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Tips on How to Be a Production Assistant

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/16/2010

Here are some tips for those who are on set for their first time as a Production Assistant on a professional shoot.

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    Set PA

    A production assistant is where most young film students or those trying to break into the film industry will begin as. This is often a volunteer or internship position that students will take to get more experience working on a professional set, though it is also a major paid position that is integral to large productions. Even on small or student productions a production assistant is an important role that can help fill up the needs of the production. What is unique about a production assistant is that there is not always a definite list of duties that a production assistant will fill. Instead, a production assistant will simply follow the needs of the production and those needs depend on the specifics of the production and what crew member takes charge. For those who are first time production assistants it can be a little strange and there can be quite a lack of direction for them. Here are a few tips on how to be a production assistant for the first time.

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    Checking In

    The most essential when learning how to be a production assistant is knowing where to check in. Who is going to direct production assistants is going to be different on every set, so you should likely try to communicate with the person that first hired or acquired you. This may be the production manager or one of the production coordinators, so you may check in with them when you first arrive on set or simply talk with them ahead of time. The second AD will often put together the shot list and may be the first person to assign you to specific locations, though you may be under the direct coordination of one of the production coordinators, lead production assistants, or the key grip. Make sure that you make your presence known to these people when you are first on set and make yourself available to help them at all time. No matter what, make sure that you make people aware that you are there and ready to work when you arrive on set.

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    Call Time

    It may seem simple enough, but when learning how to be a production assistant many people seem to miss it. The night before the production day the second AD, or possibly even the producer on smaller productions, will send you the call sheet with your call time on it. This call time is when you absolutely must be on set, and you must be on time. The production assistant position is really an audition to show producers and other crew members your abilities and commitment to the work so that you can get hired later on for more advanced positions, effectively allowing you to move forward. This means that being on time is going to be very important for first time production assistants.

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    Continue Working

    Once you are assigned certain tasks that can be repeated or assigned to help certain crew members you should begin doing this without being told later on. This means that if you are asked to maintain certain things in the green room, such as cleaning up or responding to cast needs, then you should try to keep doing this to a degree without being assigned. This will show your initiative as a production assistant and will prove that you are reliable. In the same way, never over step your bounds. Many positions are union regulated and you cannot step on the tasks that other crew positions are responsible. At the same time, much of the equipment is sensitive and the production is a very specific workflow that you do not want to interrupt. You may even be able to help positions like the second assistant camera.

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    Learn the Language and Equipment

    The best way to make a good impression as a first time production assistant is to know the production language and the equipment used. This means that learning basic terminology and how different types of video equipment is used. This will show your professionalism and make you more useful on set. The best tip on how to be a production assistant is to learn the industry, learn the basics of digital video and film, and learn what it takes to interact with all departments on set.