Students in Film Courses, Here’s a Day in the Life of a Production Assistant

Posted on December 2nd, 2016 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

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For decades, many young professionals in the film industry have gotten their start as a production assistant. It’s how Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy entered the business in 1979, and it’s one of the first industry jobs actress and producer Mindy Kaling took in the early 2000s.

The production assistant role endures as an entry point in part because the role pops up for all kinds of film and television projects, and in part because the role involves taking on many responsibilities. Becoming a production assistant can be key to meeting future employers and beginning your career in the film industry.

Wondering what a day’s work is like for production assistants? Here is a quick look at what you can expect.

Production Assistants Out of Film Production Schools: Yes, Expect to Get Coffee

It’s a long-running joke that production assistants spend much of their time running around delivering coffee to the various higher-ups on a set or in an office. For many PAs, it’s also a reality.

It may be heartening to learn that it is not just coffee and other foodstuffs that PAs are sent to fetch. Depending on what their bosses might need on a given day, PAs might be sent to collect essential equipment, or asked to buy or return props. Essentially, if there’s something that needs to be grabbed before cameras start rolling, a PA will probably be sent to get it.

Though this portion of the job won’t make great use of the scriptwriting, production, or editing skills you honed at school, you will likely find it is a necessary step toward performing the more engaging work you want to do.

PAs Are Sometimes Tasked With Facilitating Technical Work

If you are interested in doing camera or sound work, or in working with lighting, you can make inroads to those careers by starting as a production assistant.

PAs are sometimes asked to help establish the right conditions for filming. They do things like ensure the set remains quiet, or that other people around the set don’t walk into a shot. They will often also be asked to help load and unload film equipment. For jobs like these, the knowledge from your film courses will certainly come in handy. You will have learned which tools go by what name, and will be familiar with what constitutes ideal filmmaking conditions. You might even be able to take a proactive role, and complete necessary tasks before even being asked.

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Production assistants often help maintain good filming conditions on set

After Studying in Film Courses, You Might Be Tasked With Managing Paperwork as a PA

One of the more important responsibilities graduates of film production schools might experience as a PA is managing paperwork. This can include tasks like ensuring cast and crew are all given the right copies of scripts, or collecting timesheets. PAs might even be asked to organize a director’s notes, which Steven Spielberg tasked Kathleen Kennedy with doing when she worked as a PA.

Organizational skills developed during your film production education will be helpful while working in this role, and if you make yourself a reliable enough asset, you may find you gain the favour of someone who is higher up on your set. This can lead to future opportunities, or even moments where you are asked for input.

PA jobs are demanding, and involve some work that may seem unrelated to the expertise you developed in film production school. Still, they can open the door to future opportunities as a production coordinator, camera assistant, and even grip positions. They are one of the main ways newcomers break into the film industry. If that is your goal, a PA job may be a good choice after you complete your studies.

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