Production Assistant Career Profile

TV Presenters in a TV Studio with Producers and TV Cameraman
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The production assistant, or PA position, is the entry level position on a film or television set. The production assistant does just about anything and everything, from getting coffee, to making script copies to shuttling crew or equipment around town as needed. How much a production assistant does really depend on the budget of the production as well as how much faith his/her superiors have in their abilities.

The PA position is a lot of grunt work, but can be extremely educational. It is a highly visible position in that just about anyone can give you an order, from the producer to a sound technician. The production assistants who do as they're told without complaint are the ones who are remembered when it comes time to fill more important positions.

Skills and Education

Although no particular educational background is necessary to be an effective production assistant, it is crucial that you have the following skills:

  • Be a good listener: No one likes to have to repeat themselves, so be on your toes at all times and listen to whatever direction is given.
  • Be responsible: Production assistants are extremely easy to replace on a set and if you're late, lazy or hard to manage, you won't be there long.
  • Be willing to learn: Without being an obstacle, do all you can to learn as much as you can about every job on a set.
  • Be patient: If you're good at what you do, someone will notice.

Another name for a production assistant is "Gopher", as in, "go-for-this" and "go-for-that." The best production assistants and the ones to be promoted out of the PA position first are those who simply don't know the meaning of the word "no" or the phrase, "I can't." As a PA, the more you do as you're told, the faster you will rise.

But that doesn't mean be a robot -- after all, creative thinking is an excellent asset to have as a PA.

You are often required to think on your feet and you have to be able to do so on a moments notice. Producer Kathleen Kennedy started out as a production assistant on the Steven Spielberg movie 1941 and was asked to help him organize a number of special effects notes that he had in various states of disarray -- some were on cocktail napkins, half sheets of paper, etc. She took the notes home with her and organized and bound them up in separate notebooks. This so impressed Steven Spielberg that he took her under his wing and eventually helped her become one of the most powerful women producers in Hollywood.

Career Advice

If you have a bit of an ego about letting other people direct your actions, then either leave it at the door or find another line of work. The production assistant position is one that takes a lot of emotional abuse from a number of different departments, but do as you're told and learn as much as you can from anyone willing to teach you. After a little while, you might just find yourself with a new promotion your own production assistant.

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