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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Day in the Life of a P.A.

I asked my friend Julie M. to tell Wavers about her first experience as a P.A. Julie had a lot to say and the result is this delightful guest blog.


3:45 am.
Pitch black. Your alarm sounds. Panic. Your eyes peel back as you struggle to remember why you’re up so early. A thin layer of sweat begins to bead on the palms of your hands. Panic. Your brain registers: Today is your first day on the job. Not in the real world. Not in the fake world. In the only world: HOLLYWOOD.

4:10 am. You rush to your car Mapquest directions in hand. Moments later you’re on the road sipping on burnt, overly flavored 7-11 coffee. Nervous and excited for the adventure ahead, you gaze out your window as the sun peels back eyes of its own. You see rays of hope. Hope that after today everything will change. For today you take your first step onto the path of becoming a writer, director, producer, or filmmaker. Today you are a P.A.

A P.A. To some it may stand for Pennsylvania. Others may recognize it as a public announcement. The entertainment industry defines a P.A. as a production assistant. One would deduce from this title that the job of a production assistant is to assist in production. This is true in a minimalist sense. To imagine a P.A. just think of the duties of a personal assistant, multiply them by ten, cube that, put him or her on set and you’ve got yourself a production assistant.

My first gig as a P.A. was working on a two day shoot for a prominent commercial director who had his own production company. The job was an Apple spot. The set was located on Hidden Valley Ranch with acres of rolling green hills, voluptuous oak trees, quaint creeks, and lots of salad dressing (not really). Truly picturesque. Apple was releasing a new computer and the shot was set up where the moment a young man turns on his new Apple computer, he is blown away by how amazing it is literally through a mocked up country home out the front door landing on the base of a large oak tree.

7:00 am. The production coordinator arrives. I've been on set for 90 minutes already. She hands me my first call sheet, which was a detailed schedule of the day’s events, and a walkie-talkie. “Don’t lose this, always keep it on,” she said, “This is your lifeblood.” I was told to wait for further instruction, so I meandered over to the Craft Services table for breakfast grazing. Note: Craft Services is like Wolfgang Pucks on set. It’s the best place to be. Suddenly I’m radioed on the walkie. There’s an emergency (everything is always an emergency on set). A crew member was accidentally left behind. Mission: Go back to LA and retrieve missing crew member. Yes, LA’s morning rush hour traffic.

10 am. I arrive back on set with the missing crew member and a new appreciation for LA's morning rush hour traffic. A few things are unloaded from the trucks but everyone seems to be hanging around. Coffee and cigarettes. Must be a long breakfast. Then we see it: a 7 series jet black BMW makes its way down the dirt road. The director has arrived. At once everyone is up and set in to action. The crew spreads out: lights go up, grips are laying the cable, cameras are checked, the set is receiving its final touches, and the director’s chair stands. I’m radioed in: “Grips need an extra hand!” Who the heck are grips? “The art department is missing flour! Get flour!!” We’re in the middle of nowhere, where am I supposed to get flour? “Make sure the director has bottled sparkling water… lightly chilled!” But we only have flat water.

12:00 pm. Time for lunch. Finally, time to breathe. But wait. Talent has just arrived and talent has brought a girlfriend… who has a flight to catch out of LAX to Tokyo… in one hour. Then why bring her to set! Mission 2: Take talent’s girlfriend as fast as you can to the airport while making a quick stop by her apartment to grab her forgotten luggage. Yes, LA traffic, where rush hour never really ends.

3 pm. I arrive back on location around “Where have you been?!” Oh I don’t know. Driving model slash actress around for the past few hours. By the way, when do I get to assist in production? I walk over to the set. Wow. It’s happening. They’re in the middle of shooting. The set is beautiful. It really does look like a house. How did they put that up in a day? Everything appears to be going well except for the cat they had to pull because it refused to take direction. Crazy cat. The production coordinator motions me over and whispers in my ear, “Would you like to see how the magic happens?” She then leads me to stand right behind the director. Peering over his shoulder I watch as the tape is rolling and a commercial is made. It’s a good day.

4 pm. Another coffee break. A couple more hours of shooting where I run between set, the art department, the production trailer, juggling bottled water, wondering if this is all a hazing ritual or a potential dream come true. As the sun sets, the set comes down. That’s a wrap. I’m radioed in. Time to start loading up the trucks. No response. I’m radioed again. Heaven forbid I’m given a moment’s peace to answer nature’s call cramped in a Porto potty on the next hill over. “What’s your status?” Uh, well, I’m counting the squares of toilet paper before I form it into origami. So I act as any first time P.A. would, I respond: “Going to the bathroom.” The walkie responds: “What? Didn’t catch that?” Bowing my head in surrender, now yelling: “In the bathroom!” And silence. Nothing too embarrassing. Just exchanging potty duties from one woman to another. As I make my way back over the hill I am greeted by a standing ovation from the entire cast and crew. Little did I know, I had just announced my business on the general radio line.

10 pm. You’re on your way home from a long day’s work. Your body aches both physically and mentally. You sigh knowing that after only a few hours of sleep the adventure begins again. Then you smile at all the potential that lay ahead. With the array of people you met today each performing such diverse tasks all for one common goal, you realize that the possibilities are endless. You steer your own ship. You write your own play.

Midnight. As you drift off to sleep a warm blanket of peace envelops you for you know that tomorrow when you arise creation begins, life begins. As the sun rises…“LIGHTS!”, your eyes open…“CAMERA!”, you are the eyes in of any role you choose to play…“ACTION!”

There’s no business like show business. That’s an understatement. Working as a production assistant was a very insightful experience. I would advise anyone who is interested in pursuing a job in the film, television, or commercial industry to try a day in the life of a P.A. You truly are the ‘eyes in’ to all aspects of filmmaking. From getting your hands dirty with the grips, to flour in your hair from aiding the art department, to make-up and wardrobe, to learning the cameras, to the behind the scenes administrative work in the production trailer, to witnessing the magic eye of the director behind the camera, to watching the actors get in to character, all teams work together to create a magnificent modern work of art. Like the arms and legs of a giant squid who all function as one body spraying brilliant ink all over the screen for us to enjoy.

*A Production Assistant’s day rate typically ranges from 100 to 200 dollars depending on film or commercial, union or nonunion, etc.

To find a P.A. job one can cold call production companies directly or studio operators and ask to be directed to their production companies on the lot, or use any of the online resources such as: UTA joblist,,,, etc.

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Mad Dog said...

This sounds like a typical day on set for my people. Only I call them what they are: flunkies. Yes, yes. I know it's derogatory term, but hey we're trying to keep it real here. No illusions, right?

Julie Gray said...

Ah - I don't know if I'm crazy about that term, Doug. Everybody has to start somewhere and this is a great way to find out what really goes on on a set. Plenty of PA's wind up climbing the ladder through this experience. It's not for everybody but it's a valuable experience.

Seth Fortin said...

Yay! 599 more days to go and you can apply to the Guild!

;-) Just kidding. Seriously, I remember that first day. It was the best.

Winston said...

They shot a movie in our neighborhood where the equipment used up many of our precious parking spaces. It's an old (pre-automobile) neighborhood of townhouses so everyone parks on the street.

Neighborhood residents were to get free parking at a nearby lot. They actually had a PA standing there for a 16-hour shift, just to pay for the parking of anyone with ID that showed an address on one of the affected streets.

mad dog said...

Julie, you've obviously never worked for Scott Rudin. I have, (first as I writer, then director--both times I got fired at least three times in the same week) and the term flunkie would be welcomed if it ever came out of his mouth. He's no Sunday picnic to work for at any level.

Oh, and BTW, it's not doug. I hope you don't screw up like taat when reading scripts.

Julie Gray said...

@ mad DOG - no, I have never worked for Rudin and thank god, from what it sounds like. Sorry to confuse you with Doug. I hate screwing up like taat ;)

E.C. Henry said...

Being a P.A. sounds like fun! At least you're in the industry.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA