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Assistant Roles in Film Production

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Shawn S. Lealos•updated: 8/13/2011

There are a lot of different jobs in a film production that have "assistant" tagged before them. Here is a look at the various assistant jobs that are available in the film production world.

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    Helping Along

    The film production staff is not just made up of a bunch of different departments, but a lot of various “assistant" positions that are vital to the operation of the film. Some of these positions actually do assist department heads, while other ones are distinct departments of their own that are required on set and an end in of themselves. Here is a look at a few of the more important film production assistant jobs that professional films cannot be made without.

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    Production Assistant

    Production assistant jobs are really where most people will start out in the industry, and in certain ways they may be the most plentiful. These tend to be lower paid entry level positions, and do not have specified roles except by a very broad definition. People with production assistant jobs really just assist other crew departments on the set, helping run things in different directions, complete different errands and chores, and generally act as the go-to person for tasks that need to get done. This can be everything from taking out the garbage to fetching cast members to acting as extras. A production assistant will typically help the different departments get set up and be ready to do different tasks, and this is really only defined by the production you are on. This is really where you are going to learn how a set runs, what the vocabulary is, what tasks need to get done, and how things will really work. Union pay will often range from $125 to $200 a day for those days that tend to be standard at twelve hours, though it can be more or less.

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    Assistant Camera

    Pulling Focus The assistant camera position is a skilled position that most people are not going to be qualified for without a great bit of education and experience. This film production assistant job assists the director of photography and camera operator in the shooting of the film, and like production assistant jobs, the extent of their tasks is determined by the production and how many crew members are available. The primary task of the assistant camera person is to pull focus, which means to take measurements for the focus of the camera, mark those focus points, and actually focus the camera along with the camera operator when it is needed. This task alone is time consuming, takes incredible knowledge of video photography and cameras, and is a full time position. The assistant camera person may also help prepare the camera, load the film or digital content, take the footage to another person to handle it, and help get the camera set up and ready to shoot. This pay is going to vary widely, and for early career positions, it can be under $30,000 a year. For people that work constantly at a fairly high level you can easily expect six figures.

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    Assistant Director

    Like the assistant camera position, the assistant director is a skilled position that is an end in and off itself. This is not really an “assistant" position like the other film production assistant jobs, but instead a department of its own that is necessary on its own. The assistant director will run the set, coordinating things as they happen, running cadence, keeping things on schedule, and generally managing the process of getting through the production day. This is broken up into a few positions on a large set, and the second assistant director works off set getting call sheets ready, preparing schedules, and ensuring the actors are ready to go. The assistant director is not a place that most people start out at and it can takes years to work your way up to that place. The assistant director's salary is difficult to determine, but they have a high weekly union pay.

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    Producer's Assistant

    A producer’s assistant is, however, an earlier position that is going to allow a person to move up to a more concrete position in the production coordination, production management, or assistant director departments. The producer’s assistant, or assistant to producer, is again an undefined role that is going to be defined in your production by what the producer needs. The producer will have tasks that they must complete and you will be the active hand for them, making sure these things get done. What is good about this is that you will learn quite a bit about a lot of positions since the producer’s tasks trickle down to all production departments and therefore your range of tasks is going to give you a broad look at the different things that have to be done in a production. This may be getting permits, picking up actors, communicating with different departments on behalf of the producer, and likely assisting other people in the production department like the production coordinator, line producer, production manager, and second assistant director. You can often expect a fairly low wage that is comparable to that of a regular production assistant, though if it is a consistent job, you may be able to expect between $30,000 and $40,000 annually.

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    Assistant Editor

    The assistant editor works much differently than any of the other film production assistant jobs since it is in post-production and not part of an Editing Console active set. The film editor is going to put the film together, but they will need an assistant editor to help prepare the project so that they can just think creatively without having to put together the functional elements. Their jobs will often be logging and capturing footage, labeling clips, doing preliminary edits, arranging files, organizing the project, and even transcribing tapes if it is a non-fiction project.

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    Looking Forward

    About half of these positions will allow you to start out in your career while others need some satisfactory education, including the production assistant, produder's assistant, and editor's assistant. Even the later two will require some specialized education, and to be the editing assistant you have to really know the software and the editing process. The other ones could be positions that you shoot for as a complete career goal, though a camera assistant often heads towards a director of photography and an assistant director could move to a unit production manager at some point. The real point is to know what your end goal is and to try to work into an assistant position that will allow for growth in the industry.

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