What it Takes to “Make it” on a Film Set
Ok-Ok the title of this post is a bit too much…I know. It should be how to be a great effin PA on set! Being on a film set everyday Monday to Friday, I’ve seen a lot of PA’s come and go. It’s so sad! Or maybe the real title of this post should be “Nothing is Guaranteed When it Comes to Film.” I say that because a lot of PA’s were promised they would be staffed (work everyday) on this new show till February of 2019, and were just up and fired. So, how do you avoid this? How do you do a great job without living in fear that you’ll be fired and looking for your next gig? I think it’s simple. But when you really break it down it’s really not. Everyday, people who work in film toe the line. Are they doing a good job? Did they fuck up today? If a mistake happens and you cost the production money are you going to get booted? It’s not even as simple as being good at your job. It helps! Trust me, it helps. It’s not even just being likable either. Which also helps. If you aren’t likable, and not good at your job you might (will) be getting fired.
When you start out as an Additional PA/Day player, there’s always this fear or anxiety that’s in your head, “Am I on tomorrow?” Will you be asked back tomorrow. Did you make the cut? You wonder where you fall in the line. If they cut their count of Additional PA’s are you on that list? There will be some PA’s that might not have this in their head. They might not have to pay rent, or maybe they just have a much more positive outlook on life? I don’t know. Most PA’s want to work. They want the day. They want to learn. They want to be on set(or at least close to set) They want to be ADs or Producers, or even Directors start out as PA’s. THEY WANT TO BE THERE! There are some PA’s that don’t give a shit if they’re on the next day. Maybe they have super high confidence. But that can really come back to bite you in the worst way. Sometimes stupid mistakes get your fired/not asked back. Sometimes you really cant avoid it. Everyone, and I do mean everyone will have a job where you just weren’t asked back and you’ll never even know why that was. So let’s try to set you up for as much success as possible!
Ok getting down to the nitty gritty. What does it take to “Make-It” on a film set and actually get them to want you on everyday they shoot?
1. Wanting to be there!
This may seem really dumb, but people can smell it on you if you’re miserable. They can tell if you hate what you’re doing, or if you just don’t want to be there. If you don’t want to be there you most likely wont be coming back. There are some peeps out there that will just say it loud and proud that they are just trying to collect a pay check. No one likes to hear this. AD’s – you better hope they don’t hear you say that. As an AD I want PA’s that want to be AD’s down the line. I really like PA’s that want to be there. If you think that being a PA wont get you to your dream of being a Director, or if you can not see that you are learning just being there you are very wrong, and looking at this the wrong way.
2. Sit Down, Be Humble.
Never act like you are better than anyone or anything. You better stay humble af. Once you act like something is beneath you, people tend to want to knock you down. Be down to do anything. Never be above wanting to cater to someone. That whole getting a coffee for someone-it goes a hell of a long way. As an AD there are rare moments that I can actually leave set to get anything for myself. I need coffee! Especially at hour 10 or 11. If you as a PA come up to me and ask me if I need anything, a coffee maybe? – I will love you forever. You are directly helping me get through the day! Production needs the ADs to be focused and to be 100% the whole day. So, when Im a PA on union sets I will gladly get that AD coffee. Coffee is life on set!
3. Learn from Mistakes.
I would say that most sets will teach PAs what to do when they fuck up. It happens – you’ll fuck up. That’s ok. But make sure you learn from them! like- why are you there? you’re there to fuck up and and learn from it. There’s nothing worse than a PA that just doesn’t pick it up, or just doesn’t get it. How many times do you expect the Key PA or ADs to correct the same mistake you made before they get tired of it. It’s all about making it easier on the people above you. The less they have to worry about you the better you look, and the more days they will have you on. It’s about trust. Can they trust you? If you learn from your mistakes you’ll start to build that trust.
4. Don’t be Annoying.
This is a hard one but man look for the social cues. Don’t talk too much. Don’t ask your hire-ups too many questions. Don’t call them multiple times for shit you can problem solve yourself. Unless it’s something you know you can not authorize, you should be able to handle it. Like breakfast orders, as a PA you will take a breakfast order. You have two chances to understand the order. 2! ONLY2. I’ve seen this happen a PA kept asking multiple times about the simplest order. Now that PA no longer works on that show. Im not saying that to scare you. This PA was like that about EVERYTHING. Just could not grasp anything quickly. Like how many times do you need to confirm something? More than twice- start to worry about your job. I mean the Key PA might as well just grabbed the order themselves at that point ya know. Remember you’re there to make things easier not harder.
5. Have a Good attitude.
I know you get paid shit as a PA, but you have film dreams, right? Well being a PA is how to get there. I have this thing where I tell people who want to be Directors: “If you want to be a director make short films with your friends. Build from there. Direct. start small and keep growing.” BUT! Being a PA will help you learn how a set operates. So, I add to my advice to aspiring Directors, be a PA first for a few months. Hell, let’s call it a year! Everyone on set is stressed and in a shit attitude – don’t be added to the bunch. PA’s with a good/ better attitude usually get a little farther, quicker. No one wants to deal with an asshole PA. You’re not paid enough to be an asshole. No one should be an asshole, but with zero to little sleep, long hours, and production stress really tests the limits of personality. Give crew a break. So, be nice(but confident), ask for things(don’t demand), go out of the way for people, and have a damn smile on your face while doing that damn Lock-Up you hate so much!
6. Pay Attention!
This one is a a huge one, and for EVERYONE on a film set. For the love of pie just pay-the fuck-attention. First of all for safety, we do crazy shit on film sets. Secondly to know what the hell is going on. What scene are we on? What actor is needed? Are we moving on? Did we cut a scene? Did we add a scene? Where is the set? Did we change locations? Did the director leave the set, and where did she or he go?(This one the ADs need to know, not crew.) All of this stuff you need to make sure you know, and tell it to crew members who are not on channel 1 or in ear-shot of the ADs. PAs are there for communication. Once you are not a good communication device you will find yourself fired.
7. Stay Calm in Stressful Situations.
This one is a developed skill for sure. Don’t mistake this for being “chill.” A lot of people mistake chill for not caring. It’s actually difficult to show you care about something that went wrong, and being calm at the same time. So, good luck!
But really you have to be able to handle a lot of things thrown at you and you have to be able to execute these things without getting too flustered. I know a lot of PAs that are great, but once they have to call casting, there’s a costumer in their face, and 20 BG (background actors) asking questions, and AD asking “Why aren’t the Stand-ins on set?” they break down and cant handle it. They start to stress out and then things really become a mess. It takes practice to be able to keep cool when the cards get stacked against you. Take it one step at a time. Write things down so you don’t forget something someone told you to do after you had to do XYZ. If something does go wrong. Apologize, give your self a small beating than say you will correct it for next time.
8. JUST SAY “COPY.”
I had this problem. It takes everything for me just to say “Copy” when I was just had my ass handed to me in some way. I just want to tell them why XYZ happened the way it did. Well folks – you can’t! You just have to bite your tongue and say copy. It takes so much discipline! You will just want to defend yourself. Even if it was someone else’s fault. You have to just say “copy.” The AD doesn’t give a fuck about why such and such happened when they are about to roll. In 3 or 4 hours when lunch comes around or maybe the next day if it’s still on your mind tell them one-on-one. BUT! By then it wont even matter to them(they most likely won’t even remember) or you cause you both have a ton of brand new shit to address. Sometimes you will get vindication. The person will step up and say “Yo, that was my fault, and I copy.” Which saves you, but that is like 1% of the time. Until then hold that shit in and JUST SAY COPY!
9. You just weren’t liked
This one! This one is just unfair in the worst way. You can’t even do anything about this one. If you are just being you, and you’re just not liked by whoever hired you, there’s nothing you can do about it. I put this one because it is a real thing. People have not been asked back just because they don’t mesh well with folks. It happens. And it might have been that they just didn’t get to know you enough. Don’t beat yourself up for this one. It can happen. Im sorry. I sincerely apologize to you if this happens to you. It sucks. Don’t give up. Not everyone is going to like you. So, just move on to your next gig. This definitely happened to me. I was a hella introvert on set and very quiet. No one really got to know me. So, I wondered what was the perception people had of me? I asked people what their first impression was of me when they met me. It was extremely eye-opening. (Ask folks who are your friends who will be honest with you!) I figured out what it was about me that really turned people off. I figured out what people loved about me. I worked with my strengths. I used humor and my goofiness. I had the ability to make people laugh! Also my concern for things and that fact that I just cared was my other strength. You’ll be surprised how many people just do not give a shit. So, focus on what’s great about you and show people that! Get around that whole “not liked” bullshit.
So that’t it. thats the best damn advice I think I could give someone pretty new to set.
Good luck and Godspeed my film friends!