I’ll admit, other than a few shows that went on location in Vegas, I’ve never shot outside of Los Angeles. I have never worked in places like New Orleans or Detroit, where tax incentives draw film production. I work in Hollywood, literally and metaphorically.
But today, a guest blogger wrote in to talk about PAing in New Orleans. This list is… rather eye opening. A lot of this happens on non-union shows here in Los Angeles, but none of this is what I would consider “normal.”
Here are Josh’s Ten Favorite Lies:
10. “You won’t have to drive your personal vehicle”
There will be a lot written here about my car. It is a very fragile beast and has cost me thousands of dollars over the years. Having bought it very cheaply off of my grandmother in 2010, I’ve accepted the cost of this maintenance whether it’s engine issues or new tires. I, however, will not accept fronting the bill for the wear and tear on my car because of employment situations that offer NO compensation whatsoever. I’ve put over 600 miles on my car in a single Monday through Friday work week. Oh, they’ll pay your gas receipts or reimburse your for ‘mileage’ but they won’t replace a flat tire or cover your oil change. I’m not sure what realm of reality production managers occupy but it must be one where PA’s vehicles are powered by the double rainbow of raw ambition, where nothing could possibly go wrong. Because you know, the typical PA can afford a brand new, perfectly functioning vehicle.
9. “We need to cut down on our crafty spending.”
Invariably through the course of production, some well meaning manager or coordinator will freak out about much money has been spent on crafty so far. ‘Crafty’ is some strange industry code word for junk food: chips, nuts, crackers, candy, soda, etc. Imagine a film crew as a horde or overweight British children, fingers stained purple from digging their hands into blueberry pies all day. They are the most overfed class of people you’ll find in Western culture and most of them are armed with the red tape of union regulations to keep themselves that way. With this knowledge in tow, it is IMPOSSIBLE to ‘cut back’ on crafty spending during a movie shoot. You’re boss is just trying to cover his ass by giving you this impractical instruction. He isn’t really seeing what you see each day in the office and/or on set. It’s feeding time at the zoo. Every minute. Every day.
8. “After you do this, you won’t be a P.A. anymore.”
I guess for those dreaming of a future in the production industry, this would be the ultimate carrot on a stick. You’ve done X many shows and now you’re looking for any opportunity at all to move forward. Excellent, making that known will be your first fatal mistake. The coordinator or unit production manager or assistant director that hires you is merely trying to crew up. It’s an inconvenient part of preparing (or prepping) to shoot a movie. They will tell you whatever you need to hear in order to take the show and fill out that spot on the call sheet. Alternatively, you’re wedged into a corner because now you want to make a great final impression that you are beyond PA duties – meaning you’ll probably have to do double PA duties just to save face in front of the employer. The only way someone moves forward in any career, at least from what I’ve witnessed, is fucking over the person who hired you by taking a better job offer. Seriously, I’ve seen no one ‘pay it forward’ and help a PA move up because they did well on a couple shows. Anyone good enough at gophering shit is a threat to the bigger gophers with fancier titles, like Assistant Directors. You know how they’ll really help you? By offering you another shit PA job when you’re broke and desperate. Indentured servitude, my friend.
7. “We’re gonna get you out of here early tonight.”
Another fucking evil carrot on a stick. Let’s say your day is rapidly approaching the 12 hour mark. This can be the light at the end of the tunnel or just the sad car accident you pass on the way to the graveyard. Your boss starts flipping out that it may be a long night. He knows you have to be back to work early the next day and you need a proper turnover. So he lies to you, giving you the false hope that you may indeed go home early or at least, at your 12 hour mark. Guess what? It’s more or less a trick to keep your morale high as you are silently march into your 13th or 14th hour. I know what you’re thinking, ‘but what about the overtime?’ Hahahahaha, I’ll get to that later. For now, never believe anybody when they say it’s going to be a short day. Firstly because it’s NOT and secondly, a short day in the production industry could be fucking 14 hours to some people. Very sad, lonely people.
6. “We’re all crewed up but I’ll get you on the next one.”
This one’s pretty obvious to anybody who has been unemployed for at least a month between jobs. You exercise every connection you think you have with your ‘friends’ and come up empty handed. Remember when I said I’ve only seen people move up when they stab their bosses in the back? You won’t see more underhanded maneuvering like on the last days of shooting or wrap on a production. Everybody is lining up their next gig in shadowy fashion because they don’t want the person next to them to hear about it. Those who already have their next job locked in won’t tell a fucking soul, except for their little clique that probably helped it along. You’ve busted your ass on every show but like any other job, if you haven’t infiltrated somebody’s clique (any department) then you’re going to be high and dry come the end of your show’s run. Those people you hung out with during all of production suddenly aren’t so chipper to talk about movies and sports with you when you ask if they know anything coming to town soon. However, corner one of your ‘buddies’ long enough and they’ll promise you the next job. If that was actually going to happen, you wouldn’t be unemployed at wrap.
5. “You’ll never have to do that.”
Oh yeah, the friendly pat on the back and reassurance that – despite you’re PA status – you’ll never have to do that. What is ‘that’ exactly? It could be anything! That’s the beauty of PA work, it’s a catch-all for every department on a production. Anybody, from the laziest teamster to Tom Cruise can pull you aside and ask for a favor. You’re walking around a shooting range with a target on your back. The only difference is the shooting range is a bunch of children who need to be handheld through every miniscule task and you’ve got a big neon sign hanging over your head that reads “Hey I’ve got hands!” Technically, no little job is beneath you, whatever your pride may assume, but there are moments where your boss will confide in you that THIS time you won’t have to worry about _______. Why? Because someone else is doing it. It’s their job, after all. You may feel a brief reprieve, like your day just got easier. Well guess what? There’s no rules and even some other PA can delegate their pointless task down the ladder to the next PA. No assistant is safe from the trivialities. At that point, pray you have interns.
4. “Don’t worry. You’ll have interns.”
Hahaha, oh yes, interns! We are no longer talking indentured servitude in the production game. Oh no, it’s straight up slave labor! Have you heard about those recent class action lawsuits where the interns on ‘Black Swan” sued 20th Century Fox? Currently there is one pending with interns from the Wendy Williams Show. These little angels are the unpaid sweatshop workers of Hollywood and beyond. They are usually college students (sadly, not all of them) trying to crack into this dream-factory industry. The problem is, labor laws prevent them from being any real use. You, the PA, get told you will have interns helping out. But interns go home early. Interns have school schedules. Interns can’t drive their personal vehicles. This is the production fucking the person they ARE paying, you. Instead of hiring another PA who could share the load of a 60hr work week, they bring along a couple interns for free. Instead of making you’re job easier, you have to now waste time instructing interns what to do and how to do it properly. Now you’re fucking training people too for a shitty PA wage. And you thought things were going to be better? True, they didn’t really ‘lie’ to you in this case. There are interns available to do stuff. But I guarantee you they won’t be there when you really need them. Like ANYTIME you’re shooting overnight.
3. “You’re last day will be on _______”.
This is going to sound a lot more negative than it really is. Every job starts with this really positive estimation of how long your job will last. You can kind of hastily plan out how much money you are going to make and start budgeting for how long you can survive unemployed afterward. Yes, that’s correct. Unless you scammed your way into a lucrative friendship mentioned in #6, your great reward after a show ends is sitting at home, slowly going broke. But that’s after your last day, which exists hazily in the future, never really explained to you by any of your superiors. Most of the time it is after the movie wraps but you’d be surprised. The bean counters like to look like hot shots towards the end of productions and start sending people home at will. PAs will be the first get the axe, usually fucking over the poor PAs who remain. It has it’s pros and cons. Getting to go home early is always nice. But you can’t plan for it and usually it’s always one week shy of that last paycheck you really needed. Another sad fact is that by the end of a show, you’re so numb from all bullshit that you’ve settled into your little routine. And then the boss says to pack up your desk. He may have said your last day was next Thursday but here you are walking out the door. Things change, I guess. Never in your benefit.
2. “We are short on Transpo drivers”
This goes straight back to the first lie about driving your personal vehicle. You’re never outright ordered to drive your own car for production purposes. No, you see, the local managers and coordinators know better than to just say “Hey punk ass production assistant, you’re hired, and now you’re fucked.” No, they have to lull you into a false sense of security and comfort. They’ll do you favors first so they can eventually drop the hammer down on your soft little ass and the car it rides in. It’s the same on every show. “Hey, we’re short on Transpo drivers, you’ll have to make the morning run today”. They say it like they are shocked and disappointed in the local teamsters. It’s not production’s fault your personal vehicle is now going to get raped by useless mileage – it’s that shifty transportation department, lazy assholes! No. It’s not. The movie purposely doesn’t hire a lot of drivers because teamsters cost money and they can just as easily force a PA to do all the driving. They save money on paying union shit and the PA has no other choice. It’s planned out and executed in the same fashion, always around the beginning of principal photography. This is the most bold faced lie of them all and probably the most disgusting practice used in the industry.
1. “Write down 12 hours on your timecard but I want you to keep track of your actual hours.”
As many of you should know, a regular work week on a production (TV or movies) is not 40 hours. It is 60 hours. Overtime only kicks in after 12 hours in a single work day. As a PA, none of that is guaranteed but local production managers still like to keep the PAs buttered up with the hope for more money. After all, when you calculate the right-to-work state weekly wage for a PA ($650) against a full week, you get something pretty close to minimum wage per hour. I have actually spent my slow moments calculating the exact point I hit minimum wage after 12 hours. It’s very sad math. So let’s say you’re really slaving away with a 65-70 hour work week, putting in at least 1 to 2 hours past 12 each day. Overtime for PAs is a giant no-no to managers, so you have to report 60 flat hours. But then they try to act like your supporter and ask you to keep track of your ‘real’ hours as if down the line, they can convince one of their superiors to approve your overtime hours. The cold fact is…there’s no approval necessary. YOU WORKED OVERTIME. You did the time and what a shock, they’ve fucked you. They don’t owe you anything. You can kick and scream but the only solstice you’ll get is that shit line from a boss. And what is overtime, anyway? An extra 50 bucks on your paycheck? You lost 65 hours of your life. Time is infinitely more valuable than money and even when they do sack up your overtime pittance, it’s not worth it. Going home as early as possible is the only time you, the PA, can ever win.
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So, dear readers, what do you think? Is this typical for filming outside Los Angeles?