Chevy  Camaro is about to drive right into where your idling your vehicle. If you’re that pissed off, take it up with the manager or park service who allowed us to use this property for an ungodly amount of money in the first place.

It’s not like you live in Norman, OK — You live in fucking Los Angeles. We shoot stuff here. Get used to it already. I mean, god damn it, you live in the Hollywood Towers! Productions are bound to be around. Does your life suck so much that the only way you can make yourself feel better is by causing those around you to be miserable? I am a 24-year-old with a low paying job and more student loan debt then I can handle. You pay $2500 a month for a one bedroom in Hollywood without batting an eye. I am the one who should be bitching.

Production Assistant Job Description and Duties

Production Assistant Job
[Post Updated August 7, 2018]

Production Assistant Job Description

What is a Production Assistant?

A production assistant, also known as a PA, is a entry level position in the entertainment industry.  No education is required, but you must be a hard worker, responsible, and willing to learn. That’s right, you DON’T need to go to film school to become a production assistant. Who knew? If you work hard as a production assistant, people will notice. It’s not a glamorous job by any means — and you mostly get shit on — but many leading industry professionals once started out as PAs. It’s a entry level position that, if worked right, can launch you into any part of the industry.

There is no “age-limit” for being a PA, but it’s basically low-pay grunt work for those looking to break into the industry — primarily occupied by people in their early to mid 20’s. Work hours vary, but usually fall into 12-16 hour days — depending on the shoot. Pay can range anywhere from $100-$250 a day — also depending on the shoot. Film and TV usually falls closer to the $100-$125 side of things. Commercials and photo shoots can move closer towards $200-$250. (But you work less days).

Production Assistant Job Duties.

A production assistant’s job duties can vary depending on what the budget is, or what department you are working in. Different types of PAs include Office PAs, Set PAs, Art PAs, Writer’s PAs, Wardrobe PAs… etc. Basically every department could have a PA working in it.

An office PA works in the production office, and has job duties that include things like answering phones, going on runs (picking up/dropping off everything from equipment to payroll), taking lunch orders, picking up and distributing lunch, running copies, paperwork distro, maintaining office craft service, maintaining office supplies, etc…

A set PA works on set, and job duties include things like “lock up” (making sure no one walks into the shot) and echo-ing “Cut” and “Rolling” as they come across the walkie.  A set PA could be “running talent” or background, distributing paperwork and walkies, picking up trash, managing the craft service table, going on coffee runs, ..etc.  The list of what a set PA ends up doing is… endless… and can even include picking up dog shit and used condoms off the side of the road. I wish I was joking.

Also check out:

Learning Set Lingo: Tips for a Production Assistant

set lingo

[Post Updated August 7, 2018]

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 to communicate effectively with those around you.

Here is a list of general set lingo. Be sure to check out Walkie Lingo as well.

Film Set Terminology

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 clothespin.

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.

Fire Watch: A duty that involves keeping watch over the film equipment while the rest of the crew takes lunch or shoots in a location where they don’t “have eyes” on the equipment. (For a PA, this usually means you get to skip the line and get food first!)

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! (or as one commentor who didn’t appreciate my humor put it “Last Looks = the call for hair, makeup and wardrobe to make final additions/adjustments after seeing the talent in position with all other departments set.”

Layout Board: Large strips of cardboard or other type of 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 the 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 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.

Traveling: 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 set lingo film set terminology list periodically. Feel free to comment and add more set lingo!

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.