The First Time You Get Paid For It

Lauren writes in:

How many things/what sort of things did you have on your resume when you started applying for PA jobs?

PAing my be the bottom rung of the ladder, but unless you know somebody, your first day on set will not be paid.

Before I ever applied for a real PA job, I worked on at least a dozen student films. Through work study, I had experience managing the school’s sound stages, maintaining equipment, and covering the front desk. I also interned every summer for three years.

Even with all of that, I couldn’t get a paid job. I PA’ed for free on three independent movies. They were not very good movies, but I learned a quite a bit that film school never taught me, and I made lots of friends.

Guess who got me my first paid gig?

As usual, everyone’s story is different. I know a guy who somehow landed a producer’s assistant job right out of college. The producer’s company shot five movies during his tenure there; he asked to work on set for each one. When he left the company to become a set PA, he didn’t put “Assistant to Big Shot Producer”; he added five set PA credits.

He’s a 2nd AD now.

My general rule of thumb is, at least half of your resume should be film and television credits. Early on, many of those will be student films; that probably means you’ll get unpaid gigs. Do enough of those, and eventually someone will pay you.

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3 Responses

  1. Would you list your student film credits? I did so many of them (around 100), but very few ever edited them and put them out there. I have managed to get good PA work in my area, so I’ve just been listing that. And yeah, I changed careers from Corporate America at age 39.

    As for my first time, I was lucky enough to have done an independent project with some folks at Pixar, have my production teacher recommend me to AD an indie short, and then have met enough people to recommend me. So it’s just getting better and now… it’s so likely I’ll move to LA before the end of 2016.

  2. As you say, every story is different. I made a career change, so was coming from a different industry (at age 26). I started as an intern for a commercial production company. It was surprisingly easy to get that internship, and it involved a mixture of office work (creative services support) and set days. I knew NOTHING about being on set when I started because I never went to film school, but I learned fast and somehow impressed the first AD. Did a few more days with them (he ADs for a director signed to the production company) and I was on payroll in no time (or would have been, if I had a green card or US citizenship. Long story).

    That’s not to say every office-based internship will lead to great set work, but it was surprisingly easy to get your foot in the door to that company, and it led quickly to meeting the right people.

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