How to climb up the production ladder.
How to climb up the production ladder.
Don’t be fooled, your first 2-3 years in the TV or film industry will not be glamorous. Even though there is a temptation to fall into a false sense of security and confidence , If you think you’re going to leave college and start directing multi-million dollar films, you could be wrong. That only happens to people that I don’t get to meet ha ha so I don’t know even if it’s true. My route has been tough for the right reasons as hard work always pays off and the longer the route the more the knowledge. So there is a ladder that we all must climb before we get to where we want to be. Climbing that ladder is hard work, but with a few basic tips it could be shorter.
Life as a Production Assistant
Generally, you will spend the first year or so as a production assistant. This means that you will be in charge of doing all the things that nobody else wants to do….and you’ll have to do it with a smile. That is…if you want to succeed, of course. I write about this so candidly because I see it all the time – newcomers to the business feel that they are above doing the work of a production assistant. It’s unfortunate, but there are so many PA’s that never get called back because of their poor attitude. Everyone in this business, started out as a production assistant. It’s true. Everyone. You are no different, however if you do a good job you might only have to be a PA for a short while.
Here are a few things that will help shorten your career as a PA
-Show up early – If your call time is 8:00 am be there at 7:45 am. Being late is not an option and shows the producer you are keen and interested.
-Come prepared – Bring the essentials, a note pad or clipboard with a pen, a flashlight and a cell-phone.
-Dress appropriately – Ask the producer that hired you what are where is the shoot. If its tin the desert then shorts and cap with spare water is more appropriate. Keep a pair of shorts in your car along with a second shirt – just in case.
-Wear comfortable shoes – this isn’t a fashion show…you’ll be working very hard. Make sure that you’re comfortable. Stay away from flip-flops and sandal . They are somewhat hazardous on a set.
-Solve problems – This is by far the best tip of the bunch. If you can offer solutions to a problem on set, your value will skyrocket. Don’t just go to the producer with a problem -go to them with a problem and then offer a solution.
*Respect the crew and the chain of command
On every set, there is a specific chain of command. You were probably hired by a Producer. The producer answer to a production manager who answers to the film director. If you have a problem about anything, talk to the person that hired you. Try your best to never go over their head – it looks bad on you and shows your lack of knowledge to common courtesy and is seen to be disrespectfull. Another problem that I see quite often is when a PA decides that he or she can do a better job than the producer or director. A producer or director that has 15 – 30 years of experience in the industry doesn’t want to listen to how a college student would shoot something. No one will ever doubt your creativity, but remember that this is still a business…sometimes you can’t shoot something a certain way because there are political things going on behind the scenes. It could be as complicated as a mandate from a specific sponsor, or as simple as a picky client feeling the need to be creative. These are details that are left out of the crew meeting so don’t assume that your ideas are better…you don’t know all of the details. If in doubt leave it out.
If you’re not sure about something – ask someone. It’s better to ask a question about something than to damage an expensive piece of equipment. No one will fault you for not knowing something…they will fault you for doing something stupid. Questions are absolutely fine at the right time …but too many questions will be a problem. Keep your curiosity to a minimum and really focus on the job at hand. Annoying the crew doesn’t win you any points.
A positive attitude will carry you very far in this business. If you’ve been asked to take out the trash from a set, do it with a smile. If you’ve been asked to get a lunch order, think of it as an opportunity – not a chore. It gives you a chance to interact with everyone on the set. Think of everything that you do as an opportunity. Producers and other crew members remember the people that have positive attitudes and quickly try to forget the ones that look miserable.
The bottom line is this…
If you get hired to be a PA, be the best PA in the town. Do everything that you’re told to do, think ahead, anticipate problems and try to solve them, I met one PA who had a suitcase of bits and bobs, safety pins, rubber bands, batteries, plasters etc-You get the idea, he was ahead of the game. These qualities make for great PA’s and they are key elements to getting hired again. Treat the producer and crew with respect and work hard, and I am sure that you won’t have to PA for long.