How to Run a Production Meeting

Dax asks:

How to run a proper production meeting I’ve experienced several different production meetings. Two seem to be the most common.

The first AD reads through the script in scene order and then through the one liner in schedule order. if this is correct? If so, should the AD just read the slug lines for each scene and then summarize the scene and elements?

OR The first AD goes through the complete shooting schedule in schedule order, reading all elements? In this case the script is only used as a reference when there is a question from a department head.

Which one of these two methods is most common or correct?

First off, the correct way is the way that gets it done. :D

Only slightly less facetiously, the correct way is whatever way the AD wants to do it. A lot of people can claim they are in charge, but in reality, when it comes to moment-by-moment decisions, the AD really is the top dog. The AD is probably the only person below the line that can say what the rest of the crew are thinking: “Hurry the fuck up, Mr. Director.”

Cards on the table, now– I have very little experience on big budget movies. I only worked on shitty, non-union, straight-to-VOD flicks before moving into network television. I have no idea what is or isn’t normal on real, professional film.

I imagine it’s similar to single camera television, on a longer time scale. In TV, there’s actually a few different meetings leading up to production. First, there’s the Tone Meeting, in which the writer, director, show runner, and various other creative types get together to talk about the artistic elements of the episode. What’s the point of this scene, why does that character say that, who is Jon Snow’s mother, really? That kind of thing.

Those tend to go in scene order, because they’re discussing how the show will (or should) feel from the audience’s perspective. The AD doesn’t exactly run those meetings, but she’s still the one running the shot clock.1

After that, the director often has meetings with each department about the needs of this particular episode. Every element is discussed to the finest possible detail. In TV, the episode writer tends to be a part of these meetings, as well; I don’t think that’s often the case in film.2

Then, finally, comes the Production Meeting. This involves every department head (except the DP, sadly, if there’s only one cinematographer on the series). In my experience, the AD will go through the script in shooting order. They don’t really “read” the script, the way you and I usually think about it. All of the really creative decisions (should) have already been made by the above-the-liners, in conjunction with the department heads.

The Production Meeting is about getting shit done. How do we physically fit the camera inside the trunk? Will we be able to hear the dialogue on the process trailer? Where will the trailers be parked?3

Again, it’s not that they don’t care about the characters or story. Everything will be done in the context of “What’s best for the show?” But the Production Meeting adds the extra wrinkle of “What can we do?” Like Dax says, they’ll refer to the script to make sure they’re answer the former question, but production meetings are much more about the latter.

If you’re a PA, you rarely go to these meetings. In fact, the office tends to get nice and quite for a couple (or three!) hours while all of the grown-ups are stuck in a tiny room. But if you’re ambitious, and smart, you should ask to sit in on one of these.

Don’t ask to sit in on episode one; you’ve got too much to do, getting the office up and running. But once you’ve established yourself, and assuming everything really is quiet that day, no one will object.

Bring your notepad with you; take copious notes. Pay attention, and if (when) you have any questions, write them down for later. No one expects you, as a PA, to know anything, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. It’s how you learn.

But during the meeting itself, DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Always keep in mind Joaquin Sedillo’s advice: “You have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Use them accordingly.”4

You know how else you can learn? By listening to Crew Call. But that can only happen if you support the Crew Call Season Two Kickstarter. Even a $5 contribution helps.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. That’s a sports metaphor, not an actual film term, in case you’re confused.
  2. Because what does the author of the story have to say about the final film?
  3. That’s actually probably decided on the Tech Scout, but it’ll still be discussed here.
  4. Except in this case, pretend you’re Neo, being interrogated by Agent Smith. You’ve got no mouth at all.
Posted in Crew Call, On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Match Game

This is another one of those things I keep seeing when I help people with their resume and cover letter: the name on your resume needs to match the name on your email address.

This is especially true of Gmail accounts, since it’s probably the most common email out there, both for individuals and for production offices creating throwaway accounts (“HitShow2015@gmail.com”). If you’re using the Gmail site, any other Gmail user’s name will appear prominently.

If your resume says “Scott Smith,” but your user name says “Skip 2 da S”, A) you’ll look like an idiot, and B) more importantly, the coordinator will never find your original email if the search for “Scott Smith.”

Just so you understand the normal order of operations, here’s what usually happens when a show needs a new PA: first, the APOC (probably) creates a junk Gmail account (i.e. HitShowPA2015@gmail.com), because once she finds a new PA, she never wants to get another email about it again. She’ll then ask all of her friends and/or acquaintances for recommendations. If that doesn’t yield enough results, she’ll post a job notice on the Coordinator’s 911 (a private Goolge group for production coordinators).

After about three hours, she’ll have received several hundred resumes. She (or possibly one of the current PAs) will dig through the inbox, until she finds around 20 good candidates. She then will print these resumes off and hand them to the coordinator.

The coordinator will sift through this stack and pick six to ten people to interview. And this is where the name on your email matters. They’re going from computers to paper and back to computers again. If those names and emails don’t match up, someone might make a mistake. You could be their favorite candidate, but you’ll never know, because they sent an email to ScottSmith1987 instead of SkipSmith1987.

And now we come to the part of the post where I remind you to contribute to the Crew Call Kickstarter campaign. Seriously, if everyone who reads this just gave $5, we’d have it funded in no time.

Posted in Finding a Job, On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Errors and Omissions

There were quite a few good comments this week; in case you missed them, I thought I’d point them out.

Regarding internships and college credit, WireMonkey said:

I found this strange but I interviewed at a few significant companies for internship positions. I always casually dropped that I could earn college credit for the reasons listed above, but was told that wasn’t necessary. Believe me when I say I was as surprised as anyone. Still, whether they require it or not, always have the ability to earn credit in your back pocket. It’s easy and it shows you’re looking out for all parties involved.

I would be dubious if someone said they didn’t care if you could get college credit. It’s a bad sign. There may be some value in it, but walk in there knowing things could go terribly wrong in a hurry.

If you want a legit internship, but you’re not in college, WireMonkey has a workaround for that, as well:

This is a bit of a cheat but you can still earn college credit even if you’re not a college student. LA City College specifically has the Cooperative Education Work Experience program that can be found here: http://www.lacitycollege.edu/services/co-op/

The contact listed there (Juliana Medina) was extremely helpful in answering my questions (which was basically 1) Yes, I can earn college credit for an internship through this program for standard cost of community college units and 2) No, I did not have to be a part or full time student to participate in this program). If the deadline for enrollment is passed you can even enroll in the next session and attribute the work you’re about to do retroactively. Confusing, I know, but the upshot is you have the ability to technically enroll any time of year and earn college credit if that’s required.

You still have to find your own internship positions but this is a huge leg up for people who aren’t current college students.

On an old post about the different kinds of PAs, Cassandra writes:

I have to admit, I’m beginning to love this blog. Thank you so much for this post, I’ve been hired as an Art Department Production Assistant and its nice to know what I’m heading into!

Speaking of the art department, Lee replied to Tuesday’s post about the hours PAs work:

I work as an art dept pa and I rarely work longer than 10 hour days. My duties are not generally tied to the shooting schedule and I’ve been lucky enough to work under designers and art directors who let me leave when there’s clearly nothing for me to do.

To be clear, when I say “the office,” I’m referring to the production office. Art and post also have offices, but they’re not “the” office, if you know what I mean. So, if you like the idea of working in an office setting and using your creativity, art is probably the place for you.

Alex has a different experience in the production offices he’s worked at:

I think “it depends” is a bit more accurate of an answer. I’ve worked a couple of Office PA gigs where they usually kept us about 8 hours – 10 at the longest, except during exceptional circumstances. But they are paying you for a full 12, so you should walk in expecting a full 12 even as an Office PA.

I’ve experienced those 8-10 hour days, but mostly on multicamera shows. I’ve really never seen that on a single camera show.

Higher up the food chain, Jacks1985 says:

I’m an APOC and I’m currently working a short and have been working 14 days straight each day minimum about 13 hours. With 3 days sticking out that we hit 16 hours. Production is production, if you ever have a concern for time, you’re in the wrong industry. Set or office both pull super long hours.

That’s what you can look forward to when you get promoted!

Jess added two acronyms that I forgot to mention in yesterdays post about call sheets:

FT = Fitting, TR = Travel

I mostly work in TV, and so I rarely see those. There’s not a lot of travel, and the main cast tend to have fittings on the same day they’re shooting other scenes. Still, you should definitely be aware of those acronyms, as well.

A few weeks ago, I asked if PA boot camps had ever really helped someone find a job. Well, a “past student” wrote this harsh review a few days ago:

Other posters are claiming the course was great, so say many of these posts. However, there is no evidence it will lead to work on anything paid.

I was in the studios before (Not as a PA, something lower), and I had experience on walkies all the time. The boot camp told me I didn’t do well on them and I am 100% sure it was when I put mine on. The walkies they used were NOT like the ones I used in the studio I was at several years before. So it took me a minute or so to learn how to string the damn thing through my shirt, et.

Aside from that, I made ONE mistake on the call sheet. ONE. While so many other students those 2 days kept saying “Struggling” over and over. I knew how to read call sheets as I’ve been an extra, and extras were AMAZED when I’d tell them what SWF meant and all that, and some of them were regular stand-ins who worked every day. Then again, I could not be put on a list for PA work because to them, I was bad at the walkie, either stringing it on or that ONE mess up when I did say “Struggling” one time as opposed to so many others who said it constantly.

When I called PA boot camp and asked them after a year what the problem was, they told me back in 2012 that my walkie experience was not good, I had “trouble on it”. Wow. I am now back in the studios (not as a PA mind you) but something else, and we use walkies ALL THE TIME. Yet I am not on the “List” because I didn’t know how to put “their” walkie on correctly OR made one error reading the call sheet while on the walkie. Their walkie had this big wire and I had no clue how to get it on. If that’s why I was bad with the walkie, all I can say is WOW. I even wrote down how to string the damn thing through so it would stay on. I took a lot of notes and got told I was bad at it.

Out of all the students in my class, I had experience in the studios, nobody else had much. It was my goal to take the class because someone I worked with at the studios before told me that nobody would hire me as a PA if I didn’t take that class. I took it. It was fun. I learned a lot. But that’s the feedback I got a year later after I called them and asked them if I was on a list or not. I don’t think anyone gets on that list unless they brown nose. I’m not that type. I’ve seen brown nosers get PA jobs and other stuff in LA without a resume or experience.

This kinda goes along with what I had said in my post:

The student-teacher ratio is something like a dozen to one, and some of them offer courses every single weekend. Even though most of the instructors are working ADs, there simply aren’t enough PA gigs to offer to that many students.

It sounds like they look for any excuse to not recommend you, in order to whittle those numbers down.

Basically, don’t waste your money on a bootcamp. Back the Crew Call Kickstarter, instead!

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can Help Bring Crew Call Back

The first season of Crew Call was pretty great. We got advice from producer Ryan Murphy, heard hilarious stories from prop master Jim Falkenstein, and learned how to get a job as a writer’s assistant from Stuart Friedel.

If you want more below-the-line interviews, we can use your help. The first and most direct way, obviously, is to back the Kickstarter campaign. Even a $5 contribution helps. What else are you going to do with your tax refund?

But if you wound up owing the government money,1 you can still help. Just share the link with your friends on Facebook and Twitter: http://kck.st/1F9bumf The more people see it, the more likely we’ll get the funding needed to record a second season.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Or, as I like to see it, paying them back for their interest-free loan.
Posted in About Me, Crew Call | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Who’s On Set?

Callsheets are, for the most part, self-explanatory. It gives you information like the call time, location address, and things of that sort. But a reader recently asked what the “status” column in the cast section meant, and I realized maybe it’s not all as self-explanatory as I thought.

The cast section of the callsheet generally has eight columns: No. (number), Cast, Character, Status, Make-Up, Reh. (rehearsal), On Set, and Remarks.

Each character is assigned a number; on a TV series, the regular cast members generally keep that number for the run of the show. The biggest star tends to be assigned the 1, the next biggest is 2, and so on. Occasionally, the most famous person isn’t the lead, and egos can be bruised depending on that numbering.1

For the guest cast, it’s really the AD’s preference as to whether a character is given a number throughout the season, or if the numbers are assigned on an episode-by-episode basis. In the latter case, a guy could be 13 one week, and 10 the next, which can be confusing for the actor.

“Cast” refers to the person’s actual name; “character” is the character’s name. Sometimes aliases are used. Callsheets are rather disposable, and people leave them lying around all the time. The mere presence of a certain character could be considered a spoiler, so the producers/studio/network may want that concealed.

“Status” is probably the most opaque of these columns. You’ll generally only see these acronyms: SW, W, WF, SWF, and H. Very rarely, you’ll also see R.

SW stands for “Start Work;” this is their first day of filming. W simply means “Work;” they’re shooting, but it is neither their first nor last day on the job. WF is “Work Finish,” the last day. SWF means this is their one and only day on set.

H stands for “Hold.” Generally speaking, unless there’s a large gap in time (I think the rule is ten shooting days), actors are on hold between shooting days. Technically, this means you can also call them in if need be, and they shouldn’t have booked any other jobs.

Budgetarily, a hold day is a complete waste, because the actors are paid for hold days. ADs try to avoid putting an actor on hold as much as possible, although sometimes it’s unavoidable.

R means “rehearsal.” This means the actor is given a call time and a place to show up, but they won’t actually appear on camera. You almost never see this on a TV series, because there’s no time. I have seen it for particularly tricky stunts, though.

Back to the call sheet itself. “Make-Up,” “Reh.,” and “On Set” are all specific times the actor is expected to be somewhere. Generally, they report to hair and make-up first. Rehearsal should start right at call time (assuming they’re first in), so the crew can see the blocking and start setting up the lights and cameras. “On set” means cameras should be rolling.

Speaking of call times, don’t forget to contribute to the Crew Call Kickstarter campaign. We really need your help to get season 2 off the ground!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. If you’re a PA, that’s well above your pay grade.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged | 1 Comment

Wrap Etiquette

Christie writes in:

A show I’m currently working on is wrapping and today’s my last day. Would it be worth sending cards to the APOC, POC, line producer, etc (we didn’t have an AD). I realise I’ve left it quite late – it just occurred to be today. Or would that be too brown-nosey?

Here’s the truth– there is almost nothing you can do that is too brown-nosey. This is Hollywood; people like to have their egos stroked.

The nice thing about a card is, no one sends physical cards anymore. When was the last time you saw a Hallmark store? I’m pretty sure they just make deep-cable movies-of-the-week, now.

Anyway, if you somehow find some nice stationery, a nice (and short), hand-written letter will be much appreciated. It’s much more personal than an email or text. Plus, it’ll help you stand out.

The next time they’re putting together their production office, trying to decide which PAs to hire, someone will say, “What about Christie? You know, the one who sent us that nice note?” As opposed to, “Which one’s Christie? Was she the tall one?”

One last thing, though– make sure it’s sincere, and personal. Mention something specific to the person you’re writing: an inside joke, a shared interest, or even just a note of gratitude for showing you the ropes.

That sincerity is the difference between forming relationships and “networking.”

Posted in On the Job | Tagged | Leave a comment

How Long Is Your Day?

Julie writes in:

Do office PAs also work 12 hour days? I was under the impression this was only for set PAs, but have heard otherwise recently, so I’d love some clarification.

You have been sadly misinformed. Office PAs certainly do work 12 hours. The late shift PA can work far longer, if the shoot goes long. The morning and middle shifts tend to be capped at twelve hours; they don’t want to pay overtime if they don’t have to.

Set PAs, on the other hand, work for as long as the company is shooting. You’re there from the moment the teamsters open up the trailers, until they lock up and roll out again. If the AD knows it’s going to be an exceptionally long day, the set PAs will be staggered, too, but generally, they’re still working more than twelve on any given day.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Where Should the Next TAPArty Be?

So far, every TAPA networking event has been at places I like to hang out.1 But I don’t want to repeat myself, so now I’m reaching out to you, dear reader, for advice.

Where should the next TAPArty be? Is there a laid-back neighborhood bar you like? Or a cool tavern down the road? Maybe another cafe, like last time? Let me know in the comments what you recommend.

Also, don’t forget to to support the Crew Call Season 2 Kickstarter campaign. Every little bit helps; even a $5 contribution boosts our numbers. And if you can’t do that (PAs get paid very little), just share it with your friends.

Or even share it with your producer. Remember, we’re looking for sponsorships from production companies, too, to feature their crew on the show.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Am I giving away where I live?
Posted in Crew Call, TAPA Meetup, The Industry | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

How to Find the Number to the Production Office

Brooke writes in:

I am looking for a specific internship on a production set and looking for information on whom to ask. I’m trying to find out through Warner Brothers if they know if there are internships on the production set of Supernatural. I researched for months about whom to contact and only yesterday was able to find a correct number to ask for information.

On the Warner Brothers website in the Frequently Asked Questions section, it says this:

Q: “I am interested in a production internship. How do I obtain an internship on set?”
A: “Production internships are dependent on production schedules and filming locations. We suggest that you try connecting with the productions directly as their internship hiring is frequently handled by those working on set. Many productions hire production assistants as opposed to interns.”

My question to you is, how am I supposed to contact that production directly if there isn’t any information about how to contact them, let alone ask them about possible internships? And I mean none, zero, I’ve searched far and wide and have turned up nothing on how to contact a specific production to ask if they offer internships and Warner Brothers website is not very user friendly; especially the Warner Brothers Career website which only offers careers at Warner Brothers and no information on specific production set positions.

Any advice would be most appreciated, thank you.

Brooke seems like a go-getter, and that’s fantastic. Making it in this business takes a lot of effort, and so she’s much farther along than many people her age.

Unfortunately, that effort is misdirected. She’s made two big mistakes.

First, you can’t get your heart set on a specific film or show. Timing is everything: they need to be looking to hire someone at the exact time you’re looking to be hired. You have to meet their qualifications (both stated and unstated) and you have to have the right personality to fit in with that show.

And, in all honesty, I would recommend not working on a show you like. I’ve done it a few times, and it ended up ruining the show for me every time. But the opposite is true, too- I’ve worked on shows that I never would’ve given a chance, and wound up becoming a fan after working with a great cast and crew.

Brooke’s second mistake is calling the studio. Film studios are big, lumbering beasts with thousands of employees. And more than most businesses, they have wackos trying to sneak onto their property and harass those employees all the time. Studio switchboard operators are trained to not connect you to anyone unless you have a specific name and department.

Instead, you can call the production company, and ask one quick question: “What’s the number for the [show title] production office?” That’s it. Don’t bother trying to get your internship through them.

Because shows are autonomous. The studio/production company gives them money and/or notes, but that’s it. The producers are on their own when it comes to hiring crew, from DPs to PAs.

Once you have that number, call and ask for the APOC or coordinator, whoever is available. Tell them you’re a college student and you’re interested in interning for college credit.

Be prepared for a “No.” That’s right, they might turn down free labor. Crazy, but true. After the Black Swan lawsuit, many studios and networks passed very strict rules about hiring interns.

* * *

And here’s your daily reminder to back the Crew Call Kickstarter project! Check out the video made by TAPA fans like you:

Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Wrap Party Invitation

Marcus writes in:

I was a day player on something recently and didn’t get invited to the wrap party. Do you think the primary reason might be because they didn’t feel like I was a part of the crew enough, or because I am under age?

Someone that was also only on the project for a day got invited (granted, he could be an exception). Is it possible that I didn’t realize that my invitation was implied, because the details were attached to the call sheets I handed out on my last day? But I’m mainly guessing whoever was in charge thought it would be inappropriate because I am under 21.

I hope this question doesn’t seem petty, it’s just all foreign to me. I’m more interested in the opportunity to see the crew again than I am in the “party” aspect of it. What’s your take on all of this? I’m hesitant to ask any of the people I worked with.

If the information is on the call sheet, I would say that is an implied invitation.

But the saddest thing about being a PA is that you can get easily forgotten. Hell, I am a PA, and I often forget day players by the end of the shoot. Don’t take it as an insult. There’s a lot going on during any production.

The under-age thing is probably an issue, too. Most wrap parties involve a fair amount of drinking, especially if there are no under-age cast. Depending on the state, it’s possible you won’t be allowed in the venue.

Basically, though, the take away is, there is no take away. I’ve seen cast members accidentally left off of invites. The only significance is that you slipped somebody’s mind.

But you shouldn’t forget to check out the Kickstarter campaign for season two of Crew Call. (See what I did there?)

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 2 Comments