There is a serious shortage of information regarding key production assistants on the internet, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to key set PAs!
The key set PA is basically the captain of the production assistant team. Typically the most experienced production assistant, the key set PA is responsible for managing the PAs and delegating tasks to keep the set running quickly and smoothly. On some shows they may get paid slightly more, and they will always receive much more respect in the industry for their additional responsibilities.
Generally, the people who choose to apply for the role of key set PA are those who are interested in working as an assistant director one day. The pay bump is not always present, and even if it is, the additional stress is often not worth it if you’re not working towards a future in production. The key set PA will almost always be hired to stay on for the entire duration of a show, so you won’t typically find day-player key PAs, unless someone got sick.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the in-depth breakdown of the job.
- 1 What Does The Key Set PA Do?
- 2 Essential Character Traits Of A Great Key Set Production Assistant
- 3 In Closing…
What Does The Key Set PA Do?
Here’s a rundown of all the additional tasks you will have to deal with once you begin working as a key set PA.
Directly Assist the Assistant Directors
All PA’s are basically assistants of the assistant directors, but as they key set production assistant, you’ll be their right-hand man. You’ll need to always be acting as a second pair of ears and eyes for your AD’s and watch out for their best interests. This means paying close attention to what shot and set up is happening, where the actors are, and what needs to get done. Always be listening very carefully on walkie.
You’ll need to prioritize the AD’s needs over everyone else’s. You’ll likely always be near them, ready to accomplish whatever task comes to their head. You might not need to do it yourself, but you need to make sure that what they need to happen, happens. This job demands that you think big picture, and if you can prove your ability to do that, you’ll have an easy time finding work as a 2nd 2nd AD.
Although you do have some authority, you are still far from completely autonomous. The ADs have the final word on everything, and you cannot make any significant decisions without their approval. You are an extension of the AD, and exist solely to allow them to do their job in the most efficient manner possible.
Management / Keeping Track of EVERYTHING.
You’re the boss! Don’t let it go to your head, because you are barely the boss. You are a PA, just like anyone else, except you have the added responsibility of making sure the other PA’s are doing their jobs.
Make sure your PA’s are yelling rolls, cuts, “pictures up”, and all the other essentials. Sometimes your AD’s won’t be doing a good job at echoing these things on walkies, so be ready to step up and be the one to do it.
As the key you are much more invested in how well the set is run than as a normal PA. This big jump in responsibility is the key to one day becoming a successful AD.
While it’s not uncommon to see the AD’s commanding PA’s directly, it is more common that the AD’s will communicate all instructions to the key production assistant first.
As the key set PA, you will constantly have information and demands unloaded upon you. It is then your job to effectively delegate these tasks among your fellow production assistants. This will take place on a day-to-day basis, as well as larger, long term scales.
A good key set production assistant will carefully monitor each PA’s performance and won’t be afraid to move their responsibilities around to suit their skills. If one PA is not very personable, you may want to avoid directing them to aid with the background. If another PA has bad organizational skills, probably try to have them avoid paperwork and walkies.
Lock-ups are a responsibility of all the production assistants, in which the PA team is evenly distributed around the set to keep people out of the shot and/or quiet.
This involves evenly distributing PA’s among the perimeter of the set, covering doorways, roads, and patrolling the crew to make sure they’re not making any noise.
Some shows will have a 2nd 2nd AD helping with this, but on the vast majority of shows, the key set pa will be responsible for placing PA’s in their lockups. For each setup, you will need to
This means you’ll also need to be the one to smack other PA’s on the wrist if they are breaking their lockup, because they are effectively making you look bad every time they screw up. The AD’s don’t know whether you placed your PAs poorly, or if the PAs screwed up, and 99 percent of the time, they don’t care. Keep your team on high alert in a calm and empathetic way to keep everyone on your side.
Take The Blame
Like any leadership role, being a good key PA means you’ll need to be ready and eager to take the blame for your team’s mistakes. If a lock-up is broken, people are going to be looking at you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Good production assistants are capable of saying “I apologize, that was my fault, it won’t happen again.”, and as a key, it’s critical that you’re able to do that too. A CEO is one hundred percent at fault for anything that happens in their company, and the same applies to all department heads.
Throwing other people under the bus is heavily frowned upon in the film industry, and whatever reprimanding you receive for just accepting responsibility will do far less long-term damage to your reputation.
On top of all of these additional responsibilities, the key set PA will have to take care of all the other tasks PAs do.
Sure, if you’re a prick, you could try to delegate every single task that comes by you, but your whole team will hate you, and you probably won’t be keeping your job for long.
On some shows, the key set production assistant might be the same person as the Distro or Walkie PA. Every show is different, but you can generally expect that you’ll be taking on more tasks if the show is on the smaller side.
Essential Character Traits Of A Great Key Set Production Assistant
Now that you’ve learned about all the different additional responsibilities that the key production assistant has to take on, here are the most important attributes that the best key PA’s have.
You need to be tough. No, not macho-man tough. Exactly the opposite actually. Production assistants get yelled at enough as it is, and as the key, you’ll have the most responsibility out of anyone.
As you are a key representative of the production department, you’ll often find yourself butting heads with the other departments. Sometimes department heads can become very emotionally charged and irrational, and it is your duty to remain calm, and handle things in a mature, respectful fashion – even when you’re getting cursed at.
You may technically be a “Department head”, but you’re still a PA, and will not receive the same amount of respect as a proper Assistant Director. However, there is a way to earn an equal amount of respect; by giving it. If you can keep your cool and handle confrontation properly, you’ll be beloved among all of the departments.
All production assistant jobs demand a certain amount of confidence. You will constantly be shoved outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll need to be able to react without hesitation.
I’ve seen some (rather unprofessional-acting) Assistant Directors storm off and put the key set PA in complete control of running the set. The key, of course, was experienced with AD-ing on indie films, so he could handle it, but what if he wasn’t?
Point is, when you are a PA, or especially a key set PA, you’ll need to be confident enough to tackle tasks that you aren’t completely comfortable with. Hesitation and fear will have a very negative effect on a PA’s potential career, and as a leader, how can you expect the rest of the team to be confident if you aren’t?
You’ll be the first PA in and the last PA out, almost always. Being a PA is stressful enough as it is, so the ability to handle additional responsibilities is reserved for only the most hard working individuals. Being the key set PA is often very unfair, as the pay bump is not always there, but if you want the job you’ll need to be able to see further than that.
This is the only real way to gather the experience necessary to begin working as an assistant director. The production crew is one of the hardest working departments in one of the hardest working industries in the world, so you’ll have to have enough sheer will to survive.
Oh, by the way, if you thought being a Key set PA was hard, it’s a hell of a lot less stressful than being an AD. So if you’re too lazy for this job, it’s definitely not getting any better once you get “promoted”.
Hopefully this guide was helpful to you! If you have anything you think we should add, or if you think we got anything wrong, please leave a comment below! Thanks for reading.