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Set PA

The role of the Set PA is one of the most popular gateways into the film industry. If you want to know how a professional film set works then your time as a PA will see you running between departments and embedded in the management of the set.

Set PA Image
Stage
1

If you want to work with the ADs, then working on short films with professional ADs enable you to make contacts and add some experience to your resume - ideally whilst studying.

Stage
2

Build credits on shorts, micro and low budget films. Look for daily/crowd or lock-off PA work on bigger budget features, make those days count, come away with phone numbers and references.

Stage
3

Use your experience and contacts to become part of a core AD team. To maximise your chances of sustainable work, look at commercials and TV drama alongside feature films.

What is the assistant directors department?

The core of the Assistant Directing Department is made up of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd ADs and set production assistants (PA). 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 cast and crew, 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 call sheet for the next day; logging and reporting key information of the day's 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 Set PAs. They are also responsible for logging and distributing radios 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 linchpin of the operation during production. The ADs rely on their team of PAs to facilitate the smooth running of the shoot, a small four-man team on an indie to an eighteen-man team on studio production. The PAs who are brought in who are hard-working capable production assistants will not be short of job offers. However, the role of PA is the most sought-after entry-level position, so don’t ever think you are irreplaceable, there are always new resumes on the 2nd ADs desk.

WHAT'S THE ENTRY LEVEL ROLE IN THE AD DEPARTMENT?

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 PA, also known as the set PA. It’s a great starting point for your career as you will learn about the process of filmmaking. 

The network you build working on indies, alongside your developing resume, 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 want 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 resumes, 2nd ADs may choose to work with people they already know. If they are going to take a chance on you they want to make sure you understand the role (not heading your resume ‘filmmaker’, ‘producer’, etc) and you can fit into an already established team. 

If you're unsure which department you would like to work in, starting out as a PA 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 PA 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. 

PA’s are located at base and onset, supporting the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ADs. The entry-level positions on big-budget productions are daily PA’s (bought in for ad hoc day work), lock-off PA’s (more hands needed to be positioned around an area if working in a busy location), and crowd PA’s (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 holds 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 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 principal photography. The 1st will also work with the UPM in the production office on matters of the 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 the crew, and can spend a majority of their day troubleshooting. No matter how well the shoot has been organized, 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 PAs are there on a big budget feature?

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 PA’s 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 the set and primarily look after the cast, their movements, and requirements while on set. The Key PA will have input into the hiring process on larger productions. 

  • Cast/first-team PA. Attached to the principal 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 PA 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 without someone flagging it up.

  • 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/supporting cast that day. 

These are roles to look out for if you have experience on some low-budget indie features or drama on your resume and want to work on higher-budget productions. 

WHAT IS GOOD WALKIE ETIQUETTE?

Knowing how to use your walkie will be a vital component of 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 the 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 the set.

  • Copy! Make sure you announce that you have heard and understood the 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 set PA?

Knowing what your responsibilities are on any given job will make you a better PA. 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 the 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 camera is 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 unit PAs). 

Managing crew logistics.

Making sure that crew is aware of any logistical changes throughout the day, change of set up, where the 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 is away.

Drinks deliveries.

During the day the main crew members will not be able to leave equipment or the set. It is a fundamental responsibility of the set PAs to make sure the cast and crew have all the food and drinks they require throughout the day.

Distribute paperwork.

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 PA and distributed by the Set PA’s.

Communications

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 is.

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 the crew and cast (exterior to the set) to know when the camera is turning. It is the job of a set PA 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 knows to stop work while the camera is turning. When the camera is cut the PA 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.

Shout outs.

As well as ringing the bell and turning on the red light (if you are in a studio) the whole AD Department echoes the 1st ADs instructions.

Lunch line.

On a union production lunchtimes are monitored, the standard being 30 minutes - that is 30 minutes from the moment the last man/woman in the lunch line is served. You may be asked to count production in the lunch line too to make sure everyone is accounted for. When the last person has been served (often minus the PA’s) you need to let the AD’s (and anyone else on channel 1) know. Last man in at 1.30 - back at 2. 

WHAT OTHER AREAS OF THE INDUSTRY CAN I FIND SET PA'S

Set PAs can be found on a variety of short and longer-term engagements such as:

  • Feature films, independent and studio.

  • Music videos

  • Commercials

  • TV drama

  • High-end corporate videos

  • Television work 

  • Short films

  • Digital content

What's the difference between and indie and 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 10 PA’s or working with a smaller team of 4 or 5 on 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 maneuver. 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 PA, you may find yourself on many low to medium-budget independent films. 

One major thing to remember is an indie might not be a union production. If you are at the start of your career, however, non-union productions are the gateway into the unions - should you wish to go down that path. This means that the cast-iron guarantees of union workers will not apply. Make sure you get all your documentation from production and have signed a contract. 

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.

  • Less cash means fewer people. The larger departments such as the 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 PAs 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 coordinating 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 the ever-evolving nature of the work means it’s 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 sounds simple, but those long days are going to require fuel - you know the expression ‘an army marches on its stomach’ - well you do now. PAs cannot live on nervous energy alone and good craft services can make all the difference (when you get the chance to grab lunch that is).

  • Better organization. More hands in the production office and onset 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's the difference between and indie and studio production? Image

What's it like working on a commercial as a set PA?

Despite the same crew and set etiquette, a commercial 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 PAs can be lifting, carrying, and cabling with everyone else. On smaller budget commercials there may also be less crew, and the product or packshot can be left to the PA’s to set up, it takes many hands to move 100 boxes of washing powder.

WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH FOR A Set PA?

With some short films under your belt, and a good grasp of what it takes to be a PA the next step is working on features. These might not be the big-budget blockbusters 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 harbor 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, so 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 working 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 a 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 Set PA?

The Set PA position is by no means the only way into the industry; if you're interested in a singular area such as the 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 Set PA 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. 

Resume

If you have written filmmaker or DoP on the front of that resume, take a moment to re-write it to 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 you’re prepared to listen, work hard, be proactive, and have a real drive to work in the film industry. When working on your resume check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the advice to help create a resume and covering letter; you can check your resume against our example to see if it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep it short, and to the point, ADs are interested in your work experience to date, not your hobbies and interests. You will also come to realize that ADs place value on being concise on and off the set, write what you need to don't embellish.

Research

You should have a clear idea of where you are going from the outset, be honest with yourself and have your main objective. Do you want to direct, produce, costume design? 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 Set PA 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 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:

Collaborations

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. Film grad schools can 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 catalog of work, you want to know they are following best industry practices 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. 

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 a solid film program, keep checking to see if they are crewing up or need any extra help. This route may not get you where you want to go quickly, but it will certainly help flesh out your resume, make some contacts and get some references - which is essential.  

Network

You should have two networks: 

A lateral network of other PA’s and junior staff who can recommend you if they are unavailable to work. Remember, this industry is founded on word-of-mouth recommendations, which is why you need to be a great PA and professional at all times. 

Your horizontal network consists of those above you; AD's, Key PA, etc. Keep 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, don’t wait for them to come to you. 

Personality and Attitude

If you're going to work as a PA, especially on features,  you're going to need to ask yourself some questions. Are you prepared to work over 12 hour days if it’s a non-union gig? 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 PA, let’s not kid ourselves it can 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 PA, 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.

 

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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK IN THE AD’S DEPARTMENT?

As you will no doubt know production assistants are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to job hierarchies. If you've just graduated and found yourself working as a PA be prepared to work for very little money. You'll also need to familiarise yourself with the difference between working on a union and non-union show or film.

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, keeping things tidy, taking instruction, professionalism, multitasking, proactively assessing 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. You may need to deal with members of the public who are frustrated they can't get through an area you have locked off and still have a smile on your face like it's the greatest job on earth.  

PA’s can be viewed as expendable by production so here are a few things to remember:

  • 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. Everyone makes mistakes, so if it’s the first time you’ll be given some slack - but you need to make sure they don't happen again.

  • You will come across other people's egos; you, however, need to leave yours in the car park. 

  • You will notice that ADs may 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 PA will start the callusing process.

All that aside, working as a Set PA 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 comes together like a family, giving you the opportunity to relax into the role and enjoy it. 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 a junior level, your future career depends on it.

SHOULD I HAVE ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK AS A PA?

Working as a PA 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-recognized equipment.

  • Lecturers (full-time or guest) who are working in the industry.

  • Internships.

  • Affiliations with industry-recognized institutions.

  • A chance to meet alumni or industry members.

A clean driving license, your own vehicle, and an up-to-date first-aid certificate would be beneficial - the driving license is essential.

PHRASES EVERY NEW ENTRANT SHOULD KNOW WHEN WORKING AS A SET PA?

 

  • 1st team. Are the principal cast.

  • 2nd team. The stand-ins for the principal cast.

  • 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 the 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. PAs 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 the set.

  • Crossing. To let the camera operator know you are crossing the 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 the 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 the camera with a little monitor of their own; the DoP may have elected to operate the camera themselves.  

  • DFI. Meaning different f*****g instructions. Another term is 'spin it' meaning they are taking the previous instruction in another direction. 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 PA 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 is using radio mics.

 
Get a PA kit.

Most experienced PAs carry a basic kit with them in the back of their car, some carry a pouch for pens, notebook, a 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 one of the camera departments, 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 are career-breaking. 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. 

 
Learn names.

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 cookies (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. 

 

faq's

 

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?

PAs 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. 

Don't: 

  • 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. 

Do: 

  • 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 industry's favorite 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 your 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.

  • Torch. 

  • Tray - to keep in the back of the car for carrying multiple drinks.  

 

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