You Need To Learn How To Write

I don’t mean you need to learn how to create believable characters and craft interesting stories.

I mean, you need to learn how to write legibly.

Even this late in the season (three days to go!), we get new crew members almost every day. Usually they’re day players, but it doesn’t matter if you’re here for a day or for the entire season– you still need to fill out your start work.

And you need to fill it out neatly. All that time in grammar school you spent practicing writing your name? Here’s where it counts. Sloppy handwriting on your start work is why your name is spelled wrong on the crew list; more importantly, it’s why your check gets sent to the wrong address.

Payroll gets probably close to a thousand start packets over the course of a season. Add to that the constant flow of daily time sheets and time cards, and you’ll realize why they’re not going to chase down every single person who writes like a first grader.

And not to be xenophobic, but if you’ve got a unusual, non-Western name, this applies double to you. I can probably suss out “Adam,” but if you run the letters together on “Vaishnavi,” I’m never going to get that right.

This also holds true for you if you have a non-standard spelling for a normal name. I’m looking at you, SanDeE*.

But forget those special cases. Really, everyone should be careful about filling out their paperwork. It’s not for us in the office; it’s for you. You want to get paid on time, don’t you?

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A High Class Problem: How to Choose Between Two Offers

Nick writes in:

I recently was called by a Production Coordinator I’ve worked with previously for an Office PA position on a TV show.  He mentioned the show’s producer/writer was also in need of an assistant, and if I preferred I could take that position.

Which position make the most sense to take from a career advancing standpoint?  As far as I know, the pay is the same.  In the office I get to work with a solid production office team I know and like.  I’ve never met the writer/producer, but it sounds like it would be interesting to try out a new role.

My long-term goal is to be a film producer, so I’m excited about the prospect of working with a producer and seeing first hand what their day-to-day is like (although I know TV and film producers have very different jobs).

Writer-producers aren’t real producers, not in the sense that you want to be. They’re writers with nice titles (and paychecks).

I’m not saying writing is an easy job. It’s very difficult, and few people can do it. But they’re not the ones making the budget, setting the schedule, organizing every department, and ensuring the film actually gets made.

Writer-producers get involved in the creative aspects of the show; they spend a lot of time in concept meetings, on set, and in editorial. They get to offer their artistic opinions on the aesthetic nature of the show. But they’re not getting into the nitty-gritty of making sure the crane shows up on set at the right time.

That being said, writer-producers have connections to the people you want to get to know, whether you want to be a writer or producer.

While it’s great working with the people in the office you like, they’ll be the only people you’re going to work with. As a producer’s assistant, you’ll be dealing with the studio, network, agents, other producers. More importantly, you’ll be dealing with those people’s assistants, who will eventually grow into those jobs, just like you will. Ten years from now, you’ll have the network you need to make a great producer.

If you want to be a producer, take the producer’s assistant job.

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Speaking of networking, check out the latest assistant get-together, happening April 29.

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

Your First Day on Set

In case you missed it over the weekend, I wrote a guest post for the Work in Entertainment blog. If you’ve never worked on set, you should give it a read. It covers everything: where to go, who to talk to, what you’re going to eat.1

And if you haven’t heard of Work in Entertainment, you should definitely check them out. They list all kinds of jobs, not just in production, but for studios and production companies. All over the country, too! They’re quite a resource, if your show just finished its season.

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While you’re clicking links, you should check out Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast. It’s going to be like nothing you’ve ever heard! Actually, it’s going to be exactly like podcasts you’ve heard, only with different interview subjects.

Rather than talk to writers, directors, and actors, I’m going to have conversations with the real filmmakers: DPs, editors, production designers, ADs. You’ll get a whole new perspective on filmmaking.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Basecamp; the 2nd AD; lots.
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What’s Taking So Long?

Different types of shows have their own rhythms.

Multi-camera shows build slowly, from a simple table read and maybe a rehearsal on day one, all the way up to the full-0n craziness of a 16 hour shoot night. Single-camera comedies can be a grind, because something is always going on, whether it’s a tech scout or production meeting or read-through squeezed in at lunch.

Hour-longs are definitely tough on the set crew, but here in the office, we do get a breather now and then. The first day of an episode tends to be light, since there’s usually no prepping director, yet.1

On action shows, these relaxed days are balanced about by massively stressful second unit and double-up days.2 For the office (and other departments, I’m sure), these are actually three-day affairs, doubling the amount of prep the day before, and the amount of paperwork the day after.

And then there are the two-people-talking-in-a-room dramas. After my sitcom wrapped for the season, I moved to one of these to fill in for a friend during their last episode and a half. I knew it wouldn’t be as cushy as the sitcom, but I figured it couldn’t be as bad as a show with explosions and car chases.

They sure are steering a lot for a straight road. And that's the only unusual thing I see in this.

I hope I’m not giving away my identity by showing a clip from my show.

I was wrong.

We went into overtime every day last week, and we’re already behind this morning. I have no idea what’s going on. Every scene is just two people in a room, talking rapidly, then pausing dramatically.

Not to oversimplify the director’s job, but here’s how you shoot that scene: Wide shot, two-shot, close-up, close-up, check the gate, moving on.

These directors, I think they’re bored. They realize this show is basically radio with pictures, so they spice it up with dolly moves and crane shots and a whole bunch of shit that’s going to be cut before the show finally gets on air.

Whether you’re an electric setting a light, a make-up artist touching up the cast, or a PA cueing the background actors, I’m all for doing the best you can in the job you have. But let’s focus on what’s actually going to make it on screen.

Twelve hours a day is bad enough; fourteen is ludicrous. Sixteen hours that could be ten, if only the director was realistic about what shots where necessary? That makes so, so…

Really, though, is there anyone you like when they're angry?

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

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In other news, I wrote a guest post for Work In Entertainment. It’s about your first day on set. You should read it.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. The DGA contract allots seven days of prep for an eight day episode. Go figure.
  2. Meaning one episode begins shooting while the next episode is still finishing. It’s not supposed to happen, but sometimes actor availability and other scheduling situations force it on us.
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The Next TAPA Meetup Is Happening!

So this is going to be a monthly thing, now. We’ll all get together, get drunk, and complain about how little PAs get paid.

Because I really hate it when groups meet up at the same time at the same place for every gathering, I’m shaking things up a bit.

First of all, we’ll be in Santa Monica, at the Bodega Wine Bar.

It’s got a great vibe, good prices, and most importantly, plenty of parking.1 It’s a little fancier than the last two TAPAloozas, but sometimes it’s nice to dress like a grownup, especially after a very long season.

The address is 814 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

But a bigger change than the location is the day of the week. This time, we’re meeting on a Tuesday. April 29th, to be specific.

Why Tuesday? Well, some people have shit to do on Sunday.2 Also, some people like to segregate the weekend from their work life.

Tuesday’s convenient because it’s not as hectic as Monday’s back-to-work vibe, but far enough from the weekend that you can follow up with the people you met and arrange a meeting before the weekend while you’re both still fresh in each other’s minds.

The television season is over for most shows, so even a lot of you who work on series can probably make a Tuesday night. Those of you who work on cable’s weird season schedule, I’m sorry. We’ll see you at the next one!

Click here to RSVP on Facebook, and invite your friends.

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Don’t forget to share Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast with your friends! http://kck.st/1lGuQru

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. A lesson I learned the hard way last time.
  2. Like church, maybe, you Godless heathen.
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Wrap Binders, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Wasting Paper

If you don’t know what wrap binders are, take a moment to bask in the beautiful bliss that is your ignorance. Your world is a magical one, but it is one I can be a part of no longer.

Wrap binders might just be the biggest waste of time, space, and paper in a business that wastes all three with regularity and alacrity.

You see, television has what’s called continuity, or internal consistency. (Usually.) Events in previous episodes have an effect on future episodes. More importantly, scenes themselves have to appear to take place over continuous time.

One way to keep track of that is with photographs. Thousands and thousands of photographs. Every item of clothing, every accessory, every hair cut, every facial scar needs to be catalogued visually, in case we need to revisit that scene.

I’m not talking about flashbacks, either; frequently in the edit bay, we learn parts of scenes need to be re-shot, or insert shots are required to make the scene flow more smoothly. That’s where you need continuity pictures for the vanity departments, to make sure everyone’s dressed and made up the way they were when we first shot the scene.

It goes beyond make-up and costume, too. The property department needs to make sure they have the exact right prop; set dec needs not just the right dressing, but needs to know where it goes.

It’s all very complex, and even the best script supervisor can’t keep every detail in her head. So, she takes pictures, as does every other department.

As little as ten years ago, these pictures were taken with Polaroids, but nowadays, we more often use digital cameras. For ease of use on set, these still get printed out, and saved in continuity binders.

What do we do once we wrap? We save the binders. Why back up the digital files on a hard drive when you can take up physical space in a warehouse with scores of binders from each show, times the dozens of shows each network has on the air?

This really is what the ABC warehouse looks like.

I need a reference photo from episode 14, season 7, day 3 of 8, of cast member 14.

And that’s just the tip of the too-many-binders iceberg.

Just about every department has to put together binders full of pictures and information about every asset they’ve purchased over the season. Production has to create binders that contain every call sheet, production report, L&D report, script, pages, script report, time sheet, camera report, sound report, and Jesus Christ, I can’t keep adding to this list report.

Then we come to post, and you can really go crazy.

Best. Treehouse of Horror. Ever.

Don’t mind if I do!

The vast majority1 of television series now shoot on video. The files are saved on a hard drive, transferred to a computer to for editing, uploaded to a network server, then transmitted via satellite and fiber optics to your television set at home. At no point do we need a physical medium to watch TV.

Yet when it comes to the post production wrap binder, they have to burn DVDs of each episode, along with dailies.

Why is this a thing? Why is any of this a thing? All of this information, the photos, the reports, the goddamn show itself, can be stored on a single thumb drive.

It’s a generational thing. I solve problems with computers because I grew up with computers. I think they’re wonderful tools, and superior in nearly every way to paper, especially when it comes to long term storage.

But all that will have to wait until my generation is in charge.

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Don’t forget to share Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast with your friends! http://kck.st/1lGuQru

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Possibly the entirety, now.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Looking for the Next Gig

First up: a reminder to check out the Kickstarter campaign for Crew Call.

On to the real topic of the day! Holly writes in with a question that a lot of people can probably relate to right about now:

With a little over a week left of shooting, talk of “the next show” has already begun. Some people in my department are getting ready or sending bids out for their next job. I’ve only been on this show for 3 weeks. I was a replacement for a political hire who had to go back to school. I’ve managed to make some good relationships in a short amount of time. When the time is right (when is that time even given my situation???) how do I approach these people about bringing me on to another job? And is there a “wrong” or “right” person to ask? I’ve worked in post before but this is my first big production so its a bit of a new step for me.

Our showrunner is in talks to do another show soon. He has a tendency to keep the same staff. Any advice would help. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Asking the showrunner for a job is probably a bad idea; he’s got more important things on his mind.

But if people are talking about their next job, it’s alright for you to, too. The best way is probably to be direct– “Oh, you’re going to be working on X? That’s so cool! You know, I don’t have anything lined up, yet. If you need a good art PA…” Or, if they’re not in a position to hire, you can say, “Could you put in a good word for me with the coordinator?”

I’d basically say that to anyone you’re on good terms with. Certainly the art department coordinator, but probably the other artists who work out of that office. Even the art director and production designer, if you get along with them.

Basically, if they know your name, it’s okay to ask them to keep you in mind for the next show. This advice applies to pretty much anyone, no matter what department you’re in.

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Don’t forget to share Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast with your friends! http://kck.st/1lGuQru

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Coming to America

Jess writes in:

I’m an experienced production set, location and office runner in Britain (basically our equivalent of a PA, sure you know that…) with loads of credits in prime-time UK TV programmes.

I’ve wanted to work in the US since ‘always’ but can’t for the life of me work out how to get my first job / rung over in the US.

So this is my question to you APA, how does a non-US citizen get work with LA/NY based production companies? I have friends in both states so moving wouldn’t necessarily be difficult.

Any tips or am I asking the impossible here?

I like how she (mis)spells “programs.” She probably calls seasons “series,” too. Funny colloquialisms aside, the immigration question is tough.

I’ve touched on the subject before, but it’s worth bringing up again.

I’m no immigration lawyer, but my understanding is, the US limits work visas to people who bring skills that can’t otherwise be found in America. (There might be other ways to get a visa, but again, I’m not an expert.)

Unfortunately, for you (and me, honestly), finding PAs in America isn’t hard. Hell, a lot of shows won’t hire PAs from out of state, much less outside the country.

If you can somehow find another legal way into the country, your experiences are definitely worth while. I would recommend using the title known to Americans, “production assistant,” rather than “office runner,” just so everyone’s on the same page.

Another option is to exercise patience. While PAing isn’t a unique skill, directing, writing, even editing, production designing, and cinematography…ing(?) definitely are. Work your way up in the English television industry, then move over here later on.

America is a great country, and we’ll be happy to have you. As long as you prove yourself useful to our economy.

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

Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast

I have officially launched the Kickstarter campaign for Crew Call: The Below-the-Line Podcast! And I couldn’t be more excited! Can’t you tell by all the exclamation points?!

Crew Call is just about the only place you’ll hear interviews with below-the-line crew; you know, the people who actually make the TV shows and movies you watch?

It’s going to be a weekly show, available right here on TAPA, or on iTunes, Stitcher, and other webbed sites on the intertubes where you young kids hang out nowadays.

As much fun as it’s going to be to talk to these talented, and often unsung, artists, it’s not going to be free. I need microphones, software, and most of all, bandwidth. That’s where you, and Kickstarter, come in.

I’m offering incentives at a range of price levels, from a personal thank you note, to bumper stickers, t-shirts, and USB drives that will come loaded with the entire first season of Crew Call.

I’m even offering to divulge my actual name, if anyone’s actually willing to put up the money for the highest tier. :D

So, if you’re interested in a podcast about the crew, or if you just want a cool TAPA bumper sticker, please consider contributing today.

And don’t forget to share it with your friends and followers! The more people who know about it, the more likely it is that Crew Call will become a reality.

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Upward Mobility

As we approach the end of the televsion season, Jason writes in about moving onward and upward to other shows:

I work on a tv show right now as a PA, but really I do more personal assistant type work for one of the shows producers.  It’s not that the job isn’t a good one, but I don’t feel like there’s any upward mobility on the show for me.

We shoot at a prominent studio, and there are plenty of other shows here that I would love to work on.  I don’t know how to go about meeting anyone on their crews, though, aside from lurking around where they shoot and trying to chat up PAs.  I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to how I can get to know the other crews.

Like I said, I’m more of a personal assistant than an actual PA. I mostly just run errands for my boss. I feel like she would feel betrayed if i tried to move into a different position. And I’m sort of secluded from the rest of the crew, so there hasn’t been much opportunity to impress anyone to the point that I would be promoted. Any thoughts on what you would do in that situation?

I wouldn’t recommend attempting to jump to another show. Upward mobility only happens when you stick with a show for multiple seasons. Jumping from one show to another means starting over.

Instead, you should go visit your own set. First of all, your boss surely goes there all the time; you’re not chained to your desk. Also, there should be a lot of departments in the same building as you– post, art, the production office, etc.

You can always stretch your legs and talk with them. I mean, you get coffee and snacks from crafty, right? There’s a reason “water cooler talk” is a thing.

The onomatopoeia in this is perfect.

No, not this kind of water cooler talk…

Then there’s the fact that you probably don’t work the same hours as the crew. From my experience, producer’s assistants tend to work normal (i.e. real world) office hours. If you’re on a single camera, why not swing by the set on those days when you’re done but they’re still shooting?

In short, I think you’re feeling more confined than you actually are. You’re the producer’s assistant; everyone wants to know you, since you have the producer’s ear. Use that to your advantage.

If, at the end of the season, you realize you’d like to be the Art PA or writer’s assistant or whatever, just tell your producer. It’s not a betrayal. They know that no one wants to be an assistant forever.

Plus, if you can recommend someone to replace you, you’ll curry favor with them. Hunting for a new assistant is a pain in the ass. Do that job for them, and you’ll be a hero.

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