How to become a production assistant

Film mentor and female student with camera in production company

Film Connection student Madison Dan and mentor Mark Leisher at Mark Leisher Productions

It is very rare to break into the film industry as a director, producer, or director of photography working on a full-length feature film. Hollywood is a very result-driven town and with no prior track record to speak of, you’ll be just too much of a risk.

Many filmmakers needed to work their way up the ladder or strike out on their own before landing their first blockbuster. The production assistant is just one of those entry-level positions that act as a stepping stone for bigger and better things. In fact, a PA job may be one of the most important positions for career advancement.

Why? Because the production assistant works with nearly every other crewmember below the line and even a few of the people above the line. Carrying a walkie-talkie like a gunslinger carries a six-shooter (and just as quick on the draw), the PA could be going over the budget with a line producer one minute and relaying instructions to the best boy/girl the next minute.

Consider the PA as one of those Russian nesting dolls. You open the big doll, and there’s another doll. Open that doll and there’s another and another and another. The PA may not know how to wire a bank of lights, but they do need to know how to convey instructions from the producer or director to the gaffer.

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

The producer and director may be the brains of the operation, but the PA acts as the nervous system, taking signals from the top and making sure they get to the right part of the body. The only way to get this experience is to, well… get that experience.

Just walking in off the street, picking up a hammer, and getting to work on a set may have worked for Harrison Ford (it didn’t, by the way). However, having some kind of background in the construction industry could earn your way in. A movie needs accountants, electricians, engineers, seamstresses, and a wide variety of other positions found outside of the business.

Take what you know about interior design and work to become a set dresser. Forget about downtime because you’ll be asking what else you can help with. Working as a PA means grinding out 14-hour days. You’ll need the same attitude to get the job as a PA, too.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Know where Wardrobe is located in case you need to track down a particular bowler hat. Have a roll of duct tape handy in case some loose cable needs to be secured. Make it so a Swiss Army knife is jealous of your many uses, adaptability, and versatility.

It’s work you probably won’t get paid for. If you keep that intensity up, however, it could pay off in the long run. If you can turn that dedication into a PA position, that’s when you start making yourself known to the above the line folks. Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Kathleen Kennedy all have PA credits on their resume.

Learn By Doing

Through the Film Connection Film Production and Editing Program, you’ll learn what goes into being a good production assistant. By placing you inside a real-world production studio, you’ll work side by side with your mentor learning skills like running cables to working as a camera operator.

As we said above, the most important production assistant job is understanding the various jobs performed by every crew position on a television or film set. With our program, that’s exactly what you’ll get. You’ll learn how to work with a director, producer, director of photography as well as gaffers, grips, and craft services.

In the world of film and tv, who you know can be just as important as what you know. At Film Connection, you can get plenty of both. Interacting with the production manager, production coordinator, and crew members in a production company from the start, means you’ll already have a foot in the door and you’ll be in a great position to learn what goes into all of these various jobs.

You won’t have to travel to Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York to find that door, either. Film Connection has locations in 44 states, meaning you won’t have to pick up your life and move hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to pursue this career.

What you do with the rest of your body will go a long way toward deciding your career path. Working hard, staying on schedule, and acting responsibly will earn you a lot of goodwill on the set. Everyone will also remember if you do haphazard work, show up late, and play on your phone all day, in which case they won’t pick up their phone if you call looking for a reference.

The most successful graduates of Film Connection have gone on to work in television, film, advertising, and media because they had the drive to succeed. They took the information and experience we offered and carried it the rest of the way. If that sounds like your kind of on-the-job training program, apply today.

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