Quick Production Assistant Tips: Advice from Sam

quick production assistant tips

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:

QUICK PRODUCTION ASSISTANT TIPS:

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.

Excellent production assistant tips, Sam!

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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 away (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 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 six different orders. You are NOT going to remember. Write it down. Be detailed. 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 excellent 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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Walkie Talkie Lingo: Tips for a Production Assistant

Walkie Talkie Lingo

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

[Post Updated August 7, 2018]

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT FILM SET WALKIE TALKIE LINGO

As a production assistant, you are going to be on the walkie a lot. You will quickly find that there is a specific walkie talkie lingo that you must learn if you don’t want to look and sound like a complete idiot in front of the entire crew. Let me attempt to explain how some of this works. It’s pretty straightforward. Also be sure to check out my article on Film 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 (usually one of the assistant directors or a key PA). Hit the talk button and say your first bit of walkie talkie lingo: “Radio Check” or “Walkie Check.” Someone will then respond over the walkie: “Good Check”.  This means they heard you on the other end and everything is working correctly. If no one responds to your walkie check, something probably isn’t working. Either your headset is broken, or it’s not connected all the way, or you’re on the wrong channel, or the battery in the walkie is dead (check for the green light!).

Channels:

Different departments are on different channels, but the main channel will almost always 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 in walkie talkie lingo:  “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 is done this way is that only one person can be speaking on a single channel at a time. You don’t want to be jamming up the main channel that people need by having a long conversation, 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 entire crew.)

Frequently check in by issuing a “walkie check” to make sure you are on the right channel if you haven’t heard anyone talking for a long time. You could accidentally be on the wrong channel, or your battery could have died.  The last thing you want is to be stuck out on “lock-up” duty for an extended period and have the crew forget to come to get you for lunch.

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

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT WALKIE TALKIE LINGO LIST:

“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 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?” A 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 talkie lingo” terms.

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

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Production Assistant Clothing and Accessories

Production Assistant Clothing

[Post Updated August 8, 2018]

In this article, we’ll discuss production assistant clothing, accessories, and tools.

There are many different things people will tell you to bring to set as a production assistant. I’m just going to include the things that I have found useful.

What to Wear on Set as a Production Assistant? How to dress as a PA?

Before getting into the details, let’s answer this question. As a set production assistant, you are going to be running around all day. You’re going to get dirty. You’re going to sweat. You want to wear CASUAL/COMFORTABLE WORK CLOTHES. Jeans and a t-shirt, shorts and a t-shirt, comfortable shoes, hat and sunglasses. You can bring layers, like a long sleeve shirt. You can bring a jacket if you think it’s going to get cold. Are you shooting outside or on a stage? Stages can be cold, or hot, so it’s nice to bring options. See the “Wear Layers” section below. Basically, dress to move around and sweat. If you show up on set as a production assistant looking fancy, with loafers on, or open-toed shoes or sandels, you’re going to be a laughing stock.

If you’re working as an office production assistant.

Just wear casual office clothes. Again, nothing too fancy. Don’t wear a fucking suit and tie. You can wear a casual tie if you want… but I would advise against it. You’re just sitting at a desk all day, and occassionally running out to pick up lunches or office supplies. Jeans and a t-shirt or long-sleeve button up is fine. Unlike a set-pa, since you’re in an office setting, feel free to wear slightly nicer clothes and shoes. You won’t be running around and sweating as much. Office Casual.  Now onto some specifics.

The items listed below are more geared towards what you would wear or bring as a SET PA. As an OFFICE PA, really all you need is a car and a laptop.

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES

  • GOOD SHOES. The number one most important piece of production assistant clothing. 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 necessary as a production assistant. [UPDATE: I 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.  Plus they look good. Always good to get shoe compliments on set.] NEVER EVER BRING OPEN TOED SHOES OR SANDLES TO SET. SOME ASSISTANT DIRECTORS WILL SEND YOU HOME. BIG NO NO.
  • WEAR LAYERS. Always check your call sheet for weather conditions, but I still recommend wearing layered clothing. LA weather is a fickle bitch. It could be cold in the morning, hot during the day, and then 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. (I once did a shoot on the beach, didn’t know the shoot was going to go for 21 HOURS STRAIGHT. I wore shorts. It was FUCKING COLD at night. I was miserable. Never made that mistake again. I always brought some extra clothes and kept them in my car.)
  • 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. A good Assistant Director will always make you carry fresh bricks. You do NOT need to buy these. They are handed out at the AD trailer. You might be put in charge of handing them out.
  • 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.
  • PEN AND NOTEPAD. As a PA you will be going on runs. They will send you out to get coffee, lunch, ice, eight 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. (Or just use your phone.)
  • 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. (You can keep stuff like this in your car, as long as crew parking isn’t a million miles away.)
  • 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 learned how to drive around LA. But I also got a smartphone since I wrote this post… and that’s all you need. Get Waze or something.]
  • SCISSORS. Put these in your PA bag as well. I’ve found them useful.
  • DRUGS. Have a good assortment of Advil, Tylenol, etc. You cant always count on medics having these if you get a headache or sore muscles.

That’s all for now. Check back later for more advice and insights on production assistant clothing and accessories.

Any PA’s out there have some important production assistant clothing or accessories to add?

ALSO, CHECK THESE ARTICLES OUT:

Work for Free – Hard Work and No Pay | Tips for a Production Assistant

work for free

SHOULD YOU WORK FOR FREE AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT?

I’ve been in L.A. for a week now, and I’ve already finished my first gig as a set production assistant. It was two, hard, 14 hour days of running around and working my ass off! I didn’t get paid a penny. (But I got a lot of free food.) Luckily, my hard work paid off, and the producer said she would be calling me back for some PAID work very soon! (UPDATE: She ended up giving me $900 worth of work two weeks later. SCORE!)

My first bit of advice for those looking to break into the Industry as a Production Assistant: Work for Free.

Some people are EXTREMELY against working for free. I understand this mindset if you already have your foot in the door and have all the skills to become a paid worker. However, if you’re just starting out, and trying to break into a VERY competative field, it can be smart to work for free. Why? Because when it comes to being a production assistant, it’s all about making connections with people who can hire you. And you can’t make those connections unless you’re on set (or in the production office) meeting people!

Take any job, even if it’s for no pay, and work your ass off.  People do notice. You wouldn’t believe how many lazy people are out there. Getting in is the hardest part. Once you’re in, if you work hard, you will get more work! If someone asks you where something is, don’t just tell them where it is, retrieve 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 more comfortable – in any way possible!

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION ON YOUR FIRST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOB (TO GET HIRED BACK!):

1. NO COMPLAINING!

Once you’re on set, you will quickly notice that every person 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… well, bitches and moans.

2. 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.

3. LEARN EVERYONE’S NAME!

Study the call sheet if you have to! This is really important. As a production assistant, 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 important to you. Trust me; it goes a long way.

4. 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 four easy things you can do to help you get a paid job after working for free.

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