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Oh, Canada!

AQBemp writes:

I’m in the UK and just about to finish uni (nothing film related). There is a scheme here where you can get a work permit/visa for Canada for a year once you’ve graduated as long as you get there by January 2010. At the moment I am really considering going to Vancouver. One main problem is if I was to go when should I go? I was wondering about US shows being filmed there, obviously they all start filming sometime around the start of July which I feel is too early as I want to try and get some experience in July over here. However is it the case that students might be PA’s over the summer and jobs might be available once they go back to uni (September)? Or is that just a silly idea of mine? For example I found an Australian’s cv on the internet and he started working on one such show in Vancouver in January. Is that just luck or do jobs as set PA’s come and go that much? There are a lot of things shot in Vancouver that I like and people seem to think it’s possible to get jobs there but I don’t really want to go there without having some experience over here.

Shows actually start filming as early as March, and usually no later than May. Even the mid-season replacements start shooting in late spring; after all, series get canceled after one airing nowadays. Those replacements need to be ready.

Writing an episode of dramatic television takes a month or two, from pitch to script. Dramas tend to shoot seven or eight days. Post (editing, color correction, mixing) can take weeks for a single ep. There is no way a series could keep up with this schedule if they started shooting weeks before the fall season begins to air in September.

As for your particular situation, I doubt any production would want to hire a PA on a temporary basis. Hiring anyone, even a PA, is a time consuming process; the AD or coordinator would prefer to do it once a season.

You could, however, work as an intern. If your university does have some sort of film or television program, see if they can connect you with a production in Canada. Barring that, cold calling is your next best bet.

Getting a job mid-season is mostly luck. Also, I don’t know Australia’s television schedule; January might be a normal time for them to start.

I really want to become a script supervisor one day but am very happy to try and get a job as a runner/PA and do that for as long as I need to be if I can be a script supervisor in the end. Out of interest do you know if that is something a lot of people want to be?

It’s an unusual goal, but hey, if you like it, go for it. I don’t know much about how one becomes a scripty, though. Try Script Goddess. She’ll be much more helpful than I.

Would going to Vancouver without any experience be really stupid if there is a chance I could get a job as a runner over here in the summer? It’s just I know a UPM of feature films (babysat his children when I was at school), you’ve definitely seen a film he’s worked on and I was thinking of asking him for advice on getting a job as a runner/asking who to contact. Do you think there is a chance that talking to the UPM might help lead to something good somewhere? Would you risk going to a country where you know no one when I have people here I know?

Okay, this would have been pertinent information at the beginning of your email. You know a UPM? Personally? Ask him for a job!

My mom once sent me an clipping from my hometown newspaper. It was a “Local Boy Makes It Big in Hollywood”-type story. A guy who went to my high school had become a producer on a successful game show.

His last name was the same as a family friend’s, so I called up my mom and asked if he was related.

“Yes,” my mom said, “it’s his brother. Why? Did you want to get in touch with him?”

Hell, yes, I did. This is how you break into the business.

Is this a UPM in Canada, or England? If he’s in Canada, your problem’s solved. UPMs don’t often deal with PAs directly, but if he tells the coordinator or AD to hire you, they will. If he’s in England, he can at least help you get the experience you need.

And as far as moving to another country, I’m not sure if I can help you. That’s a bigger deal than moving across the country (even one as big as the United States). I don’t know the relative sizes of the Canadian and British TV industries.

I do know that Canada’s is somewhat dependent on the fluctuations in Hollywood (i.e. when the value of the US dollar goes down, production is less likely to flee north of the border). British TV, I would assume, is more independent than that.

Your UPM friend may have a better answer. If you talk to him, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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3 Responses

  1. If you are planning to come to vancouver in the summer you are quite likely going to be able to find work, even temporarily,if it is busy. I have met many Australians and Brits working as PA’s on holiday visas, however they are location PA’s and chances are you may just spend 15 hours a day watching cars at crew park. Our set PA’s are not the same as in LA as they are part of the locations department and do not hand out sides or deal with paper work(commercial work excepting). Often the locations department will be very fluid and wil have a core of 2-5 PA’s and then the rest will be hired day to day depending on the location needs. Sometimes it is possible to work on three shows in a week. This year would be perfect as we have a bunch of big features and shows going and next year is anybody’s guess. Your best bet would be to look up the BC film commission’s list and call up the office and ask for the LM or ALM. Another option is to actually find a set (easy to do in Van, look for the fluorescent arrows) and talk to the Key PA or ALM.
    Office PA’s on the other hand are a totally different ballgame and it is much more difficult to get into that world, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get that job on a holiday visa, although, stranger things have happened.

  2. Thanks for all the answers, they were helpful (even the hint about order of importance of information). So much so that I think staying here may just be easiest really or maybe delaying getting a work permit for a year abroad and going in a years time if I still want to go. I have read a lot about things filmed in Vancouver but then if I were to be able to get some experience here then maybe I’d be better off staying here.

    I will definitely contact the UPM I know then and see if I can get some advice/experience/or perhaps even a job as a runner. He started off as a runner because there is a location near here which was essential for a film made in the 80’s. He’s someone who lives down the road and I’ve known him for years but he’s not around much due to filming. I know his wife and children better than I do him, I just tend to never see him. That’s mainly to do with him not being there much, me being at uni and then when I am home not seeing many people as I live in the countryside (people don’t meet in the village shop or anything like that as people think we do). Hopefully he’s home over Easter and I can go round and have a chat with him.

    As you’ve guessed British tv is much more independent. We do get a lot of US shows on tv but there is still a lot of stuff made here which ranges from soaps, games shows, cookery programs (loads of them) to short seasons of British shows (6/8/10 episodes with about 13 as the maximum depending on popularity).

    Thanks again for your advice, I’ll let you know about what happens when I contact the UPM I know.

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