I frequently get emails from new readers who are confused about what an assistant in Hollywood actually is.There are a lot of jobs in Hollywood with the word “assistant” in the title, which can be very misleading to someone new to the Industry. These seem like entry-level positions, but many of them are not; in fact, some are actually department heads.
Take the 1st Assistant Director, for example. Sounds like he’s the director’s assistant, right? No, that’d be the assistant to the director.
The 1st AD is responsible for, among many many other things, creating the shooting schedule, and making sure everyone on set sticks to it. He’s pretty much the only guy on set who can tell the director to quit her bullshit and start rolling. Funnily enough, he’s also generally the director’s biggest advocate for getting exactly what she wants. Sometimes, these seemingly contradictory goals are one and the same– if she doesn’t start rolling, she won’t get all the shots she wants for the edit.
So don’t let the word “assistant” in the title fool you. The 1st AD is one of the most important and respected people on set.
On the other end of the scale is the PA. In most industries, this would be a “personal assistant.” Not so on a film set. That’s a production assistant. There are many types of PA’s; the most common are set and office PA’s, but there are PA’s in a lot of departments.
PA’s truly are the bottom rung of the ladder.1 It’s a jack-of-all-trades position, where no two days are ever truly alike. But it’s a great position from which to observe and learn about what the rest of the crew does.
In between these two extremes are a number of other “assistant” positions– Assistant Production Coordinator,2 Camera Assistant,3 Assistant Editor, Writers’ Assistant, and probably others I’m blanking on right now.
All of these are a step below their respective department heads, but they’re not “assistants” the way you typically think of them. They’re not answering the phone and fetching coffee. They each have very specific job duties, typically mandated by the unions, that are vital to the smooth running of a production.
If you step off set and into the halls of the studio, you’ll find the last kind of assistant in Hollywood. They used to be called secretaries, back in the days when everyone dressed awesomely, but the word was super racist and sexist.
The world is a (mostly) better place, even though we don’t look as cool anymore. Now, there’s actual upward mobility for assistants in Hollywood. One day they’re answering phones at an agent’s desk, the next they’re representing big name actors or running a studio.
These are the types of gigs I have absolutely zero interest in, but I know a lot of my readers do, because the UTA Joblist is one of my most popular pages.