Office PA Vs. Set PA

Thomas writes:

I was reading your blog tonight and you have some really interesting stories and anecdotes.  None of which are surprising,  I’ve only been on like two sets in my life…but I can imagine how hectic and crazy things might get.

I just had a quick question for you.

You mention that a memo was passed around the office the other day.  I guess I am confused, since you PA mostly, doesn’t that mean you freelance and therefore don’t work out of the office? Or is that like a second job.

Sorry if this sounds like a silly question, I’m really trying to break in to the industry and get started and maybe do some more work, but all I’ve done is a few short PA gigs that either paid nothing or basically nothing.

It’s not silly. I can see how you might be confused.  There are really two kinds of production assistants: Office PAs and Set PAs.

It sounds like you’ve worked as a set PA.  They’re the guys who help the ADs keep things moving.  They shuttle actors to and fro, they lock up the set, they distribute paperwork that the office sends them.

An office PA, on the other hand, helps the production coordinator.  Their job is to keep the office running smoothly.  They answer phones, make copies, do runs.  Smaller movies may not need (or be able to afford) office PAs, but every TV show has them.  The writers write so many scripts, it’d be impossible to copy everything without a PA dedicated to the office.

Of course, there are production companies where you’ll serve the same basic function as an office PA when they’re shooting.  That sort of job is more permanent than freelancing as either a set or office PA.

Why would you want one job or the other?  It depends on where you ultimately want your career to go.  Being a set PA is a basic requirement for joining the DGA as a 2nd AD.  It’s also a great way to meet the crew, like grips, sound mixers,  camermen, and the like.  You can learn from them and network, and eventually move into one of those fields.

Conversely, office PAs have a pretty straight path to being a coordinator.  They also interact with departments that spend more time around the office, like art, or the writers.

In the end, whichever you path choose, networking is the real goal of a PA.

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18 Responses

  1. Set PA leads to 2nd AD, 1st AD (or director)
    Office PA leads to Prod coordinator, Prod. manager (or producer)

    The reason why I added “or” is because maybe not all the time you HAVE to work as set PA in order to reach to that position but those two diff position categorize jobs like those. So if you want to be an AD or eventually director it’s good to expose yourself on set to learn and vice versa for becoming prod. staff.

  2. this blog is great. But there are not just two kinds of production assistants. There’s the Writer’s PA and also the Post PA. (I guess both could be considered an office PA, but I’ve always considered an office PA to be the production office PA specifically). I’m a post PA right now hehe. It’s so great.

  3. First off let me tell you that your blog is amazing. 🙂 I have a question for you. I have been looking into being a producer. I know that I have to start somewhere but, I’m not sure whether I should start off a set PA or an office PA. What would you suggest?
    Stevie D

  4. I’ve worked for three solid years as a freelance PA. Set was exciting at first but…the office is a far more prestigous job. Fewer of us, we work all days pre through wrap. We hire people. We interact with UPM’s, producers, dept. heads. Set reports set info to us all day. We deal with the networks, and prod companies. We laugh at how frantic AD’s behave. Eveyone else is crew. Office pretty much is staff. -Word

    1. You are stupid sir. Locations arrives first and leaves last. Don’t repeat things you don’t understand

  5. Yeah, really. But I’m pretty sure it was usually precipitated by a Set PA being demanding, rude and otherwise asshole-ish toward the folks in the office.

  6. Really? I always get along with the set guys. They’re job is unquestioningly more fun, although they work longer (and arguably harder) hours then we in the office.

  7. Your answer, as usual, is right on target. I have to say, though, I saw the headline and the only thing that came to mind was:

    Office PA Vs. Set PA
    The Cage Match to End All Cage Matches

    (Yeah, I’ve worked a couple of jobs where they wanted to kill each other.)

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