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Set PA Kit

Unlike most of the crew, office production assistants don’t really need a kit. Occasionally, they have to bring their personal computer for work, but that’s about it. The production pays for everything else an office PA might need.

One of the responsibilities that usually falls on office PAs is ordering office supplies. One of the perks is, you can basically order whatever you want1 and no one will say anything.

Got a favorite kind of pen? That’s what you order. Did someone take your red stapler? Don’t burn the place down; just order another one. Need some toner for your home printer? Yeah, that too.

Set PAs have no such luxury, and yet, they actually need more stuff than office PAs. It’s completely unfair.

For those of you just starting out, here’s some things that you really ought to have an hand when you’re PAing on set:

First, you’ll need a belt pouch to hold all your stuff. Nothing too big, but you’re going to want to have pens, pencils, sharpies, highlighters, notepads, etc. all at hand. Unless you wear cargo shorts every day, this can be a bit of a pain.

Now, what do you want to keep in your handy-dandy pouch? First, metal pens. Why not just a regular Bic or something like that? Because you’re on set! You’re out in the world, running around, getting dusty and dirty, climbing over things. Plastic pens break, and you don’t want ink getting everywhere.

Other useful writing implements: highlighters (not for you; it’s more likely the cast will ask you for a highlighter than you’ll actually use it yourself). I’d recommend getting a variety of colors. Also, twin tip Sharpies; they’re more useful than the regular ones, because the pen-side can write basically anywhere. Multiple colors are useful for these, too.

You should always have a notepad on hand. When someone gives you complicated instructions, always write them down. Plus, if you need to pass someone a note silently, you always have paper on hand, rather than tearing pages out of your sides.

A totally random but completely useful addition: binder clips. As a starting point, use a binderclip to hold your sides on your pouch, so they’re easily available. But also, while you may not handle as much paperwork distro as the office PAs, you’ll still have quite a bit. Keeping things organized and neat is much easier with binder clips.

Next, you need a really, really bright flashlight. This is an area you might feel like going cheap on. Don’t. When it’s 3:00am and you’re in the hills on the edge of of the studio zone, walking a cast member from basecamp to set through a fake forest that is specifically designed to be frightening, a keychain flashlight just isn’t going to cut it. Many ACs I know recommend Scorpion brand,2 but there’s plenty of good brands out there. Just make sure it’s bright.

You’ll need gloves. There’s a company out there called SetWear, and as much as I enjoy CamelCase, I don’t recommend them. You’re basically paying a 50% markup for the word “set.”3 I bought the least expensive pair of gloves they sold, and wore through them in about two weeks. I called the company to complain, and they told me those gloves weren’t for “heavy duty” work, such as… moving card tables. Seriously, what are they for, then? Keeping my hands warm?

Then, an experienced electrician told me to just buy gloves at half the price at a hardware store. I’ve had my CLC gloves for 5 years now, and they still work fine. If you plan on moving into one of the heavy-lifting departments, welding gloves work great. You’ll never burn your hands on even the hottest lamps.

Not for every day use, but you’ll want to have a big, floppy sun hat. It gets hot out here in Los Angeles. In the valley, it gets up to 100 degrees probably every other day in August. Along with keeping yourself hydrated, a hat is a very good idea. Likewise, a small tube of sunscreen, which can hopefully fit in the pouch you bought eight paragraphs ago.

Remember, It Never Rains in Southern California:

– – –

Full disclosure on this post: in an effort to make a little bit of money on the side with this website, I signed up for the Amazon Affiliate program. Basically, if someone buys something after clicking on an ad on my site, Amazon gives me a cut (at no cost to the consumer).

I looked in to how to make this pay off, and several websites suggested writing product reviews and things like that to get people to buy things you recommend. But that’s not really the kind of site this is; if I became a shill, you guys would stop reading.

But I give advice. Letting you know what you need in your kit fits within that. You might be able to get the production to buy some of these items for you (the pens, the highlighters); others are less likely (the gloves, the flashlight).

By all means, you should shop around, look for the best deal for you. You’ll be investing in your own future comfort and usefulness.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Within budgetary constraints.
  2. They use flashlights to light up the slate in otherwise dark situations, sometimes from great distances. They know from good flashlights.
  3. This is not exclusively an issue for SetWear, to be fair. Anything that’s said to be “for production use” is going to be more costly than in the real world. Buy Dust-Off from the office supply store, not Film Tools.
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10 Responses

  1. Gee, what’s with all these PAs and their cute little pouches in which they pack a whole general store? Three call sheets, three sets of small sides, possibly one large sides, skins if you’re the BG PA, folding knife, black blue red pen, sharpie, pocket notepad, (all in the back pocket) no pouch. Those are the only essentials. Anything else just shows how green you are, and I learned from the best key. Your backpack, that you leave with the brick box/set kit, has all the other shit you will rarely need.

    1. Where do you keep your pens, knife, sharpie, and notepad if not in a pouch? I mentioned cargo shorts as an option, but not everyone likes to wear those. It’s not always easy to find clothing with big pockets for women, generally.

      Also, your comment reads like you’re correcting me, but you’re saying exactly what I said, other than the hat and sunscreen. I don’t think anybody assumed I said you should carry those around at all times.

      1. Pens and knife= clipped to front pocket. Sides, call sheets, sharpie, and (wallet sized) notepad=back pocket. True about women, and the tightness of their jeans and size of the pockets.

        Of course, I’m not correcting you, I’m mainly responding to few of the other comments, as well as the notion that a pouch is needed. It’s only recently that I’ve started hearing about the pouch that PAs supposedly need, and seeing green PAs with them. All the guys I started with and learned from never had them, and I just find it amusing the amount of stuff that these PAs seem to cram into them that they unlikely use regularly. :/

        1. Ah, gotcha! Sorry for taking the comment more harshly than you intended. I’ve known some great PAs and even 2nd ADs who always wear a belt pouch, but it is definitely not a requirement.

  2. My ideal kit that has served me for the last 3 years begins with this amazing pouch.

    It’s an EMT walkie pouch that also has additional pockets. In it I keep my personal surveillance set (trust me, get one and buy a molded earpiece too!), a notepad, 2 sharpies (the double one with a pen tip at the other end), a normal pen, and a flashlight (mini Maglite led plus – 2x AA batteries – not that CR123 crap I can’t find anywhere – 140+ lumens)

    In my pockets I keep a Leatherman and a folding box cutter.

    Since I recently became an every day carry person, my keychain also has a small flash drive, Leatherman Style CS, and a Fenix E11
    flashlight – THE BEST pocket/keychain flashlight I can recommend – super bright, 1x AA battery, single button on and off – that’s it – no cycling through brightnesses or strobing functions (which you have to do with it’s successor the E12)

    As I moved into Art Department, I bought a secondary pouch from Reyes, in which I keep a xacto knife, a scraping blade for removing tape residue (gets way more use than you might think), crescent wrench, small 4 in 1 screw driver, small tape measure, diagonal cutters, a lighter, and 8″ scissors

    And yes, a PA will need gloves. When I had to tear up about 100 feet of cable crossover mats I was glad I had them.

    I’ve never carried gaff tape as a PA. If you really need it take this trick from some ACs I know – cut 1 or 2″ lengths of PVC pipe. That’s your new core. Wrap a couple feet of tape onto it, and stick it in your pocket. Now you have a small roll of tape for your own use.

    Lockup PAs – get a reflective vest. People are more likely to listen to you.

  3. Every PA should have their own personal surveillance, carry two pens (one crappy and one personal favorite. The crappy one is to give out because no one will return it), a black sharpie, two calls sheets (one to give out, one for self) and two pairs of sides (one for self to write notes on the back, and one to give out) and two hot bricks on their belt!!!! Note: any PA who does not have at least one hot brick on their belt is not doing their job. And realistically, your phone charger (write your name on it and avoid giving it out!)

    *Considering the necessary and big push for safety, a tiny flash light is a good idea for an emergency.*

    Where the kits differ is what kind of PA you are. All of the above should be included with the following:

    -Paperwork:- Production report stapled to callsheet, oneliner, four colored pen, highlighter, AD set Kit that may or may not be apart of the Walkie/Brick box, (Nevermind the endless list of things they keep in the honeywagon).
    -Background- A background box with highlighters, vouchers, background breakdowns, box of crappy pens, paperclips, binder clips, post its, white out, and tape for standins’s shirts. (This stays in holding, on set you really just need a clipboard and a set diagram if you’re charting and a four colored pen).
    -Walkie PA: Lock for pelican case in the honey with the extra walkies/surveillance that you won’t use for the day, Set Walkie/Brick box with extra prepped walkies to hand out, surveillances, hot bricks, chargers, notebook for daily logging, backpack is probably necessary, Gaff tape, can of air for surveillance (please don’t bother the camera guy!).
    -First team: This list can be as long or as short as the person doing it would like, as they are taking care of the actors and each actor is different. Def clean sides for when actors ask.
    -Key PA: I’ve never been a Key PA, but I can’t image it’d be that much. My favorite key carried the usual pens/sharpie, callsheets/sides, and a oneliner.
    -Lockup PAs: see the intro to this comment. Just the basics.

    PAs on a union set won’t need gloves though. Not allowed to touch equipment.

  4. I’ve been a every kind of staff set PA on big sets, and all you need, no matter what level you are at, are two pens, a sharpie, three sets of sides, and a call sheet.

    One set of sides is for your own reading pleasure and note taking while the other two are for when a crew member asks for a set of their own. The third set of sides is for the off chance that while on the way to the brick box, or AD kit, or wherever youR extra sides are kept on set, someone asks you for a set of their own. Fold them in half lengthwise and stick them in your back pocket. The same can be said for call sheets, but in most cases, the front of sides will answer any question that another crew member has.

    The call sheet you have is for every crew member that you forget, as their name is listed on the back. That’s the only reason one would need a call sheet and now just a set of sides. So realistically all you have in your back pocket are three sets of sides and a call sheet.

    One pen. One sharpie. If someone needs to borrow a pen, you give them your other one. Highlighters and fancy pens and whatever else was listed? You may use those once on the entire run of a job, but more than likely they will just sit on your waist, slowing you down.

    Part of being a good PA is being quick on your feet, and in some cases, being asked to run from point A to point B. Nothing should slow you down.

    Everything else that is listed here from binder clips to specialty pens to notepads can be found in the honey wagon or from your paperwork PA, both of which are a radio transmission away.

  5. When it comes to gloves, to each his own. I used hardware store gloves for years while doing location work, but most of them didn’t fit my hands very well — and having a half inch of useless leather flopping around at the end of each finger makes doing anything but the most simple grunt work much more difficult. As a juicer, I’m always tying and untying rope knots that secure stingers and cable, and loose gloves are a serious impediment to that. I went to the SetWare Pro leather gloves when they hit the market because they fit well and lasted. There were (and are) expensive, no doubt about it, but having durable gloves that fit right was worth it for me.

    After a few years, though, SetWare must have found a cheaper manufacturer, because their gloves suddenly didn’t fit so well anymore. I complained to them and got into a long back-and-forth via e-mail that eventually ended with me sending them back the pair I’d purchased at Mole’s expendable store in exchange for another pair that would supposedly fit better. They did, but only slightly… so I no longer buy those gloves.

    By then, though, I was working pretty much exclusively in sit-coms, indoors — not outdoors with 18Ks and red-hot 12 K pars — so I tried a pair of Setware Easy-Fits, a much thinner cloth glove that fits… well, like a glove. They’re very snug but flexible enough to be great for rigging and dealing with knots. They’re also much cheaper than the Setware Pro leather gloves — roughly a third the price. They’re not good for handling hot lights, but we don’t do nearly as much of that on stage as on location. The Easy-Fits are my go-to gloves now. Granted, they don’t last very long — four to six weeks of regular use is about all I can get out of a pair, so I buy them three pairs at a time to make sure there’s always a fresh pair in my work bag.

    And on those odd, rare occasions where our show ventures off stage into the real world, I still have an old pair of SetWare Pros in reserve.

    As for welding gloves… I don’t quite know what to say. I use a pair to feed and tend the fire in my wood stove back on the Home Planet, but wouldn’t dream of using such large, clumsy oven-mitts on set. The only exception would be if I was helping a fellow juicer change the smoking-hot lenses of big HMI par lights — there, welding gloves would be great — but that’s about it.

    As for flashlights, I use an earlier model of the Streamlight LED flash that your link leads to — and it’s by far the best flashlight I’ve ever had, brighter than the sun and as tough as a hammer. I’ve had mine for three or four years now and use it every day on set — it has been dropped from six to eight feet several times (again last week, in fact), and still works fine. The only drawback is that the batteries it uses aren’t nearly as cheap as standard AA batteries used by mini-Mag Lites. But they last a long time (especially when you consider how bright the flashlight is), and as a work/business expense, they’re deductible. Besides, a resourceful PA can probably find a way to have production supply those batteries.

    Just don’t buy a Streamlight at the Mole store, where they’ll charge you at least twenty dollars more than Amazon…

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