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You Are Not a Teamster

The first rule of improv is: Say yes.

Oddly, this IS the second rule of improv...
Not to be confused with the first rule of Fight Club.

This applies just as well to production assistants. If someone needs assistance, well… it’s right there in your title. Got the call sheet for copying and distro? No problem. Want twelve cups of espresso? I got it. A DVD needs to be delivered to the director’s house on the other side of town? I’m all over that.

But there is a limit.

You need to remember that you’re a non-union PA. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily know or understand. There’s a reason each union has a bunch of rules, and it’s not all about obstructionism and keeping out new members.

You’d think something as simple as plugging in a hair dryer wouldn’t be a big deal. Tell that to the electrician whose breaker you just flipped (or worse). Or maybe the camera assistants left their cases in an inconvenient spot, and the AD tells you to move them. That’d be fine, if camera wasn’t the most meticulous department on set, who has a system and order to every little thing; the whole production could grind to a halt if the AC can’t find the lens the DP asked for.

What about driving? I mean, come on, you drive all the time, even when you’re not at work. There can’t be any harm in driving for the production, right?

That depends on the situation. Yes, runs are a part of the job, but you shouldn’t be driving a fifteen passenger van, shuttle crew from basecamp to set. First of all, you’re putting a qualified Teamster out of a job, and that’s not cool.1 But more importantly, you’re not insured to carry passengers professionally. Don’t think the production’s insurance will cover it; you’re not licensed to drive those people, either. The same goes for big trucks or stake beds.2

Cars and trucks aren’t the only vehicles on set, either. Once, a forklift was left blocking an alleyway between stages, and my coordinator told me to go and move it. I’ve never driven anything like that (I don’t even know how to drive a stick shift), so I called the transpo office while I was walking to the alley.

The transpo captain told me, “Driving a forklift isn’t really that difficult. Unless it’s sitting on an incline. Or the ground is wet. Or it’s carrying an uneven load.”

Can you guess the exact conditions I found the forklift?

When the driver showed up, he looked at slick, uneven ground, and said, “It’s a good thing you called me. This is pretty fucking dangerous.” It didn’t look it as he swung the lift around and pulled out of there smoothly. But if I had tried, I probably would’ve flipped the thing over and crushed most of my body in the process.

And this is why we have different departments. They know how to do their jobs, and a lot better than you can.

The second rule of PAing is: Know when to say No.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You wouldn’t want an intern stealing your job, would you?
  2. That doesn’t stop low-budget movies or reality shows from making you do this, anyway. If you agree, you should at least know the risks involved.
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17 Responses

  1. I am a costume PA and yes, driving is a huge part of my job. I was wondering, though, what the teamster rules are regarding transporting racks of clothing. Larger studios may have transpo take even just one rack of clothing on a stake bed whereas smaller union productions have had me take racks and racks myself in my car. I’ve heard sometimes teamsters do the same work that I do but am not sure where the line crosses.

    Also, is there a limit to how many miles a PA drives for work? I just heard a story where a costume PA drove from the Valley to San Diego to pick up a multiple of a costume that was needed.

    Thanks for any light you can shed.

    1. As far as I know, there’s no rule about what the drivers transport; I think it’s just a question of what they’re driving. If the racks don’t fit in your car, they may need to go on the back of a stake bed.

      Another thing is that the transpo captain may be combining runs that you’re not aware of. Maybe they took one rack from you, then picked up a crane from set and dropped it off at the rental house. Those kinds of decisions are made on the fly.

      I don’t believe there is any limit, so long as you’re paid mileage.

      1. Thanks. The examples I gave were when transpo was just transporting one rack, no other stuff for other depts, – they even got back to the office before we did even though we left at the same time.

        And just a note- a key costumer or cos supervisor probably would not allow the clothes to get on a truck with a crane – too much risk of damage to the clothes, esp when one piece can be overvalued at thousands of dollars by a rental house! The cos department even helps transpo tie down the racks or prefers to do their own tie down, lest 50 racks of clothes fall over and need to be reorganized in a half hour before they work!

        Apparently, teamster drivers also do pick ups from stores and vendors, yet I do too. So I was not sure where that line crosses.

        Thanks again for your reply.

  2. A producer just asked me if I had ever driven a 15 seater Pass van as a PA before hiring me. I said no. Should i report this to someone?

    1. I’m not really sure who to report it to. Besides, the PA who does that job is more likely to get in trouble than the producer, sadly.

  3. I’m confused about the 15 pass part. As a PA, I’ve found it’s a common requirement to not only be able to drive a 15 pass, but to do it regularly. Nearly every production I’ve worked on has at least asked if I can do it, if not actually have me do it. I had always wondered about the insurance liability part, but never asked. So if (knock on wood) I were to crash, I would be held liable for all the people on board, as well as the vehicle?

    1. I asked a teamster, today. Anything over 12 passengers, including the driver, you must have a class P license (in California).

      1. I’m a teamster… yes a Passage endorsement is required for you to drive passengers around. It is very much against the law not to have that on your license.

  4. This piece is very timely for me, so thanks for writing. I’ve worked on a couple of non-paying gigs, but in my quest for the elusive paying PA job, I have seen a number of job listings where the primary responsibility listed is driving people or equipment. I have no experience driving large vehicles, so I don’t apply to these positions. But knowing that my insurance would likely not cover me in those situations is an even better reason not to apply. Of course, on a smaller production I likely wouldn’t hesitate to move someone’s personal vehicle to a different parking space or something along those lines. But for the reasons elucidated above, I am glad that I have been reluctant to apply for these jobs, and I certainly won’t start now.

    1. As a Teamster myself, we appreciate you not taking the jobs which require you to have a class a license or to be in the Teamster Union. Reverse very hard to get into this union and torrible because somebody is getting paid minimum wage comes and takes our job

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