What is the assistant directors department?
The core of the Assistant Directing Department is made up of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd ADs and an army of runners also known as set PAs/production assistant and floor runners depending on the type of production you are working on. The AD Department is primarily concerned with the movement of the crew, the schedule of the work and the logistics of filmmaking. The larger the production, the larger the crew and cast, the larger the AD Department. The 1st AD will be running the set actioning any decisions made by the director and other HoDs (Heads of Department). This leaves the director free to work with the actors and concentrate on the creative decisions of the day. When filming the 2nd AD will be responding to the needs of the 1st, navigating cast around wardrobe and makeup, while generating the callsheet for the next day, logging and reporting key information of the days work for the production office. The 3rd will be working alongside the 1st onset, positioning the background actors, looking after the cast (while on set), implementing any lock-offs and running the team of floor runners. They are also responsible for logging and distributing radio’s to both the AD team and the whole crew.
ADs bridge the gap between the production office and set, the crew and the cast. They liaise and coordinate with each department, and are the lynch pin of the operation during production. The ADs rely on their team of floor runners to facilitate the smooth running of the shoot, a small four man team on an indie to an eighteen man team on a studio production. The runners who are brought in to assist ADs in their work need to prove their worth quickly, hard working capable runners will not be short of job offers. However, the role of floor runner it is the most sought after entry level position, so believing yourself to be irreplaceable would be foolhardy, there are always new CVs on the 2nd ADs desk.
how do i start a career as an assistant director?
If you are entering the film industry not having fully made up your mind which department to pursue, the odds are you’ll be looking for work as a floor runner, also known as a set production assistant, set PA. All these terms are one and the same, but the American term PA has become widely adopted by the UK film industry, so expect to hear both terms alternated frequently. If you are working on a big budget production, the term PA is most commonly used, and you can find production assistant’s attached to each department (camera, costume, art, etc.). Most likely at the beginning of your career, you'll be working on small independent films that are shot in three weeks rather than three months.
The network you build while working on indies, alongside your developing CV, will enable you to branch out to find work in commercials, TV drama, high-end corporate videos and music videos. This greatly increases your chances of finding regular work, and if you are aiming to work on the bigger budget productions and studio features, you will need all the experience you can get. When choosing from the stack of CVs 2nd ADs may choose to work with people they already know, which is why your CV needs to scream experience and leave them in no doubt you can fit into an established team.
If you're unsure which department you would like to work in, starting out as a runner can allow you the time to explore your options. However, it’s advisable to make decisions early on in your career as all roles in the industry require an element of apprenticeship, so you will end up starting at the bottom of the ladder if you decide to switch roles. Experienced ADs are used to hearing "I’m only a floor runner so I can become an actress/camera operator/set designer", be careful when exhibiting this attitude as you will find it limits the amount of energy and time your superiors are willing to put into training you.
Floor runners are located at base and on set, supporting the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ADs. The entry level runner positions on big budget productions are daily runners (bought in for ad hoc day work), lock-off runners (more hands needed to be positioned around an area if working in a busy location) and crowd runners (helping the 3rd AD). Don’t be under any illusion that the job is going to be glamorous, or get you where you want to go quickly. It takes most people anywhere between two to five years to find yourself working on big budget productions, so expect to put your time in on independent films of modest budgets first.
WHO IS IN THE AD’S DEPARTMENT?
The AD Department hold the three people who run the set for the duration of the shoot. The 1st and 2nd ADs are bought in for pre-production to hire their production assistants; the 1st will be working out the shooting schedule, which will need to factor in location, actor availability, hours, and budget. The three key players are:
The 1st AD who starts work in pre-production, breaking down the script to create the shooting schedule. They work in close collaboration with the director and take the opportunity during pre-production to fully understand the director’s vision and their requirements for principle photography. The 1st will also work with the UPM in the production office on matters of crew, budget and kit hire. The 1st/UPM relationship is as important as the 1st/director; they need to work in synchronicity to assure the smooth running of the production. During the shoot the 1st can be found next to the director or the camera, they call the action, make sure the day runs to schedule, liaises with crew and can spend a majority of their day trouble shooting. No matter how well the shoot has been organised, somewhere a spanner will be thrown, and all eyes will rest on the 1st AD to sort it out.
The 2nd AD supports the 1st AD with the tremendous workload but will pay attention to the logistics offset at base camp. They will be amending the shooting schedule on a daily basis; software is usually used for this called Movie Magic Scheduling. The 2nd is across transportation of actors and crew, making sure actors and extras are moved to wardrobe, makeup or the holding area. Liaising with the locations team if working on location. The 2nd AD will generate all the paperwork including the sides and call sheet for the following day. The 2nd AD usually does the hiring of floor runners.
The 3rd ADs role is primarily to deal with the background action, and managing the running team alongside the 2nd and 1st. If you are working at the top end of the industry the 3rd AD role is usually the job you acquire after working as the key PA.
WHAT types of runner are there on a big budget feature?
Runners/PAs are found in almost every department such as camera, costume, locations etc. if the budget will allow. Many of the following positions will only be found on big budget production (studio and indie), on the low to micro-budget productions there will be a team of floor runners rather than designated types of PA.
Key PA who is the ‘go to’ PA for the 3rd AD. They often step in to cover the 3rd if they need to leave set, and primarily look after the cast and their movements and requirements while on set.
Cast PA. Attached to the principle cast. They are responsible for getting cast members to set, lunch and will perform any tasks that need attending to. This is not the same as the actor’s assistant; the cast PA is more of a logistical and communications role attached to the AD Department.
Crowd PA. Will work closely with the background actors making sure they are getting through hair, makeup and wardrobe. Moving them on and off set quickly and quietly, and making sure they are looked after. They will often support the 3rd by keeping notes about the continuity of the background in the scene.
Walkie PA. Normally the responsibility of the 3rd AD, but often a member of the running team takes on this role if working with a large crew. Walkie-talkies are the lifeblood of the film set and are heavily embedded in the ADs world. Without someone being responsible for charging batteries and logging them in and out, batteries can get lost, or an antenna can remain damaged.
Additional/daily PAs are brought in on a daily basis as and when required. Usually, if there is a second unit or the production has a large number of cast or extras that day. These are roles to look out for if you have experience on some low budget features or drama on your CV and want to work on higher budget features.
WHAT IS GOOD WALKIE ETIQUETTE?
Knowing how to use your walkie will be a vital component to your job. Always use your name to identify yourself and identify who you are trying to contact, wait for their response before asking the question. Remember, there is always someone listening so keep it concise and please don’t mess about. Here are some key phrases and information you should know for when you're handed your first walkie-talkie:
Lock-off the... You will hear this all day long. If working in a studio, someone will ‘sussh’ those hanging around outside the studio door and flick on the red light and ring the bell. If working on location, you can be placed in a road halting pedestrians so they do not enter the shot. This is the most important call to listen for on your walkie; if you miss it the background could receive a few extra talent and you a P45.
Walkie channels. Channel 1 on the walkie is usually for production, while channel 2 is for private conversations. The rest of the channels will be assigned by department. Make sure you get a list of the assigned channels on your first day, keep it safe.
Rolling/turning or turning over. Wherever you've been placed when the 1st calls for the camera to turn over, you will be required to ‘echo’ the 1st AD when they announce it. This makes other crew members aware of what is going on, even if you are far away from set.
Copy! Make sure you announce that you have heard and understood instruction.
What’s your 20? usually means ‘where are you’, and if they're asking you’re probably in the wrong place.
10-1 means someone has taken a bathroom break, and they will be back when they’re back.
WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE FLOOR RUNNER/PA?
Knowing what your responsibilities are on any given job will make you a better runner. You will be called upon to:
Work to instruction.
First thing in the morning the 2nd AD will have a whole host of jobs for you to attend to, signing up trailers, getting breakfast for cast, making coffee for the 1st - to name but a few. Once on set the 3rd AD and 1st will also have jobs to be carried out. You will need to be able to listen and act on instruction quickly and efficiently. If you're being asked to do something by the 1st directly, get to it quickly! Instructions given by the ADs will be important to the running of the day, a swift resolution to any problems will be essential, and if you're ever unsure of what you're being asked to do never assume - just ask them. You're working on the lowest rung of the ladder; no one expects you to know everything.
Lock-off the set.
When the is camera turning it will be your job to keep members of the public away from the scene, either redirecting them or letting them through once the camera has cut. The larger the budget, the more likely the location will be cordoned off for the duration of the shoot, with local police directing traffic and pedestrians along other routes (under the direction of the location PAs).
Managing crew logistics.
Making sure that crew are aware of any logistical changes throughout the day, change of set up, where kit can be safely stored out of shot and making sure crew know where to find lunch/tea/coffee/production office/toilets, etc. If security is unavailable, you will be called upon to stay with the kit while the crew are away.
Tea and coffee deliveries.
During the day the main members of crew will not be able to leave equipment or the set. It is a fundamental responsibility of the running team to make sure the cast and crew have all the food and drinks they require throughout the day.
At the beginning of the day, you will be called upon to deliver the ‘sides’ to members of each department. At the end of the day, you will need to provide call sheets to all members of the crew which are supplied by the production office. The 2nd AD produces this document to the 1st’s instruction which is then printed via the production office runner and distributed by the floor runners.
PAs are the main communicative instrument on a film set. They should be able to tell any crew member what is next on the schedule if they ask, or what is happening on set at that exact minute. Production assistants should have one ear open for their walkie and the other to listen to the instructions given to them from the ADs or key PA.
Stand by the open trucks.
If they are left unattended by the other departments. Most of the vehicles will be left open to allow quick access for crew members to grab what they need.
Know where the cast are.
You will be required to know where the actors are at all times, once the set is ready and the 1st calls you can invite them straight to set to avoid any delays.
Red light and bell.
In a studio, there is a red light and bell which enables crew and cast (exterior to the set) to know when the camera is turning. It is the job of the runner to turn on the red light, when asked by the 1st, before every take. At the same time, the bell is rung (one long ring) so that the crew in the studio know to stop work while the camera is turning. When the camera is cut the runner turns off the light and rings the bell again (two short rings) so that everyone knows work can continue. You will be shown how to work this system, but checking where the light and bell are when entering a new studio is always useful.
As well as ringing the bell and turning on the red light (if you are in a studio) the whole AD Department echo the 1st ADs instructions.
WHAT OTHER AREAS OF THE INDUSTRY CAN I FIND SET PA/RUNNER WORK?
Set PAs/runners can be found on a variety of short and longer term engagements such as:
What is the difference on an indie vs a studio production?
You may find working on an independent and a studio feature will feel pretty similar. If you’re working with a team of 18 runners or working with a smaller team of 4 or 5 on an independent production, you will be on your feet just as much, working just as hard, dealing with many of the same issues. Independent films obviously don’t have the backing of a major financial power source behind them. Every penny will be allocated, which means kit hire, cast/crew wages and location fees have been entered into a budget with little room for manoeuvre. Just because it’s an independent production doesn't necessarily mean it will have a low budget, but as you're starting out as a runner, you may find yourself on many a low to medium budget independent film. On a low budget feature you might encounter:
Longer hours. Finances will dictate that the shooting schedule needs to be complete before anyone can go home. When going into overtime the 1st AD will ask if people mind staying on, don’t be surprised if some members of the crew walk off set. You always have the choice so do what’s right for you.
Less cash means fewer people. The larger departments such as Art Department can be more moderate on a production of a lesser budget.
Your pay can be very low on a low budget feature, make sure to find out what they're paying before accepting any position. It’s not unheard of for runners to assume they're being paid when in fact they're working for expenses. No one likes talking money, but negotiating your rate will be a feature of your career - so be bold and ask the questions.
You’ll be pitching in more (although always observe good set etiquette and remember never touch equipment without asking), carrying the gear, and if there is no location team co-ordinating light traffic control.
Decisions are made quickly on indie productions; this is because - 1. Time is money, and the 1st will not tolerate procrastination, and 2. the director will not have to cross check with members of the studio over little details of costume, lighting, action.
Working on lower budget films can be hard work, sadly this is where the industry loses many talented individuals who decide it isn’t the right path for them; some go on to work in other areas of the industry while others leave altogether. If you manage to stay the course and work on the bigger budget studio productions, you'll find that more money makes a difference in working hours and your pay. Some of the main differences you may notice will be:
The decision process is much slower. When any creative decisions are being discussed the director will need to defer to the producers and execs for their approval before shooting can commence, acquiring formal sign off is imperative. Much of this would have been discussed in pre-production, but last minute changes are always a possibility.
Better resource due to an expansive budget. More crew can be brought into a production if it's running behind, departments manage their own budget but can go to the UPM if there are any extra costs. Many hands make light work, so the staffing levels of the Art Department on a studio production, for example, can run into the hundreds.
Better catering. It sound simple, but those long days are going to require fuel - you know the expression ‘an army marches on its stomach’ - well you do now. Runners cannot live on nervous energy alone, and a nice team of caterers can make all the difference (when you get the chance to grab lunch that is).
Better organisation. More hands in the production office and on set often lead to a well-run shoot, it's not always the case as some high-end features do run over schedule due to a variety of circumstances and interventions - but at least you'll be getting paid. You can have the same team of ADs and PAs on a low budget and a top end budget, their approach to the production will be the same, but they can only work with the resources they're given.
What is the difference when working on a commercial as a runner?
Despite the same crew and set etiquette, a commercials set moves very quickly, there is rarely time to waste. Seasoned crew who work on commercials regularly know the days will be long and the pressure will be felt to make those 30 seconds look spectacular.
The main difference you may notice is the addition of the creative agency who will be on set monitoring the progress of the commercial. The commercials director will be liaising with the creative company while pushing forward the collective vision for the commercial, making sure they stay on message - the 1st AD making sure they stay on schedule.
Due to the collaborative overlap, working on a commercial can mean long hours as signing off on a shot requires more than one tick. There is more pressure on the crew to get the shot with less time available, so runners can be lifting, carrying and cabling with everyone else. On smaller budget commercials there may also be less crew, and the product or pack shot can be left to the runners to set up, it takes many hands to move 100 boxes of washing powder.
WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH FOR A FLOOR RUNNER?
With some short films under your belt, and a good grasp of what it takes to be a floor runner the next step is working on features. These might not be the big budget blockbusters shot at Pinewood just yet (although if you see an opportunity apply) but smaller scale, low budget independent productions that are shot in three weeks rather than three months. It’s worth remembering that if you wish to progress in features, you need to be working on productions that harbour the same crew and maintain the same discipline, if you divert via TV it can be hard to cross over at a later date.
While working on low budget productions you will be meeting a host of other professionals from all departments, make sure to throw inhibition to one side and introduce yourself to as many people as possible in those first few days. With a few years under your belt, you'll find roles in the AD Department change depending on the type of production you are working on. For example, you can be working as a key PA on a studio film, 3rd AD on a TV drama, 2nd on a commercial, 1st AD on a short film. Experience is the key when working in the AD Department in the UK, competence and professionalism are vital when moving up the ladder.
After a few years, and some weighty credits behind you, the most obvious progression is looking for key PA roles on bigger budget features and work your way along the chain of command. Knowing where you're going is vital to your success in the industry. While you're engaged in the less than glamorous tasks - such as furniture removals, litter picking and becoming a part-time barista - keep your eyes on the prize and your hard work should eventually pay off. Ultimately, you may decide that working on set isn’t for you; you may prefer to work on your own short films instead. The film industry is tough to get into, but it’s harder to get out of, so knowing the realities of the job from the beginning is the best way for you to decide what path will suit you best.
HOW DO I FIND WORK AS A Floor RUNNER?
Floor runners are always in demand, especially good ones. This is, however, one of the more competitive entry level positions, some people intend to stay in the department, others wish to use the experience to move into other areas of production. The floor runner position is by no means the only way into the industry; if you're interested in a singular area such as Camera or Art Department, read the camera and art career guides on the MFJF website to assess your options. If you want to become an AD then working as a floor runner is where your journey begins. If your heart is set on working on those big budget films, you're going to need to do some groundwork first. If you are coming into the film industry as a career change, then you need to know that your initial experiences to fill out your CV are not going to be well paid, if indeed paid at all.
If you have written filmmaker or DoP on the front of that CV, take a moment to re-write it to floor runner or set PA. ADs will be looking for candidates with some practical experience and a can-do attitude over academic qualifications. They're going to want to know from your CV you are prepared to listen, work hard, be proactive and have a real drive to work in the film industry. When working on your CV check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the CV advice to create a CV and covering letter; you can check your CV against our example CVs to see if it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep your CV short, and to the point, ADs are interested in your work experience to date, not your hobbies and interests. You will also come to realise that ADs place value on being concise on and off the set, write what you need to don't embellish.
Finding work and applying for positions can be a full-time job in itself. Some people will get lucky, finding work almost instantaneously after graduation. Some may have put in the hours on short films while they are studying, creating themselves a network to utilise upon graduation. Some people might just be in the right place at the right time. In whatever situation you find yourself, the resounding advice from professionals working in the film industry is to be persistent; persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your chosen career. Keep checking the MFJF job opportunities and collaborations board, applying for positions, sending emails, and keep an eye on the British Film Council, Facebook’s UK Production News and The Knowledge noticeboards to see what is going into production.
You should have a clear idea of where you are going from the outset, be honest with yourself and have your main objective in your mind's eye at all times. Do you want to direct, produce, costume design, be a grip or a spark? Think carefully, conduct research and see where your natural aptitudes take you. If you want to work in the Camera or Sound Department, make it your focus, but don’t forget to take time and learn what it takes to be a great floor runner if you're applying for those positions. Some of the resources at your disposal on your hunt for information, and to find out what it's like working as a floor runner/production assistant, are:
If you're asked in for an interview or get a phone call asking if you can start tomorrow, you need to demonstrate your eagerness and passion for the work. When asked if you can start the next day your answer is 'yes' by the way. Alongside researching and knowing back to front the workings of a set, you may also wish to continue your reading, hit the library to find the following books:
One of the central questions new entrants to the industry ask is "All the entry level jobs are asking for experience, how do I get experience?". It's a good question to ask. If you want to work in production one way of gaining experience would be to work on collaborations. These are mainly short films or student productions, produced by the NFTS or film schools who bring in a professional crew to fill some of the roles, so despite working on a student production, you never know who you may meet.
Although we do recommend collaborations, do your research first to find out who is going to be working on the production. Student films will be backed by the university so you know a budget is in place and insurance will be taken care of. If you are working on a short film with people you don’t know make sure to check out the producer's track record and back catalogue of work, you want to know they are following best industry practice and will be running the production properly. This means the production will be insured, catering (or at least some form of feeding the crew) has been devised, there is a schedule that is realistic and location, transport and travel plans are all considered. If it’s a friend you’re helping out then obviously you will be less rigorous in assessing these things, everyone likes helping out their friends if they can, even if it means long hours and a sandwich for supper.
The likelihood is you will be working for expenses on many short films, make sure that's the case, always talk money before you agree. So, although you may not be financially remunerated, you need to be certain to come away from the production with what you need. The experience of working on a properly run shoot with members of crew who are working in the industry, a familiarity of the role of set PA, making some contacts who are working in the industry and adding a credit to your CV. Although inadvisable to turn down an opportunity, if your gut feeling is you’re not going to get these things, (you will know within the first five minutes) you could decide to say thanks, but no thanks, and look for the next opportunity. Without these first few steps where you can demonstrate related experience, your CV will most likely find it’s way into the ADs bin.
As the film industry is fiercely competitive, you need to use all resources available to you. Alongside the opportunities we list here on MFJF, you can also look to our resources section to see other available options or collaborations. University websites have noticeboards, or areas of their website, that are dedicated to collaborations or swaps. If you're living in a town with a university that has an MA film course, keep checking to see if they are crewing up or needed any extra help. This route may not get you where you want to go quickly, but it will certainly help flesh out your CV, make some contacts and get some references - which is essential.
The network you build, alongside your developing CV, will enable you to look for work elsewhere such as commercials, tv drama, corporate videos and promos. If you have collaborated with other PAs ask them to keep you in mind for when they're unavailable to work, referrals are a great way of getting your foot in the door. Remain in contact with everyone you meet, send the odd email, social media is a great way to stay in touch. Use your time to create opportunities, please don’t wait for them to come to you. Being able to branch out into other areas, such as TV drama or working within the production company office, commercials company (both can take on in-house runners on short contracts when they get busy) can significantly increase your chance of finding regular employment.
Personality and Attitude
If you're going to work as a runner, especially on features, you're going to need to ask yourself some questions. Are you prepared to work over 12 hour days? Will you have the stamina to work night shoots? Can you cope with standing outside a truck in the middle of winter for three hours straight? Can you survive on the pay? If you arrive at a location without waterproofs can you cope with being soaked all day with no opportunity to go and get some? If the answer is yes then you certainly have the right attitude for the position of a runner, let’s not kid ourselves it’s going to be tough - but a lot of fun too.
While you're toughing it out you're going to need to provide for yourself financially as work can be sporadic. If you find yourself waiting tables, working behind a bar or pouring coffee it’s relatively the same starting wage as a runner, except you get tips! Your pay is most likely going to be low for the first few years of your career, if you have no external source of income you may wish to consider saving up before you embark on your career plan.
Although you may not think it, the skills you are developing in these service industry jobs will serve you well and can be the attributes employers are looking for to fill the position. You will be on your feet, working long hours, need to be adaptable and always have a smile on your face. These jobs can also have the flexibility for you to take leave when an opportunity arises, so you can work for a few weeks on set and go back to a paying job at a later date.
At times it can feel frustrating when you’re not getting the roles you want, keep in mind the advice on being relentless and go back to your CV, contemplate what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect on the reasons your CV is not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, or that your running experience has previously been in the non-production side of the industry; it could be the way your CV is presented. Go through it, and remember to give yourself the best possible chance by finding out who to address your CV to, get on the phone and make some calls.
Although the industry is incredibly flexible when it comes to changing career, if you’re applying for positions in another area of the industry you will need to be clear why you want to make the change, and give examples of what you have been doing to facilitate the move.
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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK IN THE AD’S DEPARTMENT?
As you will no doubt know production assistants/runners are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to job hierarchies. If you've just graduated and found yourself working as a runner be prepared to work some very long days for very little money. Although a degree will be beneficial to you personally, don't be surprised if your academic education is valued very little on set. What is valued is attitude, experience, ability to make good tea/coffee, take instruction, professionalism, multitasking, proactively assess what needs doing. It's having the confidence to tell the key grip they can't go through as the set has been locked off and hold your ground, take abuse from members of the public as well as your own crew, stand in one spot miles away from set for most of the day and do it all with a smile on your face like it's the greatest job on earth.
Runners can be viewed as expendable by production. If you make a mistake, like leaving your phone on during a take or missing the key PAs call to lock-off the set, you may find yourself out of a job. You will come across other people's egos; you, however, need to leave yours in the car park. You will notice that ADs will bark orders down the radio at you, don't take it personally. Communications and directions need to be very precise; ADs will be giving multiple instructions almost simultaneously. What is needed in the industry is a thick skin and your training as a runner will start the callusing process.
All that aside, running on a feature film can be a lot of fun. You can be working at some of the most prestigious film studios in the world or working at locations with restricted access to the public, but not for you. Witnessing a film crew at work is also a thing of beauty. The camera, cranes, lights and days with SFX work can be spellbinding. Over the weeks or months that you work together the crew feel like a family, a feeling that intensifies over your career as the higher the position, the more responsibility you assume and more ingrained in the culture you become. Over time, it's also more likely you'll be working with the same people time and again, it's a very small industry. Working on feature films promotes a certain lifestyle, you may not get to see your friends as much (thank heavens for social media), but you will never be without companionship. Just remember though, you're still at a place of work; so always be professional on set especially at junior level, your future career depends on it.
SHOULD I HAVE ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK AS A Runner?
Working as a runner will not require any formal academic qualifications, although a degree can offer you a solid educational grounding, some life experience and options if your time in the industry is not what you expected. If choosing a film or media degree look closely at the modules the course is offering, does it offer:
Practical modules with industry recognised equipment.
Lecturers (full time or guest) who are working in the industry.
Affiliations with industry recognised institutions.
A chance to meet alumni or industry members.
A clean driving licence, your own vehicle and an up to date first aid certificate would be beneficial - the driving licence is essential.
PHRASES EVERY NEW ENTRANT SHOULD KNOW WHEN WORKING AS A SET PA?
1st team. Are the principal cast, an American term you can hear on a studio productions.
2nd team. The stand-ins for the principal cast, again an American term you can hear on a studio production.
Apple box. The Grips Department will have a stack of ‘apple boxes’ which are in essence wooden boxes of varying heights. There are full, ½, and ¼ size apple boxes with an inch thick box that is known as a pancake. Particularly useful if you need some height to reach something. The grips also carry wedges to chock up track on uneven surfaces, so if you're presented with a table that is uneven, ask a grip if you can borrow a wedge, they usually carry hundreds but make sure you give it back at the end of the day ... grips don’t forget!
Pictures up. Call from the Camera Department to alert the director to there being an image on the monitor. Runners may be asked to find chairs for the director or any other senior members of the production team.
Honeywagon. A term referring to the toilet block that is brought onto locations.
First positions. The 1st - 3rd AD will ask the actors/extras to move to their first positions when starting to film the scene. If the camera is tracking or moving in any way the grips will move to ‘number ones’.
Base Camp or Unit Base. Where the production office, trailers and catering are housed on location. Sometimes it can be a walk from set.
Crossing. To let the camera operator know you are crossing frame.
Mind your backs. If you hear this look behind you as there will be someone carrying something heavy.
Last looks or final checks. This is when hair, makeup and costume will conduct their final check before the camera is about to roll.
Correx or Arrotex. Strips of cardboard or matting used to protect location, usually sorted out by the location team before most of the crew arrive.
Video village. Where the director, DoP, script supervisor and makeup and costume congregate to check the monitors. Sometimes the director may extract themselves preferring to be closer to camera with a little monitor of their own; the DoP may have elected to operate the camera themselves.
DFI. Meaning different f*****g instructions. This term can be relayed over the walkie or in person when an abrupt change has occurred. The work will be halted until further instructions are issued.
10 ESSENTIAL TIPS WHEN WORKING AS A SET PA/RUNNER
If you don't understand, ask.
Being a runner means you're new to the world of filmmaking, it's better to ask if uncertain and complete the task correctly. ADs will mind though if you waste time doing something else because you have misunderstood or made an assumption.
Write instructions down.
The physical act of writing instructions down will imprint the job in your mind, and let the person know that you have understood and shall be actioning their request.
Always be ready.
Listen to conversations from senior crew members on the production channel (don’t be tempted to click over to the private channel), be prepared to move or lend a hand when the crew are setting up or breaking down the set-up.
Turn off your phone as soon as you get to set.
Don’t forget to turn it on again if sent on an errand. Make sure your phone is off, not on silent or vibrate as it can mess with the audio if the Sound Department are using radio mics.
Get a PA kit.
Most PAs who have worked on a variety of jobs carry a basic kit with them in the back of their car, some carry a pouch for pens, notebook, roll of camera/gaffa tape, cable ties and a multitool. Having a belt in your kit would also be useful, you can be forgiven if you leave the house at 4 in the morning wearing clothes you cannot attach your walkie to. Keep one in the back of the car just in case.
Learn how to wrap a cable.
If you are unsure how to wrap a cable correctly ask the camera trainee/assistant, or a member of the Lighting or Sound Department. Make sure you have been asked to help coil cables first - and please, please don't use your elbow to wrap the cable around.
Stay out of any on-set politics.
When shoots go wrong, someone, or a department always seems to take the flack. This can be because the HoD isn't particularly pleasant, or they are consistently running behind due to staff/workload, etc. So, while everyone is waiting around it often leads to gossip, whatever you do don't embroil yourself in it. Indiscreet words spoken in front of a producer who is standing behind you do not go down well at all. Extricate yourself from the conversation and get on with your jobs, when you are just starting out you will need to use your eyes and ears before you use your mouth.
More importantly, learn what the owners of those names do. Know the job titles and their nicknames. This is where your coffee runs can come in handy; you'll be connecting names and faces, and if you’re lucky a few people may learn yours too.
Be busy - always!
The truth is no one likes to see a junior member of production sitting down whilst other people are working. Even if it’s a break, you should be providing drinks and passing around the biscuits (or fruit bars depending on what type of shoot you’re on). Always ask if you can help but also take the initiative when it comes to making work for yourself. If in doubt tidy something up, or rearrange the craft services/snack table.
Be friendly and approachable.
We can't stress this enough. When you finally get on set it might not be what you expected, working on set is a grind, and there is very little glamour to be seen - despite many people thinking otherwise. If you start to complain, or in any way show negativity, you won't be hired again. By week six everyone will be exhausted and slightly irritable, anyone would be working six day weeks, 14 hours a day. The key to being professional is not letting that show; especially when you are starting out as you will need to tread very carefully. So when approached by an AD to add yet another task to your list 10 minutes before wrap, smile, write it down, share a joke and get it done.
How much will I be earning as a floor runner/set PA?
BECTU hold rates for runners in the production department area of their site, their recommended rate card can be found here. Some productions will require you to work a 5/6 day week, with a 10-14 hour day on camera.
Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the film industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working on features films for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, potentially on dailies, this presents complications.
Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven-day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied, but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year.
If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts, you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 Letter. The Lorimer Letter
is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this, you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account, so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed
and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance
Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01. Try not to go changing your formats too much, when it comes to the end of the tax year (April 5th), you’re going to want to keep things as simple as possible.
What hours will I be working?
Your hours will depend on the project you are attached to. Feature films will often have a 12 hour day on camera. Commercials and music videos have a reputation for very long working days, due to the shorter shooting schedule. Occasionally you may get to work the odd 10 hour day on a corporate video. Whatever way you look at it the industry demands a lot of man hours to get a film made.
What set etiquette should I know?
PA’s should hover to make themselves available while simultaneously staying out of the way. It’s a tough path to navigate for a new entrant but use your common sense.
- Stand in doorways.
- Stare at high profile actors.
- Tell the director all about your student film.
- Tell the DoP he should consider framing that shot a different way.
- Make yourself a cup of tea and sit down.
- Tell everyone about your heavy night of drinking.
- Be seen to be using your phone for personal use like checking your Facebook feed.
- Open the door if members of the crew are bringing kit through.
- Ask if anyone would like to be bought a cup of tea, especially if they need to be onset at all times.
- If you have had a heavy night say nothing! Nurse your hangover in private.
- Observe good walkie etiquette at all times.
- Always be busy, find work, ask if you can help others.
What should I carry in my PA kit?
As time goes on you will develop your own kit list, but for now here are a few things you can take with you that may come in useful:
- Policeman's notebook (perfect for the back pocket).
- Sharpie. The industries favourite permanent marker, to be fair any permanent marker would do.
- Biro and pencil.
- Mobile phone charger.
- If you are wearing clothes that make it hard to carry a walkie, carry a belt in you bag for these situations.
- When you collect your walkie take a spare battery also. Having a spare battery on you at all times is essential, either for you or another crew member whose walkie dies.
Light waterproofs that you can stuff into your bag.
- Multitool, such as a Gerber or Leatherman.
- Hand Wipes/Hand Sanitiser.
- Masking tape.
- Gaffa tape.
- Tray - to keep in the back of the car for carrying multiple drinks.
thank you's ...
My First Job in Film would like to thank Stephanie Whitehead and Matt Gallagher for sharing their experience and giving up time to offer advice on this career guide.