Lauren tweeted a question at me:
@TheAnonymousPA Hey TAPA this might be a dumb question but I’m just starting to get more professional gigs. When I’m on fire watch do I count as available? I.e. if someone asks for something flown in elsewhere I can’t leave my post right? Even if everyone else is on standby?
— Lauren Pronger (@LProngs) May 10, 2018
What Is Fire Watch?
Fire watch is the most exciting part of a PA’s day!
When a set is not being used (whether because the crew is on lunch, or it’s a cover set),1 it needs to be secured. If it’s a hot set,2 you don’t want anyone on the crew messing with it. Worse, you don’t want someone who’s not supposed to be there stealing stuff.
Now, if it’s a standing set on a soundstage, securing the set just means locking the doors. But if you’re on location, this might be more involved. A big production can afford security guards, but an indie film probably can’t. That’s where you come in.
But Wait, There’s More!
There’s more to fire watch than just security. It’s your job to make sure everything remains how it should be. If it suddenly starts raining, you need to cover what isn’t already covered. If it’s windy, you need to make sure nothing gets blown away.
Most of this will have been taken care of by the crew. The camera department knows to cover their gear; the grips know to secure their flags.
But shit happens, and your job is to mitgate the happening of that shit.
And don’t forget the name of the job is literally “fire watch.” You should know where a fire extinguisher is.
What Else Can You Do?
99 times out of a 100, you’ll just be sitting on an apple box with a rumbly tummy while the rest of the crew eats. So what do you do?
First, don’t play on your phone. That’s an easy way to get a reputation as a layabout. Pretty soon, the only job the AD will trust you with is fire watch.
You can probably get away with listening to a podcast or audiobook, if you really need some stimulation. Or read the script; besides helping you understand what’s going on, you’ll appear to be more engaged with the production.
Just keep one ear open for your walkie. If someone radios you, you better reply right away. And if they ask for something (which is Lauren’s original question), make sure they know you’re still on duty. “This is TAPA. I’m still on fire watch; do you want me to grab [the whatever] instead?”
They may have simply forgotten that’s where they assigned you. Or, it’s possible the rest of the PA’s are tied up, and they really would rather you help movie video village out of the shot than sit and stare at the production trucks.
The point is, it’s not your decision to make. The AD has a much better overvew of the production. So if he asks you to do something, that becomes your new priority.