PA Rate

A reader who didn’t sign her email and has an incomprehensible list of letters and numbers for an address (at netscape.net, of all domain names) asks:

I’m currently working as an Office PA on a […] film which I have been told is trying to keep things cheap, and was a little shocked that I was only making $7.64 an hour, with $11.47 for over time. I have worked as an office PA a couple of times, but I would recieve the other times $10 for an hour, $15 for over-time. I am non-union, so unsure if there is a set rate. Would you say that my pay is normal for an office PA?

Can a PA be part of a union?

There is no PA union, at least in America. The closest we have are DGA trainees. It sucks, because there’s no set rates or insurance or anything. On the other hand, the lack of a union lowers the bar for entry, which is convenient.

As for your rate, you’re thinking about it wrong. Production assistants don’t get paid an hourly rate, except on paper. On any real show, PAs are paid a day rate. For accounting purposes, this is calculated backwards to an hourly rate, based on a twelve hour day, for your time card.

This is actually not a bad thing. If you work less than twelve hours (like, say, if you’re on the late shift, but the production wraps early), you still get the full day’s pay. But if you work over twelve hours (i.e. when the crew wraps behind schedule), you get double time.

Suppose you’re working on a sitcom. During a hiatus week, you’ll probably work only eight hours a day, while collecting a twelve hour salary.  But suppose the writers are working late, and you’re stuck until three in the morning to deliver scripts to the studio execs. Then you’ll get massive overtime. Your time card will say you worked 65 hours, when you only worked 47.

It’s the one ridiculous bit of Hollywood accounting that works in our favor.

What I’m saying is, you aren’t getting paid $7.64/hour; you’re getting paid $107/day. On your previous show, you were earning $140/day. This is about the range PAs can expect nowadays on TV and film. Not a ton of money, but hey, that’s what you get for being a PA.

I’m told music videos and commercials pay better than that; I also hear their grass is greener.

It was this, or the naked girl with hay covering her naughty bits.
I'm not sure what this post has to do with horses, but look, it was the best Google Images had to offer for "grass is always greener."

* * *

While we’re talking about numbers, check out Hollywood Juicer’s blog post yesterday:

That meant unhooking and dropping the cable we just put up high four weeks ago – all 180 pieces, 14,500 feet, and 10,000 pounds of it – then replacing it with brand new cable. This had to be done very carefully, marking each of the fifty drops from up high to the pipe grid so that the 300 individual lamps (each on their own dimmable channel) would remain in the proper order once the new cable was installed. By the time it was over, we’d have moved nearly six miles and ten tons of cable just to get back to where we’d started.

Holy shit.

30 Comments

  1. This industry treats people like shit and tell you its a privilege to work here. Kids, take some solid advice and get a STEM degree. In what fucking universe is a normal work day 12 hours? Yes, sometimes jobs require long weeks but usually with those jobs the salary is 70k and up. 12 hours as an AVERAGE day making a little above min wage? Are you fucking kidding me? Of course most of the time kids are forced into slave labor out of college, oh sorry I mean unpaid internships where instead of breaks you get people’s lunch and eat abuse instead. I was young and foolish once, don’t keep giving these cunts any of your time. Choose a real god damned job where you make a god damned living.

    • I’m a production assistant and it’s not that bad. I pretty much never take a job less then 200 a day (unless I’m hardup) and there’s a lot of downtime and luxuries in the biz. And most importantly there’s a lot of potential for upward mobility.

        • Nah i’m in NYC, LA sucks dick. But $200 for 12 is pretty standard for commercials, and i get enough return work that it would be doing myself a disservice to go do a TV show for $150 a day. I get more return work than a lot of people I work with though because i’m sure to be the best PA on set every gig. I try to predict problems and needs, and i try to ask minimal questions answering as much as i can myself and figuring out as much shit as i can myself. A PA should be assisting the needs of the production, not making the production assist them.

    • Good point-notAslave. Most people get into film cause they love it. It is a truly lousy gig in so many ways and as this article says that PA’s get per day what I got paid as a PA in 1989 so that makes me wonder why the rates have not gone up? Maybe because it is indeed a type of slave labor of a sort-really!

      I also wonder about why the poor actors get so low. Face it-there would be no film without actors and they get 100 a day at the SAG (non-SAG day rate. SO pitiful. i am making a budget right now and going to put in $360. a day for the main actors, although mine is very low budget.

  2. I think there’s a time and place for hloury rates. Sometimes people just need small jobs here and there executed, and if they don’t have enough work to keep you on a retainer or project fee, this is where hloury rates are good. There’s also a time and place for retainer or project fees, especially when brainstorming and ideas and long-term project involvement is part of the picture.What I find most important however is how I THINK about my hloury rates.While yes, I have an hloury rate for some projects, I also like to keep a secret minimum desired hloury rate to myself when pitching for retainer contracts and projects. If for example I estimate this project is going to take about 2 full working days to complete, then I’ll multiply in my head 16 hours x my secret hloury rate and pitch that price. They don’t have to know my calculation or how many hours it actually takes me to complete (and if I end up finishing it faster, good for me!) They only need to know the final price and the final deadline. But what is important, is that I know what my ballpark and my goal is (i want to earn xxx $$$ by working xxx hours, therefore my goal is xxx/hour) and can pitch accordingly. How I think about my hloury rate is also extremely useful when I’m working with different currencies. It’s also useful to pace myself and avoid taking on more projects than I can handle on a retainer basis, because my hours are calculated.Of course, I have a different secret hloury fee for different services to calculate for different projects. For just proofreading, I can’t charge $250 an hour. But for consulting, because my study time and my ideas and my experience all goes into it, I can charge $250 if I want. So then it’s up to me to decide to balance my different types of projects where my time is worth. Of course I’m not going to take 40 hours a week of proofreading work if I can balance it with a higher paying copywriting project.So yes, it may be tedious to time log, but I find it valuable. At the end of every month I can look back and see which projects ended up being worth my time, and which ones I have bitten off more than I can chew. And I can learn from it. And I will know whether it’s worth it to renew a contract or not, or take on a new project with the same client or not. I know which services I need to pitch harder for, and which services I should do less of. I know which areas I need to invest more learning materials and material time in, because I can see how the hloury rate I’m earning in that skill will make it worth it. And, at the end of it all, I can choose how many hours I want to have as my free time, and know how I can work around it and enjoy my life too.I dunno about you. But it works for me Cheers,Lisa

  3. Way to gain a following and then abandon us! I know you’ve had a least one thing to rant about since November. Not even a Merry Fucking Christmas post!

    🙂

  4. It’s been about 4 hours since my previous comment, and I’ve finally reached this post. I decided not to sleep. Just thought you would like to know 🙂

  5. COME BACK, TAPA!!!
    I’ve been lurking through ALL your entries for the past few days, kicking myself that I didn’t discover you earlier. As a fellow PA/slave, this blog is the perfect dose of snark, advice, and the encouragement that I’m not suffering alone. I’m currently at August 2009, and it’s depressing me that I’m halfway through. This blog is a way better read than those half-finished books sitting on my nightstand!

  6. ADWPayroll:

    Ahh, then no complaints whatsoever! You DO have experience. When I said “tricky” I suppose I meant for the folks who haven’t thought it through, and tell the staff to pre-fill / etc the timesheet out so it works out to the right number. I see this a lot (clearly bogus timesheets that fit some number set by the payroll folks to make stuff work).

    I normally stick the guarantee hrs beyond hrs worked as a separate wage line to make things clearer on the paystubs, but that is probably not needed 🙂

    OK, back to regular programming!

  7. If I’m told to pay a PA $140 per day for a 12 hour day, I set them up on the start paperwork as $10 per hour with a 12 hour guarantee (12 work hours = 14 pay hours; 8 straight and 4 at 1.5x).

    Then the PA records their real, actual, honest-to-dog hours on the time card. If they work more than 12 hours they get more than $140 but if they work less they still get the $140 because of the 12 hour guarantee. I never knowingly allow anyone to put down fake hours just to meet a guarantee. That’s the point of the guarantee!

    I’ve been doing it this way for almost 13 years now and it protects the production if something happens to the PA when they aren’t really on the clock but still gets them the money per day the production wants to pay.

    Sorry to hijack your blog… I’m usually try to be nice to the office PA’s but not the set PA’s (usually prima donna DGA wannabes).

    • Wow, DGA prima donnas?-I have been out of the biz a long time-never heard of that. Maybe its a CA thing? We were hard working over worked PA’s in Austin the late 80’s early 90’s. first on the set, last off. i don’t think I ever worked less than a 10 hour day. I did enjoy the leftover craft service beer and food.

  8. ADWPayroll:

    We don’t know how the Office PA in question is calculating their hourly rate 🙂 But good point! My guess is there is another side to this story.

    With respect to your understanding of this basic concept some quick questions.

    A worker works 9:00-5:30 (8 hrs). But you instruct them to put 12 hrs on each time sheet even though they only actually worked 8. They are seriously injured while driving after work during a time that appears on your payroll records and their paystubs to be their regular working hours and file a claim. Your explanation is that your payroll and paystub records are not accurate because you use hollywood accounting?

    You have all workers list 12 hrs as worked on their timesheets even though they only actually work 8. A worker complains you didn’t allow them a second meal break. Your files show you have what to cover this?

    Glitches in hourly accruals in mandated sick time areas such as San Francisco.

    And more.

    I’d actually be interested in the answers of what you are doing really on the ground today because I’ve seen a lot of different treatments 🙂

    Speaking of fun hollywood accounting, this 900M+ grossing movie lost a ton of money! I’m sure the accountants there are reassuring all their 5% net proceeds partners that it really is very simple too once you understand hollywood accounting!

  9. If that PA is working in CA and is only getting $7.64 an hour he/she is getting less than CA minimum wage (currently $8 an hour). I don’t understand how the production company is getting away with that if they are going through a payroll company…

    And while JohnD is technically correct it’s not that tricky for us “back office girls”. It’s a basic payroll concept and one that applies to everyone, union or no (the difference between “pay hours” and “work hours”). Let me know if you want me to get into more detail.

  10. The anon assistant has this down :)!

    You should know that CA is strict with OT / wage laws, so the key is in the back calculation. I’m not sure about other states in this respect.

    What happens is someone says the day rate is $140 for 12 hrs. But CA law makes implementing this a bit tricky for the back office staff.

    First, paying a salary type rate for a PA will get you in trouble, so saying, we want to pay you $140 for up to 12 hrs of a work is a no no, even though that is EXACTLY what you WANT to do and WILL be doing. You must jump through some hoops to get to where you want to be.

    The back office guys / girls go, OK, California is strict about overtime etc, so we need to set an hourly rate so that for all time <= 12 hrs, we are at or under the day rate when the hourly rate is used in calculations.

    The nice thing about this is that you generally can still PAY the full day rate (12 hrs) even if the staff work just an 8 hr day, because almost no staff member will make a wage claim saying they are overpaid (which technically is what happened). This is the trick that makes this whole thing work.

    Also, I see a lot of confusion about calculating an hourly rate based on a day rate. Simply dividing the day rate by the # of hours doesn't work. Staff often go, so and so promised me X per day, so why isn't my hourly Y. In the above example, $140/12 = $11.67 per hr. Seems simple, but this comes to $163 per day over 12 hours if you follow CA law, and whoever is your boss or the person handling budget will be unhappy with you.

    What you do is divide by a normalized # of paid hours (the factor). In this case the 4 hours beyond 8 count as 6 hrs (1.5 time), so your factor for a 12 hr day is 8+6=14 and your hourly is $140/14 = $10. This then turns into $140 for a 12 hr day under CA law, and you can still pay 12 hours for an 8 hr day if you want*.

    So you get to the "We'll pay you $140 for up to 12 hrs work" in effect, but you also comply with the law, at the cost of a bit of paper pushing on the back end.

    *There are some annoying quirks and issues with this workaround, but few that affect employees or result in employee claims which is rightfully seen as the big risk.

    Not sure that is useful or overkill :).

  11. Double time based on hourly. They don’t retroactively give money for regular-time hours.

    Here’s what you do: Take your day rate, divide it by 14 to get your hourly rate. Anything worked over twelve hours, multiply that time by the hourly rate.

    If you worked 16 hours, you’d get 8 hours of regular time, 4 hours of time and a half, and 4 hours of double time.

    If, say, your day rate is $140, you make $10/hr. For the last four hours, you’d get $20/hr, for a total of $220 that day.

  12. Yeah, I saw that. But I didn’t know if you get paid double time for a whole day, or double time based on hourly. So if you work 16 hours you get 12 hours normal rate and then 4 hours double rate? Or do you get 12 hours normal rate and another 12 hours double(day rate). That was my question.

    • I cltmoepely agree with you. In fact, I was just setting up a retainer arrangement for a client for whom we do design and editorial consulting. Her first question was, Would it cost less if I paid you hourly? This is a frustrating point. As I told her, if we switch to an hourly rate for my advice and consulting, we’re going to nickel and dime EACH OTHER. She’ll send 3 emails and I’ll send an invoice back for what, 46 minutes of response/research time? Money aside, this is a really low-value situation for both parties.And un reality, in the above situation, I could potentially make more money by settling for a consulting fee based on time. But the legwork, and the fact that it puts both of our eyes on the clock vs. the goals, reduces value to the extent that I actually refused to settle for this. I told her very firmly what the outcome of the arrangement would be. It took her about 30 seconds to imagine herself sending an email with a key question and receiving a bill in return to understand that peace of mind and value are more important than $50 bucks here or there.

  13. So. If you get paid a day rate for 12 hours. What happens when you go into the 13th hour? Does it start a new day… so for a 16 hour shift you get paid two days? Or is a 16 hour shift still only one day until your week’s total hours exceed into OT? Not sure how the overtime works on a per day basis in California.

  14. I was making 650 a week for a movie last summer in Georgia with a 13 1/2 guarantee. It was cool at first, like during prep, because I rarely even worked 1o hours. But as soon as shooting started I started pulling 15 hours minimum in the office, which was totally lame.

  15. Oh, and on a 6th day, where you’re already making 1.5x for the day, OT doesn’t start til 17 hours. Found that one out the hard way, on a Saturday that was supposed to be an “easy day where I could get a lot done” and it turned into hell.

  16. I think it works a little differently on the east coast, but the same basic concept. PAs (and other non-union employees, like assistants and secretaries) have a day rate that is back calculated to an hourly rate on the pay stubs, but it’s almost always for 14 hours, not 12. Here, on tv and film, you get 1.5x OT after 14 hours, and double time after 16 or 18 (I can’t remember which). On commercials, PA rate is $200 for the day, but no overtime unless you hit 16 hours, at which point you get a double day.

    Confusing enough for ya?

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