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.


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 , , | 1 Comment

In Defense of the Valley

I was exchanging emails with a reader about my resume service, and at one point, he wrote this:

I just got hired for my first assistant position (for a writer/director) out in the valley. I hope it’s not porn.

People make fun of the San Fernando Valley a lot, and that’s fine. It is kinda dopey and there’s not a lot to do there and it gets up to, I think, around hundred and seventy degrees in the summer time, but you know what? I like the Valley.

There, I said it.

Yes, it’s the world’s largest suburb; if it ever manages to secede from Los Angeles, it would be America’s fifth most populous city, larger than Dallas or Philadelphia. But I grew up in the suburbs, and I think it’s actually nice to not have neighbors shouting, partying, fighting all night. It’s quiet here.

If I want to go out to a club or something, I don’t mind driving over the hill on a Saturday night. Or, more likely, taking the subway, because there’s no fucking parking over the hill. Half my night is spent circling around, trying to find a parking sign that doesn’t require a slide rule and a sextant to decipher.1

Seriously, fuck Culver City.

I like that I can actually park my car in front of my building.

Most importantly, three of the six major studios are up here in the Valley: Disney and Warners in Burbank, Universal Studios in, obviously, Universal City. Plus, CBS Radford is in Studio City.

Yeah, there’s other lots over the hill that aren’t owned by major networks or studios, but still, the Valley is pretty convenient for large chunks of your working life.

Also, they really do shoot a lot of porn here. So, if you need a fallback position, there’s that.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I’m genuinely impressed that both of these are available for purchase on Amazon.
Posted in Off-Topic, The Industry | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Survival Jobs

Racquel writes in:

I’m an aspiring scripted TV writer who’s been living in LA for almost 4 months now and am scrambling to survive financially. I’ve been utilizing TAPA, the UTA joblist, EntertainmentCareers, LinkedIn, Mandy, the Friedman Agency, and any person from the industry I come in contact with to try to land a gig. I’ve been on 3 interviews, but I didn’t get any of the positions because I don’t have much prior experience in entertainment.

I live with my parents who have been very helpful. Yet and still, my credit cards are nearly maxed, and my savings are depleting. I do have a small glimmer of hope with a non-industry related job that I might get, but….it’s non-industry related. I desperately need a steady income right now, and I plan to continue to write, and apply to jobs/fellowships while working full time. But, I wanted to know if you have any other recommendations for how to continue working towards entering the industry when I need to take any 9-5 I can get to pay the bills?

There’s no shame in taking a survival job while trying to get your start in the business. Breaking in is incredibly difficult and, honestly, four months isn’t that long.

The great thing about writing, unlike most other positions in the Industry, is that you you don’t need anyone else’s help or permission to do it. You can write whenever you like, wherever you like. Truth be told, most non-Hollywood jobs will allow more time to write than you’d have PAing twelve hours a day.

It’s true you need to make Hollywood connections in order for anyone to see your writing. Luckily, there are systems in place for that, too. A quick google search for “screenwriter networking” will turn up dozens of organizations. Meet other writers, and join a writers group. You may not have a job in the Industry, but surely someone there will. You don’t have to know the right person for your script; just a person who knows a person who knows the right person.

Mmmm, bacon...

Yes, I’m saying Kevin Bacon is the right person.

Everyone has had to take a shit job to pay the bills. Ya gotta eat. Don’t feel like you’re falling behind or alone in your situation. Just keep writing, every day.

The only way to guarantee you won’t make it is to quit.

Posted in The Industry, Writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Bad Movie Is Still a Good Job

I’m a big fan of On The Media, especially their off-air podcast interviews. Last week, they had a fascinating conversation with Alec Baldwin:

I recommend listening to the whole thing, but the salient point for my readers is about nine and a half minutes in, regarding people who had been bad-mouthing the latest Schwarzenegger movie:

When Arnold goes to work, three hundred people in this business go to work on high-paying, skilled union jobs.

And when he’s made three hundred million dollars in profit for Warner Brothers, thirty million of that, ten percent, goes into a research and development budget that’s going to develop the next movie you’re in.

While I don’t have a high-paying job, his point is well taken. It really doesn’t matter if the movie is good or bad. It’s a job. And that’s a good thing.

This is why I have little patience for above-the-liners leaving a television series because they’re no longer feeling creatively fulfilled. I mean, if the show can continue without you, whatever. I’m talking about people who quit, which leads directly to the show’s cancellation.

Basically, what they’re saying is, “I’m bored, so I’m going to put 300 people out of work.”

I imagine it’s a tough decision; you got into the business to write or direct or act, but now you feel like you can’t do that to the best of your ability. For a lot of these people, the cost/benefit analysis is purely about the creative. They’ve made enough money that it’s no longer really a factor.

But that’s a shitty attitude to have when 300 co-workers and their families depend on you to put food on the table. I think you should have to walk onto the sound stage and look every crew member in the eye when you say, “I don’t really like this job anymore, even though my car1 costs more than your annual salary. Good luck finding another show!”

I think it’d be a lot harder to leave the show, then.

The next time you see a shitty movie or terrible show, sit through the credits. Think about the fact that, even though you didn’t enjoy the end product, at least all of these people had a decent job for a few weeks or months.

Unless the producer’s didn’t pay the crew, in which case, fuck those guys.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Or, in my case, his suit.
Posted in The Industry | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Fired for Doing the Right Thing

I had planned to write an entirely different post today, until I saw this comment from Pete on an old post:

I was just fired from a shoot after the AD’s placed me in back-to-back dangerous situations. The UPM declared that a PA is easier to replace than an AD, so they fired me.

Oh, man, this sucks. Pete did everything right; the UPM and AD did everything wrong. And Pete is the one who gets fired…

The best part is the little pause, like he's aaaaaalmost going to make it.

I cannot emphasize this enough for the newbs out there. Working on a set is dangerous. Know your limits, and don’t cross them just to impress the AD. This is how people get hurt. Your life is more important than this show.1

Just as importantly, they’re not supposed to fire you for refusing to do something unreasonably dangerous. And that’s why Cal/OSHA has an enforcement branch. I recommend reporting them immediately.

A PA is much easier to replace than an AD, but an investigation by the state is not so easily ignored. Especially if you’re talking about a major studio. That kind of thing can spread to other productions, slowing down the entire lot and costing millions of dollars.

Then, suddenly, the AD that put them in that situation is pretty replaceable.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Unless you’re a shitty person, or worked on Breaking Bad.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Helpful Connections

Felix writes in:

I had a question about calling POs after emailing them my resume. Is it necessary? Does it make a big difference?

I was talking to a friend of mine who works at a production company and she says she gets calls all the time from people about shows, after getting their info from production listings sites, and it’s annoying.

I’m asking because I emailed my resume this morning for a pilot where I’ve actually worked with the main actor/writer before as an intern on his last show. It was a small staff and this person knows/likes me. I know if whoever reads my resume mentions me to him and asks about me I’ll have a much greater chance of getting the gig, but I’m worried that won’t happen because my email will be lost in a flood of emails that have been sent and it’ll never be read. Should I call them?

Nope. Your friend is right, those kinds of calls are annoying. As a previous TAPA wrote:

They got your email. They may not have read it. Or, your resume just wasn’t as good as some others they received. Or, they had to give the job to some producer’s nephew.

Whatever the case, there is a 0% chance that you’ll help things by following up. You’re not applying to Project Mayhem.

There is, however, a medium-to-high likelihood of annoying someone with multiple emails. And that can’t be good for future job prospects.

It’s too late to give Felix this advice, but I’d say it was definitely worth mentioning any connection you have to the production in your cover letter.

That being said, knowing the lead actor wouldn’t impress me much, if I was sorting the resumes. Actors know lots of people; doesn’t mean you’re a good PA. Besides, actors wouldn’t necessarily know one way or the other, anyway. An AD or coordinator connection is much more useful.

In this case, it sounds like the actor is the key creative behind the new show. His opinion would carry a lot of weight. But that’s the time to contact him directly, and ask for a recommendation, if you have that kind of relationship. If not, simply telling the office “I knew that guy that one time” isn’t going to get you very far.

Posted in On the Job | Leave a comment

You’re Dating Wrong

I’m not talking about your romantic life. Although, that could be a mess, too. It’s hard to date when you’re on a show. But that’s neither here nor there.

No, I’m writing about how you write dates on documents. Most Americans write the month, then the day. Today is 11/02, for instance. That’s how we say them out loud, too: “November 2nd.”1

When we add the year, we put it at the end: “November 2nd, 2015.” It sounds right, but you’ll notice the order is kinda messed up; months are composed of days, but then years are composed of months or days. It’s sorted medium, small, big.

That’s why many other countries switch the day and month around; 2/11/15. It goes small to big, which is all nice and logical, right?



Numbers don’t work that way. Remember in grade school, when you learned about the thousands’ place, the hundreds’ place, the tens’ place, etc? This is called positional notation, and it’s basically the reason we can do math much more easily with our number system than with Roman numerals.2

Notice that this standard way of writing numbers goes big to small. I’m sure there a lot of good reasons for this, but for our purposes, the most useful feature is sorting.

Your show probably has a standard way of labeling files, like the call sheet. For instance, ShowTitle_callsheet_110215. This is fine for the first season, but come season two, 110216 falls between 110215 and 110315. That’s no good.

If you date it the European way, it’s even worse. 021115 is followed by 021215, or December 2nd, 2015. If you’re doing anything other than a short film, the dates are going to get messed up in a hurry.

That’s why I date computer year, month, day. I don’t write it that way on the PR heading or anything like that, just because people aren’t used to it. But it’s helpful for the file names, because you can sort things on the computer.

Sure, you can sort files by date in the file manager, but that’s assuming you’ve kept everything organized and neat. Suppose someone just throws all their files in one folder on the desktop. Then callsheets and PRs and everything are all mixed together.

Basically, what I’m saying is, year, month, day is a logical, useful progression. Maybe it won’t come up, but then again, maybe it will. It certainly won’t hurt to do it this way.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Unless it’s Independence Day, for some reason.
  2. Confession time: I actually wrote “numberals” first. Didn’t notice until it was underlined in red. :/
Posted in On the Job | Tagged | 2 Comments

How Am I Supposed to Do That?

A producer came into the office today, and asked that someone remove the arms from the chair in his office.1 The other PA’s immediate response was, “How are we supposed to do that?”


Yeah, it's a pun. I don't care.

Let that sink in…

Now, can anyone in the class tell me what he did wrong?

First of all, don’t ask the fucking producer how to take the arms off a chair. That’s not his job; it’s your job. Why is it your job? Because the fucking producer just told you to do it.

I didn’t immediately know how to take the arms of the chair. Hell, I didn’t know you could. Again, why would you want to do that?2

Doesn’t matter how or why or who or when. It’s your job to figure. It. Out.

I went it to the producer’s office, flipped the chair over, and looked at how the arm rests were attached to the chair. It was just a couple of screws! So, I whipped out my handy dandy Leatherman,3 unscrewed the screws, and flipped the chair back over. Took all of 45 seconds.

Granted, it could have been more complicated than that. It might have required an Allen wrench, which I don’t carry around. At that point, I’d excuse myself from the room, go down to construction, ask if I could borrow a set of hex keys for a few minutes (since I wouldn’t know the exact size).

What I wouldn’t do is ask the fucking producer how I was supposed to do it.

He’s producing a television show. I imagine he has a lot on his mind. My real job is to take stupid shit, like armrests, off of it, so he can focus on, I dunno, the budget or schedule.

What impresses a producer most is when he or she asks for something to get done, and it gets done. Period. No questions, no delays, no excuses. You want them to think, “You know, when I ask TAPA to get something done, it happens. Like magic. I don’t have to follow up, or check in. If I give it to TAPA, I can cross that item off my to do list.”

The second problem with my office mate’s response is one of tone. Even subtracting the tone of his voice, it’s the way he phrased it.

I use this gif a lot, don't I?

Can’t wait for season 7.

It’s that word “supposed.” It implies that it’s a ridiculous request. “I know this is an impossible task, but how do you imagine we’ll get it done? Because whatever think it is, it won’t work.”

And you know what, it might be a ridiculous request. Just take the chair you’re given, like a normal goddamn human being, right?

Goddamn, it's a good show.

Been catching up on Netflix, okay?

Doesn’t matter. That’s not for you, the PA, to decide. Do what you’re told, to the best of your ability. In twenty years, you’ll be the one making ridiculous request just for the hell of it.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I don’t know why. Maybe he likes manspreading at his desk?
  2. cf. footnote 1
  3. You have one, right?
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Work for Who You Want to Be

David writes in:

I am interested in post-productions more specifically a video editor. I thought about starting out as an assistant editor, but almost all these job advertisements require 2 years of experience. Would you have any recommendations on where to get qualified experience in Los Angeles? I heard from one person that some editors started out as drivers for post production companies transporting footage to and from other post production houses. Still, I can’t seem to find any positions like that available.

There’s a hierarchy to every department. Unless you’re very talented and very lucky, you don’t get to start out as a key creative like the editor. You don’t even get to start as that person’s assistant. Editors and AEs work very closely together; it’s a relationship that involves a lot of trust and symbiosis. An editor isn’t going to hire a random dude off the street.

You need to start even lower on the ladder, as a post PA. And that’s probably hard to get into, without being an office PA first. And you’ll probably need to intern to get that job.

See, you get work by meeting people, and you meet them by being physically around them. The editor, and post production coordinator, need to get to know you, see that you’re hard working and knowledgeable and effective.

Post is a unique department, because so much of it gets outsourced. The editing tends to be done in-house, but color timing, sound mixing, even scoring and ADR, are frequently done off site by outside vendors.

This is good news for those of you who want to get into post. It’s possible to find a stable job at a post house, rather than scrambling for a job every nine months like the rest of us.

So, yes, taking any entry-level position you can find is the way to go. I’d recommend searching and I’d go further– look up every post production facility in the LA 411, call each one up, and ask if they need an assistant or intern. Working for free is a great way to break in.

Transporting hard drives all over town doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but if you’re friendly and pay attention, you’ll learn something. For instance, “post production” is singular, not plural.

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

When To Follow Up

Jane writes in:

I sent in a resume to a job posting and was emailed by a First AD thanking me for my interest in the shoot and told me “to expect an email in 3 weeks.”

Should I send a follow-up e-mail/call in two weeks (etc)? What’s protocol to following up a job possibility if they expressed interest first?

I know the common wisdom says “don’t bug them” but I didn’t follow up a job possibility on a film set last time and was never given an interview.

Following up in two weeks is a good rule of thumb, except when they specifically say three weeks.

If you were to reply in two weeks, they may not notice. Or, they might glance at the email chain to orient themselves, and notice, again, they specifically said three weeks.

Following directions is probably the biggest part of being a PA. Don’t fuck that up in an email before you really have a job.

I would wait three weeks and one day:

Hey, [AD’s name],

I just wanted to check in with you about [show]. I’d love to be a part of the team. When do you start shooting?



In and out. Don’t waste a lot of text on this. You just want them to see your name and remember that they liked your resume.

There’s any number of reasons why they haven’t gotten back to you, and very few of them have anything to do with you. Don’t freak out and email/call/text every couple of days. That will bug them, and then it will be your fault you didn’t get the job.

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