Take a (Paragraph) Break

When writing a cover letter, or even your resume, you should remember that text is, surprisingly, a visual medium. It’s not as mimetic as, say, film, television, or painting, that’s true.

It's not a painting, either.

This may not be a pipe, but it’s closer than “PIPE.”

But you still glean information from text just by looking at it, not reading it at all. Here’s what Stephen King says in his book On Writing:

Grab a novel–preferably one you haven’t yet read–down from your shelf. Open the book in the middle and look at any two pages. Observe the pattern–the lines of type, the margins, and most particularly the blocks of white space where paragraphs begin or leave off.

You can tell without even reading if the book you’ve chosen is apt to be easy or hard, right? Easy books contain lots of short paragraphs and lots of white space. Hard books, ones full of ideas, narration, or description, have a stouter look. A packed look. Paragraphs are almost as important for how they look as for what they say; they are maps of intent.

When someone opens up your email, do you want them to think it’s easy, or hard? Remember, they’re probably very busy, and have enough hard tasks to accomplish in any given day. Your email should not be one of them.

But your PA resume is meant to look packed. You want to overwhelm the reader with all of your amazing and impressive credits. Breaking it up with “responsibilities” and “accomplishments” makes your resume look easier, simpler… and less impressive.

You don’t want the AD or coordinator to look at each and every show you’ve worked on; you want them to see a solid block that translates to “EXPERIENCED.”

Easy cover letter, hard resume– that’s the goal.

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TAPA Meetup October 25

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a PA meetup. And it’s still going to be a while, ’cause the next one is October 25th!

The kind people at Peaches’ Smokehouse have offered to host us at Poppy + Rose for the afternoon. They’ll be providing appetizers, food, non-alcoholic drinks for all guests. (Don’t forget to RSVP on the Facebook page, so we have a decent headcount.)

It’s totally free, but BYOB, since they don’t have a liquor license. But do you really need to start drinking at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday?

Poppy + Rose is downtown, at 765 S. Wall Street, Los Angeles CA 90014.

They’re opening the restaurant just for us that day, so our time is a little more strict than previous meetups. Doors open at 3:00pm, and shut at 5:00pm. I know this is L.A., but you might want to be on time for this one.

Posted in TAPA Meetup | Tagged | 1 Comment

Seeking Decent ADs and Coordinators

It’s very easy to complain about your boss. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and the very definition of “boss” is someone who tells you what to do. Sometimes they’re crazy or irrational or just plain mean.

But you know what? There are some good ones out there, too. And I’d like to do something positive on this blog for once. I’m going to make a list of the best UPMs, coordinators, and APOCs (for the office) and ADs, 2nd ADs, and 2nd 2nd ADs (for the set). Kind of like the Black List, but with people.1

That way, when you land a new gig with someone you’ve never worked with, you can consult TAPA and find some information from someone who has worked with them.

So, if you’ve had a great experience with any of these higher-ups, whether they’re patient or kind, or someone who who demands a high level of performance and then actually rewards you for doing so, shoot me an email: anonymousproductionassistant at gmail dot com.

Your contribution will be totally anonymous. And we’re only saying nice things; I’m not going to post anything bad about anyone. Don’t want to get sued for slander.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Waitaminute…
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Copyright Infringement

Yesterday, I got a bizarre email, with the above headline as the subject. I’ve never had anything like it before. I was using a random photo I found on the internet to illustrate a point about a certain product or service we PAs use all the time.

Now, it’s not my photo, and the owner of the photo has every right to decide how the photo is used. I believe in copyright; it’s the only reason I have a job.

But here’s the thing– the copyright holder of this particular photo actually offers the particular product or service1 I was writing about. You see where I’m going with this?

They could have said, “Hey, if you’re going to use our photo, at least plug our company, while you’re at it.” It would have been easy: photo courtesy of [company]. And a link, too.

What is wrong with [company]? I’m not torrenting a TV show and calling it “free publicity,” like some people do. This was actual, native advertising. People reading that blog post wanted to learn more about this product or service.

Oh, well, their loss. On the bright side, I’m apparently popular enough to get take-down notices, now. That’s new.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I’m not going to say what it is, because I don’t want to give away who I’m talking about.
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Availability List

Michael, the Hollywood Juicer, made a correction on Thursday’s post:

I can’t speak for the other locals or guilds, but 728 (set lighting) and 80 do send members out on jobs. We’re allowed (and expected) to look for our own work, but when your show or day-playing gig ends (but before you apply for unemployment), you call the local and go “on the books” — which means you are now officially available for work. If a Best Boy calls the hall looking for extra manpower, the call steward of the local will go down the list of available workers until he finds someone willing to take the job.

When things are slow in town, going on the books won’t result in a call from the local anytime soon — months will go by before your phone rings — but when it’s busy (like right now), that call might come the very next day. Trouble is, most of those calls are for low budget, sub-scale gigs that are always the jobs of last resort — which is why the Best Boy couldn’t find someone willing to take that crappy job. Those are for the newbies who are still paying their dues and trying to get established in the biz. It’s how they suffer and learn.

I feel like a dope, because I actually knew this. I have, once or twice, had to call a union and check the avail list. But, like Mike said, it was always a last resort, after the department head had run through his list of names.

So, it can be useful, especially when your show gets cancelled mid-season, and you need to pick up some day-playing work.

This got me thinking. While I think a PA union is a dumb idea, maybe an availability list would be helpful? After all, I get emails all the time from coordinators and AD looking for a good, reliable PA. It shouldn’t be difficult to direct people to page full of resumes.

The only worry I would have is security. If you post your resume online, who knows what kind of spam you’d be inviting? Or worse, unwanted phone calls.

Does anyone out there have the knowledge to solve the privacy issue?

And any coordinators or ADs reading this– what sort of information on potential PAs would you want? Sound off in the comments below, or just email me at anonymousproductionassistant at gmail dot com.

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How Long Is This Gonna Take

Ryan writes in:

I’ve seen you answer questions from people asking if they’re too young to be a PA, but I’ve only seen one person who said they’re too old, and they were 24.

I’m 28 , soon to be 29, and I’m looking to change careers. I’ve got a little bit of cash saved up to support myself if I were, say working for peanuts, and I would like to work my way up in the television industry, but I’m worried that I might have missed my chance.

I have no idea how long it takes to move up from production assistant to 2nd AD up to executive, and I don’t want to be 50 and still trying to climbing the ranks. Would it even be worth it to try and start or am I simply too old?

It’s really hard to judge if you’re too young or too old, too big or too small, too quiet or too talkative. The real answer is, if you show up on time, do your work, and are generally pleasant to be around, people will hire you.

But as to the question of how long it takes to climb the ladder, the answer is… who knows? Some people get promoted within a few weeks, others take years. Some people skip the line entirely.

You might never get promoted. You may become stuck in a role you never wanted in the first place. You may find your goals change, and you’d rather be a DP than an AD.

It’s not a satisfactory answer, but it’s the truth. You cannot go into this business expecting any kind of certainty. If that doesn’t sound like the life for you, that’s totally okay. It’s not good enough for a lot of people. But you’re at the stage in your life where you have to decide what’s right for you, not knowing what the future will bring.

Being an adult sucks, doesn’t it?

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Unions Don’t Work That Way

Elle writes in:

I’m a production assistant on a talk show. I’ve been in Los Angeles since 2012 after my relocation from Florida to pursue a career in the motion picture industry. I’m still very new and learning everyday, but at this point, I’d like to know what the next step should be.

My goal is to write for television and film, starting as a writer’s assistant if I can find the opportunity. But, what unions can I join while I’m a PA? Or how should I approach joining the WGA or Warner Brothers writer’s program?

Okay, some of my readers are laughing at Elle right now, and that’s not fair. At one point, you didn’t know any of this stuff, either.

There is no PA union. Who would want to join it? You should only be a PA for a few years; don’t make a career out of it.

I’m not sure how unions work outside of Hollywood (season 2 of The Wire really confused me), but in Hollywood, you don’t hang out at the union hall, waiting for someone in need of a union electrician to call.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a DP or a camera assistant, an AD or a PA, everyone finds work the same way– calling everyone in your network and saying, “Hey, my show just wrapped. Got any work for me?” Eventually, if you’re very, very good at your job, people will start calling you and asking if you’re available. The union has nothing to do with finding you work.

Don’t get me wrong, IATSE (the umbrella union most Hollywood crafts fall under) does lots of good. They set union wages, enforce safety regulations, provide insurance for members. They even benefit non-union PAs, by setting minimum turn around times.

So, you don’t just “join” the WGA. There wouldn’t be any point. What you have to do is write, show that writing to someone who can hire you,1 and only then join the guild.

Again, WGA does lots of good. Along with negotiating minimums and offering a generous insurance plan, the WGA arbitrates screen credit.2 This is so some producer can’t change a comma to a semicolon and say, “Hey, I did a re-write! My name should go on there, too.”

Elle has been PAing for close to three years, it sounds like, which is great. The only problem is, she works for a talk show, which doesn’t sound like the kind of writing she wants to do.3 The next step, really, should be finding work on a narrative feature or television show. That’s where you’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow into the position of writer.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Which includes things like the WB writers program.
  2. This isn’t just for ego; screen credit determines how much the writer gets in residuals.
  3. Yes, talk shows have writers.
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Truck Drivin’ PA

Woody writes in:


I’ve been cruising job boards lately and one thing I occasionally see is some production listing that, as a PA, one of my skills should be the ability to drive a 24′ cube truck. I haven’t work on the biggest of shows (or barely many moderately-sized ones) but the 24′ is pretty large and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it.

Is that a real thing I should be expected to be able to do? Isn’t that why we have teamsters?

That’s why you have teamsters on a real, union show. But you’re unlikely to find a union driver within a thousand yards of a low-budget production. Teamsters are expensive.

So without teamsters, who’s going to drive the trucks and make runs? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

A PA should be willing and able to drive anything she is legally allowed to, including a 24′ cube truck. If you don’t feel comfortable driving it, they’ll find someone who is. Simple as that.

It’s a harsh, uncaring business. Nobody will hire you unless you have something to offer. If driving a cube truck isn’t your thing, then maybe you can find something else you’re willing to do that others aren’t. Figure out what makes you a uniquely valuable PA and push that when applying for a gig, instead.

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

How To Stand Out From the Crowd

Max writes in:

First off thanks for your the wonderful blog!

As a student reading the “What to do with your student experience” gives me some confidence as I make the leap to LA. In the post you mentioned that if you were lucky you’d learn set etiquette and maybe how to set up a C stand. Fortunately the school I came from was extremely technical oriented, and my knowledge of most departments is quite diverse. I have a good knowledge base in G&E, Camera Department, how a (decent sized) picture functions, and most importantly my place in the world.

With my little professional experience and mostly student experience how do I use my knowledge base as an advantage as I enter the competitive world of Southern California?

I’m gonna start out with a lengthy quote from the original TAPA:

See, the thing is, you don’t know anything.

Well, you know a lot, but you also know very little. Film school can only prepare you so much. There are many, many things you won’t understand until you actually experience them.

Paying your dues, for instance. Professors always told me that I’d have to “pay my dues,” but I never quite understood that it meant working a series of terrible, mind-numbing, menial jobs on inconsequential shows, just so I could get promoted to doing horrible, soul-crushing, degrading jobs on good shows.

I’m glad that Max is excited, and that he learned a lot at his school. But in the real world, the difference between a great school and a crappy school is pretty negligible.

I like horizontal tracking shots.

Inspiration from Tyler Durden.

If you don’t have professional experience, you don’t have professional experience. Period. The end.

The way to be competitive is to show up, ready to work hard and learn. You will not stand out before you get here. There’s too many other excellent PAs already walking around.

The biggest mistake you can make at this point is think that you’re something special. You’ll become jaded and cynical really quickly, because no one else will agree with you, and you’ll wonder why you’re still PAing after six months, instead of being grateful for having six straight months of steady work.

If you truly are exceptional, people will see it. Use your knowledge and skill on the job; you’ll get hired for the next one, and the one after that.

Right now, all you can say is, “I will be the first to arrive and last to leave. I’ll keep my mouth shut and eyes open. The word ‘no’ isn’t in my vocabulary.” Follow through on that, and you will stand stand out.

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What to Do With Your Student Experience

I’ve said on numerous occasions that student film experience doesn’t count. That’s actually only half true.

Unless you’re a savant, your directing experience isn’t likely to get you a job as a director.1 It’s also unlikely to get you a production assistant job, either. If you put writer/director/producer on your PA resume, you’ll look like an idiot with delusions of grandeur.

But that doesn’t mean your experience is completely worthless. If you went to a decent school, hopefully you at least learned some set etiquette, and you might even know how to set up a c-stand.

I’ve been on some student films that were as big and professional as independent films. I’ve even seen students hire pros for key positions (which is basically cheating, in my book). If you worked on one of those, you probably learned a lot.

But no matter how big or small the student film, you can still put it on your resume.2 Just don’t put “director” in the crew position column.

When you’re applying to be a PA on a big show, simply put “production assistant” with that student film and then… don’t mention that it’s a student film. Simple as that.

If you’re trying to climb the ladder on a low-budget feature, it’s okay to say you were the DP or editor or whatever on a student film. Just be sure, in this case, to clearly label that it’s a student film.

The line between “fudging” and “lying” is one everyone must draw for themselves, no matter how thinly. These are just my rules of thumb. Weigh in below if yours are different.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. The few people who follow this route are extremely lucky, but that’s a post for another day.
  2. More great resume advice can be obtained through my resume review service.
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