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Odds jobs every PA must know


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#1 David Calson

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 12:36 PM

Hi, I am becoming a PA soon and was wondering what are some standard things that one must know how to do. Thanks in advance.
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#2 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 12:52 PM

Hi, I am becoming a PA soon and was wondering what are some standard things that one must know how to do. Thanks in advance.


The number one rule is have ONE PERSON you report to, and if anyone needs you to do a special job or errand, they ask the person you report to first to see if it's ok to "borrow" you. The person you report to is assuming you are always ready nearby to do a special task for them on a moments notice so if someone directly asks you to do something ask them to ask the person you are reporting to to see if it is Ok for you to do that task.

You're better off having one person you report to then being a PA for everyone because inevitably you will have to prioritize what you do and in the process you'll possibly piss off some one who thinks their emergency was more important.

Be ready to use your car for an errand or two, this could include picking up someone of note, so a clean front passenger seat is a good idea. Good maintenance, meaning all the fluids are well maintained, good tires and brakes helps prevent you and your car from becoming an additional problem to the production. You should get a gas or mileage stipend if you have to do errands with your car.

Don't make fun of anyone, that's why you're there. (sort of a joke, sort of not).

Who you report to really determines the kind of PA you will be. There are PA's whose sole job is to make sure the talent, producer, director and investors are catered to, there are set PA's who actually scurry around helping as many production people as possible on set, and there are driver PA's as well.
Be prepared to rotate among those three PA types.

Be a bit of a safety maven. If you see an unsandbagged light stand, or an unlocked object on wheels, ask someone if it should be locked. Cover any cords that someone could trip over if it's realistic to do so. If you see people on ladders, offer to hold the ladder. If you see useless material on the floor that if someone fell on could seriously injure them, move them out of the way. Just make sure it's not something that was purposely put there and will be needed in another minute.

Don't be afraid to yell "HELP" If you see something about to tip over.

Some "standard" items a PA should carry on them nowadays probably include a cell phone, a map book, and internet access if possible. Make sure the cigarette lighter in your car works because you may find it a handy way to recharge items when you don't have access to an actual AC outlet. Be careful you don't run up a big cell phone bill because some times the tab is not picked up by the production company. You might want to contact your cell phone company and see what kind of plan they have that will help you avoid going overtime on your daytime minutes.

Don't be the first in line for lunch.

Don't drink the directors special drink that is being stored in the cooler.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 01:39 PM

Hi, I am becoming a PA soon and was wondering what are some standard things that one must know how to do. Thanks in advance.



Excellent suggestions above. In addition, if you are working on a film set, you'll be helping to "lock up," meaning that when the First AD calls for quiet, you have to be assertive and repeat that loudly. There is no room for meekness when on a production. When you are given a task, do it efficiently. If you aren't sure how to do something, figure it out or ask someone if there is a chance of severely messing it up. Show initiative and confidence in everything you do and you'll advance in your career faster.

Stay late and help other departments wrap out if they allow you to. Go above and beyond. And more than anything else, be genuinely pleasant to work with. Production days are too long so it helps to be a really great person to work with. You'll be remembered that way.

Good luck!
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 07:44 PM

Go above and beyond. And more than anything else, be genuinely pleasant to work with. Production days are too long so it helps to be a really great person to work with. You'll be remembered that way.



this is the most important thing. More important than anything already said. You can learn all that stuff, and if you're pleasant to work with, you'll be around tomorrow to learn it. Especially since you get the poop jobs, if you can keep your head up you'll be respected and asked back.
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#5 Jesus Sifuentes

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 10:53 PM

standard weapons of choice for a PA.

Small Notebook - for taking notes: directions, food or drink orders, etc
Pen
Flash Light
Sharpie
Highlighter
Gloves
Small Knife


here is a cool little PDF I found for Production Assisants

http://noendpress.com/caleb/edtech/
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#6 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 11:05 PM

this is the most important thing. More important than anything already said. You can learn all that stuff, and if you're pleasant to work with, you'll be around tomorrow to learn it. Especially since you get the poop jobs, if you can keep your head up you'll be respected and asked back.


Rather than a competition, I view the prior lists as a compilation. Being pleasant is great advice and much better than a frown. But if you're TOO happy, someone on the set may make it a mission to wipe that smile off of your face.
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#7 David Calson

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 11:23 PM

standard weapons of choice for a PA.

Small Notebook - for taking notes: directions, food or drink orders, etc
Pen
Flash Light
Sharpie
Highlighter
Gloves
Small Knife
here is a cool little PDF I found for Production Assisants

http://noendpress.com/caleb/edtech/



That link was perfect, thanks
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 July 2006 - 11:34 PM

I remember working in another city with a PA / office assistant who ran errands and always got lost, that she was surprised that I bought a city street map for myself...

Once she had to drive me to the airport in my own rental car to drop me off for a quick trip back to L.A. and she drove really fast in wet weather, tailgating people on the freeway in slippery conditions, while having a tendency to let go of the steering wheel because she talked with her hands, gesturing, etc. I then noticed a big scar on her forehead and she said it was from a drunk driving accident that sent her into a coma. After getting lost and barely getting to the airport in time for my flight, I was really glad to be getting out of that car...

I remember on another film in Los Angeles where most of the crew was late for work because of a major traffic accident at the 405/101 interchange, tying up the morning commute for the Valley -- and it turned out to have been caused by one of our PA's (luckily no one was hurt.)

I guess my point is that if you're going to hire someone to drive around town doing errands, it would be nice if they had a sense of direction and good driving skills, if only for their own safety.
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#9 Max Jacoby

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Posted 16 July 2006 - 05:01 AM

I once worked with a useless video assist trainee who always kept the crew bus waiting in which we were going from to the hotel to the set because he couldn't get his fat ass out of the bed. Until one day we all had enough and told the driver to leave without him.
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#10 Danny

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Posted 16 July 2006 - 10:53 AM

Don't put milk in oriental teas. Oh no sorry, that's just common sense. (Yet I managed to balls it up on my first film)
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#11 Wilkin Chau

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 12:32 PM

I remember working in another city with a PA / office assistant who ran errands and always got lost, that she was surprised that I bought a city street map for myself...

Once she had to drive me to the airport in my own rental car to drop me off for a quick trip back to L.A. and she drove really fast in wet weather, tailgating people on the freeway in slippery conditions, while having a tendency to let go of the steering wheel because she talked with her hands, gesturing, etc. I then noticed a big scar on her forehead and she said it was from a drunk driving accident that sent her into a coma. After getting lost and barely getting to the airport in time for my flight, I was really glad to be getting out of that car...

I remember on another film in Los Angeles where most of the crew was late for work because of a major traffic accident at the 405/101 interchange, tying up the morning commute for the Valley -- and it turned out to have been caused by one of our PA's (luckily no one was hurt.)

I guess my point is that if you're going to hire someone to drive around town doing errands, it would be nice if they had a sense of direction and good driving skills, if only for their own safety.


Unfortunately David, on low/no budget productions there isn't really a transportation department, driving is done by PA's. Weird. Even on low/no budget stuff you usually have at least one grip, electric, camera, art etc. person who's knows what they are doing. In other words, there's a good chance that person is in the union or is in the biz a few years. But I don't see transport union people on low/no budget stuff. At least in other departments there are actually people in them and one is usually competent.

And it really gets scary when the PA has to drive something they have never driven before like a cube truck.
Oh well. Guess it's something you have to live with.


As for the original question, one thing I'd like to add is it's great if you want to help other departments. But ask first. Sometimes I've seen PA's move stuff that they really shouldn't have moved in the first place. And also don't be afraid to say you don't know how to do something or don't know what something is (like what's a c-stand).
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#12 Matt Workman

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 12:41 PM

When I was a camera trainee I messed up the DP's coffee. Not a good idea.

Memorize what the DP, Operator, 1st, and anyone in your department likes in their coffee. Also labeling people waters/coffee and keeping track of their personal stuff is very helpful.
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#13 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 12:54 PM

Always remember your sense of humor, as it comes in really handy when the key grip is standing over the wrap beer and shouts, "What, no Erlanger!?!"
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#14 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 17 July 2006 - 06:02 PM

Always be the guy/girl that is right there when anyone needs anything, whether it's getting someone a coffee, standing in, or grabbing a sandbag for a grip. But never be the person who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time, i.e....standing in doorways or in front of the lens or video village.
"Standing by" is the biggest part of the job as a P.A. If you're doing the job correctly you'll always be in the right place at the right time and everyone on set will appreciate you.
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#15 Kevin Desson

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 04:22 PM

I was once told, "A set PA should never be sitting down, always on their feet and ready to do whatever is necessary."
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#16 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 05:42 PM

I remember working in another city with a PA / office assistant who ran errands and always got lost, that she was surprised that I bought a city street map for myself...

Once she had to drive me to the airport in my own rental car to drop me off for a quick trip back to L.A. and she drove really fast in wet weather, tailgating people on the freeway in slippery conditions, while having a tendency to let go of the steering wheel because she talked with her hands, gesturing, etc. I then noticed a big scar on her forehead and she said it was from a drunk driving accident that sent her into a coma. After getting lost and barely getting to the airport in time for my flight, I was really glad to be getting out of that car...

I remember on another film in Los Angeles where most of the crew was late for work because of a major traffic accident at the 405/101 interchange, tying up the morning commute for the Valley -- and it turned out to have been caused by one of our PA's (luckily no one was hurt.)

I guess my point is that if you're going to hire someone to drive around town doing errands, it would be nice if they had a sense of direction and good driving skills, if only for their own safety.



But if the same situation were to happen again, wouldn't you politely ask to take the wheel and use it as an opportunity to show the PA the proper way to take someone to the airport?
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#17 Danny

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 07:32 PM

Just pretend you are a mum for the day, and that the crew are your kids. They may think they are above you, but where would they be without you.

Just have everything prepared well in advance for those grazed knees and thirsts.
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#18 Brian Wells

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:07 PM

When I was a camera trainee I messed up the DP's coffee. Not a good idea.

Only a pathetic person would get ever upset over something like that -- true professionals are friendly and understanding, at least to your face. In any given city, EVERYBODY remembers the people who are hard to get along with and they are always the last person called in for work. During periodical downturns in the regional workload, it's the meanies who suffer the most. The nice guys always get called before them. ;)
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#19 Jim Murdoch

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:26 PM

standard weapons of choice for a PA.

Small Notebook - for taking notes: directions, food or drink orders, etc
Pen
Flash Light
Sharpie
Highlighter
Gloves
Small Knife


One of the new ultra-compact white LED flashlights will be very handy, and make you look hip, and the batteries last for ages.
Apart from the above list:
A couple of good pencils and a good eraser and a sharpener.
Bag of assorted rubber bands
Bag of small cable ties
Be or become come proficient in MS Word, Excel and Photoshop, and Internet Explorer
Leran how to use Mac computers, no matter how much you may hate them.



Above all: Learn how to make tea/coffee properly
If you can make a decent cappucino or espresso on-set, they'll forgive almost any gaffe.
It'll be like: "Grr... oh ... just ... go and make me a coffee; at least I know you can do that right!"

Quick on-set Cappucino:
Ignore the usual instructions.
Half-fill a paper cup with milk, froth it with the steamer until the foam reaches the lip of the cup.
Express the coffee into a second cup, then pour it through the milk froth until the froth rises 3/4" or so above the rim (always looks impressive). Sprinkle with chocolate powder (Hint: Always carry your own chocolate sprinkle)
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#20 Hal Smith

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 09:39 PM

I PA'd for ABC Sports once when the circus came to Anniston, AL (the Division II football championship). They had one duty for me: shadow the ABC Producer who was the network communicator with the NCAA referee. If the Producer had dropped dead it was my job to make certain the game got stopped for commercials and when to resume play after breaks. Obviously the most important thing from ABC's point of view was that I not get lost or distracted - pay attention and stay focused on my Producer.
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The Slider

Technodolly

CineLab

CineTape

FJS International, LLC

Paralinx LLC

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Willys Widgets

Aerial Filmworks

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Glidecam

Metropolis Post

Wooden Camera

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Ritter Battery

Opal

Visual Products

Tai Audio

rebotnix Technologies

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS