Friday, November 27, 2009

How to be a PA

Switch to channel 2 with me.

It's taken me a while to finally write a post about how to be a PA. Don't expect this to be expert advice or anything, but it should at least get you started. This post is so that other PAs out there who might be new to the industry can get a handle on what's going on. I'm always open to criticism or complaints if any of this info seems inaccurate or my approach is wrong so please tell me.

So lets say you've got your first PA job and are as green as green gets.

Aside from getting the coffee right, here's a list of things that will always be expected of a good PA. If you can get these right you can start doing other things. Afterall, no one wants to be a PA forever. You should look at being a PA as something more like grad school or an old fashion apprenticeship. It's where you get up to date, on the job training, prove your worth, figure out what it is you want to do, get experience and training, and move up. So here it goes:

1. NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING. This is probably the number one rule of the production business. If you're not sure about something, ask. When you find yourself making logical conclusions about things you're not not 100% sure about, stop yourself, get confirmation before you proceed. While it may seem that all the people around you are on top of their game and taking care of business, you got to remember that they are human just like you and sometimes drop things. So always look before you leap.

2. ALWAYS BE EARLY. There's a saying, "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time you're late. If you're late you're fired." This should be forever seared into your head. Don't think that it's true for just PAs. It's true for everyone. On the first movie I worked on, a really great 1st AD got fired due to elements beyond his control that prevented him from being on time to set. It can happen to anyone. Some people are relaxed about it and some people aren't. Never assume though.

3. STAY IN CONTACT. This is particularly important if you are away from the location or set. Keep whoever sent you out on a run informed at all times of delays, problems, or complications. If you get sent out to Home Depot for a certain fuse for G&E, and Home Depot doesn't have it, call whoever sent you out. Let them know you're situation. They may then tell you to scrub the mission and return to set or go on to Lowes or do something else entirely.

4. USE PROPER RADIO ETTIQUETE. Always say "copy that" to instructions. You might be on the other side of the world and might have acknowledged and started doing whatever they told you to do but they person has no clue you're on it until you let them know. Also, keep unnessesary chatter to an absolute minimum. If you have something to explain or ask in detail - ask whoever you're talking to if they have time to switch to a private channel. Remember to ask, never order them. Lastly, whenever you do have to talk to someone, always say your name and the name of the person you need to talk to. Wait for them to acknowlegde, then proceed. Example, "This is Mark for Dan..." "Go ahead Mark." "Dan, can you jump to channel 2?" "Copy that. Switching to 2." ect. ect.

5. BE PREPARED. ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA CALL SHEETS, SIDES, PENS, PENCILS, SHARPIES, TAPE, UTILITY KNIFE, HIGH LIGHTER, and a NOTE PAD. You are a human foot locker. Suggest wearing a utility belt or a small back pack and getting used to it. One of the main functions of your job is to always be ready to assist, if an AD or producer asks for something and you have it on hand, it makes you look very good and reliable. While this list may seem like overkill to some people, it's not. It's just a basic list of things that are used by everyone while on set. Some optional things to add to it may be mints, gum, extra water, flashlight (especially if you are working in a sound stage) and a lighter. Without going on and on at the end of the day, just be prepared. You can never go wrong with that. 'Nuff said.

6. BE VIGILANT. Always be aware of what is going on around you. Keep up with what's going on according the the call sheet and what's being shot. Any crew member should be able to ask you what's going on and you should be able to tell them. This might seem strange but think about it. A lot of people on set are so wrapped into their own individual jobs they might not know what's going on with the rest of the crew around them. It's up to you to help the AD department carry on this info and be sure the rest of the crew is informed. You also need to keep tabs on the crew and let them know if they are in a spot where they can walk or talk or if they need to be quiet and respectful of the shooting.

7. CALL THE ROLLS. One of the main ways the AD department will want you're help is how they'll want you to do this is to call "the rolls" which is basically listening to the 1st AD on walkie and yelling so that everyone around can hear whenever he or she calls "Picture's up" (means camera and lights are in place and ready to go) "Standby" (which is the cue to sync sound) "Rolling" (sound is sync'd and everything is just waiting on the director to call 'action') and then "Cut" (means they've stopped). You'll also need to make other calls like, "Going around again" which means the cut wasn't good enough and they're immediately starting the scene again. Lastly, you'll have to call, "Checking the gate," which means the shot is over and it's time to move on.

8. BE THE WATER BOY OR GIRL. This is something that is an easy way to impress the crew. Pay attention to their needs, if it's hot outside go around and offer water or gatorade. Equally, if its cold, coffee or hot tea. Don't wait for someone to ask. If an AD or someone is too busy to break for food, see if there is something you can get them from the crafty table. When you can start anticipating and feeling the needs of the crew, then you are doing exactly what your job wants you to do.

9. THINK AHEAD. As crucial as it is to be vigilant and be ready to jump into action or answer a question at a moment's notice, that same kind of anticipation brings us to a broader form of it--think ahead. For example, if someone starts a dialog scene, most directors will almost always start with a wide to medium shot and move in for what's called "coverage" which are shots of the individual characters in the scene. They may then go in for "inserts" which are small cut away shots of hands and such. Always be aware of what is going on, and if at all possible try and help prep for the area the camera will change positions to each time the crew goes in to move it.

10. TRY TO HAVE FUN. Easy enough right? Well, try it after getting everyone's coffees, screwing one or two up, then getting yelled out for stepping into a sight line. Couple that on top of getting yelled at by an AD for something that is probably beyond your control and then see if at the end of the day you can still smile. If you can, good for you. If not, you might want to change jobs. But remember: if you think positively you can make it not only this industry but any industry. Having a good attitude will get you way farther than you'd ever think!

11. KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Don't be over confident. It's certainly required that you have confidence to carry out your job as a PA, but just as importantly, you must know when you've got too much on your plate. If this ever happens, you're probably in a higher PA position than most others and you must start learning how to delegate to the other PAs around you. This isn't easy at first, because as a PA, you're used to having to do everything yourself, but it's important to learn if you want to move up.

Well, that's about all I can think of for now. Hope this is helpful for whoever needs it! Best of luck!

-Switching back to channel 1.

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