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Making the Jump

Andrew writes in:

I’ve recently (a month ago) started reading your blog and I’ve got to say it is awesome! It’s such a great resource for information that would otherwise be hidden by the exclusivity of film sets. I also love how personal your stories are! If you’re ever in Georgia, I’d love to buy you a drink sometime just to hear more of them.

That being said, I am trying to consistently work on smaller sets as a 1st AD (end goal), and actually do get called every now and then for (non-union, usually cash) paid gigs as a 1st. The problem is that I don’t feel this is adequate enough experience because PA’s on larger productions have duties that I won’t come across (eg: meal penalties, out times, NDB’s, etc.); it’s mostly paperwork that I don’t have to deal with.

So, I’m trying my best to submit my resume (with an attached cover letter of course) to every big-budget production I can find in Atlanta but have had no luck yet. People have mentioned to me to get in through being an extra or through literally walking on set and asking a PA or AD if they need help but this method rubs me the wrong way. Whenever I’m on set as an AD, the last thing I want is a bogey distracting me.

My question overall (I don’t want to bug you with all the questions I actually have), is how did you make that jump from low-budget indie productions to big-budget studio productions?

There are four types of people working on a low-budget production:

  1. People with little or no experience.
  2. People who can’t hack it in the big budget world.
  3. People who are willing to work for less in order to have greater responsibility, freedom, and/or a better title.
  4. People doing a favor by working on something beneath them.

Most of my readers are type one. My advice for them is simple– make friends with types 3 and 4. They almost always bounce back and forth between big and low budget productions. If you impress them on the lesser shoot, they might bring you along (or recommend you) to a bigger one.

The situation Andrew finds himself in is a little different, though not entirely unique. It seems that he’s been promoted too fast, likely due to the lack of skilled production professionals in Atlanta (as opposed to Los Angeles).

The big productions are all unionized, and so they’ll only hire DGA assistant directors. Andrew, not being in the union, can only be a PA. That’s a drop of three or four layers (1st AD, 2nd AD, Additional 2nd AD, 2nd 2nd AD).

Look at Andrew’s resume from the show’s perspective: it’s full of 1st AD credits, but he’s applying to be a PA. So, is he type 2 or type 3? It’s really hard to tell. But without more information, they might leap to the conclusion that he’s 2, the loser who can’t cut it.

Why? He doesn’t have any recent PA credits. The AD thing isn’t new to him, yet he’s not in the DGA. There’s two possibilities: he got promoted because he was the best, or because he was the only person available.

This is what worries people when you’re overqualified. Your resume is overqualified; but they don’t know if you are. And they don’t want to take the risk.

My advice to Andrew, applying to PA gigs on large productions, is to fudge the resume in the opposite direction you’d expect– lower your credits. Make it clear that you’ve got this PA thing down, so much so that they’ve trusted you to 2nd AD on small productions.

That way, they can tell at a glance that you’re type 3, which is very good. It shows ambition and drive, which is hard to quantify but extremely useful on set.

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8 Responses

  1. Hey TAPA!

    Thanks for answering my question! I guess I’ll have to re-work my resume when applying for bigger budget gigs. My question is if I drop my credits to a 2nd AD, wouldn’t they expect me to know how to manage the paperwork required of DGA 2nd AD’s? And since I don’t yet, would it be better to drop my credits lower to like a 2nd 2nd or a Key Set PA? I’d like to get gigs where I’m more on set, rather than in basecamp.

    Quick storytime: I actually just interviewed the other day for an AD position on a half mill budget production and the Producer actually pointed out that I wasn’t qualified for a 1st AD position (which I wasn’t). He then asked if I could 2nd AD but then I had to mention that I wasn’t familiar enough with the paperwork (damnitall) so then he said I could probably be best used as a basecamp PA, if I was hired. So, hopefully I’ll get hired as that and can finally learn how to do create production reports and whatnot.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    1. Your credits should match the position you’re applying to. It’s okay to have one or two credits that are a step above, but the majority should be the job you want that day.

  2. Stephanie, I took it to be an example of not overselling yourself. Maybe 2nd AD isn’t the best example (because that’s a specific skill set not related to a 1st AD at all and equally as hard), but I’d recommend to a reader to just leave the 1st AD stuff off when applying as a PA. AKA know your audience. If you’re applying for a Props PA…why would you write that you were an Art Director? It just doesn’t add up. As someone hiring, I need to see relevant work experience or expect that I have to teach them about the work flow.

  3. I’m a bit confused. So utlimately you are telling Andrew to lower his 1st AD credits to 2nd AD credits on his resume so he can successfully apply to PA gigs on big budget productions? Are 2nd ADs not expected to be in the DGA for big budget productions as 1st ADS are?

    1. Jess’s comment is exactly right. I’m telling Andrew to not oversell himself.

      A 2nd AD would be in the DGA on a union show, but Andrew’s resume would make it clear that those were non-union gigs.

      Going from non-union 2nd AD to PA on a union show is not a bad move for most people. Employers won’t think it odd.

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