Exploring this Job
There are many ways to gain experience with filmmaking. Some high schools have film clubs and classes in film or video. Experience in theater can also be useful. To learn more, you can work as a volunteer for a local theater or a low-budget film project; these positions are often advertised in local trade publications. You may also be able to volunteer with your state's film commission, helping to solicit production companies to do their filming in the state. Film festivals also usually need volunteers; keep track of those coming to your area and visit their Web sites to search for volunteer opportunities.
Students interested in production work should read as much as possible about the film and television industry, starting at a school or public library. Trade journals can be very helpful as well; the two most prominent ones are Daily Variety (https://www.variety.com) and Hollywood Reporter (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com). These resources will have information about production studios that will prove very useful for prospective PAs.
The work of a production assistant is not glamorous, but production is the best place to learn about the film and television industries. All hiring, casting, and decision making is done by members of production; they are involved with a project from the very beginning through its final stages. The producer is in charge—he or she is responsible for coordinating the activities of all employees involved in a production. Producers oversee the budget, and they have the final word on most decisions made for a film or television show.
The responsibilities of production assistants (PAs) range from making sure the star has coffee in the morning to stopping street traffic so a director can film a scene. They photocopy the script for actors, assist in setting up equipment, and perform other menial tasks. The best PAs know where to be at the right time to make themselves useful. Production can be stressful; time is money and mistakes can be very costly. Assistants must be prepared to handle unforeseen problems, smooth out difficulties, and help out as quickly as possible.
Duties may include keeping production files in order. These files will include contracts, budgets, page changes (old pages from a script that has been revised), and other records. The documents must be kept organized and accessible for whenever the producer may need them.
Production assistants may also have to keep the producer's production folder in order and up to date. The production folder contains everything the producer needs to know about the production at a glance. It is particularly useful for times when a producer is on location away from the studio and cannot access the office files. PAs make sure that the folder includes the shooting schedule, the most recent version of the budget, cast and crew lists with phone numbers, a phone sheet detailing all production-related phone calls the producer needs to make, and the up-to-date shooting script. As new versions of these forms are created, PAs update the producer's folder and file the older versions for reference. This information may also be maintained in a computer database.
PAs may also be in charge of making sure that the producer gets the dailies, the film shot each day. They schedule an hour or so in a producer's schedule to watch the dailies and to make related calls to discuss them with other staff members.
PAs perform a number of other administrative and organizational tasks. They make travel reservations, book hotel accommodations, and arrange for rehearsal space. They run errands and communicate messages for producers, directors, actors, musicians, and other members of the technical crew.
PAs who work in television studios for live shows, such as news programs and talk shows, record news feeds, answer phones, operate teleprompters, coordinate recordings, and assist editors. They assist with booking guests and arranging interviews.
Production assistant is the lowest position on the film or television crew. It is an entry-level job that gives someone interested in film and broadcast media the experience and contacts to move into other areas of the industry. PAs often get stuck with undesirable tasks like sweeping floors, guarding sets, or finding a particular brand of green tea for a demanding diva. However, a film, television, or video production would not happen without production assistants on the set or in the studio.