P.A. Life: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Freelance

Recently I’ve been writing a lot about my life in California, but I realize a lot of my family/friends/readers don’t know what it is that I actually came out here to do. I think I’ve mentioned before that I am a production assistant, but many people don’t know what that even means. I get asked, “What do you actually do?” on a daily basis. I’ve been trying to write the answer to that question in several posts, but it never seems to fit anywhere. Here are all the answers to some frequently asked questions like,”What is a production assistant?” and “Why don’t you just get a real job?”

What is a production assistant?IMG_1767

A production assistant is the lowest person on a film/TV set. Coffee running low? Need someone to stand in as the lighting department fixes the lights? Have paperwork to fill out/copies to be made/a chair that needs moving/an overflowing garbage? Ask a PA, those are all things we do. In the most basic terms, a PA is the extra set of hands that does the jobs that are essential for the rest of the crew to get the project made, but that the higher ups are too busy to do. We do anything and everything that’s asked of us. Seriously.

Okay, so what do you do all day?

There is no typical day as a PA. It depends on what type of project you are working on and what your role is. On an “average” day I will go on runs (meaning going out and purchasing/picking up anything that’s needed on set from food to wigs to cardboard boxes), restock the kitchen (film crews can eat), move something heavy (there is always something heavy to move), and help any department that needs assistance (could be the camera, lighting, or art departments or even a producer or director who needs an extra hand). Like I said before, my job is to assist everyone else. It’s right there in my title. Sometimes I’ll get to do side projects of my own like research or writing.

Is that stuff any fun?

It can be! The fun part about being a PA is that everyday is different. There is always something new to learn and someone new to meet. Being a PA allows you interact with almost everyone else on the crew, many of whom started out their careers as a PA. You gotta start somewhere, right?

As a PA I have worked on some pretty cool shows. My first ever gig was on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade where I got to stand in Herald Square and see all of the performers and balloons come by. I’ve also worked on the Christmas Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Plaza, the season 14 finale of American Idol, a talk show called Just Keke, and a few reality shows. I’ve loved them all for different reasons. To me the best part is seeing all the hard work and the little pieces come together. That moment right before a show starts (especially a live one) is magical because anything can happen. (What you hope happens is the show goes off without a hitch.)

That all sounds great…what’s the catch?

Being a PA is fun, but it is also A LOT of work. The average day is 12.5 hours. This ain’t no 9-5 job so say goodbye to your social life. You will be exhausted pretty much every single day. Being a PA can also be very physical. There are tables and chairs to move, boxes to carry, sets that need to come up and down. When a show is over PAs have to help with load out which means taking EVERYTHING that was brought in has to come out so the next show or whatever can come in. So all of office supplies, computers, hair and makeup products, food, you name it, it must be moved. During load out you will not go home and eat. You will go home and fall into your bed and maybe wake up in time for work the next morning.

Another not so fun part? No job security.  Shows/films/commercials end. Or sometimes they get canceled. Or decide to go on strike. You could be employed one day and unemployed the next.

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Wow that sucks.

Yeah it can suck, I get major anxiety every time a show ends and I don’t have another job lined up. But you know what would suck to me more? Working 9-5 in an office  and staring at a computer all day. I love being able to move around to different projects. Earlier this week I finished a show one day and the next day I was working on the Primetime Emmys. Not too shabby.

You don’t have a set job so why can’t you just take vacation/come home whenever you want?

The nature of production is very fast paced. If things are happening they are happening tomorrow or right now. If I leave, I can’t work and I will be replaced. It’s as simple as that. Since I don’t have a “normal”  job I could be unemployed tomorrow or I could be booked for the next 2 months, but I won’t know until that phone rings.

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Also, each day of production relies on the day before so when I am working and you want to hang out with me be prepared to make plans at the very last minute.

I get out late, I work early, I’m usually tired. Sometimes I don’t even know what time or if I’m working the next day. And if there’s a problem a shoot will run late or the scenes will have to be completed the next day. This can change everyone’s schedule. That’s just the way it is. There are a lot of little parts that depend on other little parts and sometimes these things can’t be helped. Hence, no social life.

Is there anything else we should know about your life as PA?

Wow thanks for asking such good questions. Sure there is. Please stop asking me when I’m going to get a real job.

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This is my real job. My hours may be unconventional, I may spend my days sweeping glitter and counting walkie talkies and worrying if we have enough red vines, but this is what I do. I won’t always be a PA, but there’s a good chance that as long as I stay in this industry my life will always be like this. This is the business we’ve chosen. But it also means I get to go to the Emmys so that’s a trade off I’m willing to make.

This is the most basic of description of what a PA does so if you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask. I am in no way an expert, but I can share my stories and experiences. It’s an important job that I feel like more people should know about (and yes that has 110% to do with the fact that it is my job and me who is doing it)!

P.S. If you happen to be reading this and need a PA, I’m available.

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2 thoughts on “P.A. Life: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Freelance

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