6 Steps To Moving Up The Production Jobs Ladder

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Production Assistants are the lifeblood of production jobs. If you’ve ever worked on any reality TV show, scripted genre or film, you know PA stands for long hours, lengthy demands and sometimes ridiculously low-pay.   PA’s are often the first crew members anyone turns to for on-set answers, as Producers and Showrunners grapple with rigorous daily demands, a barrage of changes and performing the greatest balancing act, being that of problem-solver, peacemaker, negotiator, regulator, and (for some never-fail reason) great listener (read: therapist). So listen up PA’s, because this is what you’re hopefully aspiring to.

Being a good PA. can be the difference between progress and impeding it.   Prolific TV and movie producer Brian Grazer’s ascension in Hollywood sounds more like the premise of one of his legendary Oscar-winning films. Grazer started in the Warner Brothers’ mailroom and didn’t let the gleaming behemoth-like shield deter his destiny. Grazer was a hard worker and he made it his job to meet one person a day, which ultimately led him to being recognized and consistently promoted. Today, Grazer is co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, alongside his producing partner Ron Howard, but he started out on the bottom rung of the production jobs totem pole.

That’s the kind of motivation every PA needs in order to excel and whether you’re an Office PA, LocationPA, GripPA, CraftPA or Talent PA, here are a few things every PA should always keep in mind:


Be OK with Low (or No) Pay:


PA doesn’t end with ID for a reason… PA’ing is an entry-level job. It’s the opportunity to get your foot in the door and hopefully keep it there long enough to make a lasting impression and market yourself as a valuable asset (a few painful blisters aside). PA’ing may be one of the lowest titles and lowest-paying production jobs on the pecking order, but it’s also where you have the opportunity to learn from the very best.   It’s also the entry-point where you begin to carve out your reputation. And in an industry like Hollywood that is extremely small and long in memory (Read: You only get one chance to make a first impression.), your name is really all you have. PA duties can range from making runs and escorting talent to writing copy and contributing other forms of creative. So, consider yourself lucky if you fall in the latter category, and if you do, put in the hours because you never know where all that initiative, drive and hard work may lead you.


Communicate, Communicate, Communicate:


Never assume that your team knows the details and scope of your daily duties. As a PA, you’ve been entrusted to handle a large number of responsibilities, and while we’re not asking you to constantly “check in” to let everyone else know that you’re doing your job, you should always provide some sort of update or end-of-day briefing so everyone knows what’s been accomplished and what’s still outstanding. If your project organizer hasn’t already compiled a team checklist, then make your own and check it twice. So, that means you need to carry a notepad and pen everywhere you go to jot down names of key producers, “to do” lists, and any notes or directives that will help you accomplish your tasks in a timely manner.


Be Willing, Ready and Able for Quick-Change:

Anxious Athlete Waiting at Starting Line

Circling back to #2, remember this is film, television, digital…realms that are about as steady and pliable as an elephant lumbering across a rope bridge.   Just like the circuit board in your TV, there are a tremendous amount of fluid parts, delivering information in a multitude of directions…information that may change, shift or drop out at any given moment. If you haven’t heard these already: We need a new location!…Our talent needs to be replaced! The network wants to go in a “different” direction!…then you ain’t livin’ the PA life. Yes, the reasons may defy logic, rationale and even common sense, but it’s the nature of the beast, and it’s one that we don’t suggest taming, only in tempering. That is, your own internal frustrations and be careful who you vent to because you don’t want your words to be misconstrued and cost you that job or your next. In other words, be like Elsa from “Frozen” and learn to “let it go”!

You’re Not Above Coffee & Copies:

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There are no small roles in production jobs; only small-minded individuals who sometimes fail to see the big picture.   Now just because we said you’re not above that doesn’t mean your own status is below that of making a Starbucks run or bleeding dry the laser toner cartridge. Nobody likes performing these errands and (literally) sometimes taking tens or even hundreds of orders, but this is production and these are staples in our business. A production’s budgetary and staff requirements will differ from project to project—immensely, so respect the process, and hopefully your days of making food runs and deliveries will be short-lived.


Don’t Take Selfies with Celebrity Guests:

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It’s one thing if you’re strolling down Melrose and you just happen to run into a not-so-inconspicuous Nicki Minaj (it’s hard to hide implants 🙂 ) but it’s another when a celebrity is working on set as a guest star. Why? Because you’re crossing a professional line when you ask them to partake in your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook news feed, which obviously has nothing to do with the show they signed on for. So if you pull this self(ie)-ish move don’t be surprised if you receive a merciless glare (or possible reprimand) from your Producer or a not-too-thrilled publicist. It’s easy to spot trouble and you may have very well been called out.


Perform at the Title You Want … Not the Title You Have:

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Working in Hollywood is no different than the view from outside—It’s all about perception. If you perform the job you were hired for and do nothing more, then you’ll most likely always be the multi-hyphenate “Joe-the-good-PA” But put in the extra hours, shadow your superiors, and display a sincere willingness to learn, and you’ll be “Joe-their-go-to-guy”.

In a nutshell… know the logistics, know everybody and make sure everyone knows you. But most importantly, remember (as the old adage goes) your attitude always dictates your altitude.