If you don’t already have friends that are working in the industry, figuring out how to become a production assistant can be somewhat of a challenge. From personal experience, internet research, and interviewing industry workers, we have devised three creative, proven methods that you can employ to land your first film PA job.
Some of these techniques are pretty sly, and can be executed by literally anyone. If one was to find themselves in a new city with no film connections, these strategies would be the most effective route to infiltrate the often elusive film industry.
- 1 1. Get Some Experience
- 2 2. Do Some Acting
- 3 3. Go To A Training Seminar
- 4 How To Become A Production Assistant – Extra Tips
1. Get Some Experience
You don’t need to have some sort of divine talent to be a production assistant. The coordinators and assistant directors hiring the PA’s just care that you have a good attitude and experience with the job. So, that means that you just need to accomplish two things.
- Gain experience.
- Meet the people who can help you get work!
The first step is more important than you could ever know. I have friends that are loyal, trustworthy, and known to be hard workers. If they don’t have any experience, I have no way of knowing if they can handle the stress of working as a PA, and cannot recommend them for jobs. I refuse to put my reputation on the line just for the AD to scream at me for giving him a PA that doesn’t know what a call sheet is.
“But how am I supposed to get experience without a PA job? “
It’s the age old entry-level job paradox. You need experience to get a job but need a job to get experience. Fortunately for you, on your quest to meet the right people, you can gain experience in the process!
College Film Internships
Let’s get this out of the way, you definitely do not need to go to college to work as a PA. If you’re considering going to college to get a degree so you can PA after, rip up your application letter right now. For the most part you’re not going to learn any skills that are going to contribute to your PA abilities. You’re going to spend a lot of time on the creative side rather than the logistical. Those skills are very useful, but ultimately unnecessary if you want to enter the film industry as a PA.
However, if you are already in film school, chances are there’s big opportunities you’re not taking advantage of. If you’re in college you probably know that internships are the easiest way to accelerate your career, and film is no different.
Note: Don’t bother with internships for mini production companies or film equipment stores. These internships are great and can a significant impact on your career, but this article is teaching you how to become a production assistant in the film industry. Not a personal assistant to some guy who makes commercials.
Major motion pictures and television shows regularly reach out to local university in search of interns. Sometimes you’ll have normal PA duties, other times you’ll be jumping between departments, but all of the connections you’ll make will be very valuable.
The most important people for you to meet are actually other PAs. As a newbie, you’ll get more value out of talking to a PA than a producer. Directors, producers, and other “above the line” crew are often very busy, and you have very little relevance to them.
PAs on the other hand have a surprising amount of power in terms of hiring other PAs. Shows will often have big scenes where lots of extra help is hired for a couple days, and the PAs are the first to make recommendations.
When interning, make sure to be hard-working and pleasant to your supervisors, but also make an effort to talk to some PA’s when you get a chance. Tell them you’re looking to work as a PA, and that you’re eager to learn anything they have to teach you. If they’re not too busy, they’ll probably be happy to! After all, it’s not often that a PA isn’t on the bottom of the totem pole.
Volunteering on Independent Films
Sometimes small-budget indie films need production assistants but aren’t able to pay.
There are tons of PAs who broke into the industry by volunteering their time to help out on these films. You’ll learn the basics in a low pressure environment (they have to treat you nicely if you are working for free), and if you impress people, they will be willing to hire you for paid gigs afterwards.
These indie films may not have the budget to pay for PAs, but the department heads and AD’s are usually paid. You now have an opportunity to meet them and demonstrate your work ethic to them, with a chance they will remember you afterwards and call you back to work with them on paid shows. You’ll look extra good if you’re working hard with a great attitude and not expecting anything in return.
The more time you invest in a volunteer project, the greater the rewards will be. If you’re assisting with a day or weekend shoot, there’s a good chance the job will be over before you manage to do any meaningful networking. A shoot lasting one week or more should be enough for you to befriend people and demonstrate to them you’re worth hiring.
Working for multiple weeks without any pay may sound unfair, but consider that many professions will have you pay to go to college for 4 years before being able to land an entry-level job. Unpaid internships can last for months and don’t even guarantee a job. Suck it up and work for free for a little bit. It’ll be worth it.
Note: If you’re finding yourself working for free a lot without progress, you’re doing it wrong. You’re either volunteering on the wrong gigs, or not hustling and proactively networking. Reevaluate your strategy. You deserve to get paid.
“So how do I find these independent film opportunities?”
Good question. You probably don’t see a lot of job listings for film crew.
Facebook P.A. Groups
These are a goldmine as long as you’re selective. Go on Facebook and search “Production Assistants” under the “Groups” tab. I’m a member of several of these, and I consistently see people looking for PAs for their indie films. Often times you’ll be offered meals and credit as compensation, but some desperate coordinators even reach out on these pages for paid positions! Sweet!
Find one of these listings and investigate the poster’s profiles to determine their legitimacy. If they’re a film student putting together a short with no budget and no planning, give it a hard pass. If they’re an industry crew member who has worked on feature films and television shows, this is exactly what you’re looking for. Reach out to them in a concise, professional manner that demonstrates you are grateful for such an opportunity.
Your Local Film School
This is one route many associates of mine have taken to land their first paid gigs. Often times, Independent films will reach out to the local university to find eager production assistants willing to work without pay.
You don’t even have to be a student! Professors and faculty generally tend to be interested in helping everyone. Go to your local film school, approach a key faculty member during their office hours, introduce yourself to them and ask them if there are any indie film opportunities going on. You really have nothing to lose.
2. Do Some Acting
You don’t need to be a good actor to use this strategy. You don’t even need to be a decent actor. This technique is the best one for you if you are completely disconnected from your local industry and are trying to figure out how you can start meeting some people.
I know a lot of crew members that began their careers with this strategy. Listen carefully, cause just getting the jobs and hoping you catch someone’s eye won’t work.
To employ this technique, you’re going to look for jobs as a background actor or “extra”. These jobs have zero barrier to entry; you won’t need to audition or have a resume for most productions. First we will discuss how you can find these jobs, and then how to use the job to infiltrate the industry.
Note: You don’t have to be an extra, being a regular actor works too. I’m just trying to make this technique accessible to people who don’t have acting skills.
Where to Find Background Acting Jobs
Finding work as a background actor is actually very straightforward. Most people who work regularly are just in the casting databases, and get called whenever they have a look that is desirable. You can either be formally submitted to these databases, or apply for a broad casting call.
If you are friends, or mutual friends with a casting director, great. You can talk to them about submitting photos for background acting directly, and will likely have priority over randoms. If you know anybody who consistently works as a background actor, they likely already have the necessary contact information and can forward you to the right place.
You may also submit yourself to the databases manually over the internet. By doing a google search with the term “(Insert TV show filmed locally) Casting” you can find websites for casting agencies that you can get work from.
If you don’t know what television shows are filming in your area, you can do a general search for “Background actors casting”. This will bring up websites like centralcasting that are essentially hubs for casting extras. Big shows and movies use sites like this to find background actors, and they usually aren’t too picky with submissions.
In addition to word of mouth, casting agencies, and casting websites, you can also use Facebook groups to your advantage. Just like in strategy #1, there are many facebook groups centered around background actors. The PA and film networking groups you already joined are also always posting calls for background actors! I’m often finding myself in disbelief about how much value these pages have to a newbie.
Finally, there’s casting calls. With big movies and even some TV shows, some scenes may demand hundreds of extras. When this is the case, shows may need to reach a wider range of people than what is offered via the previously mentioned sources. Casting calls will be listed across Facebook, craigslist, and sometimes may even be broadcast on the news. Keep an eye out for these, and feel free to use google to search for them periodically as well.
What To Do Once You’re On-Set
You have to show the film crew you are lucky enough to interact with that you desperately want to work in the film industry. Just tossing around that you think their job is cool won’t be enough. However, it is important you do this in a carefully calibrated fashion that demonstrates your determination without being annoying.
The main person you communicate with when working as a background actor is the background PA. Realize that this person deals with hundreds of people indistinguishable from you on a weekly basis. They don’t care about you, you’re basically a prop with legs. Making small talk with them isn’t going to cut it.
Conversely, you can’t have deep intellectual conversations with them because they’re really busy, and if you talk to them too much or at the wrong time you’ll be labeled as annoying. This will also demonstrate to them that you don’t understand set etiquette and kill your chances of ever getting recommended by them. Good production assistants know when it’s an okay time to converse, so you’ll have to learn that too.
So what can you do here? Well, similar to what we talked about in technique number one, you’ll be at a great advantage if you’re a background actor for multiple consecutive days. Several 3 minute chats over the course of a week will really add up and deepen your relationships with crew members. Make sure to get their contact info before your job is over and try to keep in touch with them! Let them know your dream is to work as a production assistant, and if they like you, they can help it come true.
This method, like the previous one, is largely dependent on your social skills. If you’re having a hard time networking because of your own personality, I would recommend reading books like How To Win Friends And Influence People, or any of Gary Vaynerchuk’s books. They’ll teach you what you need to know to effectively network without turning people off. If you don’t want to make an effort to develop your social skills, working on set probably isn’t for you. It is a VERY social job. Start working on becoming an editor or something instead.
In essence, make sure you’re forming genuine connections and offering value to these people. It’s clearly in your benefit to strengthen your relationships with them, so make sure you are doing what you can to help them as well. This is social skills 101, people don’t like being taken advantage of. Definitely avoid having a frame of mind that you need to get something out of these people. Make friends with everyone without wanting anything in return and over time you will reap the benefits.
3. Go To A Training Seminar
This method is less “guaranteed” than the others, and won’t work in every region. Out of the people I have worked with, only a handful have entered the industry through a training seminar. Regardless, many people have found success with this strategy, and it’s a great third option if our other two suggestions are giving you difficulties.
Many people on the internet like to argue that these seminars are a waste of time and money. They think that you shouldn’t pay to learn things you’ll learn on set for free, and that the environment is hard to replicate. While these points have some truth , if you lack connections or experience and are unable to otherwise attain a PA job, these training seminars have value to offer you.
PA bootcamps are a great way to incorporate our other suggestions by building your experience, networking, and teaching you the skills you need. You’ll learn everything that you need to know to function well on set, from set etiquette to lockups and lingo. Taking one of these classes will teach you hundreds of things you’ll never get out of film school.
When you attend a training seminar, many of them have a list that you make it on once completing the seminar. If you perform well at bootcamp, the people who trained you may suggest you for new jobs. This is also a great opportunity to network and make friends with people who will go on to get work in the industry. These people are an even better way to get jobs than the PA list! Make sure you become genuine friends with them and offer value to their lives. Hopefully they’ll return the favor!
If you live in New York, the Made In NY Training program is known for being one of the best ones for getting people work afterwards. Eligible low income New Yorkers trying to become PA’s really have no excuse to not check it out.
We wrote a guide on how to get the best production assistant training. It details the Made In NY program and a few others we found in our research.
How To Become A Production Assistant – Extra Tips
Now that you know how to become a production assistant, here are a few key resources that we’ve assembled that will help you along the way!
Have A Resume Prepared
This should be a no brainer. Before you apply for any type of job anywhere, it’s important that you assemble a resume to demonstrate what you bring to the table. What you may not have known, is that production assistant resumes and film resumes in general follow different rules from standard resumes. You’ll need to put together a resume just for the film industry.
We just recently wrote the best guide to production assistant resumes of all time. This guide was meticulously crafted to help you leverage your experience regardless of how much you have. It shows you what you should include, but more importantly, what you shouldn’t include. This is essential reading if you’re taking the first steps to break into the industry.
Make Sure You Have The Right Tools For The Job
We have curated the most detailed guide for all the gear you need as a production assistant. Not all of this equipment is required to do the job, some of it is, but all of our recommendations will help you excel on-set. I personally had every single piece of equipment we recommended, and I couldn’t imagine PA’ing without them.
We did tons of research to find the best brands for all the gear you’ll need to have as a PA, including things like this sweet multitool or fashionable waterproof boots. All the products we recommended have been investigated thoroughly by us to make sure they are of excellent quality.
Check it out! If you see something you like on the list, feel free to consider buying it! We get a small sales commission that helps us pump out more articles like this one.
Have A Positive Attitude
This is without a doubt the most important element on this list. It doesn’t matter if you have all the experience in the world and understand the job; if you want to climb the ladder, it’s a lot easier with a positive attitude. If you’re able to withstand all the stress the industry throws at you and keep a smile on your face, people will definitely want to keep you around.
This is almost more important for internal reasons than external. The stressful nature of the film industry leads to people often becoming consumed with hateful energy. Working 80-100 hour weeks in a high pressure environment will take a serious toll on you, and without a positive attitude you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with negative emotions. Sorry for getting all spiritual on you at the last minute here, but this is really critical.
Always remember that you only get one life, and that your happiness is more important than any job. If you’re climbing the ranks and find yourself hating it – stop. The money you make when you’re an AD will never be worth living a life you aren’t satisfied with. I say this because I know a few really successful people that have made it, but are completely jaded, self loathing, and convinced that life is supposed to be miserable. Never let your optimism and positive attitude die for some silly movies.