Monday, July 22, 2013

Mediating your inner noob

Studying film in college was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have no regrets. However, reality sets in after graduation and now that I'm looking for work in the film biz, nobody gives a shit what I studied. The real question is: can I do the job? Sure, having the background of working on student films, knowing the in-depth history of the industry, and doing critical analysis of hundreds of films down to the shot are all worthwhile in themselves, but frankly, it's all completely irrelevant to becoming a set P.A.

I'm used to small student crews where everybody does everything. Hey, can you move that light over here? Somebody help me with this makeup and then set out the lunch. Now I've entered the land of don't you fucking dare touch that c-stand and I ain't paid to do your job. Okay, not everybody's that much of a dick, but it still takes a little getting used to.

This past weekend I attended a crash course in being a production assistant at P.A. Bootcamp. If you've never heard of it, it's basically a two-day seminar that prepares you for your first day on the job so you know what and what not to do as a P.A. on a professional crew. If you have heard of it before, it might have something to do with the controversy surrounding whether it's worth the money and the time, as apposed to just learning everything on your first day of work. I certainly am not going to feed the fire. I can understand both sides of the argument and I am only presenting my own personal experience.

Now, taking into account that I studied film for four years, worked (one could say played) on my fair share of student film sets, and had a short runner gig for the Golf Channel, I still felt nervous about working on a pro crew as a noobie P.A. Why? Because, simply put, I didn't want to fuck up on my first day and be conspicuously absent from the next call sheet i.e. fired. If the AD finds out I don't know what I'm doing, they're going to hire somebody who does. The last thing an assistant director needs is to take time out of their own day to train me. I know you can already smell an argument here, especially something like if you're too stupid to learn how to P.A., you should probably stick to flippin' burgers.

Nobody's saying the set lingo or radio etiquette is rocket science, I'm just the type of person who wants to know what I'm in for given the chance. See, not only did I learn everything I needed to know about how to be a successful P.A. before day one, I gained confidence in myself to step into a job I'd never done and not stick out like a sore thumb. I won't go into it much more than that. All I'm saying is that my time and money were well spent and I met some wonderful people. Sometimes you just have to ignore what other people say and experience something first hand to understand it.

I certainly gained a better understanding of how the business end of production works, namely who to call to ask for work. Before I was calling front desks and didn't even really have a term for what I wanted to do besides "entry level position." Office minion? Sure. Slave on nobudget shoot? Sure. Now I've retrofitted my resume and my attitude. I'm calling every show in the LA area that's in production and looking to be a dayplayer set P.A.

Granted, the 2nd AD or whoever happens to be doing the hiring is already calling the P.A.s they've worked with for years and their friends of friends all before they get to my dinky resume at the bottom of the pile -- and oh yeah, a fat majority of features are now produced out-of-state for tax incentives, but hey, baby steps.

I've got my surveillance mic, my little utility pouch, some comfy shoes, and at least a few days of training... I really just need to dive in at this point. Question is: Now that my savings are running out, how long will I have the phone glued to my ear calling for work before something magically appears? Before Mommy and Daddy refuse to pay next months rent? No clue. Dayplaying seems totally impractical, and yet I know it can be done. What the fuck am I doing?

I just want to make movies...


  1. LA and England are different industries I'll admit. But so many people coming out of uni, film school and getting in to the business go straight for PA and runner jobs.

    It's such a competitive low end job, I don't see the point. I think you would find it easier if you went for another department, art, camera, editing assistant, you'd find it easier to get a job and you'll lean more.

    1. I'd love to work with camera or practically any other department, but with no contacts or references, those jobs are just as difficult to get hired for. I feel like it's more reasonable to hire an inexperienced PA than something that takes a little more technical background.

    2. I'd still try for 'trainee' jobs though -Trainee camera requires no experience. Often they like an inexperienced but keen person to train up.

  2. Hey Ben. Just wondering. Are you still paying off your student loans?

    1. They give you a 6 month grace period after you graduate before you have to start paying them back. Come January 1st, I'll owe about $300 every month for the next 10 years.

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