Figure It Out

Listen up, all of you who are trying to get your start in this business.  This is the most important advice I will ever give you.  In fact, it may well be the most important advice anyone ever gives you about Hollywood.


I realize it’s oxymoronic to advise not asking for advice, especially on an advice blog.  It’s also ironic, coming from someone who religiously listens to the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast, and reads at least a dozen writer blogs.

Nevertheless, it is true advice.

The other day, my boss was telling me about his first day as a PA.  His boss asked him to pick up some crafty from the grocery store.  Instead of asking where the store was, my boss just took the list and walked out the door…

To the parking lot, where he sat in his car and dialed 411.  (This was pre-smartphones.)  He got the address of the closest Ralph’s, looked it up in his Thomas Guide (I guess it was pre-GPS, too), and went on his merry way, in what I must assume was a Model-T.

And he wore an onion on his belt, which was the style at the time.
Above: TAPA's conception of the 1980's.

The point is, he didn’t bother his boss with trivial matters.  He figured it out for himself.

Contrast that with the daily emails I receive that ask, “How do I get a job?”

Now, there is a link at the top of my page that reads, “HOW TO FIND A JOB.” Seriously, it’s big and bold and everything. There’s also a search bar on the right, just above a list of categories that includes “Finding a Job.”1

I don’t mean to impugn my readership, but seriously?  Seriously.

It doesn’t take much to be a PA, but it does require a certain amount of initiative. If you can’t figure out how to navigate a website, how will you navigate a set? A studio? Los Angeles?

Every time I screw something up, my boss tells me, “You’ll never be a director until you can do this job perfectly.”

It’s a scary thought, but true.

Figuring things out not only shows initiative, it’s actually part of your job. The whole purpose of a PA is to do shit no one else wants to do.  And more than anything, no one wants to worry about the details. Every production coordinator and AD I know would love to have even a single PA who just does what they’re told, without having to ask a million little questions.

A PA who can figure it out.

This doesn’t apply only to PA’s, either.  As William Goldman pointed out, and countless others before have quoted, “Nobody knows anything.” This business is unpredictable, and unforgiving. No one will ever really be able to tell you how to succeed, not even the people who are successes themselves.

You’ll have to figure that out for yourself, too.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Edit: The layout of the site has been modified since this was originally posted. Still, the general point stands.
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17 Responses

  1. It’s not just your industry. It’s everywhere. On a post called “how to become a freelance designer”, I get endless comments asking how to become a freelance designer. Or, on a post about fit modeling (a prototypical average person, not a fashion model), I get comments from people whose measurements are the farthest thing from average you could imagine. I delete nearly all of them.

    I think it’s a hybrid combination of the google age and generational bizarre expectations. People expect customized answers on demand, served up just for them. Tragically, they think they’re showing initiative because they asked a question… and that someone owes them an answer. Really.

  2. Dee – I think if it’s something that’s very specific (ie: it has to be done just right and there won’t be any chance for a do-over) then that would be an appropriate time to ask questions. But when it’s something more general, like finding a grocery store in a well populated area, I think those things are best left to be figured out on your own.

  3. You got it right! This is the most important skill you can have to succeed. This industry spits out those who can’t think independently. Also not only do you need to think for your self but think beyond what’s needed. Say for example your asked to run and get a prop from the store across the street. Not only do you do that but you bring back several options… or your asked to bring the Director coffee, and in doing so you grab your fellow PA and bring up a bunch of waters to set too. Or my favorite (being a scripty and all) I save all the screen shots (stills from video playback) in my back pocket, and when the director says “I’d like to see the single on…” and hopefully as he is saying it I give him the picture.

    Thinking for yourself, and thinking ahead will get you noticed..but don’t be looking for praise, the rest of the crew think for themselves too!

  4. This is so true. I just came off of a year long internship in a field I knew nothing about, and I asked so many questions, I even annoyed myself. Needless to say, I have a great recommendation from my boss–but they did not offer me a permanent position. I will NOT be doing that again.

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