How do You Get Work in the Film Industry? You Have to Fucking WORK.

There is a symptom that plagues film school students and those who want to work in the film industry.

I know this because I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of film students. That vast majority of them don’t want to work. They don’t want to start at the bottom and crawl their way to the top. They want to make art. Let me tell you something, you want-to-be-filmmakers —

YOU ARE GOING TO FAIL. YOU. YES. YOU.

You’re going to graduate film school thinking you want to work in the film industry, but end up switching careers with thousands of dollars in student debt, or work at a local TV station making shitty commercials, or film weddings for the rest of your life. And that’s no one’s fault but yours.

How do you not fail? You work you fucking ass off, that’s how.

I have not made it. Far from it. But I’m a lot further along than the lot of you. And you probably want to be where I am right now. I work for a “big-time” guy in the industry. I frequent film sets during production and have the occasional chat with a celebrity. My scripts are being read “around town”, and I have representation courting me. This is shit I DREAMED about having 7 years ago when I started this blog. I’m STILL not happy with where I am, but that’s another story. THIS story is about how none of this is going to happen to you because you’re a lazy piece of shit.

If you want to work in the film industry, you have to be willing to work 18 hours days 6 days a week for minimum wage with an Assistant Director yelling at you over the walkie in front of the entire crew right after you’ve spent the last 2 hours picking up dog shit and used condoms off the side of the road for the art department at 6 in the fucking morning.

If you want to work in the film industry, you have to be willing to leave EVERYTHING behind and move to Los Angeles with no money and sleep on a strangers couch that you met on craigslist who smokes weed every day and watches TV until 1 am not letting you get any sleep before you have to wake up at 4am to get to pre-call on set in the middle of sun valley by 6am.

If you want to work in the film industry, you have to leave every comfort you know, and jump headfirst into a chaotic environment using equipment you’ve never used before for people you’ve never met before, while all the time trying to prove that you’re the hardest worker in the world so that maybe they will hire you again for the next job.

If you want to work in the film industry, you need to be meeting people and spending more time looking for work than actually working because you need to have a job lined up when the current job your working is over.

And then, MAYBE, after you’ve done all this for a few years and find a steady job, you will be able to direct enough shorts or write enough screenplays in your “free time” to get noticed and actually do the shit you really want to be doing out here.

If you’re not willing to do any of this stuff. Then do everyone already working in LA a favor and  GTFO of here so that our commute on these god-forsaken highways is minus one car.

Now get off your lazy piece of shit ass and go do something.

-12pt

Working for No Pay Part 3

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Just stumbled on a new reader question that I feel like addressing in a post.

…what is a reasonable amount of PA work to be doing gratis before you can expect to be paid? I don’t want to shoot down opportunities but at the same feel like I am being used. Is this something negotiated before hand? Does it depend on budget? I worked 35 hours on a 3 day shoot thinking I was getting paid and then I didnt. I even paid out of pocket for lunch and didnt get reimbursed. They want me to work for them again and say it wont be paid (a pretty decent sized indie studio). I told them I would do it but expect to be paid in the future. Am I out of line? Am I burning bridges? Did I shoot myself in the foot? The whole if you wont do it, someone else will line is getting old. People have to live. People have to pay bills. I cant keep working for free, can I?

– Josh

Okay. So I wrote briefly a while back about DOING free jobs to get noticed. And then a little while later I did a quick follow-up about being WARY of free jobs.  I’m going to go a little deeper.

I would ONLY take free work if you know there is a high possibility that it could get you paid work in the future. I’ve only worked for free 5 times. I will lay them out here.

1. The very first job I took in LA was a non paid 2 day job on a music video. I knew somebody working for a production company out here and they told me “Hey, the production company is super over budget on this music video and are looking for some free labor. I know you just moved out here and are looking for work. These guys do a lot of work. If you work your ass off for free I’m sure you’ll get noticed and get more work.” …or she said something along those lines.  It was my first week in LA and I didn’t know anyone… so what the hell. I took the job, worked my ass off for free, and it TOTALLY paid off. I ended up getting about $900 worth of work from the same producer the next week on two more shoots. Which then led me to getting work with their company doing freelance shoots up until the now. Last shoot I did with them was a few months ago. I also networked my ass off and got work later down the road from the Set Dresser and the Production Designer as an Art PA. So… I did this job because A). I didn’t have anything to lose. B). It was the first and only opportunity I had to get on set. C). My friend who worked there told me there was a good chance I would get paid work if I proved myself.

2. The second free job I did was a 3 day super low-budget TV pilot. I had already been working freelance a bit and another friend I met in the industry shot me an email. Basically he knew an AD that was going into production on a big hour-long network drama in the fall. So he got me in contact with her 2nd AD. The 2nd AD told me they were shooting this low-budget pilot for a friend (they were all working for free… even the ADs.) And if I came and worked on it, it could be like my interview. If I proved myself, I could become a candidate for a PA position on the show. So, of course, I took the free 3 day job. Long story short — They got a few political hires (producer’s nephew or something) and hired another one of the PAs I was working with for free… who was a girl. Girl ADs… wanting to hire Girl PAs… I feel like they stick together in this industry. But in the PAs defense, she was one of the best PAs I’ve ever met. A god damn super PA. You’ll know a super PA when you meet them. They carry like tool belts and shit. You can’t compete with them. Anyway… I didn’t get the job. Months later I got a call from the ADs wanting me to day play a few days on the network drama. So I did that. It was a miserable couple days. And I haven’t heard from them since. BUT! A few months after that, the DIRECTOR of the super low-budget free pilot I worked on called me up. (I had kept in contact with her. NETWORK!) Turns out she was an AD as well… on another big network half hour comedy. So — I got a few day playing days as a SET PA with her… Then one day she called me up because there was an OFFICE PA out sick. So I lied and said that I had been an office PA before (first… and only time I have lied while trying to get work… i just don’t like to do it… but it paid off). So I came in. Was super terrified about answering phones, but got over it quick. (fake it til you make it). Then I became the go-to day playing office PA for the show. (Every time one of their office PAs was sick or had jury duty they would call me to come in). Then the coordinator from that show (who I will call Coord. A) hooked me up with a coordinator friend of hers (who I will call Coord. B) who was working on another pilot. I did that show. Then Coord B. hooked me up with a coordinator friend of hers (who I will call Coord. C), and I went down to Atlanta and worked on movie with her… and now I’m back in LA working on another pilot with Coord. B.  CANT YOU SEE NOW THAT THIS INDUSTRY IS ALL ABOUT MEETING PEOPLE! Anyway. I guess that free job paid off. It didn’t pay off the way I wanted it to at first… but it definitely paid off in the end. I took that free job because A). There was a chance I could get a PA job on a big network drama.

3. The third free job I took was a First A.D. job for a super small Funny or Die video. No one was getting paid. I did it because a friend asked me to. A friend who had gotten me work in the past. You have to do favors in the industry. You don’t want to be the guy only asking for stuff and never returning.

4. Fourth free job. Also First A.D. on a short film for a friend. Again, favors.

5. Fifth free job. Set PA. Favor. Friend.

So there you have it. Only  take a free job if you think it’s going to help you in the long run. Personally to me… it sounds like these guys are fucking you over. If you feel like you’re getting fucked over… you probably are. Go with your gut man. That’s all I can tell you. But think about your options as well. If they’re not going to pay you… but you have no paid work… are you still willing to work for free to make contacts and get experience? If so, do it. But look for more work in the meantime. And the second some paid work comes in, leave them. Just say, “I appreciate the opportunity, but I have to take this paid job, I’m sure you understand.” And if they don’t understand, fuck ’em. And… unfortunately… if you don’t do it. Someone else will do it. But then they’re the ones getting fucked over.

P.S. — and as far as the “Is this something negotiated before hand? Does it depend on budget?” 99% of budgets include paying PAs. And yes… it is negotiated beforehand. How you ask? Easy “Is it paid?” You say. “Yes” They say. That’s it. Feel free to ask how much. It will be anywhere from 112-250 a day. Usually more on the 112 side of things.  And if this company led you to believe you were going to be paid… and then didn’t… fuck them. Fuck them forever.

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 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: