If you've ever imagined being the director of top grossing Hollywood mega-films or you've considered creating your own alternative cinema underground hit, you are right on track if you're considering starting out by learning how to become a production assistant. Production assistants learn the job from the ground up, schlepping gear for camera operators, helping to rig lights, running errands, getting coffee and calling rental and casting companies for producers. Commitment to long hours and high-quality performance will get you called back job after job, and pretty soon you won't be the lowly PA any more.
What you'll need:
- a great, can-do attitude
- ability to get up early and stay up late
- a strong work ethic
- quick responses
- familiarity with the production area
- Study your subject. One of the best ways to get a foot in the door is to know what you are talking about. Many production assistants start out in film school, then, as they learn through trial and error what it is like to work in a team environment, they apply for PA positions with local studios or with big Hollywood productions that are shooting in town.
- Prepare your application. Like with any job you'll need to build and submit your resume and cover letter. Past work experience may lead to new opportunities-you worked as a caterer one summer? Maybe your application should show interest in being a PA to help out with craft services. Remember, becoming a production assistant gets your foot in the door so you can show interest in working in other areas.
- Follow up. All of the fields that use production assistants—film, photography and advertising, are relationship-driven industries. You need to build a personal connection beyond the piece of paper you sent in with your resume. When you talk with the producer let he or she know you've done your homework and are aware how hard you will need to work. Film school can also help you in your follow-up calls, because you'll know a lot about professionalism and you'll likely know something about the style film you may be working on.
- Listen, perform and learn. Once you get your first position as a production assistant it's easy to screw up and lose the position. Do what you are asked and stay focused so you don't miss a request until you really learn the personality of your managers, then you can anticipate their needs. If a PA dumps over a camera lens because the case wasn't properly closed, it can shut down production for a whole day or more. When a studio is paying thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes even more) in production costs each day, you can see why they'd be a bit put out.
Becoming a production assistant requires hard work, diligence, and a thick skin, but starting out as a PA is the best way, no, the only way, to move up in an industry still based on the old-world values that believe apprenticeship leads to mastery. If movie making is in your blood, learn from the best by becoming a production assistant.
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