How to Get a Job as a Production Assistant

I’ve gotten a few inquiries asking about getting that first film set or television job as a production assistant, so here’s an attempt to help! There are several paths into the film business, but speaking from my own experience, this is what I would recommend to someone just starting out in the film or television business with their sights set on that first production assistant job.

 first jobs as a production assistant

Don’t Ask for a Production Assistant Job. Work for Free.

It’s tough to convince people they should hire you as a production assistant and pay you when you don’t have any credits to your name just yet. If you’ve never worked on a real set (film school doesn’t count), offer to work for free. Money talks in this business, and they’ve got nothing to lose by giving you a chance. That will be the fastest way to get you on a set. From there, you can work your butt off and prove yourself while making contacts that will eventually hire you.

I know it’s painful to think of “working for free”, so instead…consider it your audition to the film world. You may feel like you’re insignificant and your good deeds are going unnoticed, but I promise, producers and ADs are always on the hunt for the next great worker.  Common sense, following orders, and having a good attitude will get you a LONG way in this business.

Cold Call Production Companies.

When I started out, I only ever gotten one production assistant job blindly by emailing a production company, and they ended up screwing me because they “released” me via email the day before the shoot. Talk to people first, then email them as a follow-up.

When you cold call, ask if you can come by and introduce yourself. Be approachable and confident, but don’t brag about your film school accomplishments as if they’re comparable to the real film industry.

Call the Local Film Commission.

Are there any big film projects in town? Call your local film commission (or office of Economic Development) for leads. Explain you’re a student/recent graduate seeking experience. Ask for the name of the production company, and if they know of any contacts. When you cold call the production, use the name of the person you spoke with at the film commission. Your phone call to the production should be something along these lines: “Hello Brad, I got your name from Susan Carlton over at the film commission. I’m a recent graduate looking to get into film production. I was wondering if you needed any extra hands on your project?”

Ask about any low-budget independent movies, as they can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Usually, there will be at least a couple of people on those projects with ties to the bigger gigs in town.

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Production Resumes are a Different Beast.

The standard resume taught by every “Welcome to Adulthood!” college class won’t get you very far in production. A film/tv resume is “just the facts”: Name, Phone Number, and  list of the projects you’ve worked on, your position, and the name of the production company and network (if applicable).

Film school credits aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing. If you must, list them as “Short Films”, not “Student Films”.

 

Remember, Tenacity Wins.

This business rewards those who refuse to quit. It may take a few months to break onto the scene, but don’t lose hope! If you’re in a small town, consider moving to a  larger mid-market city. Working in the film and television industries can be grueling — 65+ hour weeks are the norm–but it can be fun, rewarding, and full of adventure. A job like that doesn’t just fall into your lap, it happens through hard work, perseverance, and a little networking. If you’re tenacious, you will succeed!

For Further Preparation: Film Gear for the Prepared Production Assistant

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Author: Laryssa

Laryssa has spent 6+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. She writes about her experiences to help (and amuse) others. If she's not working, she's either traveling, reading or writing about travel, or planning travel. Follow , Twitter, or Facebook.

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32 Comments

  1. I don’t know that I would add anything else to this. You hit the nail on the head that most of us followed to get where we are now.

    Be kind, be hard working, know that most times, ANY job is better than NO job in this industry. Find where you work best.

    I waited tables to pay bills while waiting contacting productions in town to work for Free and meet the right people. It’s taken alot of time, blood, sweat, tears, and heartache, but now that i’m working full time in this industry, it was all worth it, and it has made me appreciate most of what this industry is, knowing I’ve always given it my best.

    Great advice Laryssa!

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks so much, Chad!
      And that is very true — ANYTHING at first is better than nothing!

  2. I was looking at the film commission website here in Portland and there is a crew call for a “New Television Series” and it says to apply, send your resume to the email address provided.

    I’d like to volunteer to work for free, as per your advice here, and I’m wondering if you think it is appropriate to email them using the suggested opening you gave for the phone call, as opposed to getting a number and calling? And, in this case, I wouldn’t have contact at the film commission to mention, do you think that would be a big issue?

    Post a Reply
    • Go ahead and apply…it can’t hurt!

      I’d still say follow up with a polite phone call. Emails are easy to ignore, and it’s hard to gauge how serious and capable someone is if they don’t have the credentials to back it up.

      When you call, ask to speak to the APOC or coordinator (chances are whoever’s answering the phone is an office PA and they can’t do much to help you). Express your availability, and give them the abbreviated spiel — you’d be willing to do anything for an opportunity, do they need help setting up the production office?, etc.

      (In the beginning for me, TV shows were difficult to get onto as the producers are usually from LA and seek the cream of the local crop. Indie films and music videos were easier.)

  3. Hello, I stumbled upon your site today and already I am loving it!i find your writing extremely inspirational. the media industry is quite daunting from the outside and you make it seem more human. so if you have the time I’d appreciate any advice you have have for me.

    I am really passionate about film and stage productions. My only problem being that I only just graduated high school. I’m taking a year off to weigh my options but I really have no idea where to start. I’ve volunteered as a stage hand in my city but I want to get experience in film as well. I know from talking with professionals, researching, and now from your post, that learning on the job is sometimes preferable and that has been my experience as well; as such I don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a degree that may or may not help me. This leaves me at a point where I don’t have much that I can put on a resume. i’m more than happy to volunteer on a set (experience is worth it’s weight in gold) but i’m just not sure how i should present myself in order to be taken seriously. (18 year old high school grad doesn’t usually inspire confidence). Do you have any suggestions?

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks, Cecile!

      I think your experience as a stage hand could help you. Ask your boss to be a reference, and put that on your resume. Another way to get involved with the local film community is to join a 48 hour film festival.

      If you’re worried about people taking you seriously due to your age, don’t bring it up or say you’ve just graduated high school, etc. Approach a local film, commercial or television producer from the angle that you’ve worked behind the scenes on stage productions; you’re used to hard work and long hours, and you’d love the opportunity to work on their project. Be confident and reliable. They don’t have to know your age — they’ll just see that you’re young and eager. 🙂

  4. Hi, I felt inspired by your advice. I just stumbled on your site and found you giving advice on what I’ve been longing for. I love the film and tv industry very much. I don’t have formal qualification though I learned the basics of tv production by volunteering at church tv production but I still find it very hard to break in this industry. Your advices though are worth following.

    Tshepo G

    Post a Reply
  5. They are casting extras for an entire village Originally this, MAJOR MONEY BLOCKBUSTER WITH TOO MANY HUGE NAMES TO EVEN LIST was going to Africa. They chose instead to build an entire ancient civilization out in the desert in Deming New Mexico. They have been busy building it for a month now and will be there to start principal photography in two weeks. I am not someone who looks like they would be in that ancient village. This town in New Mexico has 13k people maximum. Should I show up and say I want to be a PA? Because I cannot find any other email but the extra’s email. I’d be happy to work for free. I would be devastated if I missed out on working on this movie. I’m not too sure. Can you help me?

    Post a Reply
  6. I found this article EXTREMELY helpful. Actually this entire site has been more than helpful!!! ButI am currently a freshman theatre student in college and looking for more experience in the summer. I want to one day work in film but I don’t know where to start. I’ve only ever worked two shows as a stagehand and a dresser but other than that I am totally lacking in experience. What do I put on a resume for a production assistant? I have no problem working for free but I’m not sure if I would be hired because of my lack of experience. I am going to be down in Georgia this summer and I am still not sure where to look for work. Will the state film commission only list major TV shows and movies or will they list music videos and commercials as well? I feel so overwhelmed!

    Post a Reply
  7. Hi Laryssa, Really appreciate you putting this all down for the uninitiated! Do you have any examples of a traditional PA resume I could look at?

    Thanks!

    Post a Reply
    • It took a minute… but here you go, Lori. 🙂
      –> needlegirlhaystackworld.com/crafting-professional-production-assistant-resume/

  8. Hello,
    I stumbled across your blog on google looking at PA salaries. I began reading and I’m in love. I just recently graduated from Delaware State University. And now I’m in that process of trying to land a job in production. Ive filled out many of apps and sent emails, but after reading this article I now have a different approach that may able i.e calling the state film commission never even thought about that. Are there any more tips you could help me with?
    Thanks again Laryssa, this was right on time.

    Post a Reply
    • Briana, thanks for stopping by! Glad it’s been of use to you!
      Approaching production companies directly seems to work best. Try calling them, as well — and ask if you can drop the resume off in person. Going that extra mile really helps set yourself apart from the stack of resumes they receive!

  9. Again, Thank you! I will do exactly that. Will keep you posted maybe you could be like a mentor for me being already went through this process and now established. If thats not of any harm.

    Post a Reply
    • Briana, feel free to reach out!
      There are several different paths into entertainment– sometimes it’s a matter of going with your gut or being in the right place at the right time, but I will try to offer any insight.

  10. Right place at the right time is definitely my story. I started working as an extra in Atlanta last year for several TV and Movie productions. I made a lot of contacts, and was hired full time as a PA for three reality shows. I skipped college for this, and don’t regret it. I’m headed out to Texas next week for another show. Networking was the key for me.

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Erica! I don’t know if you will get this but I just moved to the Atlanta area and really want to get started in the production business as a PA. Now that you have broken into that area, do you have any tips specific to Atl? It seems most productions come from out of state and I’ve been nervous to call one based in LA about a shoot in GA. Any advice would help!
      This goes to you too Laryssa… any thoughts/knowledge on work in Atlanta as it is not LA or NY but a ton of companies are coming here to produce.

  11. Hey Laryssa! I’m loving your site and believe this is the route to go. However, i live in Indiana,how would i transition into the LA or NYC film industries while having to move and settle into a large city without a backdrop. Thanks

    Post a Reply
    • Berty, thanks so much, glad the site is helpful!

      I always recommend to try to spend a little bit of time on a film set closer to home before making the big move to make sure it’s the career path you want. If you’re 100% sure, then amass enough savings to last for a couple of months while you get your feet underneath you…and take the leap!
      The business is all about connections and networking, especially in the beginning. Research the film community, call the film commission and find out what industry events are coming up, if there’s a 48 hour film festival, etc. Moving to a new town, you have to be ready to “put yourself out there” ALL the time. (Quick tip: The key is to be persistent and confident, but not annoying and desparate! You don’t NEED the job, you WANT the job.)
      It’s not an easy task, and you have to be crafty and tenacious to get your foot in the door. This post outlines basic tips that have worked for myself and others, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of other ways to make it!

  12. Hey Laryssa!

    I’m graduating from GSU with a degree in film in two weeks and after an internship offer fell through I’ve spent the past three days searching the internet for crew calls that accept people with no experience, eating my wait in vegan chocolate chip cookies, asking myself why I got a degree in film, and binge watching my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s brother’s Netflix (mostly Daredevil and Bates Motel). And then I found your blog and I was able to uncurl myself from the fetal position. In the four years of schooling I did, not one class mentioned how to break into the industry or how to join a union or how to actually become employed (but i know a ton about how Russian comedy relates to Chaplin’s physical gags). I’ve made a few friends who said they’d hook me up with a gig, I’m working on a short for free in June and another friend is going to see if he can get me a job on the Walking Dead but those are all maybe’s. Besides that and calling the film commissioner, do you know of any other way of getting on set where I would get paid. I live thirty minutes from Atlanta, do extra work to get a taste of professional set life, but kind of suck at networking since I’m a bit shy. Should I try talking to PAs on set or would that just annoy them? And is there any way for me to work my way up the ladder if I manage to get a gig as a PA?

    Apologies for the novel I just wrote you in this comment box.

    Post a Reply
    • Catherine,

      First of all, Bates Motel is a great show. 🙂 And being in Atlanta, you could not be in a better location for wanting to launch a career in film!

      I’m not sure how much down time your background PA has — (I used to chat with extras a lot when that was my job) — they may be able to offer some tips, but keep in mind that there is a general rule: aspiring actors are not good production assistants. (Even though you may not be an aspiring actor, you will be perceived as such since you’re an extra.)

      As I just mentioned in another comment, try to get involved in 48 hour films or any other film events happening in your area. If you’re shy on your own, bring someone from your film program with you to do some networking.

      Keep in mind that there are other entry level positions aside from production assistant work. I’d also look into office assistant, personal assistant, accounting assistant, art department production assistant, location assistant, etc, depending on what field most interests you.

      And there is so much happening in Atlanta, if you work hard and keep making connections, I don’t doubt you’ll make it up the ladder. It may take a year or two, but it will happen. The key is to know what department you want to be in and go after a PA job in that department. If you have no idea, then you may be a PA longer than you’d like as you try to find your path.

      Best of luck!!

    • Thank you for the reply!

      I guess I am still trying to figure what I like doing most since I like editing and writing and shooting. If I wanted to be a a different kind of assistant like you mentioned, a location assistant or an art department assistant or even a writer’s assistant would I still call the film commissioner and specify the department I would like to work with?

    • I am in the same boat here in Atlanta. I just graduated from school and I thought it would be easier to become a PA but there is literally no email address to send a resume to, no phone number to call to even ask if a production is hiring. It is like this big secret and no one will tell you who is filming where or how to get in contact with anyone.It feels like I am being shut out of an industry I just spent 4 years and a lot of money trying to work in. It is so frustrating. The only thing I have had so far is after I emailed Pinewoods got an interview and they went with someone else. I feel like I had such a good opportunit and now its gone for ever because I blew it. It just sucks honestly and I have no way of paying my bills and no way of finding a job because i am in the dark of who to even contact and the production agencies all say they are not looking for anyone (code for go away). Sorry about the rant but it is beyond frustrating.

    • Atlanta just launched the Georgia film Academy which is a entry level film tech skills class that is run by the union, one of the locations is IN pinewood studios… The main goal is to get you into the union and they are constantly needing workers.. The ppl at the Georgia film commsion are super nice.. Plus there are networking groups like women in film Atlanta..

  13. Hi, Laryssa. This article is incredibly helpful. I’m in love with the film industry, and really want to work as an assistant. I wanted to ask, if I have no cinematic education, I can still get the job as an assistant? Thanks.

    Post a Reply
  14. I’m slowly breaking out into the film and production company but I really don’t have much under my belt work wise. How would I go about filling out a production resume. I want to have something to work with but I feel like little work will be my downfall.

    Post a Reply
  15. Hi Laryssa,

    I’m studying law in Mexico, but I’ve always had an interest in the entertainment business/film industry. I just don’t know what to do with that, or how to get started…

    I know Law has nothing to do with this industry, but I would love to work on tv sets, or be part of a production team.

    Any tips?

    Post a Reply
  16. Hi Laryssa,

    Hope you are well! I began my career with a passion in TV production and started working as an intern for a production company who produced MTV and VH! shows. I did basic intern duties such as coffee runs, answering phones, delivering tapes, digitizing footage, transcribing and doing some graphic design color correction for their shows.

    Following this I picked up a few PA jobs where I worked with Apprentice and American Inventor handling talent and assisting with casting. I ended up getting full-time work doing graphic design and have been doing this for the last seven years.

    I want to go back to my first and only passion which is working for TV and have no clue where to start. If you could please offer me some guidance I would greatly appreciate it!!!

    Post a Reply
    • Amber, welcome back to TV! 🙂

      It’s still an industry that is all about networking. Maybe try reaching out to your initial contacts and see if they’re still in the business? Offer to catch up over a cup of coffee, etc?

  17. Hi Laryssa,

    I’m actually based in Northampton, UK, an hour from London. What advice would you give for someone with a hearing impairment? I wear a cochlea implant but rely on lipreading and listening. I speak extremely well to the point people don’t realise I’m deaf till I tell them. My hearing impairment means I can’t talk on the phone and can only communicate via email or in person so my main communication when I’m getting in touch with film companies is by emailing them. This also means I’m restricted with walkie talkies and phone work in the office/ on set and therefore when contacting film peeps and film companies – they’re afraid and are not sure what to do with me. If emailing is still a good way to go for me – please could you advise what are the key things to say in an email to a production company that will grab their attention? I tend not to mention my hearing impairment initially and only tell them when I finally meet in person.

    Any other advice is also welcome.
    Thanks – Robyn

    Post a Reply
  18. Thanks for your blog post, it’s great! I wanted your advice on my situation, if you have any: I live in San Diego and have volunteered on a handful of projects down here, but been trying to break into the LA, PA scene with no luck, mostly because I have no film school to tout, but I just need to get on some sets in LA, volunteer whatever. I did the Next Fest(Sundance) in LA last year, but I don’t know how to meet anyone and get on anything substantial. Any advice? Thx

    Post a Reply
  19. The approach probably will (and should) vary by your location. Calling the LA film commission for example and asking for leads is not going to be fruitful – most likely they’ll say a) there are hundreds of things filming and b) I can’t disclose any information to you.

    Post a Reply

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