No Pay

If he's broke, how does he afford that haircut?
Above: The American economy

I received two different, but related, emails in the last few days.

Matt writes:

I’ve been combing Craigs List and for a while and I tend to notice that like, every single ad or call for a PA is indefinitely nonpaying. Is it as if there is some secret club you’re let into after you’ve done a few non paying gigs where you start to find paying gigs? Also, I’ve been roving the internet like crazy trying to find any other jobs that have anything to do with productions. It almost seems as if I made a huge mistake in getting my degree. The reason I say that is that every single entry level position for film or television production I can find is either A.) non paying or B.) an internship. So even if they were paying, they’re looking for college students. Whats a 5 years of experience television station production assistant with a bachelors degree to do?

And Chris asks:

PAing, as you’ve said, is a full-time job, and often the only way to get started is to get on a low/no-budget production before you move on to a paid position.  So how does someone in that position pay the bills (such as student loans that have suddenly come due) when they’re working full-time in an unpaid position?

The answer, in both cases, is suck it up.  This is that time in your (and my) life called, “Paying your dues.”

People survive in a number of ways.  They borrow off credit cards; they live off mommy and daddy (also unfair, I know); they get part time jobs on nights and weekends, filling the rest in with savings; they get married and sponge off their spouse, who has a real job.  (Hi, honey!)

Basically, you do whatever you can, until you actually do get paid.  There’s really just no way around it.  (Mostly.)

Unfortunately, we are paying our dues in a recession.  Everyone is taking pay cuts, from A-list actors to lowly PAs.  People who were getting paid millions are now settling for hundreds of thousands.  Departments heads are seeing their salaries and their budgets slashed.  Those of us who used to get paid next to nothing are now getting paid literally nothing.

It’s completely unfair, but if you decide to pack it up and move back to Michigan (or wherever), take comfort in the fact that no one will notice.  There’s always another PA, ready to take your place.

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3 Responses

  1. Matt — you didn’t ask me, but I’ll throw my two cents in the pot anyway. I don’t know anything about the work dynamics at a television station, but if you’ve been working there for five years without having the opportunity to move up, then something’s wrong. The whole idea of being a PA is to work a lot of different jobs, learn to do many different low-level but essential tasks, and meet a wide variety of people on the crew. This provides a good look at all the different departments, and allows you to decide which path/craft holds your interest. If you work hard, ask questions, and are as helpful and friendly as possible, eventually one of those people will need some help on a show and you’ll get the call. That’s how it works for those who come to Hollywood lacking family connections — you have to make your own connections the hard way. Getting a job at that TV station was a great idea, and I’m sure you’ve learned a lot, but by working in one place all these years, you’ve put all your career eggs in one (apparently) unproductive basket.

    Unless your goal is to get a better job at the TV station — which doesn’t seem to be working out thus far — you need to get out in the real world and hustle up a variety of PA jobs. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of spending another five years doing just what you’re doing now — and a that point, you’ll be way out there on the thinnest of ice. I’ve seen it happen — a 40 year old set PA working on sit-coms, who stuck with the same AD’s for years because it was a comfortable role. Eventually they cut him loose, because 40 years old is a good 10 years past the sell-by date for set PA’s. With no other contacts, and no experience on episodics, features, or commercials, the poor guy was up the creek without a paddle. And that’s not a good place for a married guy with a new baby to be… Those AD’s sent him out to sink or swim in the real world, and he sank. Last I heard, he’d moved to Oregon doing God knows what.

    You need to sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart talk with yourself — figure out exactly what it is you want from the film biz, then start moving in that direction. Otherwise, it’ll never happen. If you like working at the TV station but are sick of being a PA, then learn how to do something else that pays better — start working towards becoming a camerman, editor, producer, or whatever else they do at TV stations.

    Leaving a comfortable position is always scary, but it’ll only get worse the longer you wait. If you dither around until you’ve got a wife and kid — like that 40 year old ex-PA — you’ll be screwed. It’s time to shit or get off the pot, Matt: define the problem, then put everything you’ve got into solving it.

    If you think about it hard, and can’t come up with a really good reason to be in the Industry, then maybe you should consider doing something else. Anybody CAN carve out a Hollywood career, but not everybody SHOULD. That’s not meant as any sort of criticism, but just as it takes a certain type of person to be a cop, fireman, or EMT, not everybody is cut out for this kind of work. This is a crazy, frustratingly insecure way to make a living. If you don’t HAVE to be here — for whatever reasons — then maybe you shouldn’t come.

    Look inside, Matt, and look deep.

    Good luck.

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