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Should I Start as an Office PA or a Set PA?

Raisa writes in:

I just started interning on an independent film and the producer has asked me whether I want to be on set or in the office. This is my first time working in the industry so I don’t know anything about anything.  I think I eventually want to be a producer or an AD, but given my lack of experience I’m just not sure.  Would you recommend being an office PA or a set PA to start learning the ropes and figuring out where I want to be? Also is one better for networking?

I’ll level with you– being on set is more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when sitting in a nice, air conditioned office can be preferable. (It’s 76 and humid as I write this, climbing up to 97 by the middle of the day.) But by and large, most people enjoy being on set. For your first film experience, I’d start there.

Plus, on an indie movie, there’s not really going to be a lot going on in the office. On a tight budget, producers tend to focus their money on the most vital departments– cast, camera, lighting, make-up, costume. Art department tends to get short shrift (“Let’s just shoot at my apartment! And not do any set dec at all!”).

The office will be cut down even more. Someone has to take care of payroll, and order lunch (you probably don’t have a caterer). You’re not going to have a full office staff for that.

Besides networking, there’s also just learning what you want to do. While every department will be smaller than usual, you’ll at least get a sense of what grips are like, or costumers, or make-up artists.

If the movie is small enough that the producer is directly interviewing interns, you probably won’t be learning much about office life at all.

Make the switch to the production office if and when you get tired of the set, and you have enough credits to be hired on a big show.

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