Key is the key

Oscar writes:

Hi there, I read most of your site and enjoyed it a lot… But what I’ve failed to find info on online is what exactly it is that a Key set PA does. I’ve been hired into this position in a film and I want to educate myself on the position.

I mean, I’m thinking maybe I’m responsible for the other PAs. But what else do I do? Do I give them work the AD or the 2nd AD hands to me? What’s my responsibility as a Key set PA and how does it differ from being a PA? Can you give me an example of what a typical day of doing this might include?

A film set runs like a military operation. There are very clear hierarchies consisting of generals, colonels, captains, and soldiers and in order to keep people organized. Departments are like platoons.  Production is a very generalized term; The Office and The Set are very distinct and separate worlds connected by phones and runners. On a set, PA’s are in every department since everyone needs random hands, so specifically AD hierarchy goes something like this:

On-Set Production Coordinator -> Assistant Director -> 2nd Assistant Director ->  2nd 2nd AD -> Key Production Assistant -> Production Assistants

When you have an army of PA’s on a set, someone has to be in charge or  it’s chaos reins.

Maybe an exaggeration.

To make a short story even shorter, the Key PA is the PA king, the one the aliens should see when invading PA Nation. The Key is oftentimes the most experienced, has excellent delegation abilities, and is the guy that crew and extras should complain to (the higher-ups should be bothered with small trifles as little as humanly possible) so he or she should be one tough cookie. As the most experienced and the leader of PA Nation they can demand a higher day rate, and are considered a Department Head, which is a Good Feeling.

During lockdown, a practice which has PA’s placed in widening radiuses from the set to ensure security when a shot is rolling, the Key is at the center by the 1st AD, hand on mic, calling rolling and cut and prepared to command his soldiers at immediate notice. The Key also organizes and places his troops for the most efficient lockdown.

When it comes to non-union shoots that lack teamsters (drivers), they’re usually familiar with driving small trucks. I’ve seen this vary from shoot to shoot but sometimes the key is also in charge of walkies, and has no problem pestering grips three times his or her size to just be responsible for once and not leave it at home because NO there aren’t any extras. Also, sometimes, the Key’s day is the longest of all, getting there earliest and leaving last, and while interns and other PA’s may leave set the Key always stays nearby.

Any PA generally does anything the 1st or 2nd AD’s tell them to (it gets complicated when the tasks intersect each other, be very sure to clear with all parties which is the more pressing task). You could delegate the jobs handed to you to the underlings but they could possibly be inexperienced or untested, so you’d be wary to send them with the “football” (all the day’s paperwork) to the office.

That’s basically it. The Key’s job is maximum efficiency. If you don’t know where your soldiers are at any given time, you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t answer the phone like this either. Not efficient.
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4 Responses

  1. Sorry whoever answered that has no idea what they are talking about. As soon as I saw that the production coordinator is above the assistant director (should always be called 1st AD), I stopped reading. Most call sheets will list people in each department order of their importance (which is usually the same order as highest to lowest paid and power). The 1st AD is in charge I getting the producer what he needs accomplished for job, which means planning the a chedule. The day is in total control of the 1st AD. The director, while paid the highest outside of possible top-of-rhe-line actors, doesn’t evenhave as much power as an AF in reality. Maybe “technically” but when it comes to the day, on any professional set the 1st AD is in charge. The producer is definitely above the AD, but unless the producer was. A former AD, he is going to fully trust in the 1st AD to accomplish the day.

    Then comes 2nd AD. The OP said set and office are different worlds. While this is somewhat true, in actuality they are both within production. The coordinator is certainly below the 2nd AD on a professional shoot, but may sometimes be at the same leel “power-wise”. But looking at day rates, the 2nd AD will receive more. The coordinator is simply responsible for the call sheet, emailing everyone, scheduling equipment pickups and drop-offs, handling catering and crafty needs, contacting studios and whatnot. On lower budget shops, a coordinator fuctions like a Key PA, but those shoots are whack. As a Key PA, like myself, you assist the 1st AD mainly. I wouldn’t even say you assist the 2nd AD mainly because the 2nd AD is usually working with talent and background. So as a Key PA, your functions are a lot what people would imagine a 2nd AD to be. As Key, yes, you are in charge of the PAs. Your job is to make what the 1st AD wants to happen happen by utilizing your responsibility to organize your set PAs and have them be where they need to be when they need to be. That DOES NOT mean you are like an AD and dictating things on walkie. While you may be doing that all day, you are also expected to not only pith in, but set THE STANDARD. That means you work the hardest. You have to set an example. But that also means sometimes assigning PAs to do the tedious and mundane tasks, such as lock ups, garbage, cleaning set, handing out waters WHEN YOU ARE DOIBG SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT like sticking close to your 1st AD on set and being able to tackle anything he needs. If things are going slow, you bet your ass I will be taking out garbage, handing out waters, setting up gents, filling up coolers, etc. because like I said, KEY PA SETS THE STANDARD.

    I hope this answers your questions. Basically? As a KEY PA, you wanna have the spirit of thee 1dt AD but understand you don’t have the same authorities so you do whatever needs to be done to make his job and needs possible. You ultimately have the 1st and 2nd ADs best interest in mind.

    Things certainly change job to job and two are never the same.

    Also, THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO TELEVISION AND MOST FEATURES. In long/term projects each PA including Keys have a specific function and many times there are multiple Keys. In TV, the key pa is like the 2nd AD of 2nd team actors (stand-ins). And on films it could really be anything. This applies to COMMERCIALS, most live/multicam events and most decent-budget short-term projects.

    1. Please forgive the insane amount of typos in my last post. I have big thumbs and am using a cracked iphone

    2. Yeah, sorry, that was a previous TAPA. I’m not sure what they were thinking.

  2. I just finished working as a PA on a feature for the first time, and independent film that came into town. My friend from college was the Key Set when we started, but when he had to return to LA for another gig, he asked the production to promote me to his position and rate. I asked myself the same question at first, but quickly realized exactly what my job entailed exactly what you’ve talked about: coordinating PA nation. When the ADs need something done, they don’t want to talk to all of the PAs to know which one is best suited for the job. So they asked me since I was always on set, and I would know where the others were located, what tasks they were already on, and what their skill sets were. If you’re going to be a PA, it’s pretty fun to be the team leader.

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