It’s not easy being a production assistant (PA).
You’re constantly pulled in dozens of different directions and expected to adapt quickly to any number of tasks assigned to you. In the course of one day, a PA may play the parts of barista, set security, rat wrangler, cup holder, or a combination of them all.
Further, they have to toe a fine line between respecting a crew’s space and not being too enthusiastic while also taking initiative to help crew and the production work harder and faster.
This is what I call “The PA Paradox.”
The PA paradox arises when crew complain about the lack of effort from a production assistant one moment and then chide the same production assistant for being too eager later in the day. It’s a lose-lose situation for the PA.
Not all crews or crew members enable the PA paradox — some even acknowledge the transient nature of their expectations of the PA — but enough do that it can be an intimidating factor for those who have never PA’ed before. The solution ends up being varied from set to set and crew member to crew member. Some crew would rather go an entire shoot without the help of a PA, even if they could use it. Other crew, meanwhile, will exploit a PA so heavily that the PA ends up doing more of their work than they do.
There is a balance to be found, however, for both the PA and the crew member.
If you’re a PA, you must keep in mind the PA paradox and use it to relax your intuitions. If, for instance, you do see crew that need help, instead of jumping in and helping them — which may be frowned upon depending on the work involved — calmly approach and ask if there’s anything you can do. This way you leave the decision with them while also taking initiative.
Another smart approach to skirt the PA paradox is to ask for permission to “own” certain tasks. Many times a PA will be told to charge the batteries for the walkies — this is the perfect opportunity for you to be the battery-charger guy/gal. In the eyes of the crew, you will be seen as more valuable because you have quantifiable responsibilities.
Many PA’s get the “lazy” label because they don’t put in an effort to look available — they sit in chairs, huddle in groups, or hide behind video village. I find the PA’s that get the most opportunities to prove themselves are the ones that are the most approachable — they watch silently out of the way, but with their hands out at the ready, their ears tuning into the radio chatter, and their eyes looking for any struggling crew.
Those are the PA’s that are most likely to hear, “Hey you! Can you give us a hand?”
In that way, you are neither lazy nor too eager — you are simply available and helpful. That’s the best way to avoid the PA paradox: being there when someone needs you to be.
And you know what happens when you’re always there to fix a problem or help out? Crew take notice and hook you up with gigs.
Sometimes being a victim of the PA paradox is unavoidable — certain crew may be stubborn in their harassment of PA’s or you may just have an off-day on a shoot — but being able to prove yourself as a capable PA can be your golden ticket into the film industry.
Just make sure you keep the good vibes going and make the most of the opportunity.
Oh — and go grab me a coffee!