What Does a Production Assistant Do? With Important Skills
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Production assistants (PAs) assist producers and directors on the set of shoots, such as films, television and documentaries. These PAs do everything from coordinating the activities of other production assistants and keeping the set area clean to performing administrative duties, such as making and receiving calls. If you're interested in a PA position, knowing about the duties of the role can help you prepare yourself for the work environment and impress hiring managers during an interview. In this article, we discuss the functions of production assistants, outline the skills for the job and talk about the work environment.
What does a production assistant do?
Knowing the answer to the question "What does a production assistant do?" can give you an in-depth understanding of the responsibilities of the role and help you prepare accordingly. The duties of a production assistant depend on the type of PA role in which you work. PAs can work on a production set, in the office or in post-production. These roles have distinct job duties, which makes it important to know about them so you can choose the one that aligns best with your career goals.
Duties of a set production assistant
The set production assistant or field PA assists the on-set team. Here are some duties of a set production assistant:
An important function of the set production assistant is to move equipment from one location to another. Their duties may require picking up costumes, cameras, lenses, dolly rails and other equipment required to prepare the set for the day's shoot. They may also be required to verify the documentation and insurance of rented equipment, store and secure them properly before transport and offload them carefully at the location of the set.
Locking down the set
Another duty of the set PA is locking down. This means protecting the set from the public. Because production sets attract celebrities and popular personalities, many of their fans may want to enter the location for pictures and autographs, but this can disrupt the crew and cast's work. To prevent this, the set PA ensures that only people who have business on set gain entry.
Preparing and packing items
The production set of films and even television require hundreds and even thousands of items. It's the job of the PA to prepare and pack these items before and after every shoot. They pack and arrange items for the next shoot or delivery to a storage site or rental company.
Supporting crew members
The PA also supports the crew members on set. This might be assisting with lighting, helping to hold the microphone and ensuring actors have everything they require to perform their jobs effectively. They ensure that actors get the right costumes fixed and makeup on time. The PA also announces the start and end of each shoot. They may also coordinate the activities of other production assistants, especially if they've been working with the crew for a long time.
Handling production paperwork
Set PAs also handle the production paperwork. Production documents provide the administrative and technical details of the project. It provides guidance to the film crew, producers, directors and actors, showing everybody their specific tasks and how they are aligned with the project's results. They prepare and deliver daily call sheets that describe the scenes to be filmed so actors can prepare themselves for the act. The set PA ensures these documents are readily available to everybody on set for smooth operations.
Cleaning the set
Another essential duty of these professionals is to ensure the set is clean. This can include emptying the rubbish bins to keep the set area tidy. They can also enforce health and safety protocols to keep the set area and people working on it safe.
Duties of an office production assistant
The office production assistant performs clerical and administrative duties to support a shoot. Here are some of their duties:
Performing clerical functions
Office production assistants take and receive phone calls, handle the paperwork and interface with vendors and suppliers. They perform documentation work, including creating, compiling and maintaining records of the production activity. They may also send and receive emails, operate office equipment, send faxes, scan documents and perform other office duties.
These PAs ensure that the office and kitchen are well-supplied. They can order or prepare food and drinks for the crew, production staff and actors and ensure there's a regular supply of refreshments on set and in the office. Their duties can also include maintaining craft services and running the kitchen area, especially on large production sets where ordering food isn't economical. They may also go on supply runs to buy items required for the production and work with vendors and suppliers to deliver to the location.
Duties of post-production assistants
The post-production assistant helps editors and other post-production staff to ensure they can perform their duties effectively. Here are some of their duties:
One important duty of post-production PAs is to organise and group footage. This can involve copying raw footage from the camera into external drives for easy mobility and distribution to editors and post-production producers. It can also include dating and labelling video files and creating a well-structured folder for easy access. These PAs also backup video files and tag them to prevent mistakes and losses.
Cleaning edit bays
The post-production PA also ensures that the edit bays are organised. They clean the place and ensure that furniture and equipment are arranged properly. These PAs also offer any assistance editors require to ensure smooth operations.
Performing supply runs
Another function of the post-production PA is to go on supply runs. Editors and post-production staff require a wide range of supplies, such as storage devices like hard drives. The PA ensures that the editors and producers have all the supplies they require to complete their job without hindrance.
Important skills for production assistants
Production assistants require the following skills to succeed on set and advance in their industry:
Production assistants are often responsible for interpreting instructions from producers, directors and other professionals on set. The role requires the ability to listen actively to ensure they understand their tasks and responsibilities and can facilitate communication between parties. Depending on the type of PA you become, the job can involve writing reports, ordering supplies, handling documentation and performing other duties that require excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Production assistants collaborate with a variety of people, including crew members, actors, makeup artists, costume designers, producers and other industry professionals. They also practise taking initiative and finding solutions to problems to ensure production remains efficient. This job requires being able to work as part of a team and the ability to function in the presence of high-profile people, such as celebrities.
While a production assistant isn't a leadership role, these individuals often oversee others on set and behind the scenes. Production assistants require the ability to give direction well. Others often depend on production assistants to complete their tasks before they can do their own, which makes reliability an important leadership skill to practise.
If you've spent a long time working with a production crew, you're likely going to be a key PA who supervises the work of other junior production assistants. To do that effectively, it's important to know how to delegate, motivate and provide constructive feedback to help your less-experienced colleagues attain a high level of performance.
Production assistants are required to complete a wide range of daily tasks, so organisational, multitasking and time-management skills are essential for keeping productions on schedule. They often help others keep track of time, such as ensuring talent arrives to the set on time. Other activities of the PA, such as going on supply runs, preparing the set and delivering items to and from the location are also time-sensitive and require being able to organise, plan and prioritise effectively.
Production assistant work environment
Production assistants working on television and movies typically live in or near a major city with filmmaking communities. When a project is in process, most production assistants work on the location of that film set. They might travel frequently and be away for weeks at a time. Production assistants might work long days and nights and variable hours. During filming, they might work on scenes day or night. On television shows, production assistants may have time off during the editing and airing process before filming begins again.
Those who work predominantly on films may find new employment with another film soon after completing their current work. Office production assistants, unlike set and post-production PAs, spend most of their time in the office working on computer workstations and handling the telephone. They may leave the office to get supplies once in a while or to support the production crew during meetings outside of the office.