Will I Be a PA Forever?

This week, I begin my third season as a production assistant for a TV show that’s not-quite a hit. Which is why the show is going to end and I’ll be right back where I was three years ago.

And it’s really, really frustrating.

Stop. I know what you’re going to say – “Gee, shouldn’t you just be happy you’re employed?”

Yes, that I am. I can’t tell you how lucky I am to do the job that I do. I get to hang out in a perfect 74 degree office, consume more food than I could ever imagine, and split the responsibilities of one ultra-efficient corporate administrator between two, sometimes three other me’s.

The hot dog bar on shoot nights don’t hurt either.

Honestly, the perks of the job can’t be matched, especially when you have an amazing cast, crew, and staff working alongside you to boot. Makes 12-hour days feel like a James Cameron movie marathon. Still long, but MUCH more entertaining.

My problem lies after the good times are gone. Like when the pizza-dispensing fire truck at the wrap party drives off and your coworkers have no more happy-sad tears to cry. What are you left with then? Three years of experience PA-ing so you can ultimately find another job… PAing?

Look, I understand how and why nepotism works. Hell, I’d be the first one to ring that sweet magical bell for as long as I could until I got what I wanted, or until I started experiencing hand cramps.

The thing is, it’s nobody’s fault but mine — which is the point of this near rambling vent-fest. I failed to voice my interest and pursuits soon enough (or “loud” enough) with the people I respected. It’s not that they didn’t know I wanted to move up, it’s that they didn’t know how badly I wanted to.

It never hurts any PA to get to know the people they work with, especially since everyone is probably in a higher position than you already who may ultimately guide you to more fruitful opportunities down the line. The key, when all is said and done, is to be vocal at the appropriate times, be persistent, but most importantly, be patient.

Again, I really do cherish my job, but I know now that to move forward, some changes must be made. You can’t expect to get what you want if you don’t fight for it.

God, that spicy brat can’t come soon enough!

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

Trick Question

It’s less common than “What’s your biggest weakness?” but I’ve had several interviewers ask this– “What’s the worst experience you’ve had on a show?”

This is one of those times when honesty is not the best policy.

You see, what they’re really asking is, “Are you a complainer? Do you get along with people? Do you hold a grudge?”

The absolute worst answer you can give is, “I had this one boss who was a huge asshole. She hated me for no reason whatsoever.” Do you know who says that? Assholes.

Even in the rare case where that’s actually true, no one will believe you. They’ll think you’re the kind of person who externalizes and deflects an criticism.

But never fear! There is hope. You still have some options.

First, you can go with, “You know, I’ve been really lucky. I don’t think I’ve been on a bad show. Sure, there’s been hard work and long days, but it beats working in a coal mine.”

Suddenly, you’re the girl with the sunny disposition. Having a positive attitude isn’t about some magical thinking nonsense; it’s about people liking you. Everyone likes positive people, and wants to keep them around.1 That’s how you get jobs.

The other option is to swing the pendulum the other way. Tell a story that is so outrageously horrible, so over-the-top ridiculous, that they’ll hardly believe it really happened. But more importantly, make it funny. Show that there’s no hard feelings, that you understand foolishness is just part of the job.

Make ‘em laugh, and they’ll hire you every time.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. It’s the inverse of #7 on my list of newbie mistakes.
Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Are You a PA? Do You Want to be Anonymous?

It’s that time again. Time to pass the TAPA torch.

I’m not going to go away permanently, but the month of October is going to be really busy for me (in a good way!).

If you’re an experienced PA with a point of view (and maybe some writing skill), then now’s your chance to share it with the world. Send me an email with a sample blog post. I’ll mix in submissions with my own posts over the next couple weeks, and we’ll see how the readership responds.

After that, I’ll hand the reins off to the most deserving PA, and no one will be the wiser.

Posted in About Me | Tagged | Leave a comment

Line Producer Ryan Murphy

Play

Today’s guest is Ryan Murphy. No, not the creator of Glee and American Horror Story. He’s above the line.

Our Ryan Murphy is a line producer, with Danger Close Media. Don’t let the word “producer” in the title fool you. He’s not the kind of producer who wears slick suits and shows up on set once a week, then takes all the credit at the premiere.

A line producer is the guy who gets his hands dirty. He’s boots-on-the-ground, every day, in the office or on set, making sure everything gets done. Many shows need the deal makers and schmoozers at some point to get the money and the stars, but nothing can get made without a line producer.

Ryan tells us about learning at the feet of director Michael Corrente, making a movie that people actually want to buy, and honesty. Yes, a producer is talking about honesty. I hope you’re sitting down.

Ryan also told me he’s happy to answer follow-up questions you might have after listening to today’s episode. His email can be found on the Danger Close Media website. That’s a very kind offer, but remember he’s a busy guy. Please be considerate when deciding whether you should contact him or not.

The producer of today’s episode was Chris Henry, who also wrote the theme.

If you like the show, please rate and review us on iTunes. You can also subscribe via Stitcher, or with the Crew Call xml feed. Back episodes of Crew Call can be found on the Anonymous Production Assistant website.

To help support Crew Call, simply click on the Amazon banner before you go shopping.

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Should I Stay in Los Angeles?

Ken writes:

I just graduated from film school and moved to LA like various people advised me to do. Now, I’m here and looking for nearly any PA job I can find (yay having little to no experience…) and what I keep hearing is how people don’t really film features in LA much anymore. I just signed an apartment lease so I’m going to be here for at least a year, and, while I am going to try my best to get as much experience as I can while I’m here, it seems like I might have a better shot at working on features by moving to Atlanta, Louisiana, NC, TX, etc. once my lease is up.

So, basically, should I stay in LA or move elsewhere in an attempt to get feature experience?

First of all, you shouldn’t limit yourself to working on just features or just TV or just commercials. At this stage in your life, you should be open to any professional experience. Each of those categories have their own pluses and minuses (TV is steadier work, features offer more travel), and each has their own sub-categories (sitcoms vs. hour-long dramas vs. soap operas, etc).

Wherever you are, get as many varied experiences as you can. Even if you find something you like, don’t feel obligated to stick to it; you might end up working in that area for the rest of your life.

As for whether you should move later, I don’t think chasing production is the best way to go. You never know what tax credits are going to pop up or disappear. You might move to New Orleans just as the studios decide NOLA isn’t cost-effective anymore.

If you’re in a situation where you’re not finding work here in Los Angeles, and you can’t afford to stay here, you might as well pick one of those other production hubs. But packing up and starting over in a new town just because you think there might be work there seems like a bit of a gamble.

And if you want to move above the line, moving away from Los Angeles is an even worse idea. Most TV series and movies are written here, even the ones shot on the other side of the country. Directors and key department heads are also often flown in from Los Angeles.

To get those gigs, you need to be networking here, where the studio executives are. It’ll be a lot more difficult to make those connections from New Orleans.

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Asking Too Many Questions

Tara writes in:

I just graduated from college and got my first job as a Production Assistant for a talk show. I’ve done some freelance PAing and the biggest problem I seem to have is that I can’t find the balance between making sure I get everything right and asking too many questions.

I understand that there are certain times where it’s important to double check with somebody higher up to make sure you’re doing something right. I also don’t want to be the PA who gets sent on a simple task and has to call back to ask a question that really doesn’t matter.

I really want to impress my new bosses because I know how important it is to make connections and be the PA who goes above and beyond, but that also means I’m very afraid of making mistakes. I don’t want to bring back the cheapest garbage bags in the store if the office really needs the heavy duty ones, but I also don’t want to call somebody who couldn’t care less1 what types of garbage bags are there.

Any advice on getting past this?

How do you know when to ask questions? When the AD gives you something to do, you should figure it out, but you also can’t make assumptions, right?

Ugh, this is The Worst.

I think a problem most young PAs have is, they’ve just spent the last three quarters of their lives asking older people questions. If something isn’t immediately clear, their first instinct is to raise their hands.

Instead of asking a question, take the following steps:

  1. Think. Seriously, stop and think about it for a second. Just because the answer to a question isn’t immediately obvious, doesn’t mean you’ll never figure it out. Run the assignment through head, and think logically.
  2. Research. Most questions can be answered via the Internet. The AD is not the Internet, so don’t ask her.
  3. Ask someone at your level. A fellow PA might have more experience than you, or at least have the relevant experience in this particular case, and she’s not going to look down on you for not knowing.
  4. Asking up the chain of command. The AD asked for a coffee, and you realize you don’t know how she takes it. Rather than interrupting whatever important business she’s handling, ask the 2nd or 2nd 2nd AD what she prefers. The second-in-command (meaning APOC in the production office) has probably worked with the boss for a while, and knows her quirks and preferences.
  5. Ask your boss. Only if all else fails should you ask the boss a follow up question.

This is not a fool-proof method, of course. You’ll still fuck it up on occasion. But that’s life. You’ll never be perfect, but you can shoot for a better batting average2 than everyone else.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. Congrats on using this phrase correctly. Every time someone says “I could care less,” I want to punch them in their stupid, caring face.
  2. Sorry if I confused you with my football metaphor.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Editor Scott Powell

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  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