How to Become a Production Assistant and Start Your Hollywood Career

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Production assistant jobs are the first step to a long career in Hollywood. Often to referred to as PAs, production assistants help out the cast and crew with everything from grabbing them coffee to helping the director of photography adjust the lighting. This is an entry-level position for people who want to get their foot in the door of the entertainment industry.

Although Hollywood seems like an elusive world, it’s not that different from other industries. You will have to pay your dues and climb up the ladder to become successful.

Paying your dues, in this case, means having a low production assistant’s salary and working long, demanding hours. But those demanding hours will make your career in Hollywood.

How to Become A Production Assistant

Production Assistant Job Description

How to Become a Production Assistant and Start Your Hollywood Career - Film Set PA

The short version? Whatever anyone tells you to do. You are the on-set gopher, and that’s true whether you have a production assistant job in NYC or a production assistant job in Los Angeles.

But that’s not helpful, so here’s a partial list of some of a production assistant’s duties:

  1. Organize food or catering.
  2. Make copies of scripts.
  3. Manage paperwork (time sheets, scripts, contracts).
  4. Control crowds.
  5. Transport the cast and crew between locations.
  6. Move around equipment.
  7. Answer important phone calls.
  8. Get the cinematographer his pumpkin spice latte

Again, a production assistant’s duties are anything that is asked of them. Be ready for anything, and most importantly, be ready to learn fast.

Depending on the size of the shoot, you may not have much time to train, so ask questions and be perceptive.

BE SAFE

It’s important to know that what the production assistant job description does not include is anything unsafe or illegal.

No matter what happens, no shoot is worth compromising yourself or your safety. Production assistants don’t have much power but speak up if something is wrong. Go to the production coordinator, unit production manager, or 1st AD if you have to.

But never be afraid to walk. Your production assistant’s salary and even those connections you could have made aren’t worth you putting yourself in danger.

How to Become a Production Assistant

Most production assistant jobs are in Los Angeles, although there are also production assistant jobs in NYC.  The good news is that these are all entry-level positions.

No degree or previous experience needed, although having a film or communications degree certainly wouldn’t help.

Your first port of call should be job boards, like ProductionBeast. There you can also gauge what the average production assistant’s salary is in your area.  

You’re working as a freelancer now, so it’s important to maintain a good budget, and that means you need to be able to answer: “how much a does production assistant make” when your parents inevitably ask.

If you’re working production assistant jobs in NYC or Los Angeles, you may need to factor in other jobs in order to keep a roof over your head.

If you’ve been making friends in the industry, let them know you’re trying to get on set. They might slip you in on their next shoot as a film PA.

Before looking for production assistant jobs on a major film or tv show, you should start off with small gigs to gain more experience, contacts, and a deeper understanding of what you want from your career.

These gigs can include independent films, short films, or commercials. Regardless, you should aim for on set production jobs if you want to get a headstart on that career path.

When hiring, production companies mainly look for experience and recommendations from previous employers. Hence, it’s important for you to do a great job during your first gigs so you gain a respectable reputation in the industry.

These first gigs also include any other jobs you’ve held over your education or career -- you just need to prove that you’re a hard and dedicated worker.

Production Assistant Skills

Production assistant jobs are just the first step on the ladder. You want to go places now that you’re an actual film PA, right?  The first thing you need to do is be the best film PA you can be.

How do you do that?

Social Skills

Yes, surprisingly, social skills are one of the most important parts of a production assistant’s job description.

In the entertainment industry, you’re going to deal with some eccentric personalities. Since you’re working an entry-level entertainment job, you should be extra kind, hospitable, and polite.

You need to have grace under fire and handle pressure well. It only gets more intense from here.

This might mean that production assistant jobs in NYC require a little more patience than others.

Just kidding, New York.

You’ll also be asked to ferry communications back forth, and stand up to important people when locking down a set. Have confidence in yourself, and don’t back down just because someone’s trying to bully you.

Social skills are also key in getting new jobs and moving up the ladder.

The entertainment industry is all about who you know to help you get ahead. You’re going to need to put yourself out there and attend networking events and join Facebook groups to create a reliable network for future gigs.

Follow-up emails go a long way. Be sure to add every shoot you work on to your ProductionBeast profile so you stay connected with all your crewmates.

Learn fast

Production assistants are there to help, but also to learn. So be open-minded about what you’re asked to do.  Just because it’s not part of your career path doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it.

By the same token, be flexible and responsible.  Even the lowest level film job is a lot of responsibility.  They’re counting on you to get that coffee and control those crowds.  Without either, the film may not get made.

For more specific advice, you can check out the Anonymous Production Assistant, a production assistant blog dedicated to answering all your questions about being a PA.

What is a Production Assistant's Salary?

Since these jobs are entry level, production assistants don’t make a lot of money and tend to work long hours.

However, you should look at film production jobs and TV production jobs as a long-term investment. Yes, you will at least be working 14 hour days. But the connections and knowledge you will gain are incredibly valuable.

So, how much does a production assistant make?

The national average production assistant salary is $32,000. The average salary for production assistant jobs in Los Angeles is $29,000. On the other hand, the average for production assistant jobs in NYC is $37,900

Even though year-long production assistant jobs do exist, most of them are short-term gigs.

TV production assistant jobs last the duration of a TV season, while film production assistant jobs end once shooting has wrapped up.

As a result, your average production assistant salary is hourly or daily, not annually. This can be as low as minimum wage ($12 an hour for production assistant jobs in Los Angeles and $11 an hour for production assistant jobs in NYC as of October 2017).  

It can sometimes be higher.  Either way, remember that you have overtime rights as mandated by law.  If they want you to work fourteen hours days, they have to pay for it.

If you’re a production assistant with no experience in Los Angeles, you will most likely start off with day wages for short-term projects.

However, some projects don’t pay at all. When you first start off your career, you should expect to work for smaller productions like actor film-reels, film school projects, or low-budget commercials. These projects tend to pay either below average or nothing at all.

Remember, even if a production assistant salary is low, the most important aspect of these jobs isn’t the salary but rather the experience you get.

Wrapping up

Production assistant job duties can range from seemingly irrelevant chores to jobs that can make or break a set.

Unlike a lot of entertainment industry jobs, they’re all over the country. There are production assistant jobs in NYC, there are production assistant jobs in Los Angeles, there are ever production assistant jobs in Atlanta.

It’s the first step in your career. Are you ready to start this journey?

Make a profile on ProductionBeast and start applying for jobs. Reach out to your friends and tell them you’re ready to get on set.

They’re waiting for you.

Experienced PA’s (that is, all of you) did we miss anything important? What do you want to tell the PA’s coming behind you?  Let us know in the comments below.

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