When You Don’t Know Their Name

Steph writes in:

I am in the process of sending over my cover letter and resume to an open crew call for a new series. I am putting my name forth to be a Set PA. My issue right now is that I am unable to verify if the AD or 2nd AD that worked on the pilot (as I found on the IMDB page) is still in charge for the new episodes that will be shot later this year. I have Googled their names and checked LinkedIn to no avail.

Would it be okay if I simply put “Hi” as I did in this email, then go into my cover letter? Would that look bad?

It doesn’t look bad at all. They know you probably don’t know their names. Hell, you meet so many people in this business, the two of you might have met and don’t even remember

Starting your cover letter with a first name is a bonus, a way of connecting you and the employer as people. But if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. No harm. It’s much worse to get the name wrong.

For those of you who may be confused about why this issue would come up in the first place– many series turn over their entire crew between the pilot and series. One big reason is that California’s tax incentives give money to shows that return from out of state. It can make sense financially to film a pilot in, say, Georgia, and the series in California.

Also, networks like to hire feature directors for their pilots.1 Those directors will often bring their key departments heads (including and especially the 1st AD) onto the pilot, only to take them to their next feature once the series is under way.

And then there’s the simple fact that there’s usually a several-month gap between the pilot and the series. Many people find other work in the meanwhile. Remember, just because someone worked on the pilot, doesn’t mean they worked on the series.

Not that that prevents the pilot director from being listed as an Executive Producer on every episode. Yet another reason to not trust the credits.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. A foolish idea, in my opinion, since its the episodic directors who really create the series over the seasons.
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged | 1 Comment

Assistant Production Coordinator Jasmine Barceló

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Today’s guest is someone most of my readers would like to meet– an assistant production coordinator.

Jasmine Barceló started out as a PA on Dexter, just like you or me, and has worked her way up to a position of authority. (At least, as far as PAs are concerned.) If you’re the kind of person who spends her days on set, Jasmine has some insights into what goes on behind the behind-the-scenes, up in the office where the paper is pushed.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed. Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

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What’s a Base Camp PA?

Justin writes in:

Recently I was on a passion project as a PA with a very knowledgable 2nd AD. I told him I was interested in being an office PA, and he showed me paperwork that office PAs have to work with, like something called an “exhibit G” and getting out times and such. He mentioned something called a basecamp PA and I was wondering what the basecamp PA does as opposed to the office PA?

Base camp is where all the trailers are. A base camp PA is a specialized type of set PA. Usually a higher-ranking, more experienced PA.

The base camp PA’s first responsibility is ensuring that the set has everything they need, whether that’s equipment, crew, cast, or the director, when they need it.1

Take the actors, for example. After rehearsal, they return to base camp to get their make-up and hair done, while the stand-ins go stand in for them. It’s the base camp PA’s responsibility to be listening on the walkie for the AD to call in second team (if they’re not hanging around set already), and send them in.

Meanwhile, she receives the actors and directs them to where they’re needed, whether that’s make-up, hair, costumes, or their own trailer, if they have time. She has to check with the various vanity departments to get an estimate on getting the actors cleaned up, and relay that information to set. When the AD calls for first team, the base camp PA reverses the process.

The base camp PA also frequently helps the 2nd and 2nd 2nd ADs with paperwork, such as the G and background vouchers.2 She’ll sign out the actors and extras, double-check the paperwork, file it properly in the football. Hope you have a good pen!

She’ll often deal directly with the logistics of the base camp itself, helping the teamsters decide where the trailers will physically park. And no one is ever happy with where their trailer is. A base camp PA is not paid enough for the grief she gets on this topic.

As I’ve described it, it sounds like a pretty straightforward job. It’s really not. It takes someone who’s both organized and socially adept. You have to deal with a lot of personalities, and balance the needs of the various crew and cast members, usually with very little time to make a decision.

It’s not a job I envy, but if you’re good, it can be a pretty clear path to becoming an AD.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Not that they’re ordering the equipment; that’s the production office’s job.
  2. Again, similar to a time card, which is given to SAG-AFTRA as proof that you worked as an extra that day. This is one way to join the actors’ union.
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Twelve Hours Not Guaranteed

In the last year or so, I’ve noticed a trend among the bigger studios– no 12 hour guarantee for production assistants.

I knew I shouldn't have replied to that Craig's List ad.

Safety not guaranteed, either.

Technically, the law took effect on January 1st, 2013, but not every studio has pressed the issue. Others, like Warner Brothers, have realized that they can save money by not guaranteeing a twelve hour day–

As of January 1, 2013, California law changed and it now clearly prohibits the use of weekly guarantees for non-union, hourly employees. For your convenience, we have attached to this email the new provision in the law; please see section 515(d)(2).

Employees must be paid only for actual hours worked. This change will impact employment arraignments for the 2013-14 Season. [emphasis mine]

This is a pretty big change, especially if you’re on a multicamera show. On single cam, you generally shoot at least twelve hours no matter what. Unless you’re on the late shift in the office, in which case, you can write whatever out time you like, since no one else is around.

For those of you new to the business, here’s how it use to work: whether you worked eight or ten or twelve hours, you put twelve hours on your time card. If you worked more than twelve hours, you’d report that overtime as thirteen or fourteen or whatever it was in reality.

Of course, you have to add a half hour for lunch, because you never get a half hour break. It must be reported, because it’s illegal for an employer to force you to work six hours with out a lunch break.

That right there should tell you that time cards are complete bullshit. The idea that the studio is suddenly concerned with veracity when it comes to your out time is ridiculous. Obviously, they’re only worried about it when it saves them money.

So, here’s what you do if/when you come up against this whole “no 12 hour guarantee” issue– report more than twelve hours. Not the same amount every time, either. Sometimes put down 12.1, sometimes 12.5; maybe even throw in 11.5.

If they add up to around 60 hours for the week, the UPM won’t notice or care. but here’s the beauty of it: working 12.5 one day and 11.5 five the other adds up to more money than working 12 hours for two days.

Why? That 0.5 over 12 is time-and-a-half. So, it’s actually like 12.75 hours one day and 11.5 the other. It’s not a lot of money, but it’ll be enough to buy a ticket to Planet of the Apes over the weekend.

There is one possible issue with fudging your time card, and that’s liability. Suppose you leave at 5:00pm,1 but put your out time as 6:00. Then, you get into an accident at 5:30 and get hurt. According to your time card, you were working then, so this must be a work-related injury, right? And therefore, your employer’s workman’s comp insurance must pay up.

This is not a situation the studio (and by extension, producer, UPM, and/or accountant) wants to be in. You have to be careful that you don’t do anything that might cause your boss worry. If you go nuts with the time card foolishness, someone will notice.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Ha! Yeah, right.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Cinematographer Joaquin Sedillo

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You guys, Joaquin Sedillo shot Veronica Mars (the series, not the movie). Do I really need to say anything else? Oh, he’s the director of photography on Glee. So, he’s pretty much awesome.

Listen in on a great conversation that covers the beauty of Kristen Bell, making marriage work between entertainment industry professionals, and brewing a great cup of coffee.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed. Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

 

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Gun Safety

This is a story from a few years ago, back when I was a set PA on shitty indie movies. And by “indie,” I really mean “Skinemax.”1

The movie was described as an “erotic action thriller.” It was about a team of women who were spies by night, and strippers by… other nights? I’m not sure. Look, it was a weird movie. And not in a good way.

In any case, the actresses had less on-set experience than even I did at the time. They did have more experience in other areas, if you know what I mean. One day we were setting up a shot, and the prop master handed the lead actress her pistol. (We couldn’t afford stand-ins, so the actresses were their own Second Team.) Guess what she immediately began doing…

Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we'll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find... ¡The Three Amigos!

In this metaphor, as in everything else, I’m Chevy Chase.

The dolly grip,2 being the nearest thing to a responsible adult, asked her kindly to not do that. She pointed out that it was a prop gun, and couldn’t possibly fire. He agreed that while this was true,  there are certain rules to follow around all guns, so that we don’t inadvertently form bad habits–

  1. Every gun is loaded.
  2. Don’t point the gun at anyone or anything, unless you plan to kill it.

She immediately pointed it at him and pulled the trigger.

Base on the novel by a time-traveling Michael Crichton.

Like this, but with fake boobs.

He did the only logical thing– he took the gun away.

Despite the fact that this crusty old grip had about a hundred and fifty pounds on her, this actress had no sense of self preservation. She started yelling and screaming, tried to grab the gun back from him, beat his chest and arms with her fists. He pretty much ignored her, holding the gun away from her at arm’s length.

They looked like a couple of kids; the big brother had taken his little sister’s toy, and she was throwing a hissy fit.3 I think for a second he actually did that thing where he put his hand on her forehead, and she flailed her arms without actually reaching him. It would have been adorable if she wasn’t a grown woman.

The AD came over to see what all the commotion was about. She screamed that the grip had taken her prop for no reason and was acting like a general asshole. He calmly explained that she pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger.

The AD turned to the actress and said, “I’m sorry, he’s right. I’ll hand you the gun once the cameras are rolling.”

And that was that.

The grip handed the gun over to the AD, and went back to fiddling with his dolly. The AD walked back to video village to talk with the director. The actress just stood there, dumbfounded. I suspect this was the first time in her adult life that she hadn’t gotten her way.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate the AD at the time. 90% of the time, if anyone on the crew gets in an argument with number 1 on the call sheet, that crew member is going to be reprimanded. Or just straight-up fired. I’ve seen it happen.

But the AD saw that it was a safety issue. Next week, we might be shooting with blanks, which can be surprisingly dangerous, especially in the hands of someone who’s not careful.

The AD was not delicate with the actress. He didn’t apologize on behalf of the grip, or tell him he should have handled the situation differently. Instead, he told the actress, firmly and clearly, that her behavior was unacceptable. And from then on, she understood that there were certain rules even she couldn’t violate.

I’ve since lost touch with that AD and dolly grip. I don’t think I could even find the old crew list with their contact info if I wanted to. But I hope, somehow, that they read this blog. I hope they know that years later, I appreciate the example they gave me, and that I’m now passing on to all my other readers.

This is how professionals behave. This is how you should behave.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. You take the jobs you can get when you’re a year out of film school.
  2. Not the dolly grip behind Dollygrippery, although I’m sure Darryl would agree with the sentiment.
  3. What makes you think I know from experience?
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Guest Posts – The Trials of Being a PA

I wrote a guest blog post for Staff Me Up! Check it out.

And since I wrote for them, here’s a guest post from one of my more experienced readers:

1. Let’s assume you, the PA, are asked to take orders and deliver lunch for five people. Boring, demeaning, pointless work, right? WRONG! This is a test of critical skills. Can you politely interrupt five people of various ranks to ask them an urgent question (what they want for lunch)? Do you have the judgment from subtle cues to realize you’d better NOT interrupt someone after all? Can you interact gracefully with everyone from the executive producer to the unpaid intern, treating every single one with respect and as though they matter over a lunch order? Do you approach every meeting (yes, a lunch order is a meeting) with pen and paper so you can write down your instructions?

2. And, here is the real test: Given five people’s different orders (and yes, I know every order is slightly different, hold the mayo, get extra ranch on the side, etc), how quickly and efficiently (read: with zero drama) can you give each person exactly what they ordered?

Write down every stupid detail of every order (“bacon extra-crispy,” anyone?) and make the cashier at the restaurant show you that you are getting exactly what you asked for. Double check with your notes. Triple check.

You think you are delivering lunch, but really, you are delivering proof that you are not a fuck up. That you can be trusted not to fuck up. That you are detail oriented. But, wait, you say, “it’s just a missing side of ranch dressing, right?” — yes, technically that is true. It is a stupid condiment. But if you can’t be counted on not to screw up the trivial stuff, why should anyone trust you with anything that might actually count??

This is a more subtle point, but you need to understand that the people you are getting lunch for would PREFER to go out in the middle of the day, stretch their legs, see natural light, order their own lunch, etc.—but they don’t have time. And, if they had time to order their own lunch and go get it, they’d be just as detailed with the instructions (extra ranch, hold the cilantro, etc). So, by screwing up a lunch order, you’ve both reminded them that they are too busy to see sunlight and that they can’t even get what they’d’ve been able to get had they had the time to see the sun.

3. Speed on lunch runs matters too, because it is also really a test. Can you get things done almost before someone asks, or do you take forever? Sometimes you really can’t help it that lunch is late — there was a traffic accident; the restaurant kitchen caught on fire; etc.

Then, use this opportunity to show your good judgment: call back to the office, explain why the current lunch order cannot work, and suggest an alternative. But there is never any excuse for bringing lunch late “because the restaurant was hard to find” or “parking was tough.”

This is a test as well: Can you plan in advance? Can you solve problems? Don’t know where the place is? Google it before you go. Call the place and ask. Print out the directions. Put Waze on your iPhone. Trace the route in your head until you can visualize it. And, if parking’s going to be a problem, how well can you solve that problem? Take a second PA to double park? See if the place will bring the food out to the curb? Google parking lots near by? Bring quarters for the meters? Before you leave, what is your plan?

4. Sorry, but don’t count on any other PA not to screw something up that will come back on you. Your buddy PA says he’ll grab the lunch order and bring it back to the office for you? Do you trust him to check for the side of ranch? Do you have a good reason to trust that? Maybe you do — but if you do, it’ll be because he’s proven himself competent. And, if you do take him up on his offer and he screws up the side of ranch? It’s all on you, man, it’s all on you. When push came to shove, you couldn’t get it done.

5. Never trust another PA’s work when it might make you look bad. True story: my husband (a former PA) was sitting around with another PA (hereinafter “Dummy”) waiting for the call sheets to copy, so the two of them could distribute them. Dummy took the final call sheet to the copier to make 200 copies, and came back to the office to wait. Producer stuck his head out his door, asking why the call sheets still hadn’t been distributed. Dummy said, “oh, they are still copying,” and sat there. My husband perked up, went to check the copier, and realized Dummy had made 1 — count it — 1 copy, not 200. He quickly made the other 199 copies and got them distributed. But if he’d relied on Dummy, well, he’d have looked like a dummy too.

5. Bringing pen and paper to meetings is a sign of respect, pure and simple, even if you think/know there will be nothing to write down. Never be without them. Never. Seriously.

6. Entertainment offices and locations are casual. People make jokes, and tease each other. Things that would never be heard in a legal office are unremarkable in the entertainment industry. Get comfortable with it, so people will feel comfortable having you hang around while they talk about editorial cuts, future plans, etc — the inside dirt on the biz. Don’t be the quiet, dour guy that no one really likes or remembers and no one felt relaxed around. That said, don’t push too many edges yourself. Don’t be the PA everyone remembers for his raunchy sexual jokes, or for the CFM boots and sheer dresses she wore everyday. The rules that apply to everyone else don’t really apply to PAs. Sorry.

7. If you are in charge of craft service for the office — take a survey and ask everyone what THEY would like to have to snack on and drink. No one cares that the PA is a vegan organic seed obsessed health nut — do you really want to be the PA “who fucking never bought anything good to eat”? It’s okay to get a range of stuff, but unless you get specific requests for healthy stuff, assume people mostly want junk food. If something sells fast, buy more next time you go shopping. And go to store as soon as the office is out of key things like plastic forks, coffee cups, and junk food. Don’t wait until someone — in hungry desperation — eats that last box of chia seed bars. As soon as the good stuff is gone, you need to go to the store again, even if the rest of what you got is still gathering dust. You, the PA, are not the office’s mother — trying to free the office to be healthy will just annoy everyone. And always have extra Diet Coke on hand. That stuff goes FAST.

 

Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged | 1 Comment

Production Listings

Nash writes in:

I have been considering paying for a subscription to the Production Alert service. I just wanted to know if you thought it was worth it for someone looking to get more PA work?

I’ve never found a job through listing services like Production Alert or Production Weekly. The Hollywood Reporter apparently realized they weren’t useful to most people, because they stopped bothering sometime around 2012.

The biggest issue is, all of these places seem to miss a fundamental fact about production– production companies and production offices are two different things. Each production (be it a movie, a TV series, or what-have-you), has its own office set up somewhere near where filming is taking place. They’re extremely autonomous, hiring and firing crew (including PAs) at the producers’ discretion.

Calling the production company (or worse, the studio’s main line) will do you almost no good. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you the number of the production office. If you’re not, they’ll simply say, “It’s too early,” and hang up on you.

Because you see, the listings people don’t do their due diligence. They start posting about productions WAY too early. As in, when they’re still in development. For instance, the sample copy Production Weekly supplies, from January 2014, lists “Untitled Planet of the Apes,” which has a release date of July 2016. Do you think the production office is hiring PAs right now? No, they’re fucking not.

There’s a very narrow window when productions are hiring, and those types of services don’t tell you when that is. Half the time, there is no production office number until the coordinator has set it up in the first place, and she’s probably already hired her PAs by that point.

The truth is, cold-calling is a sucker’s game, because a coordinator or AD on a big production already has a list of PAs she likes to hire on a regular basis. A stranger calling out of the blue is unlikely to get on that list.

(Cold calling a small or indie production can be fruitful, however; that’s because the department heads are usually themselves inexperienced. They haven’t yet built up the lists of reliable PAs that established coordinators and ADs have.)

This is where your network of friends comes in. You should get to know coordinators, APOCs, ADs, 2nd ADs, 2nd 2nds, and other PAs (again, by working on low-budget indies). They’ll be recommending you for jobs before Production Weekly and their ilk even get the production office number.

But that’s just my experience; maybe you’ve had better luck cold calling. Let me know in the comments below.

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Property Master Jim Falkenstein

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Today’s episode features a very enthusiastic prop master, Jim Falkenstein.

He talks with TAPA about on-set dressers, brain cheese, unscrupulous prop masters, and Val Kilmer’s cigarette lighter.

Check out Jim’s website, including the prop mistake of the week.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed.  Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

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TAPA Meetup in July

It’s July. It’s hot. You need a drink.

It usually is.

Milk was a bad choice…

So why not come on down to Joxer Daly’s on Sunday, July 20? We can all cool off, relax, and make new friends in the summer heat.

The address is 11168 Washington Blvd Culver City, CA 90232:

It’s located right off the 405, which is convenient for pretty much everybody. And since it’s a Sunday, the freeway won’t be a parking lot for once.

The new TV season is almost upon us. Before it takes over your life, come on out and have a few drinks.

Let us know you’re coming on the Facebook page, and invite your friends!

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