What A New PA Needs

Film school is done and the new TV season is upon us, so a lot of recent graduates are writing me emails about what they need to have on set or in the office.

Truth is, there’s not a lot that PAs need which the production doesn’t just provide. Especially if you’re an office PA, you’ll probably be ordering the office supplies anyway. That’s how I always get my favorite pens.

But it’s a good idea to come to set prepared. Occasionally you’re on a shoot that literally has no money– a student film, your friends’ short, or just a shitty, unprofessional movie. That happens more than I’d like.

So, here’s a few things that you might want to have, as a PA:

  1. Always have at least two pens on your person– one for you, one for the producer who will borrow it and never return it. I like to get them in assorted colors, but definitely make sure those colors include blue or black.
  2. Sharpies. It’s hard to overstate the myriad uses you’ll have for sharpies. Personally, I like the twin tip Sharpies, because they cover both 1 and 2.
  3. A notebook is always handy. It’s how I make sure not to forget key information, and it’s also a to-do list. Now, you might think, “I have a cell phone that can store an infinite amount of notes. Why would I write on paper? Might as well use a hammer and chisel.” The thing is, pulling out your phone on set is poor form. The person you’re talking to may know you’re jotting down the lunch order, but the producer on the other side of the stage just sees another lazy millennial checking Friendster (because this fictional producer also thinks Friendster is a thing).
  4. Even as an office PA, I find a multitool comes in handy pretty much every day. You’ll definitely want to have one if you’re a set PA. They range greatly in price and quality, so shop around a little bit before committing to one.
  5. Speaking of set PAs, you’re going to need a place to keep all this stuff. A lot of people wear belt pouchs to hold their stuff. Or, you could be like me, and wear cargo shorts with big ol’ pockets.
  6. You definitely need a really, really bright flashlight. Not just for night shoots; sound stages are surprisingly dark outside of the set itself.
  7. I also recommend surveillance mics for set PAs. The production doesn’t always provide them (since Burger King headsets are cheaper), but even if they do, I don’t trust those earpieces are clean. Ew. Just… ew.
  8. Another set PA item– work gloves. You shouldn’t be pulling cable or moving set pieces on a union show, but you’ll still be getting your hands dirty and ripped up on occasion.
  9. People often forget to wear a hat and sunscreen when they’re on location. Remember, you can get a sunburn even on a cloudy day.
  10. A copy of Making Movies, by Sidney Lumet. C’mon, you don’t want to be a PA forever, do you?

These are just the basics. Leave suggestions in the comments section for anything I forgot to mention!

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5 Responses

  1. I keep a portable cell phone charger with me, with plugs for all phones. There’s always some production coordinator or producer that’s about to have work issues because their phone is running out of battery. By offering yours, you end up getting remembered in a good way.

  2. Another thing I’d recommend for the office PA is to get one of those pencil pouches that goes in a binder. The kind that has a small external zip pocket, one big zip pocket with a divider. Use this as a production wallet to keep petty cash and receipts.

    Use the exterior pocket for change, one of the internal compartments for cash, the other for receipts. This keeps everything organized, the receipts neat for when you have to tape them down later, and won’t get mixed up in your personal wallet/lost in your pockets.

    This is the one I have.

  3. For set PA’s this may help:

    -A pocket knife (Home Depot has this nice Dewalt brand pocket knife for $15)

    -In addition to your pocket flashlight, have a headlamp too for when you need light for a while but you want to use both hands (And more “lumens” = Brighter light)

    -Some kind of gum/mints because of the stinky breath

    -Pocket tissues because of them boogers

    -Footwear: I like steel toe work boots because I can crush stuff with my feet, but a nice pair of “work shoes” will do. Walmart actually has a decent selecion of work shoes and boots at prices around $30-$50.
    –Just make sure the shoes are comfortable for you because you will be in them for 10-12+ hours (Be sure to break them in first too). And keep in mind water resistance, breathability, and durability. Also black or brown colored footwear may be better than bright, possibly distracting, neon yellow but that’s just my opinion.

  4. With your survey kit, get an ear mold too!
    The default earpiece that comes with the kits are murder inside your ears for 12+ hours a day, but the ear molds eliminate that and you’ll be able to hear out of that ear too.

    I’d also suggest a silver sharpie for writing on gaff tape and a small container of Advil or Tylenol. You’ll be whoever’s hero when you hear them mention they have a headache but they can’t leave their post.

    And a cheapo, spare iPhone cord. So many producers and actors run around looking for one because they lost theirs or can’t run back to their office/trailer, so you’ll endear yourself if you let them borrow it.

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