Stuntwoman Anna Mercedes Morris

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Have you ever run at full speed in stiletto heels? Fallen down stairs in a minidress? Been lit on fire? If so, your weekends are a lot more interesting than mine.

Or, you’re a stuntwoman, like today’s Crew Call guest, Anna Mercedes Morris. She started out doing stunt shows, and eventually graduated to big time movies and TV series like Drag Me to Hell and The Vampire Diaries.

This week’s episode is not brought to you by Spanx, but it should be.

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.

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Definition of a Production Assistant

A lot of people asked why I don’t sell TAPA T-shirts. Honestly, it’s because I couldn’t think of anything clever or interesting, like Dollygrippery’s Ascent of Man-style shirt.

Well, that’s all changed!

Introducing the first TAPA Tee! The Definition of a Production Assistant. The back has the definition that dictionaries are too afraid to give you!

The front has the TAPA logo, just because:

The answer is me, obviously.

The question everyone is asking.

For only twenty bucks, you, too, can look like a savvy, seasoned PA every time you step on set. Or a sarcastic one. Either way.

There’s a variety of colors and styles, too. Checkem out.

Posted in The Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Non-Union Grip & Electric Chandler Forbes

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In Los Angeles, the various departments are very distinct. In smaller markets, the lines can be a lot fuzzier.

That’s why we’re speaking today with Chandler Forbes, a grip and electrician from Grand Rapids, MI– the home town of the only unelected US president.1

Despite the relatively small number of productions, Chandler has worked on many films and commercials in his career so far. He’ll tell us about expressing an interest the job you want, “manual labor with style,” and the value of apple boxes.

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.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. This has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. I just thought it was interesting.
Posted in Crew Call, On the Job, Podcast | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What If This ISN’T What I Want to Do With My Life?

Laura responded to yesterday’s post:

I don’t want to be the one comment here that sh*ts on your point,1 but I have been in this reader’s position for at least 4 years now and have come across some additional problems after taking a step back and making a decision.

My choice was that I’d be pretty happy doing almost anything in the industry and so, having a lot of experience in administrative assistant type roles, I tried to break away from strictly animation, (my initial dream,) and applied for jobs at talent agencies, publicity, live action TV shows, film, etc.

I got a few interviews and they all ended up rejecting me because of one thing: This is not what I truly wanted to do with my life. They saw right through me. Even though I was widening my horizon, keeping a positive outlook, and trying to open new doors, these people seemed to shove me back and claim I was not welcome. I actually got this TWICE: “I see you have a B.A. in screenwriting and animation, so, why did you apply for this position? We’re a talent agency…” followed by confused look and, before I could open my mouth to answer, rejection. What do I answer to something like that?

This can be a problem. I can’t tell you how many times a coordinator has asked me where I want my career to go, and I responded “I want to have your job in ten years.” Which is not true. At all.

But before I could formulate a proper response, and because I have the best readers in the world, BC replied with some great advice:

I have suggestions! I’ve had a variety of entry-level roles in the industry, and was able to do plenty of jumping around with some good old-fashioned spinning – the lifeblood of Hollywood. When applying for a position that’s outside of my past experience, I stack my resume with relevant experiences, even frankly minimally relevant ones. In your example, maybe highlight ANY things you’ve done that were relevant to working at a talent agency (even just mentioning being thick-skinned, good at multi-tasking, and excellent at taking initiative in your cover letter with some back-up examples might help).

But it sounds like you have the resume thing down. At the interview, before they even ask you that question about your B.A. in animation, they probably ask you this awful question: “So, tell us about yourself,” right? In your case it’s an awesome chance for you to crush their confusion before it’s voiced (which they want, otherwise why would they have called you in for an interview in the first place?). You could say something along the lines of, “You can see that I have a strong background in the industry. The bulk of my experience has been in animation, but this got me excited about [talent management; promos; publicity; whatever] because through that experience I did a lot of… [spinning of whatever skill you think will get them nodding - even if whatever it is is something you did one day for like 20 minutes]. It’s not lying, exactly – just expressing an enthusiasm for the opportunity you’re interviewing for. You know you can do the job. And they just want to know you can both do job and not leave them in the lurch if an opportunity comes along in animation.

There’s also the possibility that they only mention your B.A. because it stands out and they’re not starved for good interview questions. Perhaps your facial expression or response is less than confident, and this is what’s hurting the interview? Project confidence and don’t apologize – it’s amazing how far this goes (almost scary-far).

That’s pretty much what I would’ve said. Thanks for saving me a blog post, BC!

Olivia also replied:

I just want to say, I am going through the same thing right now. I’m not making any money to support myself and feel like I am at a crossroads as to whether I keep on trying to succeed in the entertainment industry or I find something else. The problem is I don’t think I would be happy working in any other industry yet at the same time I am so unhappy in my current job. I don’t feel like I can offer any advice but to say I know how you feel and it sucks.

Empathy is often in short supply in this town. That comment is much appreciated.

* * *

In cheerier news, I’m so happy this exchange happened on Monday

Mike McCarthy says:

If you’ve covered what the responsibilities are that are expected of PA’s and how they can go above and beyond what’s expected of them can you send or post links please? If not could you expand on that? Thank you for your posts and time.

VJ says:

Everything is awwwsooooome!

Mike McCarthy says:

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Liar. ;)
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Career Crisis

An anonymous reader1 writes in:

I’ve been an appreciative reader of the APA blog for several years, throughout which I also worked in television and film development and production as a production assistant. I originally went into the industry because I was in love with the idea of doing something for a living that was grounded but involved creative decision-making.

I left the industry about a year ago because I didn’t even see my bosses making any creative decisions; they were coordinating logistics and playing to the lowest common denominator audience desired by advertisers – basically what I was doing, but for more money and under more pressure. The long hours didn’t leave me time to do any of my own creative work (I’m a writer and photographer), or to have any kind of social life, for that matter. For the last almost-year, I’ve been doing some teaching and soul-searching (aka the ultimate pastime/disease of our generation). I’m not happy teaching, and can’t quite shake my vague tv/film dreams as I watch former coworkers move up and become “accomplished.”

Do you know anyone who left the industry with similar frustrations? How did they find creative fulfillment and pay their bills? As a Hollywood insider, have you heard any solid advice on grappling with this? As I see it, I have three options: 1) Kill the dream, find something else to do with my life and continue to write email stories for my friends. 2) Stay in the industry, keep paying my dues, and hope the right opportunity comes along someday, while loathing the mind-numbing day-to-day. 3) Find a flexible day job and do as much creative work of my own on the side as I possibly can.

Thanks for reading this book of first-world angst.

Let’s all take a moment to thank the Lord for our first-world problems, and the fact that we’re not being chased by lions.

This is the worst part about being in this Industry. You just want someone to tell you, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Hell, I’d settle for, “It’s not going to be okay. Quit wasting your time.”

There is a very good chance that you’ll never end up doing anything creatively fulfilling, especially if you want to become a writer. Besides requiring innate talent and hard work, landing your first writing assignment requires a lot of luck, and an agreeable personality, too.2

If you quit, you’ll probably always wonder if you could have made it, if you’d only stuck with it just a little longer. If you tough it out, but never get that career break, you’ll find yourself in middle age, wonder why you spent so much time for so little money on a pointless career.

It’s completely unknowable.

Well, not completely. Take an honest look at yourself and your career. Are you advancing, at all, towards where you want to be? Are there people reading your scripts besides your friends and family? Is your writing really good enough?

If the writing thing doesn’t happen, will you be happy in your current job? Will you be content being promoted to uncreative positions?

Then look at your life. Do you really feel your social life is lacking? Do you need that? That’s not something that’s really going to change over time.

Also, look at your options. You were obviously able to get a teaching position. You have assistant experience; maybe you could be an assistant in another industry. Or you could go back to school and study something else entirely.

In short, calculate your odds for success; decide whether you’ll be happy (or content) if you’re not successful. Weigh that against your potential happiness in other fields.

But of course, we’re terrible at predicting whether we’ll be happy or not. Which is why it’s so hard to know if you’ve made the right decision.

Basically, what I’m saying is, I know tons of people in your position, and I have no good way of resolving it.

Being a grown up sucks.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Been getting a lot of these lately.
  2. You don’t have to have all of these things, but no successful writer has none of them.
Posted in On the Job, The Industry | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

A PA who wished to remain nameless wrote in about a situation that is all too common in Hollywood. She had been working on a movie, when all of a sudden they fired her, and replaced her with the AD’s fresh-out-of-film-school niece.

This is a shitty situation, and yes, I have encountered it before. This is, unfortunately, a hazard of working in Hollywood. There’s not much you can do about this situation. But there is something you can do in the future.

It’s a little sad to think about, but the basic minimum requirements of a PA are easy to meet. Almost anybody can do it, which is why it’s the slot so many higher-ups decide to dump their nephew/girlfriend/whatever.

But not everybody can do it well. Even if you’re not a cameraman or editor or set designer, you need to treat your job as completely vital. You need to be the best fucking PA there is, so that they can’t possibly afford to lose you.

Sure, you could auto-pilot your way through most of the day– buying lunch, making sides, shuttling the actors, etc. And if you’re buds with the producer or AD, that’ll be fine. The work will get done, the show will survive, even if it’s not the smoothest ride.

But if you’re not friends, you need to give it 110%. I mean that literally. Do more than what’s required, more than what’s expected, more than they’ve ever seen. Take care of things before anybody asks. Don’t sit idle.

And don’t make mistakes. Ever. I mean that literally. If they’re looking for a reason to drop you and bring in their drinking buddy who just moved to LA, they will latch on to each mistake as if it’s the most important thing in the world.

Attitude is important, too. Don’t say anything negative, ever. You love everybody and you love everything. A crack about what a fuckup this episode’s director is might be funny, but it’s not worth being perceived as that critical girl on the team.

Anticipate. Solve problems before they arise. Don’t bother your boss with details when she’s got better things to do.

You want to be unobtrusive, while leaving her with the nagging feeling that if you hadn’t been there, things would have gone horribly wrong.

You can make yourself irreplaceable. It’s not easy, but it can be done. You have to get over the fact that most of what you do matters very little. That doesn’t matter; they hired you to do the job of a PA. Be the best damn PA there is.

Or just, you know, suck up to the producer and hope that you’re the must-hire next time.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The 6th TAPA Meetup – Coming August 24

EPISODE VI:
RETURN TO THE VALLEY

TAPA has returned to her home planet of the San Fernando Valley in an attempt to rescue her friends from the clutches of the vile 405.

Little does TAPA know that the STUDIO SYSTEM has secretly begun construction on a new armored hourly rate even more powerful than the first dreaded Day Rate.

When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of production assistants struggling to restore freedom to Hollywood…

That’s right, we’re back in the Valley!

No, I don't care.

Yes, I’m mixing sci-fi trilogies.

Specifically, The Oaks Tavern. That’s  at 13625 Moorpark St., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.

The gathering will be on Sunday, August 24th. As usually we’ll begin at 2:00pm, and go until… well, until we’re done.

Luckily, the Oaks has a five hour happy hour, starting at 2:00pm. If you’re still there when happy hour ends, you might have a networking problem. Or a drinking problem. Either way.

Mark your calendars, invite your friends, and you might just get to meet TAPA on August 24. (Maybe.)

Posted in TAPA Meetup, The Industry | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Grip & Inventor Steve Cardellini

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If you’ve spent any time around grips, you’ve very likely heard our guests’ name: Steve Cardellini. He is the veteran grip who invented the eponymous Cardellini Clamp. If you haven’t heard that term, you’ve definitely seen it–

It looks hungry...

Oh! That’s what that’s called!

Not only will Steve tell us about the day-to-day life of a film grip; he also discusses gripping in theater, starting his own business, and the first time anyone ever uttered the phrase “We’ll fix it in post.”

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.

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Out of State PA

Morgan writes in:

I currently live in the Austin area and for the last few years we’ve had a nice share of TV shows filmed in the area (The Lying Game, Friday Night Lights, From Dusk Til Dawn, etc). I was told by an extra that a lot of studios are becoming reluctant to film here because its becoming more expensive. A lot of studios are deciding to film in Louisiana and New Mexico instead.

My question is can I PA in different states even if I don’t live there? I’ve read on a few sites that PA’s will only get hired if they are from the area. Is there any truth to this? And if so, what’s the reason behind it?

There are a few reasons to shoot outside of the major production centers: you need a location that can’t (or shouldn’t) be reproduced; you can save money because the crew is cheaper; you can save money through tax incentives.

If you want a shot in the South American jungle, you gotta shoot in the South American jungle. That’s not something you can reproduce in a computer.

Yes, this is a joke.

Computers can never fully capture the wonder of real life.

Beyond that, though, shooting outside of LA and New York is a way to save money. The crews are usually less expensive. In some areas, this can also mean that they’re less effective and experienced; but in places like Atlanta and New Orleans, there are plenty of skilled dolly grips, make-up artists, boom operators, and so on.

The way tax incentives work, a certain percentage of your crew (and sometimes cast, if you’re shooting outside of the country) must be local. What defines “local” varies from state to state. You need to look into the rules before you decide to pack up and move to Shreveport. You may have to live there for six months or more before you count towards the studio’s tax incentive.

And then there’s the fact that they don’t want to pay for your lodging or per diem. If you’re not a local, not only are you not counting towards the local tax incentive, they’d have to pay more than if they’d hired a local PA.

It doesn’t matter how great a PA you are, this is not a good deal for the studio. Remember, PAing is an entry-level, low-skill job. We’re basically interchangeable.  Even in the smallest of production markets, you can find someone who can be a decent PA.

Directors certainly like to bring along their favorite department heads; Wally Pfister1 has shot almost every single Christopher Nolan movie. But Nolan probably doesn’t care who the 8th grip is. He certainly doesn’t care who the PAs are.

Unless you’re his brother.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. A DP whose name sounds like “Fister” somehow doesn’t work in porn.
Posted in Finding a Job, The Industry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I’ve Been Up To

Dear Constant Reader,

I want to apologize for the dearth of regular programming here at The Anonymous Production Assistant. I’ve been on location1 for the past month or so, because runaway production is still a thing.

The only reason Crew Call has been going up on a regular basis without delay is the hard work of producer Chris. Speaking of, if you’ve been enjoying Crew Call, please take a moment to rate and review the show on iTunes. Your positive feedback helps others find the show.

Speaking of supporting the blog and podcast, here’s something that’s super easy and won’t cost you a thing: if2 you shop on Amazon, use this link. Amazon gives a percentage of your purchase to TAPA (it doesn’t add any cost to you), to help keep the metaphorical lights on.

You can even bookmark the Amazon link for future use. Or add the bookmark to your boss’s computer when she’s not looking, so all of the show’s random purchases also support TAPA. :D

A lot of you have been asking about when the next TAPA meetup is happening. I can tell you it will be August 24th. I’m talking with the venue today, so more information will be coming, soon.

Lastly, I got this sweet email today:

You must get like hundred of these things a day from throngs of PAs that find you both relatable and witty. So I’ll be as brief as my long-windedness will allow. Your blog gets me through the slow parts of a 12 hour day but moreso than that it makes me want to step up my blogging game. I run a blog about nothing in particular and when I read your stuff I’m just like, why am I not as good a writer? What have I been doing with my life? (Driving around boxes to vendors, that’s what.)

Anyway, you’re lovely and I hope that you stay around this industry, hopefully not at the bottom, for a good long time and as you grow I hope you allow your readers to watch you grow and subsequently envy your growth.

I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.3 If you want to be a successful blogger (or any kind of writer), the main thing you have to shoot for is consistency. Write every day, no matter what, even if it’s just a filler post telling people why you haven’t written in a while.

Wait…

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Vegas, if you must know. Fun for three days! Terrible for four weeks.
  2. “If.” Yeah, right. You totally do.
  3. Unlike some people.
Posted in About Me | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment