First Time On Set? | Tips for a Production Assistant

First Time On Set

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

QUESTION ABOUT YOUR FIRST TIME ON SET AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

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 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

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FIRST TIME ON SET

Well, Jessica, here’s the thing. If this is your first time on set, 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 a new production assistant as well. So, relax, it will be fine. Just keep your ears open, always pay attention, and be willing to learn and do anything.

Since this is your first time on set, you WILL be put into positions where you have no idea how to proceed. The best advice I can give you is:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS!

Find another production assistant who looks like he/she knows what they’re doing. Introduce yourself. Ask questions 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. It happens to everyone at least once. By the end of a day or two, you’ll have your sea-legs. Don’t fret. Everyone has been there. Everyone working in the film/tv industry has had their first day on set.

SOME TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST TIME ON SET AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Don’t 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!” (as if you know what you’re doing) and then run to your closest PA buddy and ask them what the hell the AD was talking about.

A couple of things to watch out for. There is no such thing as Kino Fluid. If the AD or anyone asks you for Kino Fluid, they are hazing you. There are a few other common hazing tricks people pull on new production assistants, but I can’t remember them right now. It’s just part of becoming a production assistant.

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. Grips don’t listen when production assistants tell them to be quiet. Then you just have to stand there like an asshole while the AD asks why the grips aren’t “locked up” during filming.

If the A.D. yells cut — YOU YELL CUT. If the A.D. yells rolling — YOU YELL ROLLING. That’s one of a production assistant’s primary 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 while YOU should have been “locking” up the set.

Also, ALWAYS reply when the AD asks a question over the walkie. One of the ADs I used to work for would get IRATE if she asked a question over the walkie and no one responded. She called it “crickets” and it was the bane of her existence. Always respond, “Copy” and then repeat the order given to you. Even if you’re doing what the AD told you over the walkie, they don’t know that you heard them unless you reply.

ALSO, CHECK OUT THESE HELPFUL ARTICLES:

WALKIE TALKIE LINGO
SET LINGO
HOW TO GET A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOB WITH NO EXPERIENCE

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!

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…

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:

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!

Also, check out: