Does a Theater Degree Count Against Me

Jimmy writes in:

I have a bachelors and a masters in theatre. I never intended to break into the entertainment industry as a Production Assistant, but I now have decided that that is where I want to start. I trained to be an actor, and I am finding that it may be more difficult than I’m willing to stomach.

My trepidation with continuing in the business is due to the fact that I do not have a degree in film or film production. So realistically I am wondering whether I even have a shot given my credentials. Does a theatre degree holds up in applying for PA positions?

Generally speaking, your degree doesn’t matter. We’re not doctors or lawyers; nobody is checking our “credentials.”

In the particular case of a theater degree, though, I’d avoid mentioning the acting part. If you say you majored in acting, they’re going to assume that’s what you really want to do. Change your resume to whatever the theatrical equivalent to “production” is. If and when you’re asked about your degree, just say you realized after graduation that film is where you wanted to work after all.

Posted in Finding a Job | Leave a comment

Don’t Be a Flake

One of the most important qualities in a PA is reliability. Your boss, whether an AD or production coordinator or whatever, wants to know that when she gives you a task, you will get it done.

Your job is, naturally, to do it, as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Which seems simple, but shit happens, doesn’t it? Sometimes you’re stuck in traffic, and you won’t get the DVD to the producer when you said you would; or worse, the payroll to set on time.

So whenever you’re given something to do, you need to fact in “shit happens.” If you think you can get something done in five minutes, say it’ll take ten. If you think it’ll take an hour to get across, say an hour and a half.

That way, if nothing happens, you’re a hero for exceeding expectations; if shit does, indeed, happen, you’re totally fine. The worst thing you can do is not do what you said you would.

Don’t go crazy with this, though. Someone asks you to file some paperwork, don’t tell them it’ll take all day. They’ll think you’re an idiot.

And if something really goes wrong, and even with the buffer you created, you still didn’t get your job done, the correct answer is, always, “It won’t happen again.”

* * *

Hey, you know about Crew Call, right? It’s the podcast where I interview below-the-line crew, like DPs, editors, and production designers. We’re trying to put together season two, and we need your help. Head on over to the Kickstarter page and contribute today.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Changing Careers

Peter writes in:

After three years in law enforcement, I’ve decided on a career change. With the long-term goal of going into talent representation, what type of positions should I be applying for? The standard assistant/receptionist positions? Or, should I be seeking out some type of internship?

I’ve cold called a handful of agencies, is this a good practice? Also, when applying to positions on the job list or your job postings, typically how long does it take to receive a response?

It’s really hard to get a job in this industry without some sort of experience.

And that’s where interning comes in. This is, honestly, the best reason to go to film school. They help you land internships, which helps you form connections, which help you get jobs down the line.

There is a way to shortcut this, if you live in Los Angeles (I’m sure there are similar options in other big production cities). You can sign up for the Cooperative Education Work Experience program at LA City College. Basically, it’s a course devoted entirely to getting internships.

Without such experiences, or a degree from a top-tier school, or some sort of personal connection, you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere. Assisting is the first rung on the Hollywood ladder. Interning is the zeroth.

Once you’ve completed that step, you still can’t count on getting called in for interviews every time. A lot of factors come into it, including luck and timing as much as your qualifications.

But, assuming they’re going to call you in for a job, that call will happen within a few days, a week at most. Anything past that, and you can just forget about it.

Posted in On the Job, The Industry | Leave a comment

Will Working on a Christian Movie Hurt My Career?

Will writes in:

I’ve had a decent PA career in Atlanta, working on several movies and TV series. But I’m moving to Los Angeles soon, because I really want to write.

One of the movies I worked on was an explicitly Christian film.  I have no idea if this credit might work against me once I move out to LA. I have PA experience through non-religious companies but I wanted to know if I should shoot for a PA position in LA or maybe something higher up?

I wouldn’t worry about it, for several reasons.

While religiosity isn’t as common here as in other parts of the country, it’s not quite the Hollywood Babylon you might be imagining. There are still plenty of people who go to church on Sunday (or temple on Saturday, or whathaveyou). And just because someone doesn’t do those things, doesn’t mean they’re prejudiced against those who do.

“Christian film” is a pretty broad category, too. I have a hard time imagining someone having a problem with a movie about a fireman with marital trouble, or even that movie about the kid who came back from heaven (or whatever the hell that was).

Now, if there’s a movie called “Gay Teens Are Going to Hell” on your resume, you might be in for an awkward conversation. But here’s the other thing– everyone knows that, as a PA, you have no control over the final product.

You do not determine whether a movie is good or bad (in any sense of those words). PAing is a job, and you take the jobs you can get.

Of course, Leni Riefenstahl could use the same excuse.1 You have to decide for yourself if you’re okay working on a pro-choice movie, or a pro-Gamergate webseries, or whatever your personal bugbear is.

But it’s probably not a good idea to try and predict what someone else’s bugbear might be. Almost any movie is offensive to somebody; you’ll never get anywhere worrying about them.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Apologies to Godwin.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Use Your Boredom

Kelly asks:

I was in film school and started this internship at a film production company here in Hollywood. I learned a lot, but just as I was ready to leave they hired me for 6 months to run their office while they went on location for their next production.

So now I’m alone in the office. I’m actively marketing one film and nurturing some projects in development for the company, but mostly my day is about opening the mail and paying some bills here and there. It’s a 40 hour a week job, but I’m sick of just sitting here.

And while it’s great to have a job in the industry, it’s not exactly helping me pay off my student loans. I’ve gotten some writing done on my own projects, but I’m going to have to pick up a waitress job in the evenings soon. Do you have any recommendations of way to make extra money in the industry without being available Monday through Friday during the day?

Living in any city, whether it’s Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, or wherever, is expensive. It’s going to be very difficult to afford it living on an assistant’s or PA’s salary. This is, unfortunately, what “paying your dues” means.

Student loan debt is no joke, but it’s also not the end of the world if you have some on your credit report. I would not advise picking up a second job for that.

In fact, if you can’t afford your rent on your current salary, I would suggest moving, or getting a roommate. Having trouble paying your cable bill? Cut it entirely.

Saving money is a much better option than working two jobs; you’ll burn out quickly. You’ll start to resent the position you do have in the industry.

And let’s face it, Kelly is doing quite well by most standards. She went from being an intern to a salaried assistant. She has some real responsibilities. In another six months, she’ll be in a position to either renegotiate her salary or look for a better job at another company.

And, with the boss away, it’s a golden opportunity to get paid while writing (which is almost as good as getting paid for writing).

Listen, life sucks right now. You’re broke, you don’t know where your career is going, you probably have a terrible love life.1 But that’s what this time is for. You’ll earn your battle scars, and once you become a successful writer or producer or development exec, you’ll appreciate it all the more because you earned it.

“Keep doing what you’re doing” is probably not the advice Kelly wants to hear, but that’s why I’m here. If you could give that advice to yourself, you wouldn’t bother writing me.

Speaking of advice,2 the guests on Crew Call give plenty of great advice. If you want that to continue, please contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Everyone in this industry does.
  2. You knew it was coming.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

How to Run a Production Meeting

Dax asks:

I’ve experienced several different production meetings. Two seem to be the most common.

The first AD reads through the script in scene order and then through the one liner in schedule order. if this is correct? If so, should the AD just read the slug lines for each scene and then summarize the scene and elements?

OR The first AD goes through the complete shooting schedule in schedule order, reading all elements? In this case the script is only used as a reference when there is a question from a department head.

Which one of these two methods is most common or correct?

First off, the correct way is the way that gets it done. 😀

Only slightly less facetiously, the correct way is whatever way the AD wants to do it. A lot of people can claim they are in charge, but in reality, when it comes to moment-by-moment decisions, the AD really is the top dog. The AD is probably the only person below the line that can say what the rest of the crew are thinking: “Hurry the fuck up, Mr. Director.”

Cards on the table, now– I have very little experience on big budget movies. I only worked on shitty, non-union, straight-to-VOD flicks before moving into network television. I have no idea what is or isn’t normal on real, professional film.

I imagine it’s similar to single camera television, on a longer time scale. In TV, there’s actually a few different meetings leading up to production. First, there’s the Concept Meeting,1 where the director goes over the the direction he wants the script to go in. Most of the department heads are there, to get an idea of what the look and design of the episode will be.

Those tend to go in scene order, because they’re discussing how the show will (or should) feel from the audience’s perspective. The AD doesn’t exactly run those meetings, but she’s still the one running the shot clock.2

After that, the director often has meetings with each department about the needs of this particular episode. Every element is discussed to the finest possible detail. In TV, the episode writer tends to be a part of these meetings, as well; I don’t think that’s often the case in film.3

Then comes the Production Meeting. This involves every department head (except the DP, sadly, if there’s only one cinematographer on the series), even ones who weren’t there for the Concept Meeting. In my experience, the AD will go through the script in shooting order. They don’t really “read” the script, the way you and I usually think about it. All of the really creative decisions (should) have already been made by the above-the-liners, in conjunction with the department heads.

The Production Meeting is about getting shit done. How do we physically fit the camera inside the trunk? Will we be able to hear the dialogue on the process trailer? Where will the trailers be parked?4

Again, it’s not that they don’t care about the characters or story. Everything will be done in the context of “What’s best for the show?” But the Production Meeting adds the extra wrinkle of “What can we do?” Like Dax says, they’ll refer to the script to make sure they’re answer the former question, but production meetings are much more about the latter.

Lastly, there’s the Tone Meeting, in which the writer, director, show runner, and various other creative types get together to talk about the artistic elements of the episode. What’s the point of this scene, why does that character say that, who is Jon Snow’s mother, really? That kind of thing. I find it strange this meeting comes last, but hey, since when does Hollywood make any sense?

If you’re a PA, you rarely go to these meetings. In fact, the office tends to get nice and quite for a couple (or three!) hours while all of the grown-ups are stuck in a tiny room. But if you’re ambitious, and smart, you should ask to sit in on one of these.

Don’t ask to sit in on episode one; you’ve got too much to do, getting the office up and running. But once you’ve established yourself, and assuming everything really is quiet that day, no one will object.

Bring your notepad with you; take copious notes. Pay attention, and if (when) you have any questions, write them down for later. No one expects you, as a PA, to know anything, so don’t be embarrassed to ask. It’s how you learn.

But during the meeting itself, DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Always keep in mind Joaquin Sedillo’s advice: “You have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Use them accordingly.”5

You know how else you can learn? By listening to Crew Call. But that can only happen if you support the Crew Call Season Two Kickstarter. Even a $5 contribution helps.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. In the original version of this post, I confused Concept meetings with Tone meetings. I don’t usually like to edit posts after they go up, but the Internet is forever, and I don’t want someone reading this post two years from now and getting confused.
  2. That’s a sports metaphor, not an actual film term, in case you’re confused.
  3. Because what does the author of the story have to say about the final film?
  4. That’s actually probably decided on the Tech Scout, but it’ll still be discussed here.
  5. Except in this case, pretend you’re Neo, being interrogated by Agent Smith. You’ve got no mouth at all.
Posted in Crew Call, On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Match Game

This is another one of those things I keep seeing when I help people with their resume and cover letter: the name on your resume needs to match the name on your email address.

This is especially true of Gmail accounts, since it’s probably the most common email out there, both for individuals and for production offices creating throwaway accounts (“HitShow2015@gmail.com”). If you’re using the Gmail site, any other Gmail user’s name will appear prominently.

If your resume says “Scott Smith,” but your user name says “Skip 2 da S”, A) you’ll look like an idiot, and B) more importantly, the coordinator will never find your original email if the search for “Scott Smith.”

Just so you understand the normal order of operations, here’s what usually happens when a show needs a new PA: first, the APOC (probably) creates a junk Gmail account (i.e. HitShowPA2015@gmail.com), because once she finds a new PA, she never wants to get another email about it again. She’ll then ask all of her friends and/or acquaintances for recommendations. If that doesn’t yield enough results, she’ll post a job notice on the Coordinator’s 911 (a private Goolge group for production coordinators).

After about three hours, she’ll have received several hundred resumes. She (or possibly one of the current PAs) will dig through the inbox, until she finds around 20 good candidates. She then will print these resumes off and hand them to the coordinator.

The coordinator will sift through this stack and pick six to ten people to interview. And this is where the name on your email matters. They’re going from computers to paper and back to computers again. If those names and emails don’t match up, someone might make a mistake. You could be their favorite candidate, but you’ll never know, because they sent an email to ScottSmith1987 instead of SkipSmith1987.

And now we come to the part of the post where I remind you to contribute to the Crew Call Kickstarter campaign. Seriously, if everyone who reads this just gave $5, we’d have it funded in no time.

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

Errors and Omissions

There were quite a few good comments this week; in case you missed them, I thought I’d point them out.

Regarding internships and college credit, WireMonkey said:

I found this strange but I interviewed at a few significant companies for internship positions. I always casually dropped that I could earn college credit for the reasons listed above, but was told that wasn’t necessary. Believe me when I say I was as surprised as anyone. Still, whether they require it or not, always have the ability to earn credit in your back pocket. It’s easy and it shows you’re looking out for all parties involved.

I would be dubious if someone said they didn’t care if you could get college credit. It’s a bad sign. There may be some value in it, but walk in there knowing things could go terribly wrong in a hurry.

If you want a legit internship, but you’re not in college, WireMonkey has a workaround for that, as well:

This is a bit of a cheat but you can still earn college credit even if you’re not a college student. LA City College specifically has the Cooperative Education Work Experience program that can be found here: http://www.lacitycollege.edu/services/co-op/

The contact listed there (Juliana Medina) was extremely helpful in answering my questions (which was basically 1) Yes, I can earn college credit for an internship through this program for standard cost of community college units and 2) No, I did not have to be a part or full time student to participate in this program). If the deadline for enrollment is passed you can even enroll in the next session and attribute the work you’re about to do retroactively. Confusing, I know, but the upshot is you have the ability to technically enroll any time of year and earn college credit if that’s required.

You still have to find your own internship positions but this is a huge leg up for people who aren’t current college students.

On an old post about the different kinds of PAs, Cassandra writes:

I have to admit, I’m beginning to love this blog. Thank you so much for this post, I’ve been hired as an Art Department Production Assistant and its nice to know what I’m heading into!

Speaking of the art department, Lee replied to Tuesday’s post about the hours PAs work:

I work as an art dept pa and I rarely work longer than 10 hour days. My duties are not generally tied to the shooting schedule and I’ve been lucky enough to work under designers and art directors who let me leave when there’s clearly nothing for me to do.

To be clear, when I say “the office,” I’m referring to the production office. Art and post also have offices, but they’re not “the” office, if you know what I mean. So, if you like the idea of working in an office setting and using your creativity, art is probably the place for you.

Alex has a different experience in the production offices he’s worked at:

I think “it depends” is a bit more accurate of an answer. I’ve worked a couple of Office PA gigs where they usually kept us about 8 hours – 10 at the longest, except during exceptional circumstances. But they are paying you for a full 12, so you should walk in expecting a full 12 even as an Office PA.

I’ve experienced those 8-10 hour days, but mostly on multicamera shows. I’ve really never seen that on a single camera show.

Higher up the food chain, Jacks1985 says:

I’m an APOC and I’m currently working a short and have been working 14 days straight each day minimum about 13 hours. With 3 days sticking out that we hit 16 hours. Production is production, if you ever have a concern for time, you’re in the wrong industry. Set or office both pull super long hours.

That’s what you can look forward to when you get promoted!

Jess added two acronyms that I forgot to mention in yesterdays post about call sheets:

FT = Fitting, TR = Travel

I mostly work in TV, and so I rarely see those. There’s not a lot of travel, and the main cast tend to have fittings on the same day they’re shooting other scenes. Still, you should definitely be aware of those acronyms, as well.

A few weeks ago, I asked if PA boot camps had ever really helped someone find a job. Well, a “past student” wrote this harsh review a few days ago:

Other posters are claiming the course was great, so say many of these posts. However, there is no evidence it will lead to work on anything paid.

I was in the studios before (Not as a PA, something lower), and I had experience on walkies all the time. The boot camp told me I didn’t do well on them and I am 100% sure it was when I put mine on. The walkies they used were NOT like the ones I used in the studio I was at several years before. So it took me a minute or so to learn how to string the damn thing through my shirt, et.

Aside from that, I made ONE mistake on the call sheet. ONE. While so many other students those 2 days kept saying “Struggling” over and over. I knew how to read call sheets as I’ve been an extra, and extras were AMAZED when I’d tell them what SWF meant and all that, and some of them were regular stand-ins who worked every day. Then again, I could not be put on a list for PA work because to them, I was bad at the walkie, either stringing it on or that ONE mess up when I did say “Struggling” one time as opposed to so many others who said it constantly.

When I called PA boot camp and asked them after a year what the problem was, they told me back in 2012 that my walkie experience was not good, I had “trouble on it”. Wow. I am now back in the studios (not as a PA mind you) but something else, and we use walkies ALL THE TIME. Yet I am not on the “List” because I didn’t know how to put “their” walkie on correctly OR made one error reading the call sheet while on the walkie. Their walkie had this big wire and I had no clue how to get it on. If that’s why I was bad with the walkie, all I can say is WOW. I even wrote down how to string the damn thing through so it would stay on. I took a lot of notes and got told I was bad at it.

Out of all the students in my class, I had experience in the studios, nobody else had much. It was my goal to take the class because someone I worked with at the studios before told me that nobody would hire me as a PA if I didn’t take that class. I took it. It was fun. I learned a lot. But that’s the feedback I got a year later after I called them and asked them if I was on a list or not. I don’t think anyone gets on that list unless they brown nose. I’m not that type. I’ve seen brown nosers get PA jobs and other stuff in LA without a resume or experience.

This kinda goes along with what I had said in my post:

The student-teacher ratio is something like a dozen to one, and some of them offer courses every single weekend. Even though most of the instructors are working ADs, there simply aren’t enough PA gigs to offer to that many students.

It sounds like they look for any excuse to not recommend you, in order to whittle those numbers down.

Basically, don’t waste your money on a bootcamp. Back the Crew Call Kickstarter, instead!

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

You Can Help Bring Crew Call Back

The first season of Crew Call was pretty great. We got advice from producer Ryan Murphy, heard hilarious stories from prop master Jim Falkenstein, and learned how to get a job as a writer’s assistant from Stuart Friedel.

If you want more below-the-line interviews, we can use your help. The first and most direct way, obviously, is to back the Kickstarter campaign. Even a $5 contribution helps. What else are you going to do with your tax refund?

But if you wound up owing the government money,1 you can still help. Just share the link with your friends on Facebook and Twitter: http://kck.st/1F9bumf The more people see it, the more likely we’ll get the funding needed to record a second season.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Or, as I like to see it, paying them back for their interest-free loan.
Posted in About Me, Crew Call | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Who’s On Set?

Callsheets are, for the most part, self-explanatory. It gives you information like the call time, location address, and things of that sort. But a reader recently asked what the “status” column in the cast section meant, and I realized maybe it’s not all as self-explanatory as I thought.

The cast section of the callsheet generally has eight columns: No. (number), Cast, Character, Status, Make-Up, Reh. (rehearsal), On Set, and Remarks.

Each character is assigned a number; on a TV series, the regular cast members generally keep that number for the run of the show. The biggest star tends to be assigned the 1, the next biggest is 2, and so on. Occasionally, the most famous person isn’t the lead, and egos can be bruised depending on that numbering.1

For the guest cast, it’s really the AD’s preference as to whether a character is given a number throughout the season, or if the numbers are assigned on an episode-by-episode basis. In the latter case, a guy could be 13 one week, and 10 the next, which can be confusing for the actor.

“Cast” refers to the person’s actual name; “character” is the character’s name. Sometimes aliases are used. Callsheets are rather disposable, and people leave them lying around all the time. The mere presence of a certain character could be considered a spoiler, so the producers/studio/network may want that concealed.

“Status” is probably the most opaque of these columns. You’ll generally only see these acronyms: SW, W, WF, SWF, and H. Very rarely, you’ll also see R.

SW stands for “Start Work;” this is their first day of filming. W simply means “Work;” they’re shooting, but it is neither their first nor last day on the job. WF is “Work Finish,” the last day. SWF means this is their one and only day on set.

H stands for “Hold.” Generally speaking, unless there’s a large gap in time (I think the rule is ten shooting days), actors are on hold between shooting days. Technically, this means you can also call them in if need be, and they shouldn’t have booked any other jobs.

Budgetarily, a hold day is a complete waste, because the actors are paid for hold days. ADs try to avoid putting an actor on hold as much as possible, although sometimes it’s unavoidable.

R means “rehearsal.” This means the actor is given a call time and a place to show up, but they won’t actually appear on camera. You almost never see this on a TV series, because there’s no time. I have seen it for particularly tricky stunts, though.

Back to the call sheet itself. “Make-Up,” “Reh.,” and “On Set” are all specific times the actor is expected to be somewhere. Generally, they report to hair and make-up first. Rehearsal should start right at call time (assuming they’re first in), so the crew can see the blocking and start setting up the lights and cameras. “On set” means cameras should be rolling.

Speaking of call times, don’t forget to contribute to the Crew Call Kickstarter campaign. We really need your help to get season 2 off the ground!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. If you’re a PA, that’s well above your pay grade.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged | 1 Comment