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A film production assistant performs a wide range of duties on a movie set, ranging from administrative tasks to duties involving equipment procurement, film editing, fetching lunch and making coffee. She is traditionally expected to do whatever needs to be done to facilitate the filming project. This entry-level job may be carried out on a commercial Hollywood movie set, in a college setting that produces student films or on movie set location anywhere in the world.
Each day in this position normally entails performing a totally different list of duties. These requests traditionally come from the producer, director, writer or other people involved in film production. Since the demands are often made simultaneously and assigned the same degree of urgency, an efficient film production assistant needs great time management and prioritization skills. Long, irregular hours are commonly associated with this job.
Being able to effectively multitask is often considered one of the most important qualifications for the position of film production assistant. Proficiency in computer operations, project coordination and communications is highly desirable. Excellent record maintenance skills and exemplary research abilities are customarily required to excel in this position.
An assistant’s proficiency on the computer is necessary for her to communicate by e-mail and make travel and hotel arrangements. She may also be frequently asked to research specific requests of the production crew or actors. Organizing and maintaining records related to the film are common tasks required of a production assistant.
Aside from being skilled in administrative and personal assistance, this position typically requires good listening and comprehension skills. Since many different people are normally making requests at once, a film production assistant has to mentally take notes and act accordingly. She is generally required to have a can-do attitude and remain composed and focused under the most stressful of circumstances.
This position is traditionally viewed as a stepping stone to more professional and lucrative jobs in the film industry. Based on this view, a film production assistant is ordinarily expected to learn the jobs of other crew members to make her more valuable to the production and increase her chances of promotion. It is rumored that a considerable number of famous directors and producers began their careers as production assistants.
There are generally no educational requirements or job experience prerequisites for this position. In fact, film production assistants often have advanced degrees in a variety of subjects, but believe the training and opportunities of this job are more important to achieve their goals. Some applicants may have bachelor’s degrees in film studies or related genres.
When I lived out in California, there were a lot of job listings for film production assistants in the local newspaper. Most of those jobs were for low budget film production companies, but at least they were jobs in a very interesting industry. I did some work as an extra in some major movies, but my brother actually landed a paying job on a film production crew.
He told me that his job was never the same from day to day. Production assistants (PAs) weren't supposed to interact very much with the principal actors, but he did get to meet a lot of well-known celebrities during lunch breaks. He spent most of the day running errands for the producers, since they couldn't leave the set during a shoot. If the director decided he wanted 5,000 ping pong balls, my brother was the guy who went into town and bought them with the company credit card.
I volunteered to be on a film production crew many years ago, and I don't know if I would do it again without better compensation for my time. It was an ultra low budget horror movie, and the director/producer/writer had just graduated high school. His dad offered him a choice-- make a film or go to college. He chose to make a movie.
I had no idea what a film production assistant was supposed to do, but it turned out to be a lot of different things all at once. I brought food to the shooting locations, held the clapper boards before and after takes, herded the extras from location to location and delivered the film canisters to the
developer. I sometimes spent 16 hours a day on the set, since I never knew when the director might ask me to take care of a situation.
I enjoyed spending the time with some really talented friends, but I didn't enjoy being the low man on the totem pole.
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