How to Roll Calls: Tips for a Production Assistant

how to roll calls

[Post Updated August 8, 2018]

One of the primary responsibilities of an office production assistant is to answer phones. So let’s learn how to roll calls.

First of all: What does “Roll Calls” mean?

It’s pretty simple. Rolling Calls involves answering phones, connecting calls, transferring calls to appropriate parties, setting up conference calls, and things of that nature. You basically just sit at a desk all day and press buttons.

For and office production assistant, the majority of “rolling calls” involves answering and transferring.

The thought of learning how to roll calls when I got my first office production assistant job was honestly terrifying. Not only did I have a fear of not knowing what I was doing — I had a fear of not knowing what I was doing in front of a bunch of people.

When you’re in a production office, generally all the production assistants are set up in a bullpen. No cubicle dividers — just a room full of desks. So everyone can hear everything you say. You have a phone on your desk with many buttons (and every fucking phone is different and way more complicated than it needs to be) and it rings all day long.  It was scary… but an unjustified fear. Rolling calls is one of the most natural things in the world. Suffice to say, I learned fast. So here are some tips on how to roll calls.

Pick up the phone on the first ring.

You’re sitting at your desk. The phones ring. Pick it up as fast as possible. If possible, don’t let it ring more than once (you can get in a friendly competition with the other office PAs and see who can answer the phone the fastest).

Answer. “Production, this is [Insert Name Here].” Some people just answer with “Production.” But I like to let people know who they’re talking with.

One of the first things you should do if you’re on a new phone system is to figure out how to transfer a call. Transfering calls IS how you “roll calls”.

Like I said, every phone is different. But generally, there are two types of transfers. Blind Transfers and Consult Transfers.

A “blind transfer” simply transfers one call to another phone.

A “consult transfer” transfers YOU first so that you can inform the person on the other line who is calling, e.g., “So and So is on the line, would you like me to put them through?” and the person you’re talking to will either say, “Yes,” and you will complete the transfer, or, “No, take a message.” In which case you don’t complete the transfer, but return to the caller and take a message.

You usually only have to do a “consult transfer” it’s someone important… or if you’re transferring to a person’s cell.  Like I said before, if someone calls the production office for someone in a different department (such as ART or HAIR or LOCATIONS), just say “Yes, please hold.” And then blind transfer them to that department. No need to consult. (You will be given a phone list with department extensions, keep this taped to the desk or the wall near your phone.)  If the person on the phone is asking for someone in YOUR department (Apoc [assistant production cooridnator], Poc [prodouction cooridnator], another PA, etc..), you can just put them on hold and tell that person what line they’re on. E.g., “Hey, Jess, So and So is on Line 1 for you.”

Get the right information.

9000 times out of 10 the person on the other line will say “Hi, can I speak to so and so?” Without giving you their name or why they’re calling.  It’s annoying. If it’s for another department, just transfer them over without asking the caller’s name. But if the call is for someone in YOUR department (production), you need to find out two things. Who are they? And why they’re calling?

Start off with, “Yes, may I ask who’s calling please?”  If it’s a name you recognize or know to be important, it’s probably okay to just walk up to the person in your department and be like, “So and So is on the line for you.” But if it’s a name you don’t recognize, you need to be all like, “May I ask what the call is regarding?” I had so much trouble with this when I first started out. How do you ask someone why they’re calling without sounding like a little shit? You can’t just ask, “Why are you calling?” That just sounds bad. Asking what the call is regarding seems to be the best way to ask that question.

Always get the correct name.

Also, if the person on the line doesn’t have an easy to understand name, like John Smith, and you’re not exactly sure what they said their name was… (Hello, my name is Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele) an excellent way to find out is by asking “Can you spell your first and last name for me, please?” That way, when you tell the producer that Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff is calling for him, the producer actually knows who is calling, instead of just handing them a message note with a bunch of scribbled writing on it.

It’s very important to get the caller names right when you roll calls.

Double checking with the person on the phone is way less embarrassing than getting the name wrong while talking to the producer. Nothing is worse than telling a producer someone called for them, and not being able to tell them who it was or give them the wrong last name.

DONT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS ON THE PHONE.

Get the information down correctly. Get their name spelled right. If the dude on the other end of the phone is an irritated piece of shit, it’s not like they can reach through the phone and strangle you. Remember, you’re just doing your job. Get the name right. Ask what the call is regarding, and then place them on hold and transfer them (or however your overly-complicated mess of machinery works).

Same thing for taking messages. Name. Who they’re with. Why they’re calling. Note down the date and time, and ALWAYS ask for a callback number. Unless the caller is a person you know to be very familiar with the person they’re calling for, always ask something along the lines of “And what is the best number to reach you at?”. Even if you know the person you’re giving the message to has the caller’s number, you’ll save them the time to look it up. Which makes your boss like you. Which makes your boss more likely to hire you in the future.

So that’s how you roll calls!

There is always three-way calling and conference calling and connect to an outside line — but every phone is different, so I can’t tell you how to do that. All I can tell you is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask another PA or APOC to teach you how to use the phone system.

Don’t be afraid to fuck up. I dropped a lot of important calls when I started out. It happens to everyone.

I hate phones. Fuck phones. I love lamp.

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!

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