I’m going through the mass amount of questions I’ve received and flagging the ones I want to answer and this one I had to answer right away.
You do NOT have to work for free. Ever. Set PAs do make money even on indie film. Hell, I’m Key Set right now on a bigger indie film. It’s not the best rate, but most PAs do get paid for their time.
Production Assistant sadly has this connotation attached to it of being the folks on set with the least experience and just right out of film school, but that’s honestly not reality for a lot of working PAs in the industry. It’s a very misunderstood department that’s more than just hauling tables and chairs everywhere. You have to be good with handling information, communicating, and diffusing situations. You have to be physically and mentally strong and able to take on whatever is thrown your way. I am short and I don’t drive so I make up for those things by being as strong as possible with my intuition - understanding the protocol and thinking ahead to accommodate the ADs and keep the set motivated and moving. PAing is not an intern job and I hate when I have to, as an AD, get free help for PAs because it means I spend time training instead of just doing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done the free PA thing. And some of my best PAs started off as free volunteers on either my show or another show. But it’s not the reality of the position. Maybe you do one small weekend gig or a feature where you work one or two days a week for free, but don’t expect to never make money as a PA and don’t think you can only get paid on big shows. Good producers know that hiring at least a couple paid PAs always pays off in the end. Always.
Movie Magic is the number one program I’ve seen. Occasionally, I’ve seen gorilla or scenechronize (however you spell that one) but the preferred one is Movie Magic Scheduling. I’ve had mine since 2010 and it’s been the best money I’ve ever spent in regards to my job.
There’s no easy advice I can give here. This is the fucking worst. It’s a pit in my stomach that I cannot handle. The only saving grace is that whenever directors and producers push out a competent AD from doing his/her job, they’re only hurting the production. Crew will get exhausted because information is not clear and the schedule is shot and then the quality of work will decline and the budget will go out the window as well.
Producers and directors who encourage and practice this type of behavior don’t go very far unless they are independently wealthy and can just make a bunch of shit films on daddy’s dime… in which case, you probably don’t want to be involved in that.
Adding and changing shots is normal, but “shooting until it’s done” is a dangerous mentality. An exhausted crew is a dangerous one that makes mistakes and can potentially harm people because they’re not treating safety as #1. Many crew members have fallen asleep at the wheel going home from a long day on set, several have died this way. It’s not as uncommon as people think.
A gentle yet firm conversation with the director and producer in regards to long days and the dangers of continuously going over schedule is important. You will probably want to hold that either at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day. Phrase it in a way that you’re thinking of quality as well as safety. Long days means mistakes that can show up on screen, such as continuity or rushed makeup and hair. Actors get flustered too when productions are rushing to finish because they’re constantly behind, which inevitably affects performance. Speaking in the director’s terms is important. You want the director to know you’re looking out for them by wanting to keep things as close to on schedule as possible. If they’re still being assholes about the whole thing, walk away. Don’t get riled up in front of them (I’ve made this mistake). It only makes them want you not involved in the process at all. Tell them you need to get back to the set and that he or she just needs to be a bit more mindful of the time so that everyone can make sure the shots look good.
If they continue to ignore your gentle requests for better timing, then it becomes a situation in which the crew takes notice and starts to complain. Department heads will complain to production if they feel like they’re not getting proper communication or input on things that affect their department. And they won’t blame you. Many will just start saying they can’t. They can’t do this. They can’t do that. They can’t, they won’t, and they don’t. They know this a good way to send a message to production about keeping to a schedule and not adding a bizillion shots or keeping them on set for 18 hours.
Whatever happens, don’t lose your cool and continue to communicate with crew as much as possible. Eventually, the producer will see how much money is being wasted on the director’s neglect and force the director to work faster. Or they won’t and the crew walks and the cast get frustrated and the movie turns to shit. Just know that this is not your fault and that you’re just doing your job.
Some ADs hold daily safety meetings. A lot don’t. I want to emphasize this as I’ve been given some grief from younger crew members who have only worked with ADs who do daily meetings at call. A lot of ADs, DGA and non, only hold safety meetings when one is needed. I am in that category. I hold safety meetings for stunts, animals, fire effects or any mechanical effects that could be dangerous, dangerous locations, or weather situations. Or if a crew member or cast member has been hurt and we have to address the situation.
I don’t hold a daily meeting because it takes time from the day and unless you’re dealing with one of the above situations, the call sheet is the thing that gives everyone the run down of the day. Are there times outside of the above situations in which I hold a meeting for? Sure! Sometimes blocking is tricky or a company move situation needs to be worked out. But at some point, you should trust that your production is understanding the day without having you hold their hands. They should know to watch out for cables on the ground, and not to just run into traffic. I’m not saying ADs who do the daily safety meeting are holding hands, but don’t get bent out of shape about the safety meeting. Just make sure you’re touching important matters like an escape plan during a dangerous stunt or fire exits, or things that are not clear to everyone and don’t sweat the small stuff.
I’m not going into rates here because that varies from production to production, state by state, and I’m not currently DGA (although actively putting my book together).
In regards to actors, the whole AD team interacts with them. You are not giving them their motivations and directing them, as a director would, but there’s a lot of logistics that go into even bringing an actor onto set. Your 2nd AD books the actors for their dates and times once casting has cast them. They work with agents, managers, producers, and production coordinators to make sure the actors have a roof over their head, their set dates, travel to set, and all their needs are met while with the production. They also help facilitate actors “going through the works” IE, getting their hair, makeup, and wardrobe done for a scene at basecamp. 2nd 2nds will also help with that process and make sure the actor travels from basecamp to set without getting lost or distracted. 2nd 2nds make sure the actors have water, script pages (sides), and know what scenes or angles they are currently working on. 2nd 2nds and PAs make sure that actors get their mics wired up and that hair and makeup and wardrobe are given time for last minute touch ups (“last looks”). The 1st AD receives the actor on set and either brings them to the director or shows them their marks for the scene. The 1st’s duties in regards to the actor depends on the dynamic the director wants to set. I’ve been on shows where I barely interact with the actors outside of making sure they head to lunch and calling for them to come back from basecamp. And other sets I’ve been told to give direction to the actors from the director. That is a conversation you should have with your director during pre-production and feel it out in the first day or so of production.
Once you join DGA, you can only work on DGA films. If you’re a PA, you can work on DGA shows but you cannot advance or be bumped up to an AD position.
I will say first of all, congratulations on the gig! ADing commercials is a whole different ballgame from features so I don’t have the most nuanced advice in that ring (as I’ve only AD’d a couple commercials officially). I will say that THIS ISN’T IT. What do I mean by that?
Don’t psych yourself out. This is the first of many projects and there is a forgiveness factor if you mess up as your first time doing a key position. Whatever you do, don’t get into the mindset that this is all going to be over if you fuck up. Because, believe me, you will fuck up. It’s a fact.
That said, try to just be polite, compassionate, and ask as many questions as possible. Don’t ever assume things have been done, communicated, or planned. Ask if these things have happened first. Crew may get annoyed thinking you should know, but the reality is that 90% of mistakes made on production come from assumptions being made. “Oh, I thought the coordinator was taking care of move maps!” “But I thought you had said we weren’t going to need the little girl today?” Quadruple check everything. Some things will slip through the cracks, but a whole lot less will when you are implementing a system of checks and balances.
Use your team wisely. Understand who they are, what their experience is, and deploy them knowingly so you can maximize their potential and create an effective AD/PA team.
Don’t cut producers out of the problem. You are not the sole problem solver. If something is stumping you logistically and the keys are not helping, pull in your set producer, present the problem and the solutions that could happen and see what they have to say. They are there to produce and that includes solutions when the set’s coming to a stall.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the gig. No matter what happens, it could always be worse.
because i could use that animated gif today.
Sound effect. If the physical actor does not need to come to set at all during production, then it’s labeled as a sound effect. But check with the producer first to make sure they are doing that voice over in post production. Sometimes they do want to capture the sound in production and will ask you to bring in the actor (in which case, it’s labeled as cast).
I like to indicate implied props in my breakdowns, but your art department will have a more detailed breakdown that you can also utilize to fill out your own.
As stated, film has its own terminologies and “roger” (and “wilco” for that matter) are just not used on film production walkie channels except for veeeerrrrry rarely. Again, this is regional. I’m sure there’s a few sets out there that use “roger” way more. But I just think it’s an archaic term the kids these days just are not using.
OMG IT'S A FILM PRODUCTION BLOG
Assistant Directors don't always yell. Sometimes we write about stuff. Because I'm a workaholic, I sometimes feel the need to document the things I see and the questions that are raised while going through the most insane process of making a director's dreams come true. About me: My name is Michelle. I am a (currently) non-union First Assistant Director working out of Austin, TX. I hope to one day join the DGA and direct my own scripts on the side, but until that time comes... Got questions? Comments? Complaints? A project you want me to AD? (I'm cheap!) Email me at - firstname.lastname@example.org You can also find me on the good ol' twitter - twitter.com/m0thra
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