Hillary writes in:
On the last shoot I was on, after helping unload I was told to go and ask around to see which departments needed my help.
Nobody needed anything done and for the rest of the one day shoot I was rarely given a job to do. I tried to help out when I saw a need, but was often nervous that I was going to overstep my boundaries by moving or touching something I was not supposed to.
In these situations where I am rarely being given direct orders, what should I be doing? I am willing to be working much harder and going above and beyond in my duties as a PA, but I am unsure how to step out.
This is a problem any PA worth her salt will run into. You want to help, but you don’t want to get in the way. And you definitely shouldn’t be doing union work.
You did all the right things to start with– asking what needs to be done, offering to help, that sort of thing. But when you’ve run through all of those options, there’s one more thing to do: make up a job.
Organizing stuff is a great place to start. Virtually every office (or AD trailer) is disorganized. Sort through all the paperwork, and pile it up by date or type or whatever makes sense with what you have. Throw away anything that’s out of date or unusable.
Next, literally start collecting garbage. A film set is extremely wasteful; I promise you’ll find a mess if you look for it. “Time to lean, time to clean” is something assholes say, but it’s also true.
Once the stage floor is clean enough to eat off of, start making friends. Go up to anyone who seems to have a free moment, and introduce yourself. You can’t go wrong asking if they’d like something from craft services.
Grab them a soda or coffee, then ask them about their job. People, especially film people, love talking about themselves. You’ll learn something, make a connection, and maybe set yourself up for a job in the future.
Don’t be an obvious suck up, but this is doubly true of producers and directors. Those are the kinds of connections that get you promoted to writer’s assistant and the like.
It also helps if you memorize what they like. If the producer takes her coffee with two sugars and a dollop of cream, she’s going to be extremely excited to find a coffee with two sugars and a dollop of cream waiting for her at video village tomorrow morning.