I Am Not A Lawyer

Various people have been pointing me towards this story about PAs suing for abuse. Unlike the Black Swan interns, these people were at least paid, but that’s probably little comfort.

The suit says the workers were not allowed to take breaks for meals or to use the restroom, leaving them to instead use their cars as bathrooms.

“Due to limitations on their ability to leave their assigned locations, many of the plaintiffs are forced to urinate and defecate into bottles and buckets in their vehicles,” the lawsuit says.

Awesome.

As I tweeted the other day, parking PAs are not really a thing in Los Angeles. On occasion, I’ve had to valet at parties in the hills to make ends meet between shows, but I’ve never had to do it while I was on a show. I mean, yeah, someone would ask me to park their car once in a while, but it wasn’t my whole, entire job.

What amazes me is how everyone involved must have stuck to this situation.

INT. PRODUCTION OFFICE – NIGHT

The UPM is hunched over his desk, reviewing hot costs. A nervous PA enters, knocking on the door.

UPM

What is it?

PA

Um, hi, boss. Uh... here’s the thing. We haven’t been given any breaks. We didn’t get broken for lunch. We didn’t even get to pee.

The UPM grabs a Perrier bottle off his desk, chugs the remainder, and holds it out across his desk.

UPM

Here. Pee in this.

The PA takes it, dubious.

UPM (CONT’D)

Anything else?

PA

I guess not. See you tomorrow.

Like, how do you come into work the next day after that? “Say Yes” has its limits.

And you know what really grinds my gears?

Remember when this show was funny?

It wasn’t just one guy who caused this. Several people up and down the chain of command were aware of what these PAs were going through, and not one of them put a stop to it. These kids were working long hours doing the most meaningless task for minimum wage, but that wasn’t enough for these assholes. They had to take their dignity, too.

Side note: one of the movies in question was Noah. During the Black Swan thing, several people brought up Darren Aronofsky, as if the director had any idea what the interns were doing. But this is the second Aronofsky movie in a row that’s been sued. What is going on with his sets?

Anyway, as the headline says, I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if these production assistants have a case. I’m also not from New York, so I don’t know the applicable employment laws.

In California, I can tell you that paying for overtime is required. That’s an easy sell; you wouldn’t even need a lawyer. Just file a wage claim with the state.

Also in California, employers are required to give a 30-minute meal break, and a 10-minute paid break for every four hour period. These rules are played fast and loose in the film business. Technically, you’re either supposed to be “relieved of all duties” during lunch, or the lunch break must be paid; neither of these happen in the production office.

As for the ten minute breaks, production is such a hurry-up-and-wait situation, the bosses figure you managed to take your break somewhere in there. But if the PAs are forced to pee in bottles? It’s safe to say they didn’t get their break.

Lastly, were all the PAs dudes? Because I can think of a whole lot of issues that a plastic bottle wouldn’t solve for me…

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The One Line Day Player

today’s episode is a little outside my usual PA mandate, but it keeps coming up on the show I’m on, and I want to rant somewhere.1

A “day player,” for those who don’t know, is someone who works on the production for only a day. This can be because we have a big scene that requires more grips and electrics than usual; it could be because a camera operator or make-up artist called in sick. Or, it could be an actor with a small part.

Let me back up a second. Consolidating an actor’s work to a single day is generally a good thing. Remember, personnel is the biggest expense on any set, and actors tend to be the biggest expense within that. The minimum guarantee for an actor is currently $906 per day.

Plus, you have to pay the actors for what are called “hold days.” If the actor shoots Monday and Friday, you have to also pay her for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, to “hold” her from other work.2

To avoid these costs, the AD and UPM try to schedule small parts for a single day, if at all possible. And thus, day players are born.

Taking a step even further back, these characters are created in the writer’s room. If the main character is put on trial, you’re gonna need lawyers, a jury, and a judge. It’s gonna be weird if the lawyers and judge don’t talk, so those are a given. You probably want the foreman to say, “We find the defendant… [dramatic pause]… not guilty!” The other 11 jurors can be extras to save money.

And you probably want the bailiff to shout, “All rise! Court is now in session!”

Except… do you? If you just start the scene already in session, the bailiff is an extra. He’s minimum wage, plus the cost of lunch and a uniform. For those seven words, he gets a pay bump of $766!

That’s two grips. Or five and a half PAs. Or another week in the edit suite. Or a round of Starbucks for the entire cast and crew. So, really, is that character with one line really worth all that?

Okay, yes, occasionally a character with one line is totally worth it:

But as a general rule, outside the paycheck, it’s not even worth it for the actor. Someone with one line isn’t a “character.” They’re not really playing anything; it’s just functional. This scene isn’t going to end up on their reel.

Tarantino1 said in an interview once that he never writes a purely functional character. He gives every part some personality, or conflict, or at the minimum, an affect. Something.

The waiter who starts the scene with “Are you ready to order?” is the antithesis of this. It’s wasteful, it’s unengaging, and there’s a 95% chance it’ll get cut, anyway. I really, really wish the writers would understand the downstream effects of their seemingly innocuous decisions.

I haven’t seen this issue come up in every show I’ve worked for. I honestly wonder if that’s because those showrunners are thinking about the budget in these minute details.

[[3]]I think it was Tarantino.[[3]]

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Remember, dear readers, it’s a bad idea to rant about your workplace at work.
  2. At that point, you’d probably just hire them at the weekly rate; I’m just explaining for illustrative purposes.
  3. today’s episode is a little outside my usual PA mandate, but it keeps coming up on the show I’m on, and I want to rant somewhere.1

    A “day player,” for those who don’t know, is someone who works on the production for only a day. This can be because we have a big scene that requires more grips and electrics than usual; it could be because a camera operator or make-up artist called in sick. Or, it could be an actor with a small part.

    Let me back up a second. Consolidating an actor’s work to a single day is generally a good thing. Remember, personnel is the biggest expense on any set, and actors tend to be the biggest expense within that. The minimum guarantee for an actor is currently $906 per day.

    Plus, you have to pay the actors for what are called “hold days.” If the actor shoots Monday and Friday, you have to also pay her for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, to “hold” her from other work.2

    To avoid these costs, the AD and UPM try to schedule small parts for a single day, if at all possible. And thus, day players are born.

    Taking a step even further back, these characters are created in the writer’s room. If the main character is put on trial, you’re gonna need lawyers, a jury, and a judge. It’s gonna be weird if the lawyers and judge don’t talk, so those are a given. You probably want the foreman to say, “We find the defendant… [dramatic pause]… not guilty!” The other 11 jurors can be extras to save money.

    And you probably want the bailiff to shout, “All rise! Court is now in session!”

    Except… do you? If you just start the scene already in session, the bailiff is an extra. He’s minimum wage, plus the cost of lunch and a uniform. For those seven words, he gets a pay bump of $766!

    That’s two grips. Or five and a half PAs. Or another week in the edit suite. Or a round of Starbucks for the entire cast and crew. So, really, is that character with one line really worth all that?

    Okay, yes, occasionally a character with one line is totally worth it:

    But as a general rule, outside the paycheck, it’s not even worth it for the actor. Someone with one line isn’t a “character.” They’re not really playing anything; it’s just functional. This scene isn’t going to end up on their reel.

    Tarantino1 said in an interview once that he never writes a purely functional character. He gives every part some personality, or conflict, or at the minimum, an affect. Something.

    The waiter who starts the scene with “Are you ready to order?” is the antithesis of this. It’s wasteful, it’s unengaging, and there’s a 95% chance it’ll get cut, anyway. I really, really wish the writers would understand the downstream effects of their seemingly innocuous decisions.

    I haven’t seen this issue come up in every show I’ve worked for. I honestly wonder if that’s because those showrunners are thinking about the budget in these minute details.

    [[3]]I think it was Tarantino.

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

Incorrect Credits

Ryan writes in:

My first feature film I ever worked on was recently released.

After seeing fellow friends and crew members post pictures of their name in the credits, I noticed mine was there, too. It was listed wrong on two accounts: my title was incorrect as well as my name.

They originally signed me on as an unpaid intern and quickly moved me up to a full-time, paid P.A. They credited me as my legal name (different last name that I only use on my tax forms) and as an intern. No one knew me by that name except the accountants.

Needless to say, I was disappointed and even embarrassed to claim credit on the film or bring it up. Now it is there for forever. What professional and personal experience do you have with dealing with incorrect credits?

First of all, don’t freak out. This happens to everyone at some time or another. I guarantee you, there is a movie out there somewhere with a credit that reads “Stephan Spellberg.”

Keep in mind, the end credits are among the last things to be created for the film. They were put together months after filming, probably by someone who never set foot on set. Most shows have a “credited as” line in your start work, but that could have gotten lost in the intervening months. And the fact that you were promoted is easy to overlook, considering your job probably didn’t change much after the promotion.

So, what can you do? Start with forgetting the end credits. The movie’s out, they’re done. There’s a line in your contract that says the producers can credit you however they like, or not at all, to cover their asses when mistakes like this happen.

But that doesn’t really matter, because no one watches the end credits, unless there’s a chance Samuel L. Jackson is going to come out at the end. Sure, it’s fun to see your name on the big screen, but that’s not the point.

The point is, you want a job. And the way to get a job is to say, “Hey, someone hired me before to do the same job.” That’s what your credits are for. They go on your resume.

Occasionally, someone will want to confirm that you’re not lying through your teeth on your resume. Do you think they’ll pull the DVD off their shelf, even if they happen to own the movie? No, they’ll check IMDb.

What you need to do is, sign up for an IMDb account. It doesn’t even have to be a pro account. Sign up, go to the page for the movie in question, and scroll to the bottom. There you’ll find an “edit page” button.

In Ryan’s case, I wouldn’t even bother changing the incorrect credits; just add a new one. Put yourself down as a PA. For everyone else, you’ll have to provide a reason for the correction. Something simple like, “incorrect job title” has always worked for me in the past.

While you’re tooling around IMDb, it’s a good idea to make sure all your credits are linking to the same name. You don’t want half your credits on Jane Smith’s page, and half on Jane Smith (IX)’s. Again, you have to give IMDb a “reason,” so just write something along the lines of, “They credited the wrong Jane Smith”.

And while you’re messing with IMDb, add Señor Spielbergo to the credits, just to see if anyone notices.

From A Burns for All Seasons

Posted in On the Job, The Industry | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Per Diem

Brian writes in:

Love your blog…it’s so helpful and I really appreciate the info!

A little about me: I am a new-ish PA with a few local, unpaid shoots under my belt. I recently got hired as a paid PA, and I am super excited about it!

They are covering travel and hotel for sure, and are giving me $500 per diem pay. My question is this: Is per diem for the random coffee runs I’ll be making? Or will it cover my meals as well?

Your post mentioned both, and I’m sure it varies by production, but I’d welcome any insight you may have.

I don’t wanna eff anything up with these guys. They have discussed the possibility of a long term relationship!

I’m assuming this is the post Brian is referring to:

If you’re shooting out of town, the production needs to do a few things– pay for your hotel, pay for your transportation, and pay per diem to cover expenses. If they do not pay for these things, you should not work on this show.

I can see how that’d be unclear. Per diem covers your expenses, not the production’s. If they’re sending you on coffee runs,1 you’ll be using petty cash. Save those receipts, and turn them in to accounting.

What exactly per diem is for can change from show to show. In general, you should not have to incur any expenses while shooting on location. This includes lodging, transportation (both to the remote location, and to set from your hotel), and food.

It’s usually easier (and cheaper) if a travel coordinator arranges all the flights and hotel reservations for the cast and crew. Some people will also be given rental cars (the cast and department heads). Everyone else will be shuttled from the hotel to set via transpo vans.

Breakfast and lunch are usually provided on set, but you’re also entitled to dinner (even if they provide a hot, walking meal before wrap), as well as three meals on your off days. No one wants to deal with 600 receipts for every weekend, so the studio just says, “You get $60 per day. Go nuts.”

Most people won’t spend the entire per diem on food; instead they’ll pocket it as extra cash. If you’re a light eater, I recommend this course of action.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Something that’s become far less common since the time I started.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Peak Job Opportunities

If you hadn’t heard the good news, I’m happy to be the first to tell you. In 2015, there were 409 scripted television series. That’s not reality, news, MOWs, specials, soaps, or kids shows.

John Landgraf calls this “peak TV,” and seems to think it’s a bad thing, for some reason? For people who watch TV, it’s great. You’ve got 409 shows on the air, plus all the old series on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

For people who work in TV, it’s even better news. All of those new shows need writers, actors, and crew, from producers on down to lowly PAs like you and me.

This is a great time to get into the business, but there’s no guarantee how long this will continue. You need to establish yourself as invaluable as quickly as possible. When the bubble bursts, as it inevitably must, you don’t want to be blown away.

Posted in Finding a Job, The Industry | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Name That Goes on Your Resume

What name should you put at the top of your resume? You’d think the answer would be obvious, but it does come up from time to time in my resume service, so I thought it bore writing about.

The name you put on your resume is the name you go by. If the name on your birth certificate is “Felix Jimenez,” but you prefer to go by your middle name, Carlos, just go ahead and write “Carlos Jimenez” on the resume.

Eventually, when you get the job, put your legal name name on the start paperwork. One of the accountants may say, “Oh, I didn’t know your first name was Felix,” and you might say, “Yeah, but I hate cats.”

This sign would literally keep me up at night back in film school.

Or car dealerships…

And that would be the end of it.

Now, if you simply go by a shortened form of your given name (“Jessie” for “Jessica,” “Marc” for “Marcus”), go ahead and put the longer form of the name there, if you like. I do that myself; makes me feel more like a grownup.

I’m a little torn if you go by a silly nickname, like “Nooj”1 or something. I might save that particular sobriquet for the first day in the office. On the other hand, once you’ve built up a reputation as a stellar PA, all of your references will remember “Nooj.” If the coordinator calls up and says, “How did you feel about Steve Trevor?”, they may not know who they’re referring to.

In that case, “Steve ‘Nooj’ Trevor” is probably a good idea. Or, better idea: get a less dumb-sounding nickname.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I made this up out of thin air. If your nickname really is “Nooj,” I apologize.
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In Appreciation of Hair and Make Up Artists

I’ll be honest, I never really respected hair and make up artists all that much. I didn’t get why it should take two hours to make an already attractive woman appear attractive on camera.1

The on-set hair and make up artists made even less sense to me. I can see the actors with my own two eyes. They look fine. Much better than I would standing under hot lights saying the same three lines over and over and over. So why do the MUAs have to jump onto set between every goddamn take to double check every strand of hair is in place?

Turns out, there is a very good reason: continuity.

As I’m standing by video village, worrying about the number of setups we’re getting before lunch, making sure the base camp PA knows who’s up next, keeping tabs on the director and producer and AD in case they need anything, I don’t really notice each and every detail of the actors’ make up. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. Who’s gonna notice?

That’s what I thought, anyway, until I worked on an indie movie last year that had a less-than-stellar hair and make up team. They didn’t dart between the camera crew and grips and whoever else between each take to ensure the actors looked their best. They didn’t attend to every detail. And I thought, “See? No big deal.”

Then I went to a crew screening over the weekend, and Oh. My. God. In one scene, an character gets on an elevator while chatting with her boyfriend. Cut to the ground floor, when she steps off, it looks like they took the express elevator with the windows open. Her hair was all over the place, and backlighting caught every single misplaced lock.

Even within scenes, continuity was all over the place. Her ponytail is nice and tight in one shot, loose and falling apart in the next. Parted on the left, then parted on the right, then dead center.

I’m not one of those people who lives to point out continuity mistakes. I swear, I didn’t even notice Ash’s chainsaw switch hands in Evil Dead II. If I catch something on the first viewing, it’s pretty bad.

So, I apologize, make up and hair stylists. Like many crafts in our business, your work goes unnoticed unless you screw up. And that’s okay, because ours is a thankless life. But it’s not okay that a fellow crew member didn’t notice.

That’s all changed for me, now. I appreciate what you do, and now some of my readers will, too.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Honestly, I still don’t, but I assume they’re doing something right, as this story tells. Why are you reading the footnotes anyway? Get back to the post!
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Can a Writer Help a PA?

Felecia writes in:

So there are some people that I’ve worked with before who now write on other shows. I was wondering if I sent them my resume and they forward it to whoever does the hiring on their show, does the fact that it came from one of the writers matter? Or would it probably just get added to the pile of all the other resumes they have?

I did this once before where I sent my resume to someone I worked with who got hired as a writer on a show and they sent it to whoever it needed to be sent to, but nothing ever came of it. Should I bother trying again?

A good rule of thumb is: Who the hell knows?

Seriously, I’ve gotten jobs from stranger recommendations than a writer. My sister’s high school boyfriend, who I didn’t even know moved to L.A., got me a job once.

A lot of factors go into hiring someone– the needs of the show, the PA’s qualifications, their personality, internal politics, budget, the time of day, the coordinator’s mood, whether the moon is in flux with Mars. Who the hell knows?

A recommendation from someone is (almost) always better than a cold email. But any number of things could’ve happened between you writer friend passing on the resume and the coordinator actually calling applicants for interviews.

Even the most junior of writers get some deference from the office staff. Within a season or two, they’ll have “producer” in their title, and people will really begin to care what they think. Friends in high places are almost never a bad thing.

Just make sure you earn it once you land the job.

Posted in Finding a Job, On the Job | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Asking For Help

Kristen writes in:

I’ve spent the better part of today reading your blog. First off, thank you. I learned a lot and the honest, tough-love from a veteran is appreciated (and more palatable in text than in a cynical tone to one’s face).1

I’m still pretty new to freelancing and film in general. Most of my experience is in live performance (I’m a puppeteer). After performing in a pilot, I fell in love with film and wanted to be involved in any way I could. Right now I am PA-ing, and I hope to move into the Art Department soon.

Most of the projects I have worked on have been pretty small. I’ve grown accustomed to taking out trash and cleaning and running errands. On the last few films I worked on, I would make a run whenever any department needed something.

This week I started work on my first big-time production. The size of the thing is a bit overwhelming — it’s at a real studio, we’re using 3 stages, and there are so many people! People whose rankings I’m not familiar with.

I’m assisting the Creature FX team. My problem is that someone will ask for something and they don’t want me to run an errand. I’m supposed to get it (Furni Pads, solder, tools, etc.) from another department. I don’t really know anyone on set, and I don’t want to piss people off.

I feel like I have annoyed some (especially the 2nd AD’s) by not knowing WHO I am supposed to ask for WHAT. I spent about 2 hours trying to get someone to loan me a furni pad one day, and my team has officially annoyed the SPFX guys by my going over to borrow something multiple times a day.

What is the protocol for this kind of thing? I’ve read through a lot of information about what the different departments do in a film crew, but I can’t find much about which ones to go to in order to borrow things, who in the department to ask, and who to turn to first when I have questions. I’ve been asking the 2nd ADs because they were the first people I interacted with on set and their trailer is right next door, but I got the sense I’m NOT supposed to bother them first.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

It’s okay to ask for help. Really, it is. Film sets can be big, noisy, confusing places, if you’ve never been on one before. No one expects you to know every department and esoteric term right off the bat. Go ahead and ask.

I realize this may sound like a complete contradiction of my usual advice to figure it out for yourself, but it’s not. 99% of an office PA’s job is doing stuff that a normal adult should know how to do– order lunch, run copies, drive across town in the middle of Goddamn rush hour and resisting the urge to ram your car into every idiot on the road. That sort of thing.

But set is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Presumably your boss knows your level of experience, so if you need something clarified, it’s not the end of the world. When your boss asks you to go get something, first respond, “Absolutely! I can definitely do that for you.” Then ask, “Where should I get that from?”

2nd ADs are always extremely busy. Running a set isn’t easy. But if the director can’t get her shot because the puppet won’t be done unless you find out where to get a furni pad from, surely the 2nd will be happy to direct you to the right person.

It’s tough when you’re the new person. The best way to not get on people’s nerves is to be friendly and amenable. Be friendly, ask politely. Don’t interrupt someone when they’re in the middle of something. You probably know what it’s like to be focusing on a task, and someone starts talking; not only do you have to stop what you’re doing, it takes a minute to get back into it, too.

I seriously doubt you’re annoying the 2nd ADs. It probably feels that way, because, as I said, they’re frequently stressed out. Some take that out on the crew when they shouldn’t. If that’s the situation you’re in, well… grin and bear it.

PS: Set dec usually has a TON of furni pads. They’re the ones with the furniture, after all.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Friendly reminder: Do as I do, not as I say.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Show Me Your ID

Esteban writes in:

I’ve been a PA for a while in the reality tv circuit and today was actually my first coffee run something that I imagined would be smooth and a little late coming. The production coordinator handed me the company card with his and the company’s name on it.

The barista said it was company policy to see my ID, and since I’m not the production coordinator, the names didn’t match and the sale could not be completed by the cashier.

How do you get around this? I had my walkie on and even my local film offices t shirt on. I mean you can see production on me from a mile away and even googled the company name for the cashier. Is this a common thing?

I freakin’ hate it when this happens. But I’m a do-or-die kind of girl, so I will unashamedly set gender relations back 50 years by turning on the waterworks if that what it takes to get the producer her half double-decaffeinated, half half-caf, with a twist of lemon.

That’s not going to help Esteban much, though.

There are a couple of ways to prevent this from happening in the future. To start with, call ahead the first time you go someplace with your boss’s card. Let them know it’s a company card, and ask if it’ll be a problem.

Additionally, I type up a form letter on the show or company’s letter head:

To whom it may concern:

I grant permission to [TAPA] to use the [company] credit card ending in -####, for matters relating to [show].

Thank you for your cooperation.

[signature]

Then, I copy both the credit card and the coordinator’s driver license underneath that.

I have no idea if this is in any way legal or official, but it’s worked 100% of the time sinse I started using it. And even if the barista or prop house or whoever shouldn’t take this letter at face value, so what? You’re not actually committing fraud. You’re doing what the cardholder wants you to do.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 7 Comments