Securing the first opportunity to get on a movie or TV set is a huge accomplishment. The next step is to do a good enough job in order to get hired again, and perhaps turn this bizarre (yet awesome!) job into a career. Here are some tips for surviving that first day, and some protocol that’ll help you appear less “green” or “new”:
First and Foremost: Learn to Use the Walkie.
Listen to it, and for the love of all that’s good in the world, ANSWER it. You will thank me.
If you don’t want a giant arrow above your head with the word “NEWBIE” flashing in neon, learn to use your walkie. OK, maybe I’m being unfair- you’ve never used a walkie before, of course you won’t know how to use it! But film sets are fast-moving, well-oiled machines – and when close to a hundred people are spread out all over a set, walkie communication is vital. It doesn’t matter that you’re new. You will be given a quick, 30-second tutorial by the walkie PA on how to use the walkie, and it’s up to you from there. Few things are more frustrating than working with someone who doesn’t listen to their walkie, so pay attention. Paying attention to your walkie and “copy”-ing when you’re spoken to will earn you a gold star and your peers will never guess it’s your first day on set. I promise.
Okay, so there’s no gold star, but being walkie savvy is an easy way to showcase you’re not worthless.
Do not stand around staring at the action.
It’s easy to get sucked in by the awe of being on a set. After all, you’re given a behind-the-scenes look at something just a fraction of society gets to see – but you have to fight the urge to gawk. Standing around observing is the job of the executives, not yours. The AD will get annoyed at you for being in the way. There’s almost always something to do. If you’re not sure what that is, watch your fellow PAs.
Do NOT take pictures of celebrities…and definitely don’t post them on Facebook!
Unless you want to end your career before it begins, this isn’t smart as someone starting out in the business. Eventually, after you prove you’re not in the business to be a stalker or a fan, you’ll be an AD or producer and you CAN do these things, but if you do this on Day 1, or even Day 50, you will not be asked back. Similarly, do not talk to the actors unless they talk to you.
Ask one of your peers for a callsheet. Learn the names of the crew as fast as possible.
On most music videos, TV shows, and movies, a callsheet will be distributed, containing pertinent information for the day as well as the names of the crew. A good portion of the time, walkie transmissions are, “Where is Jack?” or “What is Alan’s 20?” Alan or Jack could be standing next to you, but how would you know unless you know who they are?
This is one of those things no one will remember to tell you until you screw it up. For most shoots, when lunch is called, the half-hour break begins after the last crew member sits down with their plate of food. It isn’t fair, but interns and production assistants don’t count. If you butt in line on any of the crew, or talent, you’re slowing down the process.
Bring a small notebook, a pen, and a Sharpie.
Production assistants are expected to carry these, and people will address you assuming you’ve got it on your person. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for a Sharpie.
Lastly: Work hard. You’ll do well.
You’re new. You’re going to make mistakes. We all still make mistakes! It’s a high pressure industry, with numerous moving parts – it’s a recipe that lends itself to human error. It isn’t the end of the world if you forget a Sharpie, or spend 5 minutes on the wrong walkie channel. Be alert, be smart, be willing to do anything and everything. It’s cliche, but it’s so true in this industry: good help is hard to find, especially at the entry level. As with anything, be motivated, and you’ll succeed!
To my peers in the film industry – what advice would you give someone on their first day?
If you liked this and want to read more about being a production assistant, read this article.
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