When I first worked on-set in 2015, I was a production assistant (PA). That should not be a surprise, That is usually our entry point when working behind the scenes. I have written extensively about production assistants on this blog, including my own experiences. Here is an interesting video report where Colin West McDonald takes us around the set for A Day in the Life of a Production Assistant, from RocketJump Film School.
Production Assistant Activities from the Video
Here are points I picked up from watching the video …
The production assistant …
- Sets stuff up – breaks stuff down.
- Is the eyes of the set.
- Anticipates needs.
- Keeps the set clean.
- Announces the directions from the assistant director (AD), who conveys the message to the PA via walkie-talkie (The AD is the PA’s boss). The PA always acknowledge the message to the AD. The PA relays the information to everyone by yelling out the directions.
- Does whatever the AD asks to be done.
- Eats last.
- Ensures working conditions are safe and points out transgressions.
- Still has work to do after the wrap, e.g. cleanup.
- Learns a lot. The goal is to graduate from PAing.
It is common to have multiple PAs on set because there is a lot to do and allows breaks and picking up slack.
Production Assistant Activities I have Done
As a comparison to the video, here are the activities I performed as a PA on set. This information comes from reviewing blog posts and Facebook posts, and memory. Some may not strictly be PA activities per the video or on a “union” set where roles are strictly delineated, but it was this way for me …
- Dressing the set (e.g., positioning props and furniture, darkening the windows (to make it look like night although the shoot was done in the daytime), moving extraneous objects out of the way).
- Running errands such as purchasing necessities (ice, trash bags) and picking up lunch (pizza, of course).
- Setting up food for the cast and crew to consume throughout the day.
- Cleaning up.
- Operating the smoke machine.
- Performing traffic control (ensuring no one would walk onto the set while filming was in progress).
- “Spotting” other crew members to ensure they would not fall or trip.
- Slating (clapperboard) (to sync sound and video and identify the scene).
- Assisting setting up lighting (portable or permanent).
- Holding a diffuser in front of a light source. The diffuser I used is a translucent fabric designed to break up and evenly distribute the light from the source.
- Setting down spike marks (a piece of tape on the floor that shows an actor where to stand).
- Being a stand-in (stand-ins are used to determine the actors’ and camera positioning and adjust the lighting in a scene).
- Preparing food, setting the table, and placing food on plates, for use in a dinner scene (this is another example of dressing the set).
Check out RocketJump Film School on YouTube.
There are many activities traditionally performed by a production assistant, but the actual activities may vary from project to project. It has been an interesting exercise compiling what I have personally done and comparing it to the video.
Please provide feedback or questions in the Comments. I would really enjoy hearing from you. And let me know if there are any topics you would like me to cover.
Disclaimer: The author is not being financially compensated by anyone associated with any project mentioned, for this post.
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