The hours are lousy, the pay is worse. No one respects you. If anything goes wrong, it’s always your fault. And everyone tells you you’re lucky just to be here.
There is one advantage– free time.
We’re often busy, it’s true, but a lot of a PA’s job is simply to be ready. While we wait for some to actually need us, we sit around, reading old scripts, checking Facebook or, say, writing a blog.
The best use of this free time, though, is to figure out what you actually want to do when you’re no longer a PA.
Sure, you want to be a director, but odds are, you won’t be. Still, they say shoot for the moon and land among the stars. So which star do you want to land on? Do you want to be a cinematographer? A production designer? An editor?
Now is the time to figure out what department suits you best. Every department has its own personality. A grip is very different from a hair stylist, and neither are remotely like a script supervisor.
I knew an old gaffer on a game show who was the most racist, sexist, homophobic person I’d ever met. On a hot day, he would say, “Boy, it is hotter than Satan’s vagina out there.”
Inevitably, someone would respond, “But Satan doesn’t have a vagina…”
He would look at them sideways, and ask, as if speaking to a not-very-bright child, “Do you honestly think the source of all evil in the world is not a woman?”
I can’t imagine a make-up artist who would say that.
When I was a senior in film school, I met a freshman who asked me what classes I’d recommend. I suggested a cinematography course, taught by one of my favorite professors. The kid told me he wasn’t interested in cinematography. He wanted to be a director. He wanted to have a “vision.”
I asked him, “How do you know what kind of vision you have, if you don’t know how to turn on the lights?”
That’s why I think everyone should be a PA. Working in the office, I meet folks from every department, usually when they’re asking me to get something for them. In a position like that, you quickly learn the types of personalities drawn to each position. The ACs are very organized and very professional; the hair and make-up people are always friendly, but rarely know exactly what they want; the art department just wants everything.
Being a PA is the best opportunity to learn who everybody is and what they do. And, possibly, what you will do.