March 6,  2006
  
Tips on how to be a kick-ass PA...

A family friend recently wrote asking for my advice because he is just
out of college and secured his very first PA gig. He had never been on
a professional set before and wanted some tips on how best to make a
favorable impression on his bosses, as well as learn from his new
experience.

I sent him the below response, and thought it could be useful to anyone
on the group who might get asked the same. If anyone has any additions,
let me know.

Josh Siegel
Producer/Line Producer
____________________________________________________________

The most important thing is knowing your place. As you know, you are at
the bottom of the totem pole, and if you substitute "PAs" into the
adage "Little children should be seen and not heard," it couldn't be
closer to the truth for a film set. I don't mean to sound like a
hardass, but you're there to work and schlepp, not socialize, network
or chow down at the craft service table. If you're done doing the task
that was requested of you, ask what else you can do to help instead of
sitting around and waiting for someone to come to you. Also, other
departments besides production can always use a hand (as long as it
doesn't interfere with something production has asked of you!) -- not
only will they be grateful that someone in production is looking out
for them, but it will also give you the opportunity for a more
multi-faceted education.

That all said, it's one thing to be eager and conscientious, but
another to try too hard. Don't try to show off, DO NOT kiss ass. Just
get the job done.

Since this will be your first time on a professional set, almost
everyone will smell that you're green a mile away. Do not try to hide
this, because you won't be able to and it will only make you seem
foolish. Instead, pick the person who seems coolest out of the
coordinator, one of the ADs (not the 1st) or even the Key PA and ask
him (or her) to give you some pointers. He will respect that you are
asking, and likely be honored that you have chosen him to be sort of
your mentor. Again, avoid anything that can be seen as ingratiating.
You are merely someone who is trying their best to learn. Everyone has
to start somewhere...

It is essential, if you don't know it already, that you learn the
hierarchy of the food chain on set, and the way communication flows.
You also need to make sure someone teaches you walkie protocol
lickety-split because there's nothing more frustrating to the ADs than
someone floundering on the airwaves...

Be aware of your surroundings. If it is quiet, don't speak loudly. If
an area is being lit, don't stand in it. If someone is carrying a lot
of stuff they can barely manage, ask if you can lend a hand. DO NOT
hang around video village or other crowded areas in which you are not
needed. Always take the initiative to find out where the things that
everyone invariably will be looking for are located: bathrooms, exits,
elevators, talent holding, craft service.

Learn everyone's names as fast as you can, and what their position is.
Keep track of where people (mainly the director, the producer and
talent) go off to so that if someone asks over the walkie for their
"20" (their location) you can give a quick response.

DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING THAT YOU AREN'T SPECIFICALLY ASKED TO TOUCH!
Honestly the only exception to this is if something expensive or
fragile is literally falling to the ground. Otherwise, if something
looks out of place to you, ask the appropriate person.

Always carry a pen. Two in fact, because someone is guaranteed to walk
off with yours. A sharpie is great to have too, as well as a couple
copies of the day's call sheet.

If someone asks you to bring them something, bring back different
options if possible or you are likely to be sent off again if the first
item wasn't exactly right.

I'll follow up my previous snooty adage with another: Do not speak
until spoken to. It's not like everyone else on the set needs to be
treated like the Queen of England, but this falls under the "knowing
your place" point I was making before. Obviously, if the UPM asks you
to move the director's car, you can at the appropriate time (i.e. not
while he's in conversation with someone or deep in thought) ask the
director for his keys. But otherwise, even at lunch or after wrap, you
don't want to just casually strike up a conversation with the director,
the actors, the DP, the AD or anyone else "high up" on the food chain
without them being the one to initiate it. (But if you start generating
a certain rapport, this can become acceptable over time...)

ONLY ANSWER QUESTIONS IF YOU ARE 100% SURE OF THE ANSWER.
There is nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know," or "Let me check on that."
There is nothing worse -- or more costly -- than bad (or stale) information.

Always be on time. And when I say on time, I mean early.

Ask questions. Yes you are there first and foremost to assist
production, but it is in production's best interest for you to learn as
much as possible, not only about the particulars of this one shoot, but
also about the filmmaking process in general. Never be afraid to ask
someone why something is being done in a certain way...HOWEVER -- be
sure that you are doing so at an appropriate time (i.e. not while
they're involved in something else or if a take is about to go up) and
that it does not come off that you yourself are questioning a decision
that was made. Be sure it is understood you are trying to learn, not
overstep your bounds.

Other than that, just respect the people around you. Some will
invariably be unfriendly towards you -- it ain't like there's no pricks
in showbiz! -- just make sure not to hold a grudge, or to badmouth them
to other crew. You never know who is friends with who. Just turn the
other cheek and do your best. You'll also find that some of the
"grumpy" guys will soon come to respect you if they see that you bust
your ass and don't cave to the pressure.

Okay, now you're ready to go be a kick-ass PA. GOOD LUCK!

 

Originally published on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/laproducer

Posted with permission of Josh Siegel

Josh Siegel 2006