SOYOUWANNA BE A TV PRODUCTION ASSISTANT?
The average American household watches 7.25 hours of television every day. But you are anything but average - you watch 12 hours every day! Just look at all of the important things you know:
- You know who shot J.R.
- You know who killed Laura Palmer.
- You remember how Lucy told Ricky that they were going to have a baby.
- You can recite Susan's "snake-and-rat" speech from the Survivor finale verbatim.
- You remember exactly where you were when Susan Lucci finally won her Emmy and you wept.
We know - you're not like other aspiring TV wannabes. This really is your destiny. You cherish every close-up of a tear falling, every dramatic pause, every laugh track. You're the kid who started making home movies at the age of five; you were handed the video camera at family events and were director, producer, and star. You know that you were meant for TV!
Yeah, you and thousands of others. We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but you're a dime a dozen. There are thousands of college students, college graduates, and even those with post-graduate degrees lining up each year for the opportunity to land some kind of job on a TV show. The competition is fierce, but don't fret - we can help you get your start. Almost all TV producers, writers, directors, and executives start out in the illustrious entry-level position of Production Assistant (or "P.A." to those in-the-know). Here's how to open that first door.
You know that a P.A. gig is your best chance to get into the television biz, but do you really know what the job entails? We're not going to beat around the bush: a P.A. is a glorified schlepper. The work is crappy! But think of it this way: This is your hazing ritual into the Fraternity or Sorority House of TV. Once you're in, you're in. You'll make connections, move up the ladder, and when the show gets cancelled after 4 weeks, you might have met someone who can help you into a better position on their next crappy show.
The following are some of the exciting tasks you may be asked to do. (Note that all of these are 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 and then covering an actor's costume in the goop.
- Endless hours of 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 their water and mess up 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.
- Dubbing new tapes.
- Watching dubbed tapes for hours to make sure that there aren't any technical glitches.
- Sitting around and doing absolutely nothing until someone screams at you.
We know what you're thinking. "Whoaaa there, Charlie, I didn't go to college and pay thousands of dollars getting a degree/post-graduate degree to peel fruit all day!" Well, you're right and you're wrong. The day-to-day tasks are downright mundane, boring, and ARE probably beneath you. But on the other hand, you have little-to-no production experience. Your film degree is worthless. In fact, some individuals will confess that they prefer hiring P.A.s without film degrees because they come in knowing that they know nothing instead of believing they know everything.
And with this great news, here's 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 please 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 get blamed. So grow a thick skin and get ready to take blame graciously.
We're not trying to be negative; it's just that most people expect to be sitting next to the director, offering tips on how to make Friends even funnier, only to be devastated when they end up watching the second assistant director's car for 5 hours to make sure it doesn't get towed. And while most of the work is annoying, it's also an INCREDIBLE opportunity for you 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 the really cool things like sitting in on production meetings and observing the director or editor working.
Based on the types of tasks you will need to do, you can bet you won't be making the big bucks 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, rarely much more. The work is not steady (who knows when a show could get cancelled?), there is no guaranteed income, no 401(k), no health benefits. You could go a month or two (or three) without work. Many P.A.s end up living at home, living with many roommates, or living in not-so-desirable locations. The lucky ones have their lives subsidized by their parents or spouses, but not all of us are so indulged. 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.
Still want to be a P.A.? If so, then you're the exact kind of determined individual most productions are looking for! So read on.