How to PA on Set (Ideas From Someone Who's Good at It)
Updated: Jul 8
By Declan Whaley-Sharp
Well, well, well, look who they let out of the cage to write another opinion piece. If you read my last blog post on how to break into the film industry, you’d know I'm the Lead Production Assistant at Element 7, which I will continue to brag about in every blog post until they tell me to stop. (Note from the Editor: We know, Declan.)
So, you followed all my guidelines and now you're PA’ing on a set. I would assume you’re in desperate need of guidance, similar to every first day PA ever. So, what should you do?
Don’t do everything you’re told
You should do most things the higher ups tell you, however, you do still have rights. So, if someone wants you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, or is unsafe, or just doesn't sit right with you, please report it to your Assistant Director or Production Coordinator. PA’s are harassed and assaulted at alarming rates, and it's a problem the industry NEEDS to notice. Know your human rights.
Do build a kit
This could be a tool belt or maybe a small bag, just something to carry a bunch of random stuff on set. Though the specifics will change for every shoot, you want to bring some basics to every set. Starting out, it's never a bad idea to ask people what comes up a lot on set that they “really wish someone had.”
Don’t get in the way
Pretty self explanatory, just don't be in the way of anyone. Your job is to make life easier for everyone on set and if you’re in the way, you’re probably not doing that.
Do go fast
Whether it’s going to a grocery store, or laying down a cable, speed is incredibly important as a PA. Sets move fast and they need you to do the same.
Don’t stare at talent
Talent is fancy talk for actors. It’s really tempting, especially while on standby, to just watch the actors act, but it’s really distracting. Don't speak to the talent unless to ask if they need anything. Yeah, they probably won't go full Christian Bale on you, but it’s poor practice, and can really get people out of character. If you have to watch, try and look at the many monitors that are displaying live feed.
Do know nearby stores
Oddly specific, but when you're on set there's a high likelihood someone will send you away to go pick up something the crew forgot. So, know what stores are nearby and (if possible) know the layouts. I recommend grocery, crafts, Home Depot, and the nearest Walmart. The better you know the layout, the faster you’ll be, and speed means everything to a time-crunched crew.
Don’t speak to clients (unless spoken to)
Though “clients” may be more specific to commercial work, the same rule applies to producers and anyone else who is not your direct supervisor (who on most productions is either your production coordinator or your assistant director). Even though some clients are very outgoing and friendly, they are very busy and you don't want to poorly represent the production through your own buffoonery.
Do know film lingo
I mentioned this in my previous post as well, but I feel it needs reiterating, learn what people are talking about. Sure, you’ll learn a lot on set, but the more you can know ahead of time, the better. Especially if you're given a walkie-talkie or if set commands are being called out, you'll want to know what's going on!
Don’t do nothing
By far the most important thing to remember as a new PA is that you're there to work by helping out with anything your fellow crew members need on set. Yes, it’s an awesome job that is great as an entry level position, but remember, it is a job. So, keep on top of the work itself, maybe that's cleaning things, or helping someone, or a million other tasks, but if worst comes to worst, remain on standby (more on that later) Always ask if there is something to do!
Do remain on standby
Well, I guess not that much later. If you have nothing to do (which is very rare) remaining on standby is a job in and of itself. Remain near the action, within close proximity to those who give you jobs. Soon enough, they’ll need something, and you have to be ready.
Do learn from others
As long as you’re doing everything everyone tells you (barring a few things) and you’re doing it fast, you’re pretty much ready to be a PA. So, unless you want to be a career PA, take your time on set to learn about future positions. Obviously, don't get in the way of the crew, but try and learn from those who are willing to teach. In a few years, heck, maybe in a few months, you could be in their shoes.
Well, that's pretty much all I've got. Go forth and conquer, this industry always needs PA’s and as long as you have the passion and the heart, you don't need a list to teach you how to do it… keep reading my posts though.
(Editor's Note: We appreciate you, Declan)