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.

Summer Lovin’

First day of Summer is tomorrow!

Summer used to be the best shit ever. No school. No responsibilities. Kick back. Party. Something about those hot summer nights… they were dangerous. One could have too much fun.

Now when I think of summer, I think of having to sit in hot traffic on my way to work. I think of sitting in an office filled with fluorescent lighting and the never ending ringing of phones. And when I’m in said office, all I can think about is going to the beach. Which is funny, because I live near the beach… and I never go. But when I’m in the office… I think of the fucking beach.

But anyway… the reason I’m posting.

I remember back when I was an avid reader of TAPA’s blog it came to a point where he would stop posting very often… sometimes months on end. This made me sad. I was scared he had been ousted and forced to stop posting. Or had died. Or was going to abandon his website… (which he eventually did). So, even though this site is not nearly as popular as his (but for some reason I am still receiving over 100 hits a day) I don’t want to leave any of my readers thinking I’m dead. So here I am — making this obligatory post telling you that I am alive.

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been working non-stop since the end of March. Hopped on an Office PA job for all of April and now I’m out of state working as an Editorial PA… which is pretty awesome. I get a little break from the HELL that is production. I’ll be back in LA mid July looking for my next gig. Just in time for 110 degree weather on the 405! *Stabs neck repeatedly with pen*

I wasn’t able to finish my screenplay in time for the Nicholl Fellowship due to work… but fear not. I have some other things on the horizon. Hopefully I’ll be able write back with some good news soon. If not… I’ll try… and try again.

We’re currently in that time of the year when screenplay contests begin announcing their winners. I want to wish all you budding screenwriters the greatest of luck… and if you don’t become a finalist, I leave you with this quote.

“Failure is a badge of honor. It means you risked failure.” – Charlie Kaufman

Beware The Ides of March!

Three posts in one day! NO WAYOMG.

No idea why I named this post that. I hope bad things aren’t going to happen. I definitely hope I don’t get stabbed 23 times. That would just put a real downer on the beginning of 2012. Even getting stabbed 1 time would pretty much be horrible.

I know I said I would post what I decided to write soon after the holidays. Unfortunately January became a freak out month cause I couldn’t find any work. But I survived again… somehow. Then in February something amazing happened. I worked my first feature! 18 days of ass busting work. Three 6-day weeks consisting of about 75 hours of work per week. It was hell, and I was so loving it. My AD’s were basically training me to be a PA god… and I learned a whole lot. I’m sure I have material for more PA articles now

I came out here to work on features… and I definitely want to work another one. The entire crew was amazing… which is rare. There are usually those one or two people you wish would die in a car wreck on the way to work one morning… Not on this feature. Everyone was a joy. Anyway… that is over now… and the money is almost gone already. Time to look for more work.

On a good note I had some time to really think about writing, and I’ve decided to start working on a dark comedy I’ve been brewing for a while. The feature I worked on was low budget. It probably was in the $1Mil range. I got to see what one could do with a million dollars. Most of the features I’ve been brewing would cost a shit load of money to produce — not usually a good way to break into the industry as a new writer. So I’ve decided to get this dark comedy finished because:

  • It doesn’t have many lead actors
  • It doesn’t have many locations
  • It doesn’t have any HUGE set pieces
  • It could probably be shot low budget and still be awesome.

I feel something like this could sell way easier than my screenplay about a futuristic medieval zombie apocalypse, or the earth building a spaceship to meet the source of an alien message. Even though my heart is set on epic… I need to get to that point somehow. So I’m going to try and be epically low budget out of the gate. I could be going at this completely wrong, but it’s where my head is at.

I hit my first act break today and magically landed right on page 25. That is pretty much an awesome coincidence. I’m writing a vomit draft… so it’s nothing but a crazy person’s thoughts on paper at this point… and the first act break still landed on 25. That makes me happy. I’m going the right direction with this shit, I can feel it.

I’ve been in a caffeine induced haze all day playing make believe and talking with people that don’t exist. Thus the life of a writer. So now I’m going to drink a lot of beer.

I’ll let you know how this venture goes someday in the future. Until then… beware the ides of March!!!

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.

Being Busy Not Being Busy

I haven’t posted in a week.  It’s because I’ve been on an extended period of downtime… and it sucks. It really blows.  I’m one of those “work-a-holic” types, and my patience is being tested. I’m so restless. I sent out 26 resumes last week to countless black holes. An Assistant Editor job I was in the interview process for got put on indefinite hold.  A Set PA gig on a commercial got bumped to next month.  The people I have worked for in the past don’t have anything for me at this point in time.  I needed to find SOMETHING to keep me busy, and feed the work-a-holic inside me — so I started another blog.  I know, I should be writing my feature.  I am doing that as well. That’s one good thing about downtime.  I wrote a new horror logline, I’m developing a treatment for an adventure film, and still switching between writing two features.  I know… I just need to finish one of them and get on with my life.

A couple friends and I have just launched a movie news blog.  It keeps me busy while I’m not working and, an added plus to running a news site, now I know everything happening in the industry.

On a good note, I made a couple new contacts, had a phone interview with a company that may bring me some work, and talked to a 1st A.D. who added me to the interview rotation for a PA job on a TV show. Should hear back from her in about 3 weeks.  Fingers crossed.

Oh… and I discovered MineCraft, Portal 2, and I’ve done some catching up on Parks and Rec.

So I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is, USE YOUR DOWNTIME. Stay busy when you’re not busy, you never know where it might lead you.

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: