ONE YEAR IN LA and HAPPY BIRTHDAY 12ptCourier.com!

I’ve been in LA for a year today! They say if you make it in LA for a year, you’re in. I guess I’m here for good! Next step… profit?

ALSO

12ptCourier.com turns 2 years old this month! The first post was on April 1, 2010. OHhhhhhh look how we’ve grown. 🙂

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…

Reader Question: Moving to LA with Nothing

Right after I posted the last article about not having work for 4 weeks I got a gig. Holy shit did I get a gig. I ended up working 10am-6am straight. The lord answered my prayers for work… and then almost killed me. I’ll write more on that experience later. For now, I got a reader question.

Tiffany writes:

I am a PA in Detroit, who just happened to come across your blog. I’m very interested in your entries.. I see that you moved to LA, and said that you had the gas to get there, and your GPS. How’s it been going for you so far? Have you really had to sleep in your car? The past few months I’ve been trying to figure out a plan to get out of Michigan, and get to LA (I have a friend there that is taunting me to get there sooner, also). I am hoping my friend will be able set me up with a job when I get out there, but he’s not sure he will be able to.. Just wondering how realistic it is to head out there with practically nothing. Hope to hear back from you.

You’re right, I did basically come out here with nothing. Honestly I would not advise anyone to move to LA without a plan and some cash. I know that I came out here on a whim, and I’ve survived so far, but I knew that I had a couple couches to sleep on, and I had at least one person willing to set me up with some work. I came out here with about $1000. I spent roughly $300 on gas and a couple nights in a cheap hotel. The rest is already gone. Luckily I’ve gotten a few jobs since I arrived to help pay bills.

If you don’t have couches to sleep on, I would recommend saving up three months of living expenses minimum before you come out here. I’ve even heard of people not landing a paying gig for 6 months. It’s really hard getting work without knowing people.

How have I been surviving on such little work? I find places to sleep for free. I sleep on floors and couches. I eat PB&J and Ramen Noodles. I don’t drive unless I have to. I’ve been doing this for two months. Hopefully I will start getting enough work soon to be able to get a little more situated. Kiss your social life goodbye.

If you plan on coming out here without a lot of savings, be prepared to live like a bum. You have to be a little bit crazy to live this life. A ton of people come out here to do exactly what I am doing right now, most of them end up going back home.  As Josh Dobkin says,

It’s outlast and outshine out here.  If you really want it bad enough, put the time in and don’t cave under the harsh environment like everyone else, you’ll rise above the muck.

It can be done. People do it every year. Most of them end up going home. If you want it bad enough, you’ll survive.

Production Assistant Pay: How Much Does A Production Assistant Make?

Production Assistant Pay

The only thing a PA is missing is the Y – Anonymous

[Post Updated August 7, 2018]

How much does a Production Assistant get paid?

This seems to be a recurring question, so I’ll answer it: NOT MUCH!

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT PAY

Production Assistants don’t get paid hourly.  A PA is paid on a “per-day” day rate, based on a 12 hour day (which is broken up into hourly pay for payroll reasons). The day rates for a production assistant depend on the type of show you’re working on and are typically higher for shorter jobs and lower for longer jobs. On average, in Los Angeles, the PA day rate is around $125 a day (in 2011). A day rate is better than getting an hourly rate because if you work 6 hours instead of 12, you will still get paid for a full day. Those types of days are rare (you will more likely be working over 12 hours), but they do happen. For more information on how a day rate works, check out TAPAs post on the subject.

Production assistant pay on commercials and music videos is usually more than on movies and TV.

But you don’t work as long. I was a production assistant on a couple of photo shoots that paid a day rate of $250, but the shoots only last 1-2 days.  I also worked as a PA on a couple of commercials that paid a day rate of $200, but those shoots were only a few days as well.  If you’re on a movie or TV show, you could be getting paid $125 a day for a few months. This is what I am currently trying to do…  and it’s a pain in the ass.

You’ll find that most industry jobs, including high level and writing jobs, don’t “pay by the hour.” They either pay by the day, week, or one fee for the whole job.

Ask any questions on production assistant pay in the comments section, and I’ll be glad to answer them to the best of my ability.

[UPDATE]

I just worked on a feature and figured out a little more on production pay.

On this feature, I was making $112 a day, with a guaranteed 12 hour day. So even if I only worked 10 hours instead of 12, I would still get paid for the full 12 hours.

Now on paper, this breaks down to $8/hr for the first 8 hours. After 8 hours you get time and a half for the next 4 hours. So I’d be getting paid $8/hr for 8 hours and $12/hr for 4 hours. That makes the $112/12 day rate. Anything I work after 12 hours is double time, which would be $16 an hour.

Now on this feature, I was working six-day weeks. So my “6th-day” rate was time and a half for every hour. So I would make $12/hr for the first 12 hours and then $16/hr for anything after 12 hours.

MEAL PENALTIES

I also got one $7 meal penalty per day. On a show, you have to be fed 6 hours after your call time. Because I am a Production Assistant, I always have a pre-call. Which means if the call time for the crew is at 8 am, I’ll probably have a call time for 7 am. When we break for lunch at 2 pm, it’s been 7 hours of work for me before lunch… which means I get a meal penalty. (Production assistants are never guaranteed a meal penalty because there is no union for Production Assistants, but any good show will pay their PA’s meal penalties. If they don’t, throw a fit and demand it! ALSO– you will never get a meal penalty if you don’t fill it out on your time cards, so make sure you ask the 2nd AD how that works.) Meal penalties aren’t very much money, but on a six-day week that’s $42 extra in the bank. That’s a tank of gas!

Also, check out:

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?

My L.A. Road Trip

Saturday evening I said goodbye to my middle-of-nowhere Tennessee town, got into my fresh oil changed ’94 Honda Accord, and left my old life behind. Around 11:00 pm I started my road trip. Two days, seven states, and 2100 miles later… I am now officially in the greater Los Angeles area.

Besides the high gas prices, the trip couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I had no car problems, no traffic, and no tickets the entire way here. I got out of Tennessee and into Arkansas my first night, and stopped to get some sleep around 6:00 am. Woke up around 11:00 am and started again.

The worst part of the trip was driving through Oklahoma. Holy crap that place sucks! It was a one lane highway and road construction – all the way to Oklahoma City. After Oklahoma City, things got better. The roads cleared up, and the scenery was more comfortable on the eyes. I even got to see one of those giant wind turbine farms! The weather was beautiful, so the windows were down, and the music loud.

The drive through Texas was the color brown + cows. I have seen a lot of cows in my life. My house in Tennessee had cow fields on two sides. But I have NEVER seen more cows then I did in Texas! There must have been a million one field I saw! That’s all I can say about my Texas adventure. Although, the last stretch of Texas just before hitting New Mexico was kinda nice. It became more “deserty” and less “brown fields.” The sun was setting in front of me, the windows were down once again, and classic rock was blaring out of my speakers. It was about an hour of pure road trip perfection.

It started to get dark when I hit New Mexico. New Mexico and Nevada have 75 mph speed limits instead of 70 mph. That was a plus. Driving through Albuquerque at night was interesting. Everything in that city lights up in different colors. I felt like I was driving through Disney World/one giant Indian casino/modern art museum.

On the Indian note… starting in Oklahoma, and going all the way through Arizona, is nothing but Native American Tourists traps EVERYWHERE.

I stopped somewhere in New Mexico around 11:00 pm. It was snowing. It was over 90 degrees a couple of hours earlier in Texas, and now it was snowing in New Mexico. When I got to my room and looked in the mirror, my eyes were SUPER red. The hotel woman must have thought I was high as shit. I also think I was hallucinating a little. Driving long distances does weird things to the brain. I immediately took a hot shower and passed the fuck out. I slept for about 8 hours and then started again.

Arizona was an exciting drive. They have cool towns with names like, “Two Guns” and “Twin Arrows.” Stopped in Flagstaff for some gas. Held the door open for an old woman, and then continued on my way. (OLD PEOPLE LOVE ARIZONA) It was quite chilly outside, but the scenery was pretty. The last stretch of Arizona featured a drastic elevation drop that was fun to speed down.

After driving through Arizona (forever) I finally hit California. As soon as I crossed the Cali/Arizona border, it felt like the temperature rose 30 degrees. Then the song Born to be Wild came on the radio. After I told the border guard that I wasn’t harboring any fruits or vegetables, I started driving through The Desert. The Mojave is a beautiful place. By now I had shed my high elevation driving clothes and was applying sunscreen to my left arm (It already had a nice sunburn from earlier Oklahoma driving). I set the cruise control to 80 mph (Cali goes back to 70 mph speed limits), and I don’t think I had to touch the brake or gas pedal for over an hour. Very beautiful, relaxing drive.

The relaxing desert drive continued until I started coming up on Barstow California… then it just got shitty, real fast. All of a sudden the hot desert wind didn’t feel right. It felt like I just walked into a hot port-o-potty. I paid for my $4-a-gallon gas and headed up towards Riverside/Loma Linda. And that’s where I am now, staying with some friends/family.

Overall, I’d say the trip was a positive experience, but one I wouldn’t like to do again anytime soon.

Keep checking back as I update you on my existence. I just became a small fish, in a vast pond.

What’s the most extended road trip you’ve taken?

I’m Moving to L.A.

Basically, if your life’s dream is to become a giant Hollywood screenwriter, then you need to live in Hollywood. – John August

If you want to be next to writers, you need to be close to producers. And that means either being a PA on a production, or finding work at a production company… which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! – Joshua Dobkin

What the fuck are you trying to do in Atlanta?  COME OUT HERE! – My friend in L.A.

I had a plan. I was going to work in Atlanta for a few years, write some specs, and save money. Then I was going to make the jump to L.A. with a couple of scripts under my belt and work my ass off. My plan for Atlanta isn’t working for a multitude of reasons, and after some recent advice from a friend working in L.A. — I’m jumping in and taking the risk!

I will be packing my ’94 Honda Accord (that just hit 200,000 miles yesterday!) with everything I need to live and drive from Tennessee to Los Angeles, California in the next week/week and a half. I will sleep on couches (or in my car if I have to) and take every job I can get. I need work; I crave work. Anything even related to film will do. I have 5 different resumes made up, enough money to get out there, and a TomTom GPS.

Speaking of work. If any of my readers could put my sweat and tears to good use in L.A. shoot me an email. Preferably with a production company doing something in development, screenwriter’s assistant, or a writer’s P.A. But like I said, I’ll be Kevin Smith’s oil boy if It will get me in the door.

Honestly, I wish I would have done this months ago.  I only have a couple of months before my massive student loans start coming in. On THAT note, don’t go to film school on student loans… bad… bad……very bad idea. Can’t change the past so I must look towards the future.

So… if chapter one of this blog was film school, chapter two will be moving to L.A. and working my ass off trying to get someone to let me work my ass off.

So let the madness begin. What do you think about moving to LA? Bad idea or a fucking awesome idea?

Great Article on Moving to LA

Hey guys,

I’ve been doing a lot of everything and a lot of nothing. Preparing for my six weeks in Israel, playing Starcraft 2 beta, working, reading, and writing papers.

I promise to write an excellent little post before I leave.

In the mean time, I would like to share a great article I just read about moving to L.A. Something I plan on doing within the next couple years.

MOVING TO HOLLYWOOD

Read it.