How to be a great production assistant or PA
The production assistant role can be a launching pad towards any TV or film career dream. Being a PA gives an individual a great overview of what every department does and is a fantastic way of learning what goes into a production and finding out what you might like to specialise in.
But what are the key qualities expected of a production assistant?
Mandy News walks you through the skills and characteristics required to be a fantastic production assistant.
Be on time and attentive
So many people on a TV production team will be relying on you for help. Be on time – or, even better, early – and keep your eyes and ears peeled for any situations that might need your support. If a department seems fine, have a scout around to see if anybody else needs a hand.
One of the best qualities a production assistant can possess is the art of listening. We don’t just mean to the specific instructions you’ve been given (we’d hope that’s a given) but to everything around you (if you’re not already ensconced in a task, that is!) Keeping your eyes and ears peeled for information will consistently further your knowledge of what happens on set and make you far more efficient and effective when new tasks come up.
The last thing anybody expects of a production assistant is to know everything. This is likely your first role in the industry and so asking questions is key to learning and being of better support to your colleagues. If a team member asks for something and you need clarification, then ask! Just make sure you note down the answer so you do not repeatedly ask the same question (an infuriating quality for hard-pressed people).
Questions unrelated to tasks might not be appropriate for the working day – you’re on a busy production with very busy people. You’ll have to ask those during downtime, after hours or over a coffee after the production finishes.
One of the best weapons in a production assistant’s arsenal is being able to prioritise, especially if you’re given several tasks in quick succession. This will become second nature to you in due course but, to begin with, always ask for the urgency of the task issued and, if in doubt, ask the person you directly report to. The chances are everything is needed “ASAP” but being able to cut through the bracken and see what the true priorities are is essential.
If you’re full to capacity and can’t squeeze anything else in (truly, not because you’re being lazy) then say so. There is little more infuriating than a production assistant who takes on too much and gets none of their tasks done, especially if it’s not communicated – quickly – that the task can not be completed. It is, sadly, a common mistake.
The entire foundations of being a great PA rely on exceptional communication skills. That means asking the right questions, absorbing the information and being polite and to the point in your replies. Updating the person who has asked for something to be completed will also put their mind at ease, as opposed to wandering off, getting caught up in other tasks and leaving them to worry.
Get on with it
Every professional on a TV set will encounter numerous problems daily, whether it be with equipment, people or a technical challenge they face. The last thing a stressed out head of department, actor or technician needs to hear is complaining from somebody they look to for help. Yes a day’s filming can take it out of you but focus on the task at hand and servicing the person who needs your support and it’ll work wonders for your future. TV production isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like the hours and workload, get out now!
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