It was a fast-paced, high-profile commercial shoot; one of those .com companies that fly in entire teams of people from Los Angeles and New York. As a result, you’re usually working alongside the most talented producers, ADs, and crew members in town. While your days are filled with long hours and taking an obscene amount of Starbucks orders, it is a great opportunity to showcase your work ethic, get noticed, and get hired for future gigs.
The Main Character: The Deluded Production Assistant
For these large projects, you need an army of production assistants, and maybe you try out a few new people. I was working alongside a girl who’d obviously never PA’ed a day in her life. She was bewildered easily, and wasn’t grasping that 90% of a PA’s job is anticipation.
About halfway through the second day of filming, this PA did have enough sense to tell that the production team was getting frustrated with her. During some down time on the shoot, the girl clarified to the commercial’s producer, Brittany, why she was having a hard time living up to the PA standard.
“I don’t usually PA,” the girl explained.
Brittany nodded knowingly, but in sympathy. Like any good producer, she wanted this girl to be in the department where she felt most comfortable. “That’s fine. What do you normally do?”
“I usually produce,” the girl said, without missing a beat.
Brittany blinked in surprise, and almost laughed out loud. The girl didn’t know the back end of a grip truck from a honeywagon, and she wouldn’t know a sandbag if she tripped over it. “Uh…okay. What have you produced?”
“Well, I just did a music video, at Watkins,” she bragged.
WATKINS! THE FILM SCHOOL. AND SHE WAS SERIOUS.
Apologies for the use of caps, but I had to convey how absolutely absurd that is. I don’t mean to belittle experiences gained by going to film school, but film school projects do not equate to real world projects, period.
I never saw that girl on a film set again.
There’s a flipside to this Watkins music video story: The director of that student music video.
He’s a good work comrade of mine, and we got into the business at the same time and PA’ed together for a couple of years. He is a film snob, and has seen every movie ever made and is quick to offer his professional opinion… but it’s because he’s passionate and he knows his stuff. The difference is, even though he was more than capable and was often frustrated by the menial tasks – he did his time as a production assistant. And never in the two years that we PA’ed together did he approach a director with a ridiculous statement such as, “Hi, I don’t usually PA. I’m a director too!”
As a result, he is now a successful 1st AD.
The lesson? There’s a difference between being passionate and driven, and being delusional. Paying a large sum of money to an arts school to earn a degree doesn’t make you a “director”, but success in the real film world does.
If you have the passion — and you do need it to succeed in almost all careers — GREAT! Buy a camera, round up some likeminded folks, and shoot no/low budget movies, enter them in local film festivals until you succeed. PA on the side to earn cash, make contacts, and gain real world experience. But out of respect for those who’ve already “done their time”, when you are on that film set as a PA, don’t embarrass yourself by saying you’re usually a “producer” or “director” — especially if you don’t know what a sandbag looks like.
What advice would you add? Have you ever worked with someone who’s delusional?
Photo Credit: Creative Commons