All the Different Set Production Assistant Positions on a Film Set
Being a Production Assistant is way more than getting coffee for folks and telling people they can’t cross the street because they’ll ruin a shot. There are a lot of different Production Assistant positions that you can fill as a PA. They are all very different, and tackle different tasks on any production, all having their own purpose.
The Production Assistant Hierarchy
Know that Production Assistants aren’t just a bunch of newbie people to a film set. There are Production Assistant positions that require some experience, if not a lot of experience.
And there is a very distinguishable hierarchy system. In the graphic below I lay out the entire hierarchy of the Assistant Director Department, which is the department you belong to as a PA on a Union Set.
Your first day on set you will most likely start as an Additional Day Player Set Production Assistant. That’s the entry level position. You won’t be jumping in and starting as a Key PA on a Union set that’s for sure. Although, that might happen on an Indie Film Set.
Not going to lie to you. It’s the Wild West when it comes to Independent Filmmaking. You will most definitely be thrown into the fire on those sets. Which is great because you will learn a ton!
All the PA Positions
All the Production Assistant Positions below have very different responsibilities and tasks they have to get done through out their day.
Key Production Assistant
This is the leader of the Production Assistants. They are the main PA that all departments go to when they need something to get done. The Key PA is the right hand to the 1st AD. They designate Additional Production Assistants to certain areas, maybe 1st Team needs more help, or they may need to fill in for the Walkie PA for example. The Key PA assigns the Additional PAs to certain tasks.
The Key PA sets lock-ups for Additional PAs, communicate’s the progress of the day to producers, and is the main person designated to communicate with the Transportation Department. They also help train new PAs that come on to set.
Walkie Production Assistant
The Walkie PA is the Right hand to the Key PA. They are responsible for all walkies a production uses. The Walkie PA trouble shoots walkie issues, and communicates for the Director and Director of Photography to the Assistant Director team. They also fill in for the Key PA when needed. All their responsibilities are discussed in the video below.
Paperwork Production Assistant (NYC only)
This is a very unique position that only occurs in the NYC area. They handle all the paperwork that is handed in to the office from the crew on set. Yes, that means crew members’ time cards! They directly effect everyone getting paid. They count the line at lunch time, and make sure everyone knows the back in time to get back to set after lunch. All Paperwork PA responsibilities are laid out in the video below.
1st Team Production Assistant
The 1st Team PAs help manage all the actors on set. They are a team of PAs that help move the actor through their day. From getting them camera ready in Hair, Make-up, and Wardrobe, to assisting them on set from where they need to go, what the shot is, getting them anything they might need (because they can’t leave set all the time,) and making sure they know when they are needed on set, and when they are done for the day. The video below maps out all the responsibilities of the 1st Team Production Assistant Positions.
Background Production Assistant
The Background Production Assistants are a team of PAs that manage all the Background Actors (or extras.) They make sure they get camera ready for the scenes they are needed in. They also help the Assistant Directors to set the background within the scene. Meaning they help place them in the frame, and cue the background when the camera is rolling. They also help give emotional or performance direction to the Background actors. The responsibilities of the Background Production Assistant positions are below.
Additional Production Assistant
This is your entry level position. This is for the new folks to a set. It’s where you learn all the basics. You would be doing this first before you get to any of the other Production Assistant Positions above. In this position your main bread and butter is going to be doing a lock-up. Yes, this is also the position where you’d be going on that coffee run.
This is also a great position to learn all the other positions because one day you might be helping the 1st Team PAs, but the next you might be helping the Background PAs. In this position you could be on many different shows any given week. The nitty gritty of being an Additional PA is in the video below.
Let’s Help Each Other Out!
All these videos above dive deep into each position and it’s the closest you can come to training for these positions without actually doing them. I hope they help, and if you happen to know anything I may have forgotten please comment below! I would love any added information to help the community of Production Assistants.
If you are in Los Angeles or Atlanta please add your experience as a PA below. We tend to do things differently in NYC. If you would like the entire playlist to the Production Assistant series get that here.
Have any questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here!