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How to Become a Production Assistant

  • Posted on 12th April, 2024
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Embarking on a career in film and TV often starts with the vital yet challenging role of a production assistant (PA). This entry-level position serves as a foundational step for those committed to making a mark in the industry. As a PA, you gain a front-row seat to the inner workings of a production, an experience that's invaluable for career progression. Whether you're aiming to ascend the ranks of the crew or simply have a zeal for the art of filmmaking, starting as a PA can be the perfect gateway. Many seasoned professionals across various production domains share a common starting point—their journey began as an assistant, laying the groundwork for their future successes.

What Does a Production Assistant Do?

A production assistant (PA) is a dynamic force on set, tasked with an array of critical duties that keep a shoot running smoothly. This jack-of-all-trades role may encompass anything from transporting equipment and coordinating extras to guiding principal actors, distributing scripts, managing shooting schedules, and ensuring footage is promptly delivered to the editing team. The position involves much more than just busy work; it's about maintaining the set's rhythm, handling logistics, and even stepping in to clean up or fetch coffee when needed.
In essence, the PA is the on-set go-to for tasks that keep the wheels of production turning. They seamlessly shift between departments, adapting to immediate needs—whether assisting with set design or tagging costumes. This versatility not only keeps the production afloat but also provides a PA with a broad experience across different facets of filmmaking.

Kaitlin Cornell, who has worked as a PA for Marvel Entertainment, sums it up well: "PAs are the first responders when the call for 'all hands on deck' is made. My own experience has ranged from administrative tasks to logistics management and even basic housekeeping like sweeping." She notes that starting as a PA lays the groundwork for advancing within any department, as every corner of a production set relies on the diligence and readiness of these pivotal team members.

Different Types of Production Assistants

Depending on the production size, there are three main types of PAs:

  • Field production assistants: This person works during the shooting of a film or series and is sometimes assigned to a specific department.
  • Office production assistants: This person performs clerical work in the production office, handling the paperwork involved in making a movie or series.
  • Postproduction assistants: This person helps the professionals who organise and finish the project after filming.

A Day in the Life of a Production Assistant

The life of a production assistant is defined by its variety and pace, with responsibilities that shift with the ebb and flow of the production's needs. Under the direction of key production assistants, assistant directors (ADs), and department heads, a PA's role is anything but static. You're guaranteed early mornings, constant movement, a flurry of diverse tasks, and a trusty walkie-talkie that almost becomes an extension of your hand. Yes, the hours are long and the work can be intense, but monotony is a foreign concept. As a PA, you're at the heart of cinematic storytelling, a key player in the magic that unfolds on screen.

For an immersive glimpse into the rhythm of a PA's day, consider a feature film set PA's detailed account—from the early stirrings at 4:20 a.m. to a well-earned lunch break at 1 p.m., every moment is a unique chapter in the unfolding narrative of film production.

How to Find Production Assistant Jobs

For those seeking entry into the dynamic world of film and television production, landing a job as a production assistant (PA) often begins through the power of networking and personal recommendations. However, in today's digitally connected world, job boards such as All Talent and Mandy, along with social media hubs like the Film Production & Jobs and Paid Film/TV Production Jobs: India Area groups, serve as vital resources for finding opportunities. Regularly monitor these platforms for updates and tailor your bookmarks to your job search interests.

When applying for PA positions, remember that professionalism is key. Equip yourself with a well-crafted résumé and a cover letter that explicitly states your interest in PA roles. For those aiming to rise from PA ranks to seasoned industry experts, consider setting your sights on the bustling hubs of India, Los Angeles, New York City, or Atlanta, which are fertile grounds for burgeoning film careers.

Beyond direct job applications, exploring internships and trainee programs can offer a structured introduction to the industry. These programs, often provided by major Hollywood studios and entertainment unions, can help you learn the ropes while forging invaluable connections within the field. For such internships, don't overlook the listings on comprehensive job sites like and Barefoot Student.

While there's no singular path to becoming a PA, proactive networking and self-promotion stand out as essential strategies. The often-shared wisdom for aspiring directors, cinematographers, production designers, costume designers, gaffers, and other film crew professionals is to start by gaining ground-level experience as a PA.

How to Network as a Production Assistant

The path to advancement and securing regular work as a production assistant (PA) is significantly influenced by one's ability to network and forge industry connections. Kaitlin Cornell emphasises the power of networking, sharing that opportunities can arise from unexpected sources. She found a pivotal PA position through her roommate's boyfriend, highlighting that it's not just about qualifications; often, a recommendation from someone within the industry can open doors more effectively than any job application.
Similarly, Aimee Wheelan, a U.K.-based production manager who started her career as a PA, attributes her job progression to the endorsements from her professional network. In an industry known for its demanding hours, she notes the importance of having a cohesive team that not only has the necessary skills but also works harmoniously together.
Jordan P. Anderson, a cinematographer and former PA, further underlines the importance of professionalism on set. He points out that while PAs are fundamental to a production, they must also know their role—being proactive without becoming an obstruction. A dependable and conscientious PA is an asset to any production, helping to propel the project forward efficiently.
In summary, to carve out a successful career as a PA, one should actively seek out and maintain industry connections, strive for excellence and reliability in their work, and always contribute positively to the team dynamic on set.

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