The first rule of improv is: Say yes.
This applies just as well to production assistants. If someone needs assistance, well… it’s right there in your title. Got the call sheet for copying and distro? No problem. Want twelve cups of espresso? I got it. A DVD needs to be delivered to the director’s house on the other side of town? I’m all over that.
But there is a limit.
You need to remember that you’re a non-union PA. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily know or understand. There’s a reason each union has a bunch of rules, and it’s not all about obstructionism and keeping out new members.
You’d think something as simple as plugging in a hair dryer wouldn’t be a big deal. Tell that to the electrician whose breaker you just flipped (or worse). Or maybe the camera assistants left their cases in an inconvenient spot, and the AD tells you to move them. That’d be fine, if camera wasn’t the most meticulous department on set, who has a system and order to every little thing; the whole production could grind to a halt if the AC can’t find the lens the DP asked for.
What about driving? I mean, come on, you drive all the time, even when you’re not at work. There can’t be any harm in driving for the production, right?
That depends on the situation. Yes, runs are a part of the job, but you shouldn’t be driving a fifteen passenger van, shuttle crew from basecamp to set. First of all, you’re putting a qualified Teamster out of a job, and that’s not cool.1 But more importantly, you’re not insured to carry passengers professionally. Don’t think the production’s insurance will cover it; you’re not licensed to drive those people, either. The same goes for big trucks or stake beds.2
Cars and trucks aren’t the only vehicles on set, either. Once, a forklift was left blocking an alleyway between stages, and my coordinator told me to go and move it. I’ve never driven anything like that (I don’t even know how to drive a stick shift), so I called the transpo office while I was walking to the alley.
The transpo captain told me, “Driving a forklift isn’t really that difficult. Unless it’s sitting on an incline. Or the ground is wet. Or it’s carrying an uneven load.”
Can you guess the exact conditions I found the forklift?
When the driver showed up, he looked at slick, uneven ground, and said, “It’s a good thing you called me. This is pretty fucking dangerous.” It didn’t look it as he swung the lift around and pulled out of there smoothly. But if I had tried, I probably would’ve flipped the thing over and crushed most of my body in the process.
And this is why we have different departments. They know how to do their jobs, and a lot better than you can.
The second rule of PAing is: Know when to say No.