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Taking Advantage

So there you are, working your ass off as a PA, running around and doing ridiculous tasks that you will never be able to properly explain to your parents.

You love what you do as much as you hate it and you know this is the bottom rung of the Industry ladder. But have you ever had that moment when you just stop what you are doing, and realize you are being taken advantage of?

Okay, okay,  calm down. I know you read that last sentence and said, “Well, duh.”1 But I’m not talking about normal, everyday, do-a-hundred-weird-jobs-get-yelled-at-and-not-get-any-credit kind of taking advantage.

Just recently, I came off a small film shoot. 20 person crews, low budget, where they ask you as a favor to work super cheap/free. (You know the one I’m talking about.)

Here of some of the jobs I did:

  • PA (You know, the things I was “hired” to do.)
  • Art Department Assistant (Okay, this is pretty fun; I can swing this.)
  • Assistant Props (Hmm. Not sure if I know enough about art to handle props.)
  • Assistant Production Coordinator (The real coordinator couldn’t be on set, so I was in charge of getting everyone to fill out paperwork.)
  • Assistant Location Manager (I did pretty much everything but get the permits.)
  • Crafty (My car smells like a convenience store. Ugh.)
  • Animal Wrangler (Wait… what? Suddenly I’m in charge of the animals and have to take them home from set each night.)

Basically I got the shit kicked out of me.

I have some question for all of you loyal readers out there:

  1. Have you ever worked on a project that you were ridiculously overworked and taken advantage of? (Exceeding regular PA insanity.)
  2. How do you decide if it is enough to quit? Do you continue to get taken advantage of because you don’t want to burn a bridge? Are the experience and connections is worth it to you to stay? It’s still better than nothing right?
  3. Can someone mail me a pizza? I’m hungry.
Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You shouldn’t talk to the computer, weirdo.
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5 Responses

  1. In regards to this first question: In sort. Yes. I talk about this with my coworkers/ other people on the lot as well. You feel like after the first couple of times of doing a job that is completely out of your description/ pay grade – when do you speak up for yourself? When you are staring off you don’t want to be so standoffish that you will never get asked again, but you also want to make sure you are being recognized…I drove a vehicle that I was in no way licensed to drive 80 miles to destination and back. No one seemed to think this was out of the ordinary. I also had to track down 15 containers of a specific milk carton to send out of the country. I essentially bought 15 gallons of milk and had to figure out what to do with it.

    How do you decide if it is enough to quit? Do you continue to get taken advantage of because you don’t want to burn a bridge? Are the experience and connections is worth it to you to stay? It’s still better than nothing right?

    I’ve though your second question over many times in my two years at this particular place. I ask “What is too much?” or my breaking point. I have a very high tolerance for production shenanigans and short notices and deal with stress very well, but I now notice I start falling into the camp where I do my job too well and it will be hard for me to advance. I have learned quite a bit, but I do feel myself stagnating. I keep getting told good stuff is coming my way “soon”. If something has been promised too you for fa too long and it has yet to come to light it is time to talk a walk.

  2. After working a few terrible jobs early in my career, I now have the knowledge to know that I should have quit one of them. I will quit a job like this the first chance that I get:

    When I am insulted publicly for doing the best job that I can given the circumstances. No one needs to work for someone like that.

    If I’m being lazy–fine, call me out on it. By all means, I should be embarrassed.
    Are tempers flaring and it’s the quickest way to get info out? Fine, copy that. let’s get it done and move on.

    But don’t insult me in front of the crew or on channel one when I am falling a part trying to keep YOUR show together. That is being taken advantage of when you’re a PA.

  3. I think the first 4 bullets sound like they would be a good learning experience, but along with the last three is taking it overboard. I think animal wrangler and locations are way beyond the scope of reasonable. The Midnight Rider death on location is one reason, and he unpredictability of a live animal another.

    That being said, I have seen people take on responsibilities 1-5 on the same job and quickly move up to production coordinator and then to production manager.

    One of the most important things I’m learning is how to establish boundaries in a PA position. I would have said no to animal wrangling and locations or at least asked about the insurance for those issues.

    I did walk away from a student film once because it was so unsafe. Apparently, I did not burn all my bridges; the director recently sent me a linkedin request.

  4. For me, being “taken advantage of” is why I’m there as a PA in the first place. It’s kind of the only way to prove that you deserve more responsibilities and move up higher in the ranks. In one crew, I moved from PA to 2nd AC to Cam Op in a matter of days.

  5. If this happened during your first year as a PA, it’s just business-as-usual in the low budget world. You’re paying your dues as you learn about the realities of the business, and doing menial tasks for many departments is all a part of that… except the last bit about suddenly being drafted as the animal wrangler. Not only is that above and beyond (or maybe below and beyond…) what any PA should have to do, it’s unfair to the PA and the animals involved.

    But if this your fifth year working as a PA and you’re still toiling on these low-budget jobs, then something is wrong. It might be time to consider other career options…

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