Production Assistant Duties - The Definitive Guide for PAs - Hero

Production assistants are integral to a shoot whether it’s for a film, TV show, music video, or commercial, but it’s hard to learn an entry level job when you can’t get your foot in the door. You may be looking to book your first PA gig, or you’ve already had a few production assistant jobs but you haven’t been able to get steady production work. In this post, we’ve created a handbook with production assistant duties, and we’ll take you through everything a PA needs to know during their time on set, in the office, and in the editing suite.

Watch: A Day in the Life of a Production Assistant

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1

Types of Production Assistants

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOB DESCRIPTIONS

1.1 Production Assistant Duties

Various Production Assistant Jobs

There are many types of production assistants. Additionally, each department on a film or television set can have its own PAs. 

However, PA’s are generally broken down into three different categories: 

  1. Set PA
  2. Office PA
  3. Post-Production PA

On set, there will often be a Lead PA (Key PA). These are more than likely PA’s who have been working for a while with the production team or have a good amount of previous experience on similar or larger sets.

Lead PA’s may be tasked with coordinating production assistants with less experience, and may even hire the PAs for the remaining work days.

There also may be a second-second AD, which is sort of like a PA who has sort of evolved into an AD… like a Pokemon or Super Shredder.  

Did You Know?

One of Quentin Tarantino's earliest gigs was as a production assistant on a Dolph Lundgren workout video.

You also have Truck PAs, which are production assistants who’ve been tasked with driving a production cube (truck) to set. 

Production cubes have their own set of rules, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with tie-downs, walkie storage, and the freeway system near you because sometimes trucks are not allowed on certain freeway passages due to traffic/clearance concerns.

If you’re driving a production cube, and you get a traffic ticket for going on a restricted freeway, production will NOT pay for the ticket. 

You may be picking up the camera on a day prior to the set day, and in this case you will often need to wait around a camera house for the insurance and payment to clear, then load the very expensive camera and lenses onto the truck and store them so they are protected.

You may be sent to pick up a dolly and dolly track as well, and these pieces of equipment are extremely heavy and will require you to use the truck’s lift-gate, controlled via wired remote on the rear of the truck.

DO NOT roll a dolly off the truck with the lift-gate down, or push the dolly, or the track weights too far forward. If you do this, and it slides off the edge of the lift-gate, immediately let go and scream out “MOVE”. 

If you don’t let go of the dolly, you will be flung from the platform like a pancake, and in less than a second you will DIE… I’m not joking.

Still want to learn the production assistant duties? Great!

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Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Checklist

Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure you hit the ground running. (includes bonus content not in the post).

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1.2 WHAT IS A PA IN FILM?

What is a Set Production Assistant?

A set PA, or field PA, supports the physical production. A set PA’s duties can change each day, but in general, they're support staff for the on-set team — carrying out tasks for the production team first and foremost.

Set production assistant duties often include:

  • Transporting equipment
  • Driving talent and crew
  • Supporting crew members on set
  • Preparing and packing items
  • Handling production paperwork
  • Protecting the set from the public (lock down)
  • Cleaning the set and emptying trash cans

1.3 FILM PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOBS

What is an Office Production Assistant?

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

Office production assistant duties often include:

  • Handling phones
  • Maintaining craft services/kitchen area
  • Spinning off script sides
  • Going on supply runs
  • Calling locations and vendors

1.4  POST-PRODUCTION ASSISTANT JOB DESCRIPTION

What is a Post-Production Assistant?

A post-production assistant is an entry-level position in the post-production office of a film, television show or commercial. 

The post PA 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. 

Post-production assistant duties often include:

  • Organizing and grouping footage
  • Keeping the edit bays organized
  • Managing hard drives (no magnets)
  • Scrubbing through shot footage
  • Supporting post-production staff
  • Going on supply runs
  • 1.5 WHAT DO PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS DO?

    Considerations for a being a Set PA

    If you’re a set PA, this means your main job is to support the production department (unit production manager, production coordinator, lead PA, 1st AD, 2nd AD, 2nd-2nd AD, and producers).

    Your job is to support them, and their job is to keep the set safe and secure, to make sure union and employment are adhered to, and to ensure the production stays on track so everyone leaves on time.

    There will be times where the wardrobe and make-up department will ask you to carry their clothes and wardrobe racks to their car, or make-up will ask you to carry something, or maybe even crafty.

    You can help them out, but remember that your job is to support the production team, and while everything is technically part of the production, if the AD or production manager asks you to do something urgent and you're helping a department that may already have their own PA, you might have to bail on them to go on a supply run.

1.6 WHAT DOES A PA DO?

What should you bring to set?

You’ve just been hired as a set PA. Nice job! You’ve got gas in your car, right? You’re prepared to eat your own personal breakfast in the morning, right? And you’re ready to arrive fifteen minutes early, right?

Good on ya.

The chance that you’ll be carrying ladders, dirtying your clothes, and handling trash bags is pretty high, so don’t bust out the dancing shoes.

Often, sets will be on outdoor ranches or in areas with oil spots. It may rain, or snow, or be windy, or the production is faking all three, so your clothing should be able to deal with inclement weather and conditions. 

Here’s what you absolutely need to bring:

TENNIS SHOES / HIKING SHOES

I’d suggest your old pair of shoes rather than your mint condition Air Force 1s. Hiking shoes are good for outdoors, but also good because they have a stronger toe than say a pair of Vans.

TEE SHIRT & WEATHER PROOF JACKET

You’ll often see PA’s, grips, and other production crew wearing ‘crew shirts’ from previous productions, and they are always tee shirts, predominantly black, and act as a reminder of a crew member’s experience. You may not have one, but try to emulate this style. 

Even if it’s summer time, you’ll want to have a jacket on stand-by, but don't bring your sports jacket or your slick Navy peacoat. 

CARGO SHORTS / WORK PANTS

Cargo shorts are great because you have extra pockets and will allow you to carry things securely in those pockets. They’re also durable, and good in hot weather. Similarly, work denim and cargo pants are a good idea for the colder days. Bring a belt as well so you can hang your walkie.

BACK UP CLOTHING

It may rain or be muddy on the outdoor set. This is way more likely than a normal day job, so bring something just in case. It’s better to have it, and not need it rather than need it, and not have it. 

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PHONE CHARGER & BACK PACK

We live in the digital age, so your phone will be one of the most important things on set — especially as a PA. Make sure to keep it on vibrate so that it doesn’t ruin a take. If the battery dies… that’s not good. 

There will be times when you need GPS for directions, so make sure the phone is fully charged the night before and bring your charger.

PEN AND NOTEBOOK

If you’re the PA who will be going on runs, taking coffee orders, or maybe even lunch orders, you will need to have a pen and notebook. If you bring your own from home, production will be impressed. 

LIGHTER & CIGARETTES

We know… why would we promote smoking? We don’t, but people smoke on set, and it’s a great icebreaker. You might make connections or have opportunities to chat with folks because you have these things. 

Lighters probably won’t be necessary on set, and in many cases they should stay in your pocket due to fire hazards, but there will be times where you want to have it just in case — mostly for cigarettes. 

MULTI-TOOL & ZIP TIES

A multi-tool is like a Swiss Army knife on steroids, and they are great for quick fixes and can help you stand out from the other PAs. Zip ties are great for the same reasons, and while they’re less necessary than the multi-tool, they will come in handy more often than you might think.

multi-tool production assistant duties - studiobinder

Example of a multi-tool for PA jobs

CARGO SHORTS / WORK PANTS

Cargo shorts are great because you have extra pockets and will allow you to carry things securely in those pockets. They’re also durable, and good in hot weather. Similarly, work denim and cargo pants are a good idea for the colder days. Bring a belt as well so you can hang your walkie.

WALKIE TALKIE EARPIECE (SURVEILLANCE)

On professional sets, these will be provided with the walkie set that the production rents from an equipment rental house, but some sets may not have the budget for a professional walkie set rental.

This is where you’ll have something the other PA’s don’t and this will allow you to keep open walkie lines from ruining a take. Everyone needs to be completely silent when shooting… so don’t be the person who isn’t. 

SUNSCREEN, SUN HAT, & SUNGLASSES

Set days can go anywhere from 8 to 20 hours. This sounds like a joke, but it’s absolutely true, and if you’re in the sun for an extended period you will not only burn, but you won’t be able to perform your duties the next day.

Also, suggest to the producer that you scoop up some spray on sunscreen and ask the crew (when appropriate) if they need a spritz. Bring a towel as well so the camera team and grips can wipe their hands.

1.7 WHAT DOES A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT DO?

Learn the anatomy of a call sheet

Call sheets will be sent to you the night before the shoot, and this document will have every piece of important information present, so study the call sheet and find your call time (when you report to work).

Call sheet essentials

Also, there will be at least two addresses on the call sheet:

  • Set location address
  • Nearby hospital address
  • Production office (possibly)

If you don’t study the call sheet, and you arrive fifteen minutes early to the nearby hospital, you’ll be pretty disappointed in yourself. 

Arrive fifteen minutes early to the production office, and there is a 90% chance you won’t make it to set… which increases your chance of being asked to not come to set at all. It’s not personal… it’s business.

Call sheets will often have information about the days events as well, so see what you can learn about the next day from your call sheet.

2

Production Assistant Duties 

WHAT DOES A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT DO?

2.1 What Does a Movie PA Do?

Learn On-Set Walkie Talkie Lingo

Walkie talkies are the most important tool you’ll use on set because they’re used to communicate quickly and expedite tasks. Walkie etiquette is kind of a big deal; if it were a person it would have many leather bound books and furniture made of oak.

Walkie talkies have multiple channels, and often each department will have its own dedicated channel.

Here are the common assignments:

  • Channel 1 — Production (You)
  • Channel 2 — Open, for one-on-one conversation
  • Channel 3 — Transportation
  • Channel 4 — Open, for one-on-one conversation
  • Channel 5 — Open, for one-on-one conversation
  • Channel 6 — Camera
  • Channel 7 — Electric
  • Channel 8 — Grip

There are even situations where multiple crews are nearby one another, like say on the backlot, so make sure the frequencies aren’t mixing.

Sound mixers will also need to keep this in mind, since their lav mics can often mix in with walkie talkies. This is super ‘in the weeds’ but it’s the type of knowledge that is good to keep in mind just in case.

Walkies aren’t your private landline, they’re one of the most serious tools on set that also happens to have the most ridiculous name.

A quick guide to walkie talkie lingo

You always want to keep extra walkie batteries on you at all times, these are known as “hot bricks.” You also will want to lock the set down while shooting, even crew shouldn’t be walking on and off set. 

Additionally, the terminology used on the walkies can often be used off walkies, so you can use many of these terms whenever appropriate.

Here’s some of the lingo: Let’s say you name is BILL. If you need to talk to someone, say, “BILL for TED.” There may be times where there are multiple people with the same name so use a last initial, crew position, or nickname (i.e., TED L.).

If someone calls you on the walkie, say, “Go for BILL.” Don’t say, “yeah” or “what’s up” or “BILL here.” There may be times where you need to move to an open channel to discuss something more complex or list off coffee orders to another PA.

If you need to go to another channel, say, “TED go to TWO.” This means you will both go to channel two on your walkies, but if you find someone else already on the channel, then either go back to ONE (hopefully TED will do the same) and move to a different open channel. 

When you need to confirm that you understand information, say, “COPY THAT.” This extends beyond just the walkies, so use this term all the time. If you need to confirm that you’re carrying out a task, say, “ON IT.”

This is used both in person but also over the walkie. If you’re performing said task, and you hear someone ask for another PA to do this over the walkie, make sure to chime in and let them know you’re mid-task: “BILL is ON IT.”

This will limit redundancies, and if it’s something you anticipated it will show initiative. However, don’t try to snake tasks from others in an attempt to impress because it will backfire and you’ll look silly. 

Steven Spielberg Best Movies - Cinematography Techniques - Featured - StudioBinder

Film production assistant jobs

If you didn’t hear information over the walkie, say, “GO AGAIN PLEASE.” Walkies don’t always work perfectly. Sometimes extras are being loud. Sometimes pyrotechnics went off and you couldn’t hear. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification, they will understand. 

If you already have a task, or need extra time, say, “STAND BY.” This will let the production know that you heard the call, but that you’re currently busy with something that will be done soon. If your task is going to take a little while, let them know with an ETA.

When you’re asking someone where they are, say, “WHAT’S YOUR 20?” This will let you know where someone is, but often someone will be asking you this question, so make sure to keep your answer brief. 

If you’re about to leave the set, or turn off your walkie, say, “GOING OFF WALKIE.” This is so that the crew knows you will be unavailable for the moment. When you’re bringing something to set, like a ladder, say, “FLYING IN.” This will let the crew know that you’re on your way, either with an item, or because they asked for a PA to get rid of something.

When you need to find something or someone, say, “EYES ON ____.” Someone might ask if anyone has eyes on the ladder, and if you see the ladder in the production cube, you can say, “BILL’s got eyes on ladder.” This way they know who has eyes on what, and most likely “flying in.”

If information needs to get to everyone quickly, they say, “SPIN THAT PLEASE.” This is where something important has changed, or the crew needs everyone to understand something, so the information is sent out.

When you need to head to the restroom, or are already inside, say, “BILL is 10-1.” This will politely let the crew know that you’re unavailable, and that you’ll be back soon, whereas “going off walkie” can be for longer. 

When the camera is rolling, everyone on set needs to be quiet and the PAs will help out by calling out, “ROLLING.” This is so that people know to be quiet and not to walk on and off set. 

Let’s talk about some ON-SET LINGO you might hear:

“POINTS” — This is what you call out whenever you are carrying something near people, specifically turning corners, walking through doors, or walking onto set — and don’t be shy to say this with some conviction. This is a safety precaution, and it lets everyone from Steven Spielberg to background actor #243 that you’re carrying something heavy, you’re moving near them, and that they need to pay attention.

“LAST MAN” — Refers to the last person to get their food at lunch, which should really be you, and marks the time you mark on your time card for lunch time. 

“BACK IN” — Lunch is now over and you will mark this time on your time card.

“VIDEO VILLAGE” — Where the production team (quite possibly you) will set out director’s chairs and monitors for a small group of filmmakers and producers to watch the footage as it’s recorded.

“HOLDING” — This is the term for the area that the background actors will stay until they’re invited to set. This is similar to a “waiting room”.

How Much Does a PA Make - Header

PA duties

“STAGING” — The area where the grip, electric, and camera department will place their equipment so that it’s not on set, but really close to set so that it’s easily accessible. 

“SIDES" — These are the pages that will be shot on the day, and most likely they will be printed out at half size and distributed to department heads and actors. 

“STINGER” — This is the name for a heavy duty extension cable, and you may receive a few on your production cube, or need to get one from the grip truck.

“FURNIE PAD” — A term for a furniture blanket, which most productions will have a ton to dampen sound or cover important items. 

“C-47” — This is the name for a clothespin, named after the versatile C-47 airplane during WWII. Possibly the lamest of all the film jargon. 

“MARTINI” — The last shot of the day, but not necessarily the last take.

If you want to learn even more about walkie talkie lingo, read our post that explains all of the walkie protocols you need to know on set. 

2.2 FILM PA DUTIES

How to do production supply runs

If you have a car (which is often a requirement for certain types of PAs) you will most likely be asked to go on some sort of supply run. 

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Ask for petty cash or a cache card
  • NEVER pay for something out of your own pocket
  • Enter the address in GPS and double check
  • Don’t get lost and don’t dilly-dally
  • Don’t rush or get a traffic ticket (production won’t pay for it)
  • ALWAYS get receipts for the production

If you’re on your first few days, and the production asks you to pay for something out of your own pocket, stand your ground and politely let them know that you cannot do this.

Why would we tell you this?

Because production is often the wild west, and while Disney Studios will promptly pay you, Ballz Out Productionz might not be so scrupulous.

PAs often rely on various one-off paychecks to pay their rent and make a living, and there is nothing more frustrating for a PA than getting a check later than needed, or even worse… not getting it at all.

Producers aren’t con artists… but sometimes they are, so don’t accept responsibility for the production’s expenses. 

2.3 How To Become A Production Assistant

How to prepare on-set mealtimes

As a PA, one of the most important duties when learning how to PA will be prepping and staging for meals — most likely lunch.

Someone calls you on the walkie…

“TED for BILL” — “Go for BILL” — “We need to prep the courtyard for lunch” — “Copy that. On it.”

What you need to do:

  • Set out folding chairs
  • Set out folding tables 
  • Set out trash cans in strategic areas 
  • Create signs to direct cast and crew to the area
  • Be the last person to sit down and eat

Before you fit the trash bag to the can, make sure to leave a few extra bags underneath so that you can quickly re-apply a bag once too full.

Short Film Idea Development - Header - StudioBinder

Production assistant duties

You want to be the last person because part of your job will be making sure everyone has arrived and had a chance to eat. Sometimes this will be the main cast and crew, but other times you’ll have a wandering background actor who swears that “they’re not really hungry.”

You can’t force them to eat, but they are not allowed to sit in holding with all of the other background actor’s valuables, so politely let them know they don’t have to eat, but they must head to the lunch area.

Once you’ve confirmed (over the walkies and in person) that the entire cast and crew have sat down to eat, you may now safely make yourself a plate and sit down at a table, most likely with your team.

The director and DP will be eating together to discuss the second half of the day, so this isn’t your time to go up and ask them advice (there really won’t be a good time for this, but definitely not lunch).

Unfortunately, you’ll have to keep an eye on everything during lunch in case someone wanders off, but you’re not the security guard either. 

Just be mindful, be attentive, and eat healthily.

2.4 WHAT DOES A PA DO ON SET?

How to wrangle gear and clean set

Generally, you will only be touching production equipment like walkies, ladders, trash bags, and maybe the odd wardrobe rack, but there may be times where you have to head to the grip department to grab a stinger (large extension cable) or asked to help move some furniture.

Stingers are not like normal extension cables because they have extra support to keep them straight and stable, so if you ever need to wrap one up, you’ll want to ask a senior PA to quickly show you the method.

Basically, alternate with each hand… but just ask someone.

You shouldn’t touch equipment that isn’t part of your department, so if you see a light stand that’s in the shot, tell a grip. If you notice a $15,000 lens sitting on top of a storage box… tell the camera assistant. 

Tape: an essential part of PA duties

If an actor is eating crafty and their lipstick is smudged, take them back to hair and make-up. You may have the best of intentions, believe that time is of the essence, and just want to help the production, but there are union rules that keep people in their specific lanes for good reason.

If you point these things out to the correct people, not only will they be fixed, but they will remember you for bringing it to their attention. It’s always good to follow the rules, help the team, and be remembered.

Now, maintenance can mean a lot of things, one of which is clean up for the set, which often means discarding and replacing trash bags. Here is something you want to keep in mind with trash and production:

  1. Productions generate a large amount of trash
  2. Productions are responsible for trash disposal
  3. You are NOT responsible for trash disposal

So, what does this mean? Does that mean the producer has to take out the garbage bags? No, of course not — that’s totally your job, but... 

That doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to store the garbage in your personal car and take it home to discard at your apartment. You shouldn't be asked to load the trash onto the production cube and then find a random dumpster on the way back to the lot. If you’re caught throwing garbage bags into someone else’s dumpster, you will get a $400 ticket at minimum… and the production won’t pay for it.

Again, most professional productions will know they need to arrange for some trash disposal, but I’ve worked music videos and commercials where the production wanted to cut corners with garbage.

Some producers will ask for the trash to be loaded on the truck and driven back to the production office to be disposed of in the dumpsters, or they might tell you to dump the garbage at the production cube lot.

You might end up at the production office and the garbage is locked, or at the lot and the lot owner tells you, “there’s an extra charge.” Immediately call your superior until they answer and figure it out. You're all on the same team, so don't be shy to figure it out together.  

2.5 PRODUCTION ASSISTANT DUTIES

How to handle paperwork carefully

You may deal with time cardscall sheet distributionscript sidesDPRs or DOODs, and it’s important to be as responsible as possible.

Many of these documents have important information like social security numbers and identification information, and if something goes wrong or suspicious activity is reported they will ask the PAs first. 

The 2nd AD, and 2nd-2nd AD will check the paperwork before releasing anyone for the day, but it will probably be your job to shag down any stragglers who might have incomplete paperwork.

If the crew is still shooting, don’t run onto set with the paperwork and ask them to fill it out. If they’re wrapping the set, politely let them know they have a few missing sections, and they’ll come over when they can.

They know they need to fill this stuff out to be paid, so they won’t leave you hanging, but if they do let them know before they leave. 

Definitive Guide to Hire Best Film Crew

What does a production assistant do?

What happens if someone asks you for information like a cast member’s email address or the director’s phone number?

It sort of depends on who’s asking… but not really. 

If it’s someone senior like the DP or Key Grip, just let them know that it’s above your pay grade and send the request up the ladder.

Most likely they will appreciate your professionalism, but in the rare instance they try to railroad you or push the issue further, stand your ground. Tell them you respect everyone on set too much to give out personal information, and that you wouldn’t give out their info either.

If a background actor or crew member asks for this info, politely let them know that you cannot accommodate their request.

The production team’s number one priority is safety, and that extends to information, financial or personal, as well as physical safety.

2.6 PRODUCTION ASSISTANT DELIVERABLES

Safely transport deliverables

Here’s a fun little nightmare scenario: 

The DIT hands in the hard drive with the day’s footage. The producer hands them to a PA to deliver them so the footage can be stored. The PA stops to pick up a bag of magnets for the Art Department and lays them right on top of the hard drive. An hour later, the person tasked with uploading the footage calls to say the hard drives are blank.

Aww shucks! Now, who’s to blame? Does it really matter? 

The footage is gone… possibly forever, and everyone now has a ‘classic production blunder’ story they can tell other crews, where tens of thousands of dollars of footage was literally wiped because there was a failure to communicate. Honestly, the hard drives should be placed in a separate container and stored away from any heat sources.

This is a good opportunity for you to ask questions, see what they specifically need, and to do so confidently. Show the production that you’re here to provide solutions, not to create stress and problems. Certain tasks are more important than others, and hard drives are one of those things that you don’t mess around with. The magnets can wait.

Everything needs to be organized when transporting valuable materials, even receipts, and you will rise quickly if the producer asks you to deliver something important and you bust out a clever storage container.

Treat hard drives like newborn babies… because they are. 

FREE DOWNLOADABLE BONUS

Download FREE Production Assistant Duties Checklist

Download our FREE, printable production assistant guideline PDF to ensure you hit the ground running (includes bonus content not in the post).

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3

Production Assistant Tips 

DO THESE IF YOU WANT TO BE HIRED AGAIN

3.1 How To Movie PA

Great PAs do these things on set

We’ve gone over production assistant duties and job descriptions, but now let’s talk about a few of the things you can do to impress and show you’re ready to be part of the production team going forward.

Producers, Production Coordinators, UPMs, Assistant Directors — all of these people have a contacts list with dozens of PA’s. When they book a job, they go right into their contacts list and they find the favorites on their ‘roster’ so that they bring the best crew with them.

Will you be remembered as "BILL — arrives early, always working, very dependable." Or will you be remembered as "BILL — talks too much, often sleepy, slow on supply runs."

Here’s how to avoid being passed over for future PA jobs.

3.2 HOW TO MOVIE PA

Learn names and introduce yourself

A big PA responsibility is to learn the cast and crew’s names. If you’re part of a specific department, know their names at the very least. 

If you’re the PA who escorts talent to and from set, you should learn the talent’s name, and in some cases Gene Hackman will prefer to be called Mr. Hackman versus, “Hey Gene, we’re ready for you!”.

You should make it a point that they know your name too, so when the time comes for you to ‘invite them to set’, you can knock on the dressing room door and say, “Valerie… this is Bill. Production would like to invite you to set.” and then wait patiently for Valerie to emerge.

What Does A Producer Do

Film production assistant jobs

The fact of the matter is that being on camera is a somewhat terrifying affair, and they need someone to be on their side. More often than not, that person is you, and your job is to keep them thinking about the positive, and send them off with confidence.

Don’t ask them, “feeling good?” or “ready to make some magic?” because frankly what you’ve just done is taken them out of their character and reminded the talent that a lot is riding on them to do well. Let them talk to you on the walk, answer questions with a smile and at the very end, you can maybe say “you’re going to do great.”

3.3 HOW TO MOVIE PA

Keep the work area clean and stocked

Part of the PA’s job is to keep things organized, and while you’ll never touch light stands and camera equipment, you can absolutely clean up the crafty table, throw away trash, and restock drinks.

One of the biggest wastes on film sets are plastic water bottles, the scourge of the environment. Every production will have about a dozen cases or 24 pack water bottles, which means 200 plus plastic water bottles that will be opened, sipped from, and left half full.

That is a lot of wasted water, and a lot of wasted plastic. This is why many productions will buy reusable water bottles for cast and crew and use the water cooler method to make the production more green. 

If you’re the PA in the office, push for this option as early as possible because it saves both money and the environment, and if the water bottles are personalized you get a nice little memento from the project. Regardless of the water bottle situation, make sure to replace the trash before it gets super heavy because it will be difficult to carry out.

3.4 HOW TO SET PA

Never sit down on set or be idle

On a film set, the crew never sit down. Chairs would get in the way, apple boxes are for more important things, and there’s no reason to sit down.

If a producer sees a PA sitting on set, they will remember, and they will say something. As a PA, you don’t have to be the Tasmanian devil running around, but you cannot be the 'chill dude' on the phone either. 

When everyone is taking a break from their work, that’s when they need the PA’s to be helping. Your phone should be on vibrate, in your back pocket, and you should be anticipating the needs of the production.

The only time a production assistant should sit on set is when they’re behind a table, and accepting the background actor paperwork. 

“How can I help the team wrap early?”

If you’re thinking this question throughout the day, you will be a better PA and every person on set will thank you for it, including yourself.

3.5 FILM PA JOB DUTIES

Be early and be confident

One of the production assistant duties might include being the first person to arrive on set along with a production coordinator or UPM, and this is because you need to prepare for everyone else. 

Be fifteen minutes early, because the producers will be there at this point too, and it will show your professionalism. You can then safely grab some coffee (maybe breakfast) and then begin unloading the truck, moving things out of the way, clearing paths, opening up bathrooms, cleaning dressing rooms, setting up areas for staging. 

It will be you and the other PAs who will set the tone for the day, and that is some serious power in your hands. Don’t waste it, but rather create a perfect situation that guides everyone exactly where they need to be.

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Production assistant jobs

Be confident in your abilities, and your decisions, especially at the beginning of the day. You’re in charge for this brief window of time, so if a grip parks a truck where it shouldn't be, chat a bit and let them know the plan, and if they become defensive, coordinate over the walkies.

Walkies will be your best friend and will cover you in every situation, because you can run legitimate disputes up the chain of command. Many of the crew you will work with will be ex-military and hard workers, so they may seem grumpy and unapproachable, but they’re just focused on their job as much as you are — so make a friend.

Introduce yourself, let them know you’re here for them, and work hard. They will appreciate this and help you when the time comes. 

3.6 WHAT IS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Avoid advice and creative questions

You might have some really good ideas for a number of things, both creative and logistical, and that’s why you own a journal. You can write these ideas down and keep them for your own projects in the future, or use them to build a resume for becoming an associate producer.

What you should avoid is giving advice or making suggestions on set, especially creative ones. Film sets are comprised of people who have paid their dues, and worked their way up the ranks — and even if they got there through sheer luck, they will be offended by your input.

If someone asks your opinion, by all means knock it out of the park, but speak when spoken to and always be tactful. If you’re standing by the monitor, and you innocently ask the DP why he didn’t want to use a back-light on the shot, you’ve just asked an inappropriate question. 

The DP might be thinking about that exact thing, but they want to work this out on their own, and they won’t appreciate your question. It’s good that you’re curious, and this question might be appropriate at the end of the day (big maybe) but it’s definitely not appropriate at that moment.

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Up next: 

PA Job boards, salary, and resume

So now you know the production assistant job descriptions and duties, but just because you can answer, “What does a PA do?” does that really mean you’ll be able to find production assistant jobs?

If you want to find PA work, this article will show you the best places to find PA work.

Up Next: Guide to PA Jobs & Salary →
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