You’ve jumped off the roof of your film school and are ready to plunge headfirst into the concrete sidewalk that is the film industry. Now all you need to know is how much money you’ll be making so you know how often you’re going to have to sell your body to pay your bills while you climb to the top. So, how much does a Production Assistant get paid?
We’re not just here to tell you how much you can expect to make as a Production Assistant. We’ve compiled some information on all the different ways you may expect to get paid as a P.A. (There’s a surprising amount). This includes how to avoid being screwed by a certain payment type, which specific Production Assistant jobs pay the best, how to save money during your jobs, and whether or not it is possible for you to be represented by a union.
- 1 Do Production Assistants Have a Union?
- 2 How Much Do Production Assistants Get Paid?
- 3 How Do You Receive Your Production Assistant Salary?
- 4 What Types of P.A. Jobs Pay The Best?
- 5 How Can I Maximize My Income On A Production Assistant’s Salary?
Do Production Assistants Have a Union?
Nope. Not really (unless you’re working in Canada). This is mostly bad, but kind of good too. One of the biggest obstacles of breaking into the film industry is the difficulty of getting into the local union so you can work in a union position. This means that becoming a P.A. has a much lower barrier to entry. That’s the reason why most people choose to P.A. their way into the film industry; Even though there are much faster ways to climb the ladder. Unfortunately this also means you don’t gain all the benefits of a union, like regulated rates, insurance and representation.
However like we said before, if you are working in Canada, P.A.s are represented by the DGC, or Director’s Guild of Canada. The DGC collective agreement regulates pay for PAs at $205 for non members and $215 for members, for a 15 hour work day. 8 hour days are set at approximately $118. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
How Much Do Production Assistants Get Paid?
Alright, lets get straight into the numbers. It is important to recognize that these projected earnings are highly dependent on several factors. To make this much money, there would need to be consistent film work in your area. Not only that, but you would need to be getting hired for that work consistently as well (Which is surprisingly easy if you are a good P.A.) In a way, you will make a lot of money, while getting paid very little. You’re often working 5-6 days a week, 14-16 hours a day. That’s often 70 to 80 hours a week, with tons of overtime pay.
As Production Assistant work is essentially freelance, there is a large variation in these numbers. Different types of productions vary in difficulty, pay, and availability. Depending on where you live and how good you are, sometimes there won’t be any work at all.
The median for Production assistants is around $30,000. Obviously this accounts for taking several weeks off out of the year. Working 80 hour weeks is not sustainable, so P.A.s are given the luxury of a lot of vacation time. There are a lot of factors that can adjust how much money you make, which we will explore later, but if you book higher quality work like commercials or music videos, you could see yourself making as high as $50,000 a year.
Now the odds of that much good work being available, and the human body being capable of working that often without imploding, are very low. But it is definitely possible. I know P.A.s that worked for over a year straight without any time off. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have some serious mob debts to pay off. But it’s good to know, right?
If you’re being paid hourly, you can expect anywhere between $8-13 USD (with tons of overtime). If you’re paid by the day you can expect between $100-200. If you’re paid weekly, you can likely expect between 600-1200. Let’s talk more about how these three payment systems work out for you.
How Do You Receive Your Production Assistant Salary?
There are a few different ways that Production companies will go about paying you when you are a Production Assistant. Depending on what kind of hours you will be working and how much they are planning on paying you, each system may be better or worse than the others. Use the information in this guide to help you choose the shows that compensate you best for your time. However, do recognize that there are other reasons to take jobs outside of cash, and ultimately you should probably not be PAing “for the money”.
Production Assistant Salary – Day Rate
Some productions will offer a flat day rate. This is often the most common way you will get paid as a production assistant. Depending on how high this day rate is, and how many hours you are going to end up working, this can work against you or in your favor. Shows will have different difficulty levels and hours, and sometimes it’s nice to be paid a flat fee even if you just had to sit on your ass all day. Other times you’ll find yourself tortured and abused for a measly $100 that you wish you never agreed to.
Typical day rate is between $100-150 dollars for an average 14 hour day. $200 if you’re working on one of the more desirable productions like commercials or music videos, discussed a little further below.
Production Assistant Salary – Weekly Rate
Same deal as day rate, except on a week by week basis.
Don’t worry, although a weekly rate has the potential to be the worst paid, some of the best paid shows I’ve ever worked on were weekly rate. For example, lets say you are offered a weekly rate of $1500. This could wind up being terrible if the production ends up forcing you to work for 90 hours that week (good luck getting consistent P.A. work if you refuse). But, I have worked on productions where a high rate like that was offered, and it turned out to be a breeze where the days never ended up being longer than 8 hours each. When I did the calculations later on, I was paid nearly $40 dollars an hour for that job. Score!
Production Assistant Salary – Hourly Rate
Although rare, some shows will pay you strictly by the hour with an hourly rate. Like what we’ve said about all other types of payment, this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on multiple factors. Typically employers are not forced to pay 1.5x overtime rates until an employee has worked over 40 hours in a business week. Some employers will abide by this, only paying you overtime once you reach this 40 hour limit. Others are a little more generous, offering you overtime for each day where you surpass 12 hours of work. When accepting your jobs it is critical to know the difference, as some productions may screw you over by hiring you only a few days a week. Working 3 hellish 14-16 hour days to only make 400 bucks because you didn’t nab any overtime hours can be extremely demoralizing.
Out of all the payment styles this one is arguably the most fair, as you’re paid proportionate to how many hours you are working. Just make sure you’re working enough to take advantage of those overtime hours, because hourly rates are typically as low as $8-12 dollars. I’ve worked on a few shows that literally paid minimum wage.
What Types of P.A. Jobs Pay The Best?
Look for the jobs that make the most money. Blockbuster movies and large TV shows have gigantic budgets. Ironically that also means that they pay the least. Big time producers get to where they are by pinching pennies, and because you are the most expendable resource in the production, your paycheck will be the first place they look. So where do you go?
Commercials, Music Videos, Foreign Films
If you’re getting any of these jobs, chances are you’ve already done some work on a major film or television show. In my local community commercials are the most sought after jobs are commercials. This is for several reasons.
- Commercials typically pay $200 per day or more, compared to 100-140 for TV/Film
- The hours are shorter and easier to handle
- The work is a lot easier; Pointless lock ups, Driving producers around in vans, going shopping, etc.
Music videos are somewhat in the same vein as commercials. They are easier, less intense, and pay more. Not to mention they’re quick and fun to be a part of.
I don’t have sources to cite regarding Foreign films, so this is purely anecdotal. In my experience, Foreign Films pay much better. I’m based out of a city that is a popular shooting destination for Japan. Japanese productions often come to town hiring P.A.s and other key staff members, paying double what normal productions do. I’m not sure if this is related to culture, law, or if payment standards are higher there, but you definitely should do some digging to find out if the same thing applies to foreign films in your region. Most of their hires are bilingual, but it is not unheard of for them to hire people that only speak English. You just have to know the right people!
Event P.A. Jobs
If you’re looking to increase your P.A. days or make film connects, these might not be for you. Oh hell, you meet important people either way so you better take them anyways. Event P.A. jobs are the holy grail of Production Assistant employment. A lot of the time, events or concerts come to town and are in desperate need of P.A.s. When they get in and start to make calls,
The first time I took an Event P.A. job I felt like Grey Worm serving my Khaleesi. The constant screaming and abuse I endured as a Film Production Assistant showed me how kind and gentle normal employers can be. Now, there’s no way I can guarantee your boss wont be a jerk, but outside of the film industry, you may find that expectations are a lot more.. Realistic. While events are definitely on a timetable, they aren’t trying to shoot 9 and a half pages before they lose daylight. If you hustle like you do in film you’ll impress them.
I recently worked a fashion event with several other “film” P.A.s. The company employing us LOVED us and said they had never seen anything like it. We were used to working at a completely different pace, and you will too if you are a regular film worker. In my town usually these jobs are gobbled up really quickly, so if you have the opportunity, nay, the privelege, to work on an event or concert, take it. You get to experience some really cool stuff, make a ton of money, and get a much needed break from film.
How Can I Maximize My Income On A Production Assistant’s Salary?
Working as a Production Assistant is often referred to as paying your dues. It’s something almost nobody really wants to do, but everyone has to do at one point or another. Fortunately, the pay and working conditions of the job are an opportunity to set yourself up for a pretty nice lifestyle if you make the right choices.
When you work that many hours, you find that you actually have very little time to have fun and spend your earnings. Many film crew members overcompensate by spending hundreds at the bars in the short time that they do have off. You don’t have to do that. If you manage to abstain from excessive binge drinking and spending, you’ll actually find yourself making a lot of money in a short period of time. You are working effectively double time. Many Production Assistants are able to afford travel and spending several weeks unemployed.
In addition to that, it is common for your breakfast and lunch to be paid for while you are working. This saves a lot of money, and means that often your only expense outside of bills and gas will be for dinner.
PRO TIP: As long as other people are doing it and you won’t get in trouble, sometimes you can make an additional plate after lunch to take home for dinner. Do make sure this is okay first, as it can vary from production to production, but often times dozens of trays of food are thrown out every day and go to waste. A lot of the productions I’ve worked on serve super high quality food that would be out of my budget anyways!
Sometimes productions will make you use your own car to go on runs or move between sets. Make sure you’re filling out mileage paperwork for all of the driving you do! It’s easy to forget and over the course of a full show the reimbursement can be pretty substantial.
Ultimately it boils down to being frugal and tracking your finances. It shouldn’t be too necessary, when I was a P.A. I had so little free time to spend my money I could live lavishly. But now that you know how much production assistants make, you can decide if living like this for a year or two is the right thing for you.