Asking For Help

Kristen writes in:

I’ve spent the better part of today reading your blog. First off, thank you. I learned a lot and the honest, tough-love from a veteran is appreciated (and more palatable in text than in a cynical tone to one’s face).1

I’m still pretty new to freelancing and film in general. Most of my experience is in live performance (I’m a puppeteer). After performing in a pilot, I fell in love with film and wanted to be involved in any way I could. Right now I am PA-ing, and I hope to move into the Art Department soon.

Most of the projects I have worked on have been pretty small. I’ve grown accustomed to taking out trash and cleaning and running errands. On the last few films I worked on, I would make a run whenever any department needed something.

This week I started work on my first big-time production. The size of the thing is a bit overwhelming — it’s at a real studio, we’re using 3 stages, and there are so many people! People whose rankings I’m not familiar with.

I’m assisting the Creature FX team. My problem is that someone will ask for something and they don’t want me to run an errand. I’m supposed to get it (Furni Pads, solder, tools, etc.) from another department. I don’t really know anyone on set, and I don’t want to piss people off.

I feel like I have annoyed some (especially the 2nd AD’s) by not knowing WHO I am supposed to ask for WHAT. I spent about 2 hours trying to get someone to loan me a furni pad one day, and my team has officially annoyed the SPFX guys by my going over to borrow something multiple times a day.

What is the protocol for this kind of thing? I’ve read through a lot of information about what the different departments do in a film crew, but I can’t find much about which ones to go to in order to borrow things, who in the department to ask, and who to turn to first when I have questions. I’ve been asking the 2nd ADs because they were the first people I interacted with on set and their trailer is right next door, but I got the sense I’m NOT supposed to bother them first.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

It’s okay to ask for help. Really, it is. Film sets can be big, noisy, confusing places, if you’ve never been on one before. No one expects you to know every department and esoteric term right off the bat. Go ahead and ask.

I realize this may sound like a complete contradiction of my usual advice to figure it out for yourself, but it’s not. 99% of an office PA’s job is doing stuff that a normal adult should know how to do– order lunch, run copies, drive across town in the middle of Goddamn rush hour and resisting the urge to ram your car into every idiot on the road. That sort of thing.

But set is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Presumably your boss knows your level of experience, so if you need something clarified, it’s not the end of the world. When your boss asks you to go get something, first respond, “Absolutely! I can definitely do that for you.” Then ask, “Where should I get that from?”

2nd ADs are always extremely busy. Running a set isn’t easy. But if the director can’t get her shot because the puppet won’t be done unless you find out where to get a furni pad from, surely the 2nd will be happy to direct you to the right person.

It’s tough when you’re the new person. The best way to not get on people’s nerves is to be friendly and amenable. Be friendly, ask politely. Don’t interrupt someone when they’re in the middle of something. You probably know what it’s like to be focusing on a task, and someone starts talking; not only do you have to stop what you’re doing, it takes a minute to get back into it, too.

I seriously doubt you’re annoying the 2nd ADs. It probably feels that way, because, as I said, they’re frequently stressed out. Some take that out on the crew when they shouldn’t. If that’s the situation you’re in, well… grin and bear it.

PS: Set dec usually has a TON of furni pads. They’re the ones with the furniture, after all.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Friendly reminder: Do as I do, not as I say.
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2 Responses

  1. I work in set deco and we usually have a little of everything under the sun – furni pads, dollys, adhesives, tapes, hook and loop, nuts/bolts/nails/pins, wire, string, rope, sash, cord, monofilament, hand tools, power tools, pneumatic tools, spray paint, drop cloths, rags, bags, tags, rivets, grommets, zipties, stickers, c-clamps, bar-clamps, spring clamps, ratchet straps, you name it. Ask the Leadman/Leadperson. Forge a good relationship with that person and they’ll be your lifeline.

    You could take a further step and keep track of the most-used items you guys have to keep borrowing and purchase them for yourself, building your own “kit” that you can rent to the next production you work. Owning a few furni pads (costco sells good ones in 2 packs last I checked) and a bag of quality hand tools is a great place to start.

    I’ve never needed to use a soldering iron for anything in Art Dept (yet), but Electric would probably have one. Ask the Best Boy.

    Though I’m curious why the creature fx department would be so under-equipped in the first place? Not being derisive, genuinely curious.

  2. Yes to all of this advice. An AD summed it up for me on my first set saying, “You have to embarrass yourself to learn. It’s the nature of a PA. Go ahead and ask and do it.”

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