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Many Kinds of PAs

First of all, what the hell, Warner Brothers? I feel like I can get onto the Universal lot with a smile and a jaunty doff of my cap.

Anyway, moving on to the actual topic at hand. I received this tweet last week:

And then yesterday, Jeremy commented on an older post:

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.

There’s actually more than that. Along with post and writers, there’s usually a costume PA1, an art PA, frequently a camera PA.  In fact, over the years, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a PA in nearly every department on some show or other, including grips and electrics.

But “the” PAs are the set and office PAs. Not only do we answer to the AD and production coordinator, respectively, but we’re ready to help any department, if need be. Whether it means calling drive-ons, giving directions, or taking care of purchase orders for departments who don’t have the time to do their own, we’re there for you.

The departmental PAs tend to focus solely on their own department.2 Also, they’re not really entry-level positions. You tend to start out as a set or office PA, then move into the particular department you want to be a part of. Or, you can stay in production and become an AD or a coordinator, I suppose. Although, I’m not sure why.

Now, I’ve never served in any of these positions; if you have, please leave a note in the comments. That being said, here’s a quick rundown of what the various PAs do, from what I’ve seen:

  • Post production– Very similar to production, sitting at your desk all day, checking Facebook.3 The hours are often long; the word “post” should indicate that what they do occurs after production. Sometimes this means taking camera and sound rolls to the post facility to be turned into dailies overnight; sometimes it means delivering cuts to producers and other bigwigs the minute they’re exported. You’ll spend a lot of time sitting in a dark room, surrounded by computer monitors.

    Although, I'm sure this is how they see themselves.
    No, not like this.
  • Writers– You pick the writers’ lunch. Sometimes dinner. Lazy writers’ PAs will do nothing but that. Good ones will help run scripts, deliver them, and so on. Others think that you’re the assistant’s assistant, and pass the buck on any g-job the writers ask them to do. The sad thing is, I don’t think the writers know the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. It’s up to you which you’d rather be. Also, be careful– get their lunch wrong, and you’ll be fired.
  • Camera– This is a tough job. It’s a lot of lugging equipment, cleaning equipment, and getting yelled at by your superiors. The hours are stupid long, and they make you fill out everyone’s time card. It’s a high-pressure job, but it’s the best way to become a camera assistant, operator, and eventually DP.
  • Wardrobe– I have no idea. I know they pick up and return items, but beyond that, this whole department is a mystery to me.
  • Art Department– A lot of paperwork is involved with the art department, because a lot of other departments kinda, sorta, maybe fall under the “art” umbrella: props, set dec, set design, etc. On the plus side, the art PA often gets more involved in the creative parts of her department, more than any other PA. Besides picking out minor set decorations, the art PA may become the defacto graphic designer on smaller shows that can’t afford to hire a full-time designer. Plus, you’re, what, 23? You probably know how Photoshop works, right?
Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Who may not be as useful as you’d hope.
  2. Not that they’re jerks about it or anything; they just have their own shit to take care of.
  3. I kid. Don’t really do this.
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13 Responses

  1. I have to admit, I’m beginning to love this blog. Thank you so much for this post, I’ve been hired as an Art Department Production Assistant and its nice to know what I’m heading into!

  2. And, big question, what if you are not 23? I’ve seen repeated references on sites that discuss PA work to it being entry level for the very very young. But, what if you are in your 40s and want to do the writers’ PA > writer > story editor, etc. thing, becuase it is your only way to get contacts, and so on. That’s my dilemma. Writing for television is a new aspiration. It seems ridiculous to enter screenplay contests, if you want to write episodic television that isn’t necessarily high brow. Getting into initiative programs also seems like a bottleneck. Then again, getting a writers’ PA job seems like it is for the twenty somethings straight out of USC film school.

    Any thoughts on gender, age and being a PA? I apologize if you’ve written about this before. As I said, this is a new goal.

    I am a former environmental scientist, and that is a laborious job you are expected to do into your 70s. And the hardest jobs in my field, salvage archaeology, often go to women, as they garner fewer tenured track research positions, according to the NSF, even though graduate programs are packed full of women (in my specific field anyway). What I am trying to say is that if being an environmental planner and a petite middle age woman didn’t pose a problem, can I expect one trying to get a PA job?

  3. I’ve worked as Office and Art Dept PA, and I’m now working as an accounting clerk. It’s pretty much the PA for the Accounting department, but with a small pay bump, I assume just because “PA” is no longer in the job title. It’s weird seing what happens to POs after they go to accounting, it’s pretty much straight out of Kafka.

  4. I worked as a Costume PA on an indie feature last year and some duties aside from picking up/returning clothes and supplies (like dyes, mud kit items, HANGERS!) were assigning tasks to interns, collecting receipts, and filling out purchase orders and petty cash envelope sheets to hand into Accounting weekly.

  5. I worked as a Post PA on a scripted TV show. Most of my duties were the same as what 12pt described, except during the middle part of the season I was juggling those duties over three episodes that were all in post-production. Our workflow also required me to make weekly trips to set to get hard drives from our sound mixer which was like a mini-holiday after the long days in the office.

  6. Wardrobe PA’s do a lot of talent wrangling for Hair & Make-up and Stylists. I know they also will actually stand there and help them by handing them things off the racks or in their make-up kits

  7. Also worked as an Art PA… but always on set. Never in the office, which I think would work under the Art Dept Coord? I was basically an under payed Set Dresser working as an Art PA. I did everything they were doing and getting payed a PAs rate. But that’s how you learn. Basically you just move a ton of shit in and out of trucks. Setting up a location before they shoot, and then tearing it down after they shoot. Unless you’re the On-Set-Dresser. Then you’re there to move shit while they’re shooting. Which I’ve done as an Art PA also. You basically just move a bunch of shit. But it’s fun if you like being creative. When you’re in the shop you get a chance to do more construction and painting and creating dressings for the set.

  8. I’ve worked as a Post Pa… or Editorial PA as they like to call it…. on a feature. However I worked during production… so my responsibilities might differ from someone working with the editor after production. Some of my responsibilities included.

    – Opening up the office, checking voice mail, turning on the AVID systems, cleaning up the kitchen and making coffee… buying crafty for the post office… etc general office management including getting lunches, being the keeper of petty cash, distro-ing callsheets…etc, Closing the office.

    – Putting together the Editor and Assistant Editors Lined Scripts… Basically the script supervisor or the production office will send you all of the script supervisor’s paperwork every day. You have to print out that paperwork and put it in a “bible” that also contains copies of all the sound reports and camera reports that come from set (or the production office).

    – Also the dailies (footage) will come in via hard drives everyday. Sometimes I would get them and drop them back off at set, but transportation usually handled that for me.

    – As far as digesting all the dailies and doing quality control and sound sync checking, assistant editors are supposed to handle all of that. However everything and anything can be handed down to the PA. (Just don’t tell the unions!)

    – I also did a bunch of random stuff like finding temporary music for the cut, finding stock footage… etc

  9. I was a Location PA on my first show, so you can be a newbie and be hired by a specific department.

  10. Grip and electric occasionally got a PA to share (read: abuse) back in the good old/bad old days when I was doing low-budget, non-union features — which is how I managed to escape PA-dom — and low-budget/small crew commercials often use PA’s to help lug equipment from truck to location (and back again), but I’ve never seen a production assistant assigned to grip or electric on a union show in Hollywood. That doesn’t mean it never happens, just that I haven’t seen it… but I doubt the respective unions would be happy about using untrained kids to do serious grip and/or lighting work.

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