How much do Production Assistants get paid?
July 2023 | MFJF
There is a standard production assistant rate when it comes to union shows in major cities like NYC and LA, and that rate is $210/12. That means for a 12 hour day you get paid $210 which is the lowest you can be paid as a day rate in states where the minimum wage is $15/hour. This rate will vary in other states with productions such as Massachusetts, Georgia ans Pennsylvania where the legal minimum wage is lower than $15/hour.
It breaks down to the first eight hours of the day being minimum wage ($15/hr in New York) and after that it becomes time and a half.
The majority of major shows have a guarantee of 12 hours when the rate is $210/12, meaning even if you only work 10 hours, you get paid for 12 hours. Most shows these days do pay above scale, but none should pay below this base rate. Never be afraid to ask what the rate is on a show.
Now if you are working on a small non union/indie shoot, that is a different situation. A lot of times those shows will hire you as an independent contractor (which are also known as 1099 jobs) and you invoice them in order to get paid. Some of those jobs will pay the minimum wage rate, but others may give a flat rate for the day. When you are offered these jobs always ask for your rate - but then it is up to you to decide if that job is worth the money. If it is a film paying $100/flat for the day, but it’s for someone who you know can connect you with bigger and better paying jobs in the future, is that worth it to you? This always comes down to that personal preference.
When you’re first starting out in the industry, you may get asked to work for free. This is again going to come down to a personal preference but when you are first starting out, it’s a cost vs benefit situation. Will volunteering on someone's short film lead to more connections in the industry? This is the type of question you have to ask yourself when those offers come up. These jobs, as well as the low-pay jobs will require you to think long term of what your goals are and if these positions will help you achieve them.
If you already are working a job outside the industry with the intent to become a production assistant in the future, it is always smart to have a “rainy day” fund of savings because of the unpredictability of the entertainment industry. That is always easier said than done when living in major cities. However, you never know when the next slow down may happen. Sometimes it is seasonal like when winter is slow for work or it could be a situation like a work strike or a global pandemic that causes a work stoppage. There is no way to ever know, so please keep that in mind when starting out in this industry. Know your worth.
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