Why Are All the PA Jobs Listed for a Limited Time?

Diana writes in about job listings that appear to be for limited time-frame gigs–

I am looking for some PA jobs but most of them are only set for a certain amount of time like a week or a few months. I thought PA’s were a permanent position. How long does the average Production Assistant last in their job and are there any permanent PA’s?

What Happened to Permanent Gigs?

There is no such thing as “permanent” in film production, anymore. Way back in the studio system days (from the mid 19-teens to the early 1950s), working at a film studio wasn’t much different than working at any other kind of factory. You did your little part on the car, and when it was finished, you moved on to the next car. Same thing at a studio– you might be working on a Howard Hawkes picture one day, and an Alfred Hitchcock movie the next.

It’s totally different today. Everyone is freelance, from the producers and directors all the way down to us PA’s. You work on a movie until it’s completed, or on a series until it’s canceled. At best.

“A few months” is probably the length of a film production. Six weeks is pretty typical for a modestly budgeted movie. Twelve weeks is a pretty good gig, actually. Heck, even some TV series only last twelve weeks if they’re a cable comedy.

If the job is only for a week, there might be a story there. Their previous PA might’ve quit or been promoted late in production. Or maybe she’s on jury duty.

So, you could just be a glorified day player. What should you do?

Apply Anyway

Any job is better than no job. Besides making money, which is not unimportant, you’ll be making connections. If you’re filling in at the last minute and still manage to shine as a PA, then you’re a hero. The AD will remember who stepped up when his previous key PA fell ill. Next time, they’ll hire you from the start of production.

Even if it’s just a short film that’s only shooting for a week, there’s value in it for you. Many of the crew are probably taking pay cuts for better titles (the 1st AD usually works as a 2nd, the DP usually works as an AC, that kind of thing). When they go back to their bigger shows, you’ll be on the list of people they bring along with them.

The Job Isn’t Long term; The Career Is

Always take the long view. Ask yourself, Will this job help my career? Will I be meeting new people and learning new skills? Will I be growing as a filmmaker?

If you’re early in your career, the answer to these questions is almost certainly “Yes.”

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