We want people to like us. It’s the human condition.
The PA’s Primary Task: Keep everyone quiet while the camera’s rolling.
We’re noisy Americans who blab on our iPhones while shopping for Greek yogurt and clogging up the aisle at Kroger. And even if we’re in the way, no one tells us to move, much less to shut up. Being told to “be quiet” when we’re in the middle of divulging may as well be an infringement on our constitutional rights.
It’s hard enough to keep an entire crew quiet – that’s a lot of moving parts. You’ll get the occasional dirty look from someone, but they oblige, generally. But factor in egos, and the important people, and you can have a real problem. Do you do your job and shush ’em, or do you keep your job by letting them bust the take?
…Really? Keep everyone quiet?
You’re guarding the door that leads to a quiet, intimate sex scene. Only minimal crew – 4 or 5 people total – are allowed inside with the actors. Twenty feet away is craft service, which is being mulled over by a famous actor from that blockbuster hit you’ve seen 100 times since it came out 10 years ago. He strikes up an engaging conversation with BigWig Producer who’s wandered away from video village. The AD announces, “Rolling” in your earpiece – and you repeat in your friendliest and most official tone, maybe even staring at the HotShot actor- “Quiet please, we’re rolling!”
But BigWig and HotShot keep yacking it up. You pray they’ll be quiet enough for the audio guy to not notice. (Impossible, they hear everything.) All seems to be going well, they’re maintaing beneath-the-radar volumes- until HotShot reaches the punchline to his non-exciting story, “…AND I’LL NEVER FLY THE RED EYE AGAIN!”
You frantically make gestures like a captain losing a game of charades as his boat capsizes into the sea. You motion circles with your index finger over and over (to the rest of the world is You’re Crazy, but to us it means QUIET you idiot, we’re rolling), but you know its too late. The take is blown.
The AD – your direct boss – screams “QUIET ALL AROUND” in your earpiece.
This may seem like a very small dilemma when compared to the split-second decisions made by neurosurgeons and political leaders. But I assure you, it’s quite a pickle to be in, and can be very jarring. Do you tell the HotShot actor to be quiet, offend him, and get fired? Or do you not tell the HotShot actor to be quiet, and risk the wrath of the 1st AD who can also fire you?
Tip: Don’t “shush” the big wigs.
On a pilot I was working on, we were filming an intense scene on a deserted gravel road. Every grip, art PA, and crafty person was standing still, holding their breath. Sure enough, the executive producers exploded in unrelated laughter, right in the middle of the take. The 2nd AD was standing next to me. Appalled, I looked to him for guidance. Without missing a beat, he whispered, “Yeah, I’m not touching that.”
I’ve since learned numerous times since then – albeit painfully and not without getting cussed out due to my stubbornness – really, I was just trying to do my job!- that those who are above the line are above the law. You don’t “Ssssh!” the executive producer who signs your paycheck, and you ALWAYS open the door for the production designer, regardless of if it busts the take.
Ultimately, you take the hit from the 1st AD, because in the end, the executive producer is the 1st AD’s boss, too.
Photo Credit: Jeff Schafer