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.

5 Replies to “How to Roll Calls: Tips for a Production Assistant”

  1. “Pick it up as fast as possible. If possible don’t let it ring more than once.” I got to the point that people would get freaked out at my answering speed. I found out my phone would ring a split second before the ringing tone would play on their end. So, if I was fast enough, They would dial and I would pick up before the line would ring in their ear. They suspected I was psychic.

  2. I hate phones, too. In college, I had a job as receptionist for “The Interactive Telecommunications Center and Alternate Media Center, how can I help you?” and had to spit that out EVERY time.

    At this point in my life, I even ditched the cell phone. HATE PHONES!!!

  3. @devonellington – They didn’t let you say something like… ITCAMC, How can I help you? or…something like that. Redic. I couldn’t live without my cellphone though. I mean… when I get home on friday nights I usually throw it into a corner and don’t touch it until Sunday evening to set my alarm… but I couldn’t imagine working in this industry without a smart phone.

  4. Nope — I had to say the whole thing all the way through. Took a breath like an opera singer every time I picked up the phone. I’ll have to get a cell again, eventually, but I’m enjoying not having one right now. If I’m working on set, it’s off anyway and I’m on walkie; if I’m not on set, it means I don’t want to be reached! 😉 Actually, I’m not on set right now, I’m writing full time, so I need large periods of uninterrupted work time. If someone wants to reach me, they can email. If they want to waste my time with a non-essential call, I charge in 15-minute increments like a lawyer (it’s in my contract).

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