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Ask Questions

As I’ve said before, I don’t do PA work for the money.  I get paid, sure, but the pay is so ridiculously low that if that was my only reason, I’d quit and become a stock boy.  The hours are better, and I’d actually have insurance.

No, the reason to be a PA is to learn.  Most of that learning comes in the form of doing.  Anybody with two eyes and two ears will learn a lot just being around an office or set.  But eventually, there comes a point when you need to use your mouth, too.

…To ask questions, I mean. (Boy, you have a dirty mind.)

A lot of people are nervous about asking questions.  They don’t want to bother anyone, or they don’t want to appear stupid, or they’re just plain shy.

If you’re shy, get over it.  This is a business built on networking.  As for appearing stupid– you’re a PA.  Everyone already assumes you’re a moran.

But the most important issue, not bothering people, isn’t even a problem.  See, people in general love talking about their jobs; this goes double for Hollywood.  Ask an art director about some mundane detail in the set design, and she’ll go on for hours about color schemes and textures and who knows what else.

I overheard the transpo coordinator talking to the UPM about what kind of picture car they needed to get for a particular scene.  Afterward, I asked him about how he approached the car companies, how much they charged, and things like that.

For the most part, our show was popular enough that they’d basically just give us cars for free, as long as we only drove them on screen.  We had to actually pick them up from the lot on a truck.  The only other restrictions came from the American car companies, who didn’t want their cars driven by the bad guys.  Go figure.

Now, none of this helps me do my job right now.  But it might be useful knowledge to have if I ever decide to become a teamster, or write a movie about cars, or just need to get a free car for a short.

And I only know this stuff because I asked.

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8 Responses

  1. Michael-

    Thank you for the advice, it will definitely prove to be helpful in the future. =)

  2. Anna —

    Assuming that you were asking questions of your teachers/professors at an appropriate time — during class, after class, anywhere campus — this is a rather stinging indictment of (and sad commentary on) the current state of teaching in America. Asking questions is proof of interest, and what teacher worth his/her salt doesn’t live for students who are actually interested in the subject?

    TAPA is dead right — almost everybody in the Industry is happy to to talk about what they do (witness all the Industry blogs out there), and most are willing to answer sincere questions if asked at the right time.

    Just use your common sense — don’t ask questions when the person you want to talk to is hard at work. Wait until they’re done with the task at hand and are clearly not busy, then ask away. Directors are hard to approach because they’re always working — if not actually directing a shot/scene, then they’re thinking about the next one on the schedule.
    AD’s are also very busy until wrap, but the technical people (grip, electric, camera, set dressing, props) have relatively well – defined work/not-work rhythms. After you’ve been on set for a while, you’ll pick up on what’s going on. Then pick your spots, be polite, respectful, and sincere — and don’t forget to smile and say “thanks.”

    Do that, and you’ll open up a main line of hard-earned information that may or may not prove useful to you down the line. But at this stage — being a PA — all information is useful, if only to make you more savvy about what’s really going on at any given moment on set.

    Good luck.

  3. This is reassuring, my high school teachers and a few of my college professors haven’t seemed completely thrilled when I as questions. Luckily it looks like I’m headed in a direction where questions won’t always be shunned.

    Thank you for taking the time to blog. You have no idea how helpful it is to hear from someone who is in the industry. =)

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