Let Me Get Back to You II

It’s the last week to buy your TAPA T-shirt! Wear it to the next TAPArty.

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Last week, I wrote a post titled Let Me Get Back to You.

Reader Sam (an assistant production supervisor, so you should listen to him)1 wrote in–

From the title, I thought this article was going to be about the best practice of not explaining too much on the phone when someone offers you work, and you aren’t simply available.

What I mean is, when a POC calls and asks, “Can you work Saturday?,” you should never say “Well, I’ve got this concert, I’m going to, let me see if I can sell my ticket, or well, I don’t know, it’s an awesome concert… is this for just one day of work?”

Because you will sound like you don’t really want or need the job. It will sound like it’s not that great of an opportunity to you. Remember, you are a PA, and there are thousands of people in this town who would kill to get this call.

So what you do is you say, “Let me get back to you. I just need to make a call.” Don’t be specific. Let them assume whatever commitments you are rearranging are SUPER important. Then get off the phone, weigh the options, make the calls you need to make. Then call the coordinator back to say either “I’m available” or “I’m sorry, I’m not available. I really wish I was, I would love to work for you. Thank you so much for keeping me in mind!”

It’s an industry of workaholics who have missed a LOT of concerts/birthdays/soccer games/bar mitzvahs and who think if you really give a shit about your career, you will too. So don’t insult their lifestyle choices by letting them know work isn’t the most important thing to you. Even if it isn’t (and let’s be real, it shouldn’t be).

But just keep that shit to yourself.

I think Sam2 would agree when I say this advice applies well after you have taken the job. Don’t ask for the night off to go to a show, or take a whole day to go to Disneyland. No one else is doing that shit. Unless your parents died or you’re getting married, don’t take time off for personal stuff.

The exception is, of course, doctor appointments. Everyone knows you can’t go to the doctor on the weekend, so they’ll be understanding.

Now, if you schedule a doctor’s appointment on the same evening as that big concert, who’s going to know?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Her? Sorry, Samantha!
  2. -uel? I’m confused.
Posted in Finding a Job, On the Job | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Next TAPA Networking Event – Free Drinks With TAPA!

You read that right, free drinks!

Gratafy is the app that lets you send drinks, dinner and more as gifts to your friends, from local bars and restaurants. Download it for free in the app store before or at the TAPA networking event, and they’ll send you your first drink! Check out this video to learn more, and watch them on KTLA.1

They’ll be there from 2:00pm until 4:00, so don’t be all LA and arrive at 5:30.

One drink not enough? Buy the Definition of a Production Assistant T-shirt, tweet me a picture of you wearing it, and I’ll buy you a Lagunitas IPA Draft, too!

It’ll be on Sunday, September 21, starting at 2:00pm, as per usual. This time, we’re meeting at The Craftsman in Santa Monica.

This will be right in the middle of happy hour, too, so there’s plenty of deals.

 Here’s a link to the Facebook event page. Invite your friends!

It was this or an Xzbit meme.

It’s at 2:00pm, but yes.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Yeah, this is the boilerplate they gave me. Still, free drink!
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Stunt Rigger Joe Ross


Today’s guest is a stunt rigger, and also a co-owner of Action Factory Stunts.

Joe Ross started out as a stunt man at stunt shows (what he calls “Blade Runner meets Cirque Du Soleil,” which is definitely a show I want to see). Now, as part-owner of Action Factory, he coordinates and rigs stunts.

Joe also tells us about their amazing fire gel. This is one of those specialized tools that I knew nothing about, but Joe and his team have made even better in the last few years.

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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Let Me Get Back To You

There’s certain key phrases every PA should know: “Yes.” (Except when the answer is No.) “It won’t happen again.” “It’s Thursday. Yes, payroll checks are coming today.”

Here’s another one to add to your quiver: “I’ll look into that.”

Just like your boss doesn’t want to hear your excuse/reason1 for screwing up, she also doesn’t want to hear “I don’t know.” She wants an answer to whatever her question is.

Of course, become you’re not an omniscient being, there are going to be times when you don’t know the answer. But so what?

Do something about it. You hold the entirety of human knowledge in your hand.

Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at

Kids these days. Amiright?

By saying, “Let me research that” or “I’ll find that out for you,” you are absolutely implying that you don’t know the answer. But the point is, you’re going to actively resolve that issue, hopefully as quickly as possible.

The problem with saying, “I don’t know” is that you’re adding an extra step. The one and only response you’ll get is, “Then go find out.” Just skip ahead to doing what she’s going to ask you to do, anyway.

I hate the word “proactive,” but it actually applies here. This is an opportunity to show the coordinator or 1st AD that you’re always ahead of them, always ready to solve any problem.

You’re taking a negative (not knowing the answer to a question) and turning it into a positive (being the kind of PA who springs into action immediately).

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Have you seen the cool, new TAPA t-shirts? You should totally get one.

Teespring is pretty awesome.

Comes in a range of colors, too!

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If you haven’t been reading the Hollywood Juicer, you really should.

Learning to Work” relates to the topic above. It’s all about those crucial early years in the business.

And, sadly, “Enough is Enough” is about yet another tragedy caused by the long hours television series submit us to.

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

Don’t Move!

This is a long post. Before you read it, check out the funny production assistant t-shirt I’m selling. It’s pretty great.

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I have a hard time getting into the Emmys. Unlike, say, the Oscars, there are way too many nominees for me to have seen everything worth seeing, and to therefore have an informed opinion on who should or shouldn’t win.

I mean, I loved Peter Dinklage’s speech in the courtroom in Game of Thrones, and Aaron Paul did amazing things while saying almost nothing in the last season of Breaking Bad, but I’ve never seen a single episode of Ray Donovan. Maybe Jon Voight was better than both of them. Who knows?

Instead, I mostly watch in the hopes that the presenters will land a few good jokes, and to watch the pretty, pretty dresses. Sometimes both at the same time.

Also, can you imagine doing that in heels? She should get an extra Emmy just for that.

I get the joke they were going for, but still… this was awkward.

And, occasionally, I see someone I know win an Emmy. And by “know,” I mean “worked on the same show at the same time as her.” Gail Mancuso is one of those great TV directors I love.

But I’m a little disappointed that she won for a single camera show, rather than for her multicamera work. I honestly believe that multicamera is where real directing happens in television.

Settle in, this is going to be a long essay before I get back around to this point.1

Fifty years or so ago, some French dudes decided that the director is the author of the film. (I’m summarizing here.)

Before this, the director had two main jobs– choosing the shots, and staging the actors. Everything else was left up to the department head to decide. We actually trusted that, for instance, the costume designer would know what the appropriate costume would be, based on the scene, the character, the setting, and so on.

You could argue that choosing the shots would fall under the purview of the DP or camera operator, but their main goal is to create the best version of a given shot. The director has to make sure that all of the pieces are available for the editor to assemble later.

Once upon a time, movie directors had very little to do with editing. The producers and editors did all of that, while the director was on set on the next film coming down the studio pipeline. (Kinda like TV, now.)

Along with choosing the shots, the director dealt with the actors. Because actors are the only people on set who can’t observe their own work. They need someone to tell them if what they’re doing is good or bad.

More importantly, they need someone to give them context. Actors should live in the moment. They shouldn’t be worrying about where the lights are, or where they are in relation to the  rest of the cast from the perspective of the camera. Even the best actors in the world needs to be told, “Cheat a little to the left, so the camera can see your face better.”

But now that the director is the “auteur,” it logically follows that the author should be involved in every aspect of the film. Instead of just letting the prop master create the best business card for the character, the director insists on seeing samples first.

Does anyone really believe the movie will be improved by adding this layer of approval?

More gallingly, the director now believes he has made the decision on the correct prop (or costume or car or location). The fact is, the prop master still did all of the work. The director chooses from among three or five options. That’s no more “creative vision” than an SAT test.

I don’t deny that there are polymath directors out there who do really do the creative work. Steven Soderbergh acts as his own cinematographer; Kevin Smith edits all of his movies. By all accounts, Ridley Scott designs his films, much to the chagrin of his actual production designers.

But most directors just choose from among the options that others have created. As my predecessor said years ago:

Telling someone to do something is not the same as actually doing it.  If you’re going to conflate managing with creating, why stop at the director or producer?  What about the production executive who oversees the production and tells the director to make it edgier?  Or the studio head who greenlit the movie in the first place?  Or the CEO of the entertainment conglomerate who hired the studio head?

We’re now in a place where the director is considered the author of the film, so everyone does what she says, even if the film suffers for it.

At least that’s not the case in TV, right? There, the writer is king! Who cares about the director?

Not so fast. Even though we don’t consider the director to be the author, the directors still have their fingers in every pie of a given episode. When you work in a production office, you’ll see the prepping director (and her AD) go in and out of dozens of meetings over the course of a week– props, costumes, locations, make-up, visual effects, special effects, on and on and on.

What is the director not thinking about while all of this is happening? Shots and staging. Instead of creative angles and inventive blocking, we end up with is a bunch of tight singles of actors standing in place, reciting their lines.

Here’s a long quote from my favorite film theorist, David Bordwell (he’s talking about movies, but I think it’s doubly true of TV):

Breaking the scene up so much has interesting rhythmic implications. Paradoxically, our movies are cut very fast but they feel rather slow (and run very long). When we need a cut to see a character’s reaction, a scene plays out more slowly than if the characters were held in the same frame for a significant period. Then we might see one character’s reactions while the other is speaking, rather than having to wait for them afterward.

But my main point is that the actors are planted in one spot. [Directors] have felt no need to imagine the characters’ interaction through blocking. Indeed, when shooting a conversation, most of today’s filmmakers seem happiest if the actors stay riveted in place—standing, seated, riding in a car, typing at a computer terminal. Improvised cinema or storyboard cinema: Both camps are refusing the challenge of staging.

In some books and some web entries (most recently, here and here and here and here), I’ve tried to trace the rich tradition of ensemble staging. From almost the start of cinema, filmmakers have explored creative ways of moving actors around the set, aiming at both engaging storytelling and pictorial impact. Since the 1960s,2 on the whole, this tradition has been waning. Now, I fear, it has nearly disappeared.

It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t un-see it. From big budget action flicks to micro-budget dramadies, almost every scene is shot the same way– wide shot, two shot, close-up, close-up. This is what Tony Zhou called “lightly edited improv” in that Edgar Wright video that went viral a few months ago:

Honestly, this is why I say TV directors don’t matter. Any kid in film school can get basic coverage and obey the 180 degree rule. The department heads don’t need the director’s opinion, which is at best a lateral move from their idea, and at worst, more expensive, more time consuming, and less practical.

The director adds nothing in television…

Except in multicam.3

Multicamera sitcoms are shot like plays. Why does this matter? If you’ve been to the theater lately, and given any thought to staging, you’ll understand just how hard directing a play must be.

You get one angle– the front of the stage; you get one shot– the proscenium. Now, move the actors around for two to three hours in a way that’s visually interesting, conveys the story, and is consistent with the characters.

Hats off to stage directors.

Multi-camera directors get four set-ups at any one time,4 and the frame is whatever the hell the director and camera coordinator like. But still, there is a limit as to where they can place the camera. And just as importantly, the show must be entertaining for the live studio audience.

Because of the limited camera options, lighting is also less time consuming than on single-camera shows. Most sets have a “day” look and a “night” look, which are set from the pilot (or first regular-season episode). Minor adjustments have to be made every day, and there are swing sets every episode, but for the most part, the grips and electrics aren’t starting from scratch every single scene like they are on single camera shows.

This gives the director and actors (and writers and producers) time to actually rehearse the show. Over the course of a week, they’ll stage and re-stage every scene at least once a day; sometimes many, many more times than that. The director and actors regularly come up with new ways to move about the set, interact with each other, and generally act within the space.

Seriously, go back and watch The Dick Van Dyke Show. No one ever just stands still for an entire scene. People are always crossing from one side of the room to the other, getting in each others’ faces, pulling apart, and so on.

I had the privilege of watching Gail Mancuso direct a few episodes on the first show I ever worked on. She’s very funny, and helped the actors find the absolute best way to deliver their jokes on camera.

But she also helped them figure out how to exist in the space. Gail was never satisfied with a character just sitting on the couch while another talked at her. There was always funny business going on, and motion, and acting.

Gail is great, and totally deserves her Emmy for Modern Family. But I think she really shines as a multicamera director.

I hope you, too, can appreciate this dying art.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Or rant.
  2. Right around the time auteur theory started to have an impact on American cinema. Hmmm…
  3. I told you I’d bring it back.
  4. We still call them three-camera shows, for… reasons.
Posted in The Industry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is It Too Late to Start?

John writes in with a few questions:

Should I find out who the production coordinator is before I start sending out cover letters?

I graduated film school but have no paying job experience or internships. I’m twenty-four, am I too old to start taking Craigslist listings and no-pay jobs to just get contacts? Where to go from here?

Also, you wrote on your “Joblist” to not call any production to follow up about submitting a resume. Is that standard procedure for job hunting?

I’ve probably covered all of these at different times, but it’s worth answering these again.

You should always do your best to address whoever you’re writing by name. Sometimes the name is listed on the job posting; sometimes you can figure it out through context clues and IMDb. But that’s not always trustworthy, so be careful.

If you can’t find the name for whatever reason, a simple, friendly salutation will do.

24 is not too old. At least, it wasn’t for me; that was how old I was the first time I set foot on a non-film school set. You might be a year or two older than some of the PAs, and may even be the same age as a department head or two (depending on how low-budget we’re talking).

Everyone’s career advances at a different pace. Try not to compare yourself to others around you. That way leads to madness.

In this Industry, it is not standard to follow up after simply submitting a resume. After an interview, or after just meeting someone in the real world for the first time, by all means, follow up. A kind note is never remiss. A hand-written one will make you stand out.

But if you’re one of a hundred resumes? They ain’t got time for multiple emails per person. Best case scenario is that they ignore the second email. Worst case is that you annoy them, and they cut you from the list.

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

Stuntwoman Anna Mercedes Morris


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.

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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


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