I’d love to” will become your mantra as a television P.A.
Thousands of college students, college graduates and even people with post-graduate degrees line up each year for the opportunity to land some kind of job on a TV show. The competition is fierce, and almost all TV producers, writers, directors and executives start out in the illustrious entry-level position of production assistant (or “P.A.”). Here’s open that first door.
Learn What a P.A. Does
A “P.A.” is a glorified schlepper. But think of the job as your hazing ritual into the fraternity or sorority of TV. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’ll make connections and move up the ladder.
The following are some of the tasks you may be asked to perform (all based on true “Hollywood” stories):
* Peeling carrots, on location, at the back of a rental truck, in a rainstorm
* Leaving the set every two hours to insert quarters in the meter where the director’s car is parked
* Purchasing $200 of extra-chunky mashed potatoes, then covering an actor’s costume in the goop
* Chopping fruits and veggies for the snack table
* Packing boxes for four days straight, moving the boxes out, bringing in new boxes, unpacking new boxes
* Driving around the city picking up props and delivering packages
* Bringing straws to talent who cannot drink water normally, lest it ruin their lipstick
* Defrosting frozen meat with a hair dryer for a show segment
* Cleaning up “the mess” horses leave behind on an animal program
* Dubbing tapes
* Delivering tapes
* Picking up tapes
* Watching dubbed tapes for hours to make sure that there aren’t any technical glitches
* Sitting around and doing absolutely nothing.
The day-to-day tasks are downright mundane and boring. But on the other hand, you have little to no production experience, and your film degree is of no help in this context. In fact, some bosses say they prefer hiring P.A.s without film degrees, because they come in knowing that they know nothing instead of believing they know everything.
Another word of warning: Millions of dollars are spent on TV productions, and there are people whose heads are on the line. One mistake could throw the entire production off track, off schedule and (undoubtedly) off budget. Word of a newbie P.A. screwing up and costing the production time and money will spread like wildfire. Your name will be impugned, and you will never work in this town again. So acknowledge that you are being set up to fail. Things go wrong on the set daily. Mostly, those things will be the P.A.’s responsibility. It might not even be your fault, but you’re at the bottom of the food chain, so you’ll be blamed. Grow a thick skin and get ready to take blame graciously.
And while most of the work can be annoying, it’s also an incredible opportunity to learn how a TV show gets made. That’s why so many people start out this way. When you’re a PA, you’ll learn about the whole process, from beginning to end. And if you’re good, you might get to do things like sit in on production meetings and observe the director or editor working.
Based on the types of tasks you will need to perform, you won’t be making big money in this position. A generous average for New York City is around $150 dollars a day, or about $500 a week. It could be less, but rarely much more. The work is not steady (who knows when a show could get canceled?), and there is no guaranteed income, no 401(k) and no health benefits. You could go a month or two (or three) without work. Many P.A.s end up living at home, or living with many roommates, or living in not-so-desirable locations. The lucky ones have their lives subsidized by their parents or spouses. At the end of the day, you could have a more steady income and lifestyle pumping gas or waiting tables than you will as a P.A.
But if you still want to be a P.A., you’re the exact kind of determined individual most productions are looking for.