Editor Scott Powell

Play

  Our guest today is an Emmy-nominated editor: Scott Powell. Scott has cut such shows as 24, Person of Interest, and Hawaii Five-0 (the new one; he’s not that old).

There’s still time to enter the CAPS Payroll contest! They’re giving away two pairs of tickets to Crew Call listeners for their VIP suite at the Staples Center. The winners will get to choose from a range of events (concerts, sports, etc).

Winners will be chosen at random on Sept. 21st during the next TAPA networking event. (You don’t actually have to be physically at the event to win; just pay attention to your Twitter feed, wherever you are.) You’ll have to listen to last week’s episode to find out exactly what you have to do to win.1

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.

[[2]]To help you with the spelling, they are @CAPSPayroll, and I’m @TheAnonymousPA.[[2]]

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1.   Our guest today is an Emmy-nominated editor: Scott Powell. Scott has cut such shows as 24, Person of Interest, and Hawaii Five-0 (the new one; he’s not that old).

    There’s still time to enter the CAPS Payroll contest! They’re giving away two pairs of tickets to Crew Call listeners for their VIP suite at the Staples Center. The winners will get to choose from a range of events (concerts, sports, etc).

    Winners will be chosen at random on Sept. 21st during the next TAPA networking event. (You don’t actually have to be physically at the event to win; just pay attention to your Twitter feed, wherever you are.) You’ll have to listen to last week’s episode to find out exactly what you have to do to win.{{1}}

    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.

    [[2]]To help you with the spelling, they are @CAPSPayroll, and I’m @TheAnonymousPA.

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

The Future of Networking Is Here

People often write in that they’ve just moved to Los Angeles, and they don’t know how to meet people.

Well, first of all, you should come to the TAPA Networking Event this weekend!

But there’s not a TAPArty every weekend, you say? Luckily for you, the Internet exists.

There are plenty of Facebook groups, Meet Up groups, and sub-Reddits focused just on Los Angeles. Many of these cross over; Film Industry LA (run by my internet friend David Mendez, who’s definitely been in the Industry for awhile) is on both Facebook and Reddit.

Those are for networking; if you’re actually looking for a job, like, right now, there’s the I Need a Production Assistant Facebook group. These aren’t specific to Los Angeles, but still a good place to start.

My point is, it’s not like the old days, where you’d have to rely on blind luck to meet other people in Hollywood, even when you’re literally in Hollywood. Scour these and other message boards, and go out. Do something, every night (or day or afternoon). You’re bound to meet new people and make new friends.

This will be good not just for your professional life, but your personal sanity, as well.

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

#NotAllDirectors

There’s still time to win box seats at the Staples Center, thanks to CAPS Payroll.

* * *

Evan G decided to respond to a six-year-old post about an asshole director. I wasn’t around at the time, but as the current keeper of the TAPA flame (and no big fan of directors myself), I feel I ought to respond.

Evan writes:

To the anonymous production assistant who writes this: It’s obvious why you want to stay anonymous; this article is so incredibly juvenile and ignorantly misinformed in its writing that anyone who has a few brain cells would die if their name were found on it and they expected to be respected in the film industry afterwards.

Regardless of your assessment of the post, yes, the reason I’m The Anonymous PA is so I can write what I want without consequence. You haven’t stumbled on some big secret here.

Your absolutely stereotypical portrayals of what a “Writer” is or a “Director”, “Producer” etc. show an absurd lack of respect and perpetuate the rationale for why you are considered the lowest member of the crew.

I’m not sure what the scare quotes are for. These are real jobs that people do.

I assume Evan is referring specifically to the phrase, “Above the liners are messed up.  Writers are insecure, socially inept misanthropes; directors are raging ego-maniacal sociopaths; actors are just as egotistical, but without having gone to the trouble of accomplishing anything to justify their egos; and producers just wish they could be writers, directors, or actors, if only they had the talent.”

It shows a lack of respect because it was intended to. But that’s obviously1 exaggerating for comedic effect; a “joke” if you will. I don’t talk like this on set, nor do I advise my readers to.

Not really sure what that has to do with PAs being considered the lowest member of the crew. PAing is a low-skill job that requires little experience, with a large body of qualified applicants willing to do the work. That’s why it’s lower than specialized skills that require training and expertise.

There are a few people in every industry who ruin the image of that profession for the rest. But it does no one any good to further those false blanket statements by writing about it in a blog, especially in a blog that caters to new-comers in the industry.

They’re not false statements. The story told in that post is 100% true, as are this one, this one, this one, and this one.

If you’re talking about the obviously-exaggerated stereotypes, well, I didn’t make those up. Many, many people hold those views. The ones who disagree tend to be above-the-liners themselves, or wannabe above-the-liners.

Hell, I’ll come right out and say it– if those stereotypes don’t remind you of someone, then you’re either inexperienced or unobservant.

What kind of message do you want to send when you tell the next generation of excited kids coming to work in film that the people on top are the shittiest human beings alive? All of them.

I’d like to send two messages: 1) be prepared, the people at the top of a Hollywood production are often assholes; 2) if you reach that height, don’t be an asshole yourself.

I genuinely believe that the reason most above-the-liners are assholes is because they don’t remember what it was like to be below-the-line. Hopefully, they’ll read this blog and remember.

You’re writing that not a single Writer, Director, or Producer is a nice person.

I’m seriously not. It’s like you’re a robot in a bad sci-fi movie. Not everything is meant to be taken literally.

Or a passionate team leader who inspires his crew to do good work. There’s none like that. They’re all the shittiest human beings alive.

Sigh. No, not all all directors are shitty. Happy, now?

Let’s build an American film community again. Where we inspire artistry and togetherness for the good of the film. Let’s NOT make film a “clock in, clock out” job. Let’s have PASSION again. Let’s be excited for each other’s projects because we’re making American movies in America and showing them to the world. Let’s try and build and support relationships. Reach out to each other, help make their films, and learn new things, new skills, have goals, have an apprenticeship role in Hollywood, in all the filmmaking cities in America.

Here’s the community I see: the crew pulling together on 14th hour of a Fraturday shoot, pushing through the exhaustion to get one last shot; the old-timers telling stories about how the electric truck used to be two miles from set, up hill both ways; the younger crew rolling their eyes, but still listening raptly to ever word; the camera operator asking for a courtesy flag because the camera is directly in the sun and the grip hopping to it, because even though he’s just as hot, he knows the operator doesn’t have the option to move into the shade; crafty walking around with water bottles to make sure everybody is hydrated, cracking jokes the whole time, even though she got to set before everybody but the teamsters.

Here’s what’s not community: the show-runner who wants to have the wrap party on the last night of shooting; the director who didn’t make a shot list ahead of time because he prefers to be “inspired,” thus wasting everyone’s time on shots that won’t make it to the final cut; the producer who refers to the crew as lines on the budget, rather than actual human beings.

These are all things I witnessed last week. So don’t talk to me about passion and punch clocks and fucking community. I work with professionals who take pride in their work, who have fun while they do it.

Let’s not hate, like this article, let’s support, and forge a new American Golden Age of film.

I’m not going to bow at the feet of the director because some French asshole decided to promote him to auteur in 1957.

I like having a job, so I don’t talk like this on set, but on my anonymous blog, people above-the-line will get precisely as much respect as they deserve.

[...]

This is exactly what Evan had to say about the director who yelled at the OG TAPA for no reason whatsoever. What does that say about support and community?

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Obvious to anyone with a few brain cells, anyway.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Thermostat

It’s that time of year, at least in Los Angeles, when it’s a hundred and fuck degrees outside, so all the guys in the office decide to set the thermostat to 67.1

It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I’m from the “purple mountain majesties” part of this country. Growing up, I didn’t see grass between Halloween and Easter. I’m used to the cold; I like the cold.

But most other women in the office complain about the air conditioning. How about this solution? Put on some clothes.

Listen, I’m not the patriarchy telling you to hide your shameful body. All I’m saying is, consider the environmental conditions when picking out your outfit in the morning. I know you have warm clothes; I’ve seen you wear boots and a parka, even though there’s a -7,000% chance of snow here.

Here’s the thing– you can keep adding items of clothing until you look like Randy from A Christmas Story, if you want. I can only remove so many layers before it becomes work inappropriate.

Took me a minute to figure out what the circle was.

Best. Wrap party. Ever.

This is one of the few cases where I’ll admit I feel sorry for actresses. Unlike the office staff, they don’t get to pick out their outfit. And most of the time, the costumes given to them are, um, insubstantial.

Combine that with the fact that most sound stages have the A/C blowing full blast, all the time. This is because the giant movie lights create large amounts of heat. Usually, the studio turns on the air conditioners before the crews even arrive to compensate, which means when you show up for your 7:00AM call, the stage is practically a freezer, since the lamps have just barely started to heat up.

Most of the crew will begin working up a sweat in no time, but actresses can’t look shiny on camera. That would be unladylike.

But unlike most actresses, you have a choice and a brain.2 Use them.

* * *

If you haven’t listened to the latest episode of Crew Call, you should! We’re giving away tickets to a VIP suite at the Staples Center. If you’re not into sports, you can choose a concert or show, too. It’s pretty awesome.

Listen all the way to the end of the episode to find out how to win.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I imagine the inverse of this must happen on New York shows in the winter.
  2. Wait, that didn’t come out right…
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Should I Start as an Office PA or a Set PA?

Raisa writes in:

I just started interning on an independent film and the producer has asked me whether I want to be on set or in the office. This is my first time working in the industry so I don’t know anything about anything.  I think I eventually want to be a producer or an AD, but given my lack of experience I’m just not sure.  Would you recommend being an office PA or a set PA to start learning the ropes and figuring out where I want to be? Also is one better for networking?

I’ll level with you– being on set is more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when sitting in a nice, air conditioned office can be preferable. (It’s 76 and humid as I write this, climbing up to 97 by the middle of the day.) But by and large, most people enjoy being on set. For your first film experience, I’d start there.

Plus, on an indie movie, there’s not really going to be a lot going on in the office. On a tight budget, producers tend to focus their money on the most vital departments– cast, camera, lighting, make-up, costume. Art department tends to get short shrift (“Let’s just shoot at my apartment! And not do any set dec at all!”).

The office will be cut down even more. Someone has to take care of payroll, and order lunch (you probably don’t have a caterer). You’re not going to have a full office staff for that.

Besides networking, there’s also just learning what you want to do. While every department will be smaller than usual, you’ll at least get a sense of what grips are like, or costumers, or make-up artists.

If the movie is small enough that the producer is directly interviewing interns, you probably won’t be learning much about office life at all.

Make the switch to the production office in and when you get tired of the set, and you have enough credits to be hired on a big show.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Production Supervisor Kelley Sims

Play

Our guest today, Kelley Sims, has had a long a varied career– from actor to accountant to production supervisor to, most recently, co-producer.

These are the kinds of jobs you don’t necessarily dream about when you’re in film school, but they’re vitally important to the running of a show. And, as Kelley points out, working in these office-type roles doesn’t mean you’re giving up your dreams of being an artist. After over a decade learning and experiencing the practical side of the business, Kelley is on track to produce his own films, soon. And I’ll bet he brings his movie in on time and on budget, unlike certain other producers I could name.

Today’s episode is brought to you Caps Payroll; they’re not just for background anymore.1 They’re giving away two pairs of tickets to Crew Call listeners for their VIP suite at the Staples Center. The winners will get to choose from a range of events (concerts, sports, etc).

Winners will be chosen at random on Sept. 21st during the next TAPA networking event. (You don’t actually have to be physically at the event to win; just pay attention to your Twitter feed, wherever you are.) You’ll have to listen to today’s episode to find out exactly what you have to do to win.2

CAPS Payroll – their focus is your success.3

Chris Henry not only produced today’s episode and wrote the theme, he also conducted the interview, since I was unavailable. Basically, Chris did all the work this week. You should thank him on Twitter.4

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. They asked me to say this.
  2. To help you with the spelling, they are @CAPSPayroll, and I’m @TheAnonymousPA.
  3. They asked me to say this, too.
  4. I didn’t tell him I was doing this; it’ll be hilarious when his Twitter account blows up, and he doesn’t know why.
Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 Mistakes New Production Assistants Should Avoid

If you want to know what a PA does, you’ve come to the right place. Various TAPAs have been telling you what to do for a long time. You can still buy the TAPA T-shirt with the definition of a PA.

But it’s not often that I tell you what not to do. So, as a public service, here are some common mistakes I see freshly minted PAs make all the time:

1. Thinking You’re Still in Film School

No one wants to hear your opinions about the mise en scène, or how this movie fits in the director’s oeuvre. You’re here to get coffee and lock up the set. There’s an old saying– “A PA needs a car, a computer, and a phone. Notice I didn’t say brain.”

This is the real world, where we actually, physically make movies.1 Save the theory for after work; right now, we have to shoot.

2. Being TOO Helpful

A PA’s duties can be fuzzy and undefined. If pretty much anyone asks you to do something, you should be prepared to do it. Film school and low-budget productions also encourage fluidity between the departments.

But on a union show, everyone has a job, and every job has someone to do it. If it’s not your job, don’t do it. Not because you’re lazy or want to avoid work, but because you don’t know how to do it right. Even something as simple as coiling cable can be screwed up, if you haven’t heard of over-undering. Or, if you do know how to over-under, but didn’t know that only applies to audio and video cables, not power cables.

3. Talking Too Much

There’s a time and a place for conversation. This is not it. This is the time for paying attention.

As Joaquin Sedillo put it on Crew Call: “You have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Use them proportionally.”

4. Being Unprepared

Ignoring the pithy sarcasm in #1, there are a few things you should always keep handy, whether you’re on set or in the office: pens, Sharpies, a small flashlight, sunscreen, a multi-tool. Some of these the production will supply, others not.

It’s also not a bad idea for set PAs to have their own surveillance mic. Production may provide one, but it’s been used.2

5. Not Knowing What’s Going On

Everyone assumes the PAs have special, inside information about what’s happening, and more importantly, what’s going to happen next. This is often true. But you shouldn’t tell anybody the stuff you heard while carting the producers around from the office to the stage.

On the other hand, you should know all of the official information. Keep a callsheet and one-liner with you at all times. Know what scene is coming up next. Know what the next set-up is, if you can. Know if lunch is going to be early or late. Know the actors’ call times. Know everything. (See item #3.)

And if someone asks a question you don’t know, say, “Let me get back to you with that information.”

6. Not Networking

“Networking” is a shitty term with a shitty reputation. Deservedly so. It’s often used by that guy who hands out business cards at lunch.

The Piven knows all.

Listen to Piven.

What you should be doing is making friends. Both on set and off. This is how you get jobs. Not by blindly sending your email to every show on the production weekly. You land gigs through recommendations and referrals from people who actually know you.

And this is when I remind you that you should come to the next TAPArty, at the Craftsman in Santa Monica, on the 21st of September.

7. Being a Downer

Everyone thinks they have the hardest job. Including you. That’s totally fine.

Don’t tell anyone that. Even if you’re right, even if you’re having the worst day imaginable, complaining will only make things worse. No one likes a downer. They won’t want to be around you, and they won’t recommend you in the future. (See #6.)

Every day should be the greatest day of your life. You know why? Because you work in a goddamn dream factory. Quit complaining.

8. Asking Too Many Questions

Your boss wants you to handle things. When she asks you to do something, just go do it. Don’t ask why. For the love of God, don’t ask how. Figure it the fuck out.

9. Not Asking Enough Questions

You don’t want to talk too much (cf. #3); you don’t want to ask too many questions (cf. #8). But sometimes you need clarification. Sometimes you don’t even know that you need clarification.

And there’s the rub. Think carefully about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you can figure out. Only then should ask a question, if it’s merited.

But don’t be afraid to ask. You want to be right, not just fast.

10. Saying No

I can’t believe I have to say this one. You’re a production assistant. Your job is to assist. Everyone. All the time.

But I constantly hear PAs saying, “Go ask So-and-so,” or, “Do I have to?” or just straight up, “No.” I mean, honestly, how is this person employed?

There is only one time to say no, and that’s when there is imminent, physical danger.

* * *

Share this list with any new PAs you know, and maybe we can eliminate some of these in the next generation.

If you have any more Don’ts to add to the list, leave them in the comments below!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Or virtually. But you know what I mean.
  2. Ew.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Visual Effects Data Integration Lead Viki Chan

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Today’s guest has a job you’ve probably never heard of– Viki Chan is a Data Integration Lead in the visual effects department. She’s worked on such big film as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Ender’s Game.1

Viki is not a US citizen, and she tells us a little bit about getting sponsored for her work visa. Then she goes into the technical aspects of working for visual effects on the actual set. If you ever wanted to know how they get those amazing effects to fit into the real world, now’s your chance to find out.

She also has a great story about one of my favorite directors, David Fincher. He’s pretty much exactly like what you’ve heard.

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. She worked on the effects, not the scripts; if you didn’t like the movie, don’t blame Viki!
Posted in Crew Call, Finding a Job, On the Job, Podcast | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Show Title or Job Title?

Today’s a good day to buy a t-shirt, don’t you think?

* * *

Mitch writes in:

My current predicament is probably a caviar problem.

I got hired to PA on a network talk show earlier this year, which was great, I really enjoyed it. Then we went on hiatus for the, and I began looking around for a new gig in case things fell through when the show came back.1

Fast forward two months and I’ve just been offered an Associate Producer position at a much smaller network. I’d honestly never even heard of the company before they offered me the job. It produces a lot of syndicated content though, and has even had 1 or 2 daytime Emmy noms over the last few years. Apparently, they largely hire young non-union kids in their 20s and pay a much lower rate than what they’d get an experienced person for (they may have gained something of a reputation for it, but very few people have heard of them to begin with). For me, this job means a small pay bump from my PA salary and a pretty great title jump. Also, a ton of creative freedom (writing, graphics editing, casting, etc) since the place seems to care more about quantity than quality.

The question is, do I stay with the well known and reputable network show that I’ve been working for as a PA or do I hop on board with the content mill as an AP and cross my fingers that I’ll be able to continue working at that level when I move on?

Take the promotion.

If you were shifting from one type of show to another (say, hour-long scripted to game show), you’d have to stop and think. You may end up working in a field you don’t like.

But getting a promotion on the same type of show on a smaller network? That’s totally fine. That’s how lots of people move up in the world. It’s no different than an AC on a TV series stepping up to DP on an indie movie.

Take the credit (and raise!), do a good job, then look for the same job on a better series, or a better job on another low-level show. Always move upwards, in at least one of those columns. The one thing you don’t want to do is take a lateral move voluntarily.

You’re much better off having a long-term relationship with your current show than making new relationships on new shows. Why? Three seasons from now, people from the first show aren’t going to remember you if you were only there for nine months. The will remember you if you were a fixture on the series for three years.

I’ve noticed readers who contact me about my resume service tend to focus too much on the people around them, and not on what they themselves did. They list the director and producers of the show, like they have any real association with those people.

Yes, you should use the name of the biggest company involved, but beyond that, I don’t really care who you worked with. If I’m looking to hire an associate producer, who’s resume do you think stands out more? Someone who’s been an AP on a shitty show, or someone who was a PA on a big show?

The first one, every time.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Always a good idea.
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Let Me Get Back to You II

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

* * *

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