How to Become a Production Assistant in Seattle (Or Anywhere in the World)
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
By Declan-Whaley Sharp
Let’s say you’re the luckiest person on earth.
You’re an 18-year-old graduate, fresh off the perpetually sinking boat that is high school, and you’ve sort of figured out what you want to do: you want to go into film.
So, you get your family on board with literally no pushback.
Then you just need the funds for film school. Oh, look at that: your mom’s surrogate sister just so happens to have a fifty-thousand-dollar, interest free, loan lying around.
And, it’s pretty convenient that the school of your dreams is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away in beautiful Vancouver, Canada.
Great, everything’s coming together! You go to school for three months, have a whale of a time and then - the funniest thing happens - A global pandemic shuts down your school along with the entire world and you have to move back in with your parents.
Guess your luck ran out.
How do you proceed?
I’ll tell you how I did it.
I'll teach you all about how I became the Lead Production Assistant at one the most popular, up and coming production companies in the Seattle area - Element 7 Productions. It was mostly through what I think was sheer luck and my baking skills, but I did do a few things to help me stand out from the crowd.
Here are a few tips and tricks that I'm more than happy to share with any filmmaker who's starving for a chance to work in this industry, and maybe you'll get as lucky as me one day to be behind the camera (that's me below, by the way!):
1. Build an online presence.
I started with setting up a LinkedIn, but the stronger your online presence, the better. The real strength of my online presence came from posting on various social media apps and my website. If you’re working in the film industry, you need people to have a place to watch your content and learn about you. Websites are entirely customizable and a great way to advocate for your story and your skills, while social media can help your potential producer see your personality.
2. Make a demo reel
“Oh, really? I should do that thing that literally every film teacher, professional, and person who has heard the phrase “demo reel” has told me to do?” I hear you asking in a needlessly facetious tone.
But hear me out! Much like updating your portfolio, a lot of people just put this off in hope of brute forcing their way into a job. That’s what I did, I just made content and hoped that a recruiter would see it and like it. Recruiters don’t have time to watch your entire body of work. So, they need a demo reel, preferable between 30 seconds to a minute long. The sooner you can make one, the better. Something is better than nothing, you can always change it later. That said, you do need something, so, um… do that!
3. Create anything!
Whether it’s for you, strangers, or friends, creating your own projects adds to your reel, and shows an employer initiative and passion (plus it’s just fun!) But you’ve got to be careful. This industry, no matter what level you’re at, can get pretty stressful, so be smart about it. Set deadlines, stay focused, and go easy on yourself. No matter how much you want it done, your mental health matters more than a personal project. Don’t give up, just work right. A good way to keep yourself in check is to work with others.
4. Connections, connections, connections
If you’ve spent any time with “film people” they’ll probably have told you “Connections are everything” and they’re right, but that means literally nothing to a beginner. So, here’s a quick list of good ways to connect with people. And if a list inside a list bothers you, you’ve just lost me as a connection:
- Film school: This is the entire point of film school. Though fancy, expensive film schools will offer better equipment, even community college programs introduce you to people who know people and love the craft. Not everyone in the industry goes to film school, but it never hurts to have it on your resume.
- Reach out to local professionals: Though it’s rare you’ll get a job from a cold email, establishing that connection gets your name out there and a production company’s wisdom is often more helpful than a fifty-thousand-dollar film school. Sometimes people will be willing to have a quick phone call with you, or even coffee - it never hurts to ask, and all information is GOOD information!
- Volunteer work: Volunteer websites are an excellent way to see what’s going on in any industry. In Washington, it's a great way to connect to your community. Also, volunteering for friends or strangers who just need help on their short film is another means of meeting people. Try seeing if your local college/university needs actors or extra crew for their project!
- Film festivals/challenges: This goes back to the "make stuff" - you got to get people to see it, otherwise you've wasted all your hard work! Submit to local film festivals in Seattle, like the Seattle International Film Festival or even out in Portland, OR - I hear the Portland Horror Film Festival is going to be wild this year!
- Facebook/Social Media: There’s a number of film groups on Facebook and other social media platforms that are always asking for PA’s no matter where you are. Here, you’re bound to meet people, find gigs, and learn new things.
5. Learn new things
Even if you go to film school, but especially if you plan to jump straight into this wild career, learning film terminology makes you a far more desired candidate.
Knowing basic equipment is a must, so when someone asks you to grab a C-stand, you don’t just stare back blankly. YouTube has plenty of useful channels dedicated to learning all about equipment, along with online film schools, but the best way to learn anything in this industry is to actually do it. Rent gear from your local production company (like Element 7) or ask film friends very, very nicely.
Don’t stop with just equipment - knowing what job is what, who reports to who, and how film sets function, will make your first day a whole lot easier. Even if it doesn’t directly relate to the Production Assistant role - learning new programs, new equipment, and reading the news will keep you up to date in this ever-changing industry.
Sometimes, even if you are the perfect candidate, your dream studio may not see that it's a good fit for a variety of factors. It could be anything from lack of technical skill for the profession to how your interview went. However, my coworkers at Element 7 saw my tenacity, my drive, and my willingness to go above and beyond for my teammates. They saw the passion that I have for this work, and were willing to take me along with them in this crazy journey.
It's always worth it to try. You’re always going to fail, and feel like you’re not enough, but whether it’s a few tips someone told you on the internet, or your own intuition that inspires you, that effort can make or break your future in this industry.
Yes, an online presence is important, same with a demo reel, and connections, and everything else I’ve said - but at the end of the day, what really matters, what really gets your foot in the door, is you.