We’ve covered how to get a job as a production assistant, whether you need a film degree to work in the film industry, how much money you’ll make as a production assistant, how to be a great runner PA, and perhaps most importantly, whether or not freelance film production is even right for you.
What we haven’t covered? How to blow your opportunity, or how to not get hired on a film set.
Refuse to Work for Free
Yes, if you play your cards right, you can get away with barely having to PA. But if you skip the step of being a production assistant, you’d better be offering yourself as an intern working for free for the department of your choice. (In fact, I recommend this approach if you already know you what department you want to work in.)
I’m not talking about months of unpaid labor here unless it’s a school internship where you’re being compensated with school credit. Offer to work for free on 1-2 projects (2-3 days, or maybe longer if it’s an indie movie) to establish yourself and build contacts.
Note: Volunteering your time has always been the fastest way to break in, but in the last five years, companies are shying away from this due to lawsuits. Technically, they’re supposed to pay you or give school credit. To get around this, it may be easier to seek out indie movies or passion projects versus production companies.
Refuse to Work for Cheap (in the beginning)
Similarly, don’t expect to get out of film school and make $400 per day. You need all of the experience you can get. In the beginning, you won’t get very far turning down jobs because they “don’t pay enough”. It takes time to build a reputation that’s worth $400/day.
Read this post for an expectation of how much you could make your first year in the industry as a production assistant.
Act Like a Groupie/Fangirl/Fanboy
If you’re looking to get a job on a show because you’re in love with the actor or musician, then you’d better keep that to yourself. We’re not paid to be fans in this business, and just because you have access doesn’t mean the celebrity needs another friend.
(Showing appreciation for a show your coworker/boss worked on is different.)
Talk Too Much
Some people will talk too much when they’re nervous about making a good first impression. This is a HUGE no-no in film/television, where your personality is just a big a factor as competency. If you annoy someone in an interview or casual lunch meeting, there’s a very small chance they’re going to hire you to work with them for 12+ hours on a film set. Be chill, competent, and confident.
Don’t Have a Car and/or Driver’s License
Disclaimer: I do know people that make it work without either, but it’s a whole lot harder to break in as a production assistant on non-union shows. On smaller shoots, it can get complicated quickly, and most producers will just go with someone else that has a car.
For smaller shoots without transpo departments, production assistants are often required to go on runs. PAs pick up lunch, return gear, run to the store for a last minute prop, etc. If you’re over 25, you’ll have to drive a 15 pass van, U-Haul, or other rental vehicle.
If we’re talking about union gigs where going on runs won’t be expected of you, it’s still possible. You’ll just have to figure out how to get to set on time, which are often in remote locations. (Most production assistants don’t work 100% on union shows, most do at least a small mix of non-union shows.)
Say the Wrong Things When Given Your Chance
I have a friend who used to work at recording studios. She’s pretty quick and adapts to different challenges/situations easily. One day, she mentioned she wanted to switch to working in television. A few months later, the project I was on needed additional help — for several months — so I thought of her.
“Listen,” I advised, “You’re smart with gear and can teach yourself. Tell them about all the stuff you do know how to do. You can read the manuals and learn our gear. You know the theory, the rest you’ll pick up quickly. This is your in. I’ll vouch for you.”
And so, I told my crew about her. I explained that while she was new to our world, she was a hard worker and smart with gear. She could be taught, and she would be great.
When she was called about the job, you know what she said? “Listen, Laryssa told me not to mention I don’t know anything about working in television– but it’s true, I don’t know anything about it. In fact, I know very little about the gear you guys use.”
It was everything I told her not to say. I was beyond embarrassed. I’d stuck my neck out for her and, in return, she made it sound like I was trying to trick my coworkers into hiring her. I was also confused- had she actually wanted to break into television, or not? Had she just been making wishful small talk?
Burn the Connection You Do Have
If you have a friend in the industry that’s willing to share their contacts with you, then preserving that relationship should be at the forefront of your mind. If someone recommends you for a gig, and then you don’t show up or call in sick, don’t bother trying to utilize that contact again. Not only have you made yourself look bad, but you’ve made your friend look bad for recommending you.
Show Up Late to an Interview
This is true in any industry. Don’t be late to the interview! How can anyone trust you with real work if you can’t be on time to an interview?
Note: Okay, so, even if you make one of these mistakes, you can still get a job on a film set! Maybe the post should instead be titled “ways to make it harder on yourself to get a job in the film industry”…