Our friends at FilmToolKit wrote this inspiring post about working as PA. You should check out their site; there’s lot of great info.
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ve probably realized that being a production assistant is not for everyone. Anyone can be hired, but in order to continue working in the industry you need to have a certain type of personality.
There are several traits that will strongly improve people’s perception of you, as well as your own emotional strength. Incorporating these attributes will help the PA phase of your career go much more smoothly, while simultaneously improving your general quality of life.
So, in no particular order, here are the 6 traits that I think are the most critical to the success of production assistants. (Alright, they’re kind of critical to success in life in general, but I’m going to be talking about how they apply to the film industry.)
For the most part, I think this is the most common positive trait I see in the industry. Starting out as a totally green production assistant on a big set is quite intimidating, and is a barrier of entry that keeps out those without a certain sense of confidence.
Nevertheless, some people sneak through, and could use a reminder on the importance of confidence.
As a PA, you’ll frequently be asked to do things you’ve never done before. You won’t always be completely comfortable handling a responsibility, but you have to do it – quickly. PAs who walk around in a daze and hesitate before every new task get smacked down by the AD’s hard. Great PA’s have the confidence to try new things, and take responsibility if they mess up.
Plus, by being confident and secure in yourself and your choices, you’ll be able to handle inevitable criticism much better anyways.
Here’s one that, in my experience, a lot of film crew members are lacking. Sometimes when you’re working in the industry, things can start to get pretty bleak. Working insane hours in uncomfortable conditions can lead many people down a path of cynicism and pessimism.
People begin to become jaded, and complain about their life and how awful everyone around them is. While these sentiments may be grounded in some truth, everyone has a choice in what perspective to view things from. When you’re a 3 A.M call time, you can throw a tantrum about how early you need to get up, or be grateful that the day (might) end with the sun still up!
The reason why negativity is so pervasive in the film industry, is because emotions are highly contagious. By having an optimistic attitude, and always looking for the bright side, you can spread positivity to everyone around you. They’ll remember it. At least subconsciously.
Days on a film set typically range between 12-16 hours, and although there’s not a lot of downtime for PAs, your patience is definitely going to be tested at one point or another.
A shot may take 5 hours to complete instead of the scheduled 2. You may be told you’ll be leaving early, and then end up leaving 4 hours late. Sometimes you might end up having to sit in a lockup where nothing is going on for a full 14 hour day. It happens.
When you’re working 60-80 hours every week, time starts to blend into an abstract alternate reality, and if you don’t have a great deal of patience, you will lose your mind.
In my opinion, this is the most important trait you can have as a production assistant. PA’s who are unable to leave their ego’s at the door never last very long in the industry. In an environment where many have huge inflated egos, being a humble, hardworking individual who is just there to get the job done, goes a long way. Here’s a few examples of applications of this trait, off the top of my head.
Never defending yourself when faced with criticism. Yes, sometimes certain individuals are just going to be a jerk no matter what, but 99% of the time, if something went wrong, there’s something you could have done differently. Whether they’re wrong or not, you should be capable of saying “Copy that” without getting butthurt.
Never complain about fairness. Life is unfair, and life on a film set is often extremely unfair. However, complaining about this does nothing but make you look bad. Take a deep breath and realize that the scales will tip in your favor at some point, and you definitely wont be complaining then.
Don’t boast about your accomplishments, or think that your larger resume makes you any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, producer or PA, we’re all people, and everyone deserves respect. Everyone had to “scrub the toilet” at one point, so don’t act like you’re too good to do it.
You’re going to get yelled at as a PA. Even if you do everything absolutely perfectly every single day, one day, you’re gonna get chewed out. If you don’t know how to forgive people, then you’ll find yourself surrounded by enemies very quickly.
Maybe it’s an above the line crew-member you accidentally stood in front of at the wrong time. Perhaps you asked a fellow PA for a favor when they are already on the verge of snapping at someone. In such a high stress environment, it’s bound to happen eventually. One day it’s likely you might find yourself in an argument, and that’s when forgiveness is most important.
PAs who hold grudges do not last long in this business. It’s important to have standards for how you are going to let people treat you, but it’s equally important to be able to forgive those who lash out at you.
Finally, the best way to avoid having to exercise your forgiveness, is by practicing respectfulness. That doesn’t just apply to the people above you in the hierarchy, but to everyone. Yes, even your fellow PAs, and even the background actors.
Obviously, this is important because if you are anything but 100 percent perfectly respectful to some producers or actors, you might end up getting fired on the spot. But that goes without saying. Everyone is respectful to those people; they have to be.
Set yourself apart by treating everyone with respect. Yes, I feel silly having to put this in writing, but it is astounding how many people in the film industry really just do not understand this. Be respectful. People might not notice if you are, but they will definitely notice if you’re not.
Whenever I have to work with different PA’s for the first time, these traits definitely stand out to me and make me want to work with them again. Incorporating these into your lifestyle will cause people to love you, and that’s incredibly important in an industry which is based off of personal connections.
I’ve put together several other valuable guides for production assistants on my site, FilmToolKit. so feel free to check it out if you’re interested!