There is more than one type of production assistant, and the production assistant job description differs according to what you want to do. In this article, we will explore the skills, requirements, and job outlook of a production assistant, regardless of the type.
Being a production assistant is sort of the modern equivalent of working in the mail room in the world of television, film, and video. It’s a great entry-level position that gives you a wide variety of experience, gets you to your favorite field, and helps you start the process of developing a network of professional contacts.
Job Overview: What Does A Production Assistant Do?
The responsibilities of a PA vary greatly, depending on the department you are working in and the kind of production you are working for. If you are an office or post-production PA, your job may last several months, whereas if you are a set PA, you will probably be working on a different production for a different company every few days or every few weeks at most.
Overall, the job of a PA is whatever you are asked to do, which could include things like making airport runs to pick up talent, making coffee runs, taping down or winding up miles of cables, cords, or logging tape, and so on. If you are an office PA, you will most likely have a relatively normal work schedule and be paid a standard hourly wage. If you are a set PA, your call time may be 4:00 a.m. or you may work until midnight for only $150 a day.
Production Assistant Job Duties
While the responsibilities of a PA vary greatly depending on the production assistant job description, here are some of the basic responsibilities of the three most relevant PA positions.
- Create call sheets, email them to key departments, and update them as required.
- Make copies.
- Run errands.
- Receive and log DV tapes, flash drives, or hard drives and get them to Post.
- Perform basic office administration duties.
- Pick up and drop off talent.
- Pick up and drop off equipment.
- Make food runs.
- Guard equipment when crew is shooting elsewhere.
- Fetch and distribute water and snacks for crew and talent.
- Help carry equipment, hold light stands, flags, silks, or bounce boards.
- Receive tapes or drives from office PA.
- Log tape.
- Log clip descriptions.
- Create assembly edits.
Production Assistant Job Essential Skills
Out of all PA jobs, being a set PA is probably the most challenging. You will generally work the longest hours on set, have the widest variety of responsibilities, and need the greatest degree of flexibility. While these skills apply to all production assistants to some degree, here are 3 essential skills for set PAs.
Ability to work independently. The world of media production is fast-paced and intense, and people are generally far too busy doing their own job to supervise someone else. For the most part, you will be working alone, so you need to be able to perform without someone looking over your shoulder or pushing you to do more. In addition, you need to be the type of person who looks around to see what needs to be done and does it, rather than waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
Problem solving. Nowhere is the phrase “time is money” more accurate than on a set or during production. Every minute of production can cost a production company thousands of dollars, whether the cameras are rolling or not. Sometimes, it is the simplest of problems that keep them from rolling. If you can be the person who them, you will generally find yourself in demand and advancing rapidly.
Flexibility and Awareness. There is a vast difference between working on a union and non-union set. On a non-union set, everyone is generally expected to pitch in and help with everything. On a union set, however, every department has very clearly defined roles, and they don’t appreciate someone from a different department doing their job. PAs need to always be ready to pitch in wherever they are needed and know when they should not pitch in.
Becoming a Production Assistant
The good news about being a production assistant is that it is an entry level job that requires little to no experience. If you have some, great – it will be even easier to get a PA job – but if you don’t, it’s not a major drawback.
Qualifications and Training
If you happen to live in LA, there are a number of training classes you can take to get some form of PA certification, but there is no “official” PA certification. Getting an office PA or post-production PA job is generally more difficult than getting a set PA job because office and post jobs are more like administrative assistant jobs that often come with a salary and benefits.
Set PA jobs, however, are generally fairly easy to come by because they require little to no experience, but you will also work brutally long hours at times for very little pay. A set PA can sometimes work a 15 hour day for as little as $100 to $150.
One of the best ways to become a PA is simply to work on some student or low-budget shoots. If you do well, you can generally gain some good contacts that will help you get better paying jobs on better shoots. If you prove yourself to be a hard worker on set, it will generally not be long before you will be offered better paying and higher ranking positions.
Again, getting a job as a set PA is fairly easy. If you do well there, it’s not too hard to turn a PA job into a job as a production coordinator, assistant producer, camera assistant, assistant director, or an assistant in the specific field you hope to one day work in. If you happen to be going to film school, you can often get a job as an intern with a production company, which tends to be fairly easy to parlay into a regular job once you graduate.
Office PAs generally have the most regular working hours, but 10 hour days are not uncommon in the production assistant job description. In fact, they can get even longer during production. Set PAs have the most brutally long hours, with 10-12 hour days being fairly standard, 15 hour days almost as common, and 20 hour days not unheard of. Post-production PAs will often start out working fairly regular hours, but can end up working 12-15 hour days the closer the deadline for completion draws.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
Being a PA is generally a low paying job with high demands, but the good news is that advancement opportunities are almost limitless and very few people end up being a PA for long. Being a PA is something of a trial by fire in which you either burn out or advance quickly.
The exception to this are office PAs, who have the most stable, steady job, often with a salary and benefits. In these situations, a person may remain a PA for a year or more before advancing, or even be a PA for several years. In those situations, however, you gain a far broader range of experience and when you do advance, you often skip several rungs up the ladder.
Being a production assistant is rarely a career in and of itself, but it is a great way to begin building a career in media. In fact, depending on what area you are interested in working in, many people still build hugely successful careers simply by jumping in, starting at the bottom, and working their way up, rather than by getting degrees in their field.