Let’s admit it: production assistant duties can be an important part to a film, TV or commercial shoot.

But, if you’re a producer, it can get overwhelming to hire, manage and ramp up PA’s from scratch on every shoot.

In this post, we’ll provide you with a definitive guide for hiring and working with production assistants of all skill sets, levels, and types. We’ll provide tips on how to properly vet and position PA’s in the right departments, and how to ramp them up FAST, saving you valuable time.

And as a bonus, we’ll give you our Free Production Assistant Duties Checklist for you to share with your newly hired P.A.’s on their first day. Believe us, this checklist will save you a ton of time.

This is The Ultimate Producer’s Guide to Production Assistants. Let’s dive in.

01

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOBS

GETTING STARTED AS A PA

Types of Production Assistants Jobs

There are many types of production assistant duties. Each department on a film or television set can have its own P.A.’s. 

However, P.A.’s generally break-down into three different categories:

  1. Field P.A’.s
  2. Office P.A.’s
  3. Post-Production P.A.’s.

What is a Field Production Assistant?

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Field Production Assistant definition

An on-set, or field P.A., is an entry-level role that supports a film, television show or commercial’s physical production.  A field production assistant duties can change each day, but in general, they serve as support staff for the on-set team-- responding to any task that is needed, no matter how trivial.

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Their responsibilities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Picking up and dropping off equipment
  • Driving talent and crew
  • Supporting crew members on set through menial tasks
  • Preparing and packing items
  • Completing basic paperwork
  • Blocking off the set from the public
  • Cleaning the set

What is a Office Production Assistant?

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Office Production Assistant definition

An office P.A. is an entry-level position in the production office of a film, television show or commercial. An office P.A. supports a film’s production from a clerical standpoint-- handling paperwork, phone calls inquiries, and picking-up / dropping-off items. Office P.A.’s are also commonly involved in supporting a production’s writer’s room.

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The key production assistant duties of an office P.A. include, but are not limited to:

  • Answering phones
  • Keeping craft services and the kitchen clean
  • Making script pages containing scenes to be shot
  • Going on production “runs”
  • Assisting in the writer’s room

What's a Post-Production Assistant?

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Post Production Assistant definition

A post-production assistant is an entry-level position in the post-production office of a film, television show or commercial. The post P.A. supports a film’s post-production operations by supporting editors and post-production producers by helping to make sure editing operations are smooth and organized. In general, post-production assistants are responsible for keeping footage and the post-production facility organized. 

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The key responsibilities of a post-production assistant may include, but are not limited to:

  • Organizing and grouping footage
  • Keeping the edit room and edit bays organized
  • Managing hard drives and providing them to staff members when needed
  • Scrubbing through shot footage and looking for usable pieces of content
  • Supporting post-production staff with any tasks or requirements that are needed

Now that we’re refreshed on the different production assistant duties, let’s take a look at how we can optimize hiring for these roles…but first:

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BONUS

Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Cheatsheet

Don’t have time to explain the basics to your new PA’s? Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure your P.A.’s hit the ground running. (includes bonus content not in the post).

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How to Become a Better Production Assistant on Set

02

How to find and hire production assistants

Where to find and hire PA's

Hiring a stellar person with the right production assistant duties can be difficult.

PA’s can vary in skill-set, knowledge and attitude...

...As with any job, it can be tricky to determine someone’s true work habits until the first day; and unfortunately, on a film or television set, there isn’t time for a detailed training process.

However, there are certain tactics that you can use to help you find the P.A. that will meet your needs.

Hiring Production Assistants 2.1
Hire by word-of-mouth

One of the oldest tropes in Hollywood is:

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

This is especially true when hiring your production’s foot soldiers.

Referrals, or word of mouth, means that you don’t have to do the groundwork that someone has already done.

A.K.A saving you the precious time of vetting someone on set.

Trust those you have worked with before to be a good judge of character. Additionally, your friend or colleagues knows the qualities you like (or need) in a PA.

Word of mouth is a sure-fire way to find someone with the production assistant duties that you need.

Hiring Production Assistants 2.2
Post your production assistant jobs on entertainment career websites

Entertainment-based job listing sites can be great resources to find skilled P.A.’s.

Two of the more popular national sites are ProductionBeast and EntertainmentCareers.

On both of these sites, production managers can post open production assistant jobs from anywhere in the country for free.

For example:

If you are based in New York City, but need a P.A. in New Orleans, you can post a job listing for New Orleans so you will have PA support once production commences.

ProductionBeast is a one-stop shop to post jobs and discover vetted video professionals, encapsulated in a user-friendly and polished interface.

Employers can post jobs for free, message and hire the best industry pros, shortlist people and manage their database of contacts.

ProductionBeast’s user-friendly interface makes it simple for producer’s to find and hire production assistants (as well as other positions) saving time and money.

Production Assistant Duties and Description - Job Search

Sites like ProductionBeast provide production assistant resumes for employers looking to hire

Furthermore, employers can look at production assistant duties, their recommendations, and their desired role and salary, so you have a much better idea of who you’re hiring.

Moreover ProductionBeast gives employers the opportunity to feature their job listing if they so choose, making their post stand out from the crowd. Nice option if you need to hire ASAP.

Like ProductionBeast, EntertainmentCareers also makes it easy for producers to find the production assistant duties they are looking for, saving time and money.

EntertainmentCareers boasts thousands of employers, fresh postings, exclusive listings, a 19-year track record and job seeker tools.

Production Assistant Duties and Description - Job Search 2

Entertainmentcareers.net is a place for production assistants to look for work and also see production assistant salaries.

EntertainmentCareers can also be used as a competitive tool to look at other managers’ postings and how to replicate them. As well as look at production assistant salaries and the going rate.

Hiring Production Assistant Tip 2.3
Hire production assistants out of college

Here’s the deal:

Most cities that are hotbeds for production (NYC, LA, New Orleans) and are home to many film schools.

Students in film programs are almost always looking for production work...

...And these are generally bright and eager individuals.

So.. how do you find them and reach-out to film students in regards to working as production assistants?

Many universities have digital job boards that allow external parties to post on.

For example, let’s take a look at USC’s Cinematic job board, where students can login to see film and television production roles.

Production Assistant Duties and Description - Job Board

USC’s career website where PA film jobs can be sourced.

If you are looking for a skilled production assistant that can handle production assistant duties in the Los Angeles area, this job board is probably one of the best places to start.

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BONUS

Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Cheatsheet

Don’t have time to explain the basics to your new PA’s? Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure your P.A.’s hit the ground running. (includes bonus content not in the post).

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03

Production Assistant Duties

Always keep these in mind

Production Assistant Duties 3.1
Make sure the PA is actually available

The most important duty of a P.A. in any department is to be available, whether on set, in the office or on the road.

Producers must understand that the PA is the support system of the department to which they are assigned.

Make sure that the PA knows when, and where, they are most needed on set, as there is always something to do. 

Production Assistant Duties 3.2
Be empathetic with PA's

There’s a temptation to ask a PA to do anything and everything on set. Just be cognizant that if a PA is being pulled in several different directions for too long, they may start feeling overwhelmed. This means their morale and quality of work will suffer.

Also…

Don’t overwork your P.A.’s.

A P.A. that is overworked will not be beneficial to you in the long run as they will not complete their tasks efficiently.

Besides, everyone deserves a bit of empathy.  After three hours on the freeway, don’t send the same PA on a coffee run; choose a different PA. Being on set is a big part of the experience for many PA’s, and it won’t feel like work after completing off-site errands.

Production Assistant Duties 3.3
Familiarize them with their department

Each department has its own needs, and those needs can vary wildly.

As a producer, you must ensure that the P.A. is familiarized with their department’s requirements.

The set is a learning environment for a P.A., but a basic up-front knowledge of specialized positions is essential to hit the ground running.

If they’re not versed in a department, be prepared to have someone ramp them up.

Luckily, we made this easy with the following printable Production Assistant Duties Checklist. So you can just print it out, hand it to them, and save a bunch of ramp up time.

Production Assistant Duties 3.4
Find your production assistant's niche

There are so many specific talents and crafts on a film set.  There’s something for everyone.

When hiring a PA, you need to assess if they can actually execute their production assistant duties well.

How?

Talk to them.

Ask them if they prefer being in a production office environment or the hustle and bustle of a film set. They may even indicate they’re more interested in being around editors.

This indicates what kind of responsibilities the P.A. gravitates towards and where their natural strengths lie. If you position a PA in the correct department, they’ll execute better, and require less oversight.

For example:

Does your P.A. have have strong attention to detail? Then they should shadow the script supervisor.

Just bear these two things in mind:

  1. Every producer started as a P.A. (unless they had an uncle running a studio lot).
  2. Very few P.A.’s are certain of what they want to do. It’s your responsibility to help them find the right home on a production.
  3. What drew you to your calling is not so different from what will draw your P.A.. Maybe one day their eyes will light up at the idea of completing a budget!

While we’re at it...

Rotate the PA’s in the office or on set in the early days. You will get feedback from the crew pretty quickly on who should be placed where.

Finally, because your PA is glad to be there they will give clues to the positions they’re most comfortable around.  

Production Assistant Duties 3.5
Make meal time a priority

If you want to see what your PA is made of, test them with this simple but very important responsibility: 

Meals.

Coffee orders, meal orders or making the rounds for craft services is a great way to get a sense of how a PA works and with which department they are best suited.  

Taking food orders for a large crowd can be challenging. Hungry (hangry?) on-set crew and talent may have their own needs and special requests.

This is where the best PAs become your on-set diplomats.

Production Assistant Duties 3.6
Equipment wrangling and maintenance

Just as important as getting lunch orders is equipment knowledge, handling, and pickups from rental houses.

Make sure that your PA has access to the proper vehicle for the type of gear they are responsible for transporting.

Uber and Lyft are great, but will not work for a P.A. as the liability of loss and damage becomes a major concern.  Also, time is of the essence on any set, and production cannot afford to wait for surge pricing to end.

Save yourself some time and headache and make sure you hire a P.A. with a car.

Equipment responsibilities vary by department and range from charging batteries for walkies to clearing a copier jam.

Production Assistant Duties 3.7
Handle paperwork carefully

Whether dealing with time cards, call sheet distribution, script sides, DPRs or DOODs, a PA is responsible for confidential documents moving around the set in a respectful manner.

You’ll need someone that is thorough and diligent with paperwork for both crew and talent.  

There are financial risks that can haunt the production team if the work is not done properly by an attentive Production Assistant, which will cost you time instead of saving it.

Production Assistant Duties 3.8
Transportation of deliverables

Here’s a nightmare scenario:

DIT hands the hard drive for the day’s footage to a PA to deliver to the colorist immediately:

The PA stops to pick up a bag of magnets for the Art Department and lays them right on top of the drive.  An hour later, the colorist calls to say your hard drive is blank.

This scenario goes back to Section 3.2:  Familiarize your PA with their department.

Only a camera PA with experience would know that hard drives and magnets don’t like each other.

The producer must make sure that the PA has enough experience to know what they are handling. Double check with the department head to make sure the PA doing the delivery is capable.

Save yourself some time and make sure that you’re aware of your P.A.’s skills and knowledge.

On the first day, make sure you get clear and honest answers from your P.A. about what they don’t know.

Production Assistant Duties 3.9
Post-production P.A.'s are still P.A.'s

The protocol for post-production assistant duties is no different and should be treated as an extension of the department, not a VIP with a special pass that strolls around set.

There are many different post-production positions whether for editing, sound, music or publicity.

But remember:

All of the points discussed in this article still apply to them.

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BONUS

Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Cheatsheet

Don’t have time to explain the basics to your new PA’s? Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure your P.A.’s hit the ground running. (includes bonus content not in the post).

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04

Production Assistant Duties do's and don'ts

Everything you need to know about PA's

You may have high expectations for your production assistant duties...

...and you should.

In order to get the most out of your production assistant, make sure that you clearly communicate your expectations.

Here’s how to do that:

Provide your P.A.’s with a list of guidelines on their first day.

Make sure they understand the best practices for their role, and what can be expected of them.  Read more for examples of P.A. Do’s and Don’ts sourced from our free Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Production Assistant’s guidelines.

PA DO'S & DON'Ts 4.1
Do: Answer the phone

If the production phone is ringing, it is your P.A.’s job to answer it. They should try to grab it on the first ring. They shouldn’t wait around for somebody else to answer it. An endlessly ringing phone will drive everyone crazy.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.2
Do: Learn names

The chief production assistant duty is to learn everyone’s name.  The director, talent and all the key department heads will be on and off set.  It is important that the P.A.s know who everyone is and what they do. From handling calls to making coffee runs, knowing who everyone is will make any task and any set run much more smoothly.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.3
Do: Keep the work area clean and stocked

A clean environment is one of the production assistant duties.They should check out the kitchen throughout the day and clean-off the food table and counters. They should wash dishes. They should keep an inventory of the supplies. This is doubly true on set.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.4
Do: Always be on the move

Even if their immediate task is done, a P.A. should be looking for something to keep busy.  One of the most valuable production assistant duties is to anticipate what’s needed next. Even at the end of the day, when the last shot is finally mounted, a PA can begin a trash sweep, collect paperwork or ask ‘How to wrap out more quickly?’

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.5
Do: Always ask questions

Most crew members take pride in the work they are doing. The questions your P.A. asks shows that they respect what’s being done. This is beneficial to learning about on set operations. It also helps them find their passion in the film business. Let them know, it will open doors to future work if they’re asked to lend a hand in getting things done.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.6
Don't: Be late

The LA fifteen minute rule doesn’t apply in production.  Most positions on set don’t get a grace period ever. In reality, if someone is late, they don’t get hired again.  The P.A.s should be first to arrive and last to leave. Let them know that there are no second chances, even if you give them one.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.7
Don't: Be Idle

There is always something to do on set.  Whether doing a trash sweep or asking if anyone would like you to do a coffee run, the P.A. should always be doing something.  The worst thing is to see someone else breaking a sweat, while someone else stands idly by. Make sure your P.A. knows that phones are to be used for work while working.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.8
Don't: Give out contact info for cast...ever

One of the major production assistant duties is confidentiality. Confidentiality is paramount on set.  Sometimes an NDA is required. But, even if they don’t sign anything, personal information, including anything on the call sheets, time sheets and even the script, is CONFIDENTIAL.

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.9
Don't: Do a job that isn't theirs

Many an eager P.A. are looking for the opportunity to join a department or pick up the next gig.  But, one of the worst things can be accidentally doing a job that they shouldn't be. Union rules often dictate who can do what on set (i.e. P.A.s shouldn’t touch those cable unless they know what to do with them and are specifically told to do it).

PA DO's and DON'TS 4.10
Don't: Offer unsolicited advice

Everyone has an opinion, but sometimes it’s better to listen and let more qualified staff offer theirs first. People will ask for your input when the time is right. A trick that you can use is to ask yourself “does it need to be said by me?” before commenting on a situation or event.

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BONUS

Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Cheatsheet

Don’t have time to explain the basics to your new PA’s? Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure your P.A.’s hit the ground running. (includes bonus content not in the post).

email-list
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05

Additional Resources

Even more information on PA's

Production Assistant Resources 5.1
Walkie Talkie Lingo Everyone On-Set Should Know

What’s your 20? What does 10-4 mean? Bogey. A walkie-talkie is a powerful tool on a film set to communicate your production assistant duties to your P.A. But, it’s nothing unless you and they know the walkie-talkie lingo. Get them onboarded faster with these walkie talkie guidelines.

Production Assistant Resources 5.2
The Anatomy of a Call Sheet

Once your PA’s prove that they are an asset, something that you may want them to help with is creating your call sheets. Use this video to train them on call sheet basics so that they get it right on the first try.

Production Assistant Resources 5.3
What is a Shooting Schedule?

It’s no secret that shooting schedules are an integral part of the filmmaking process. In this post, we’ll walk you through how they are created and provide you with out free shooting schedule template.

Final words
Wrapping up

Any guideline for production assistants duties are not absolute.

It is the savvy producer who can take these guidelines and incorporate them into their natural workflow.

Some of the greatest filmmakers started as production assistants, and some of them even go through an extensive PA bootcamp.

Yes, James Cameron, Kathleen Kennedy and Paul Thomas Anderson were all once P.A.’s.  Someone like you hired someone like them.

You get to watch artists and craftsmen grow and evolve into indispensable staff and crew.

Just remember the key to production assistant duties:

Be clear about your expectations from the beginning.

Want to know an easy way to do this?

Distribute our simple do’s and don’ts guidelines to your P.A.’s by entering your email above so your team hits the ground running on day 1.

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