Devon DeLapp (ddelapp) wrote,

A Few Things I Learned From My First Experience As A Television Production Assistant

Here it is. Unemployed, again. Now that the 12-16 hour days are past, I have the free time to reflect on the past few weeks.

My last day on the pilot was Thursday. In summary, I'd describe the experience as overwhelmingly positive. I achieved most of the goals I'd hoped for from the job:
  • Witness as much of the TV production process as possible: My low placement in the hierarchy unfortunately did not allow access to much of the development process or casting sessions. But, I was on set during shooting, worked in the production office, talked to the executives and writers (even just in passing), and moved about on a studio lot.

  • Learn about the different departments, and how they interact: My art background resulted in more conversations with the Art Department, but one of the facts of a being a PA is that you work with (read: under and for) everybody. Though everyone on the show not only works in entertainment, but more particularly in the realm of single-camera television, the people of each department shared distinct personality traits, separating them from the others:

    • Art Department: All the art school nerds with capitalistic tendencies. As opposed to the generally stark offices of this two-month company, their offices were the most colorful and inviting -- logical, given it's their job to design and decorate interiors. They were usually friendly and talkative, though sometimes airy and ambiguous in their descriptions (it's hard to put art into words!). Don't approach them in the first few days before and of shooting -- they're working their asses off, and have little time for idle chatter.

    • Assistant Directors: Don't confuse them with the director. The big man's job is guide the whole production, while it's the ADs who actually steer the ship. Not very talkative. Their jobs require them to be bossy, but this sometimes comes up at inappropriate times (like when telling a certain PA what they want from Staples). The only conversation of any length I had with one was towards the end of a long day. I think the exhaustion weakened the tough persona. AD is a direct path from set PA, and I think a few still feel dangerously close to their roots, hence the school-yard revulsion to be taken anything less than completely serious. Respect their "authority", and you'll get along fine. Even throw in the occasional "yes, sir", and they'll do you favors, like tell Transpo to stop bitching about where you park your car.

    • Transportation (Transpo): These are the often overweight guys in their late 40's or 50's you see sitting around base camp, eating free food and talking in small circles with other drivers. Early on I was advised to stay friendly with the drivers, because they know everything that happens on the show. I found this to be totally incorrect. This is perhaps the most "blue collar" of the departments, and the prevailing attitude was "I'm just doing my job for the paycheck and don't give a fuck about much anything else." They were all friendly, in a weathered taxi cab driver kind of way. They work crazy long hours (first in, last out), but are paid very well, and hourly (towards the end of the day, they make more in one hour than I do in twelve, often just by sitting in their van and waiting).

    • Locations: They secure the locations for the shoot; not just where the camera and actors will be, but also things like where to park the the cars for the 40 extras and the 60-foot trailers for the stars. They looked exhausted constantly, and were always short on conversation. They were often out of the office. Another major part of their job was creating the little maps guiding everyone to the next days location. Despite the importance of the job (you do not want to be on the phone with an angry, lost actress), they used the dinky drawing tools in Word. The results were occasionally less than helpful.

    • Casting: I do not envy their job. Remember when I got all those calls from hungry artists? That's what they do every day, times one million. They put out the call for actors and actresses, and as you can imagine in this town, the response is massive. At the height of it, they had two large cardboard boxes out in the lobby for accepting submissions from interested parties. Those boxes had to be emptied twice daily. That's something like 8 cubic feet of peoples faces, every day. Their job was to sift through this mess, and pick out who would be the best person for each role, from the leads down to "Angry Waiter" to "Barely Legal" (actual role titles). When actors would come in, they'd collect in one particular hallway, awaiting their chance to audition. One of my most surreal experiences on this show happened when they were casting for a particular role. I turn down this hallway, and am faced with a dozen men, all in dark suits, dark haired, similar faces, looking expectantly on me. It was like the restaurant scene in Being John Malkovich, but with "Hunky Guy #2". The casting offices were right next to ours, and we enjoyed the regular parade of hot chicks. The closed door "sessions" with the hot chicks and a camcorder on a tripod did feel a bit skeevy, though. Interaction was friendly but minimal, except when it came time to order lunch. They liked their free lunches.

    • Accountants: We had two, and both were worked to the bone. The onslaught of POs, time cards, and bills almost rivaled Casting's paperwork. Somehow, they kept their sense of humor, and I enjoyed stopping by to chat. When the time came for me to turn around my petty cash (turn in receipts for items purchase in return for more cash to purchase more items), they would pull out the most cash I've seen in one place (at least 5 or 10 grand). From these thick stacks of 100s and 50s, and peel off my $500. Staying friendly with accounting is doubly important, because they're the ones who give you your paycheck. Their office had no windows (they never requested this -- it was just assumed accountants didn't want any outside light?) so they put up this door-sized poster of a colorful vista instead. Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated departments, except on Thursday. That's when paychecks were released.

    • Costume: Friendly, but prone to being anal. Maybe because some of the clothes being bandied about cost thousands of dollars. I had a good relationship with the costume head -- we gave each other nicknames (he was "The Stallion", I was "The Grain Silo"). Second to the ADs and Camera, they had the greatest tendency of asking for "favors", like driving a pair of shoes to an actress in the hills, or carrying heavy boxes around.

    • Actors: The most visible of everyone on the team, my contact was actually pretty limited. I can say that Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon and Regina King were both very friendly, and even remembered my name. I didn't really speak or interact with any other actors (I did bump into Kelli Williams in the hall, once).

    • Extras: My interaction was also limited with them. My strongest memory is seeing the extras holding pen. Like livestock, the unused extras are kept in one room. There, they sit in chairs, nap, read, and wait for their chance to be a blurry face or arm in the background.

    • The Production Team: This includes (in order of tax bracket) the Co-Executive Producer, the UPM (Unit Production Manager), the POC (Production Office Coordinator), and APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator), and me, the PA. The mortar between the bricks would be one way to describe us. Probably the most diplomatic of the groups by necessity. There are no creative tasks at the lower levels, except necessary resourcefulness in completing administrative needs. These were the people I worked with the most. These are generally the "office" people -- the PAs go outside daily, but the APOC and POC never leave the office. The UPM is the bossman, and has the personality to match. Different from the ADs though, he comes across as a professional, hard working, but nice and approachable guy. This is the kind of person that I'd imagine has the most success convincing phone customer service reps to give them free credits on their account. He also accepted a resume and spec from me, so he's totally great.

    • Grips, Electric, and Construction: More departments (along with Transpo) populated by big, often gray-haired manly men, who spend much of their day moving heavy objects. My contact was limited, but they all seemed hard-working and helpful.

    • Camera: Again, by being on set, my contact was limited. I did speak with the DP (director of photography, the guy in charge) a few times (coffee order), and he was always very friendly. You may not have heard his name (Russell Carpenter), but you've seen his work. Remember a little film called Titanic? He won an Academy Award for photographing that. They requested the most errands, which we were happy to do. An afternoon was spent combing stores for a particular brand of wet, Windex wipes. It was after I delivered them that I learned Russell just wanted them for cleaning his glasses.

    • The Executive Producers: Always very friendly with me. The bulk of their job I didn't get to see, because it usually happened behind closed doors with other important people. There was always a bit of deference to them on set. I rarely saw anyone approach or speak to an EP. It's lonely at the top?

    • The Assistants: This is not an actual department, but more just a general lumping. Many people had personal assistants: The director, the writers, and the producers. There were about seven in all. The common aspect was that they all kind of did the same kind menial tasks, and most of them wanted their boss' job. Their positions were similar to being a PA, but just about half a step further closer to their goal (being a PA can parlay into an personal assistant job, while a personal assistant job can parlay into an actual job in the arena one is interested). They generally have this aura of being beat-down, like that of someone much more qualified than the tasks asked of them (I hope I don't look like that). There is a certain level of kinship with PAs, but not too close. A personal assistant is just enough ahead of a PA that getting overly chummy could be construed as a lack of ambition -- people destined for greatness should fraternize with the greats, not the help. Right? Right.

  • Make some solid contacts:I think I did. I gave my resume and spec to at least 7 people who would be in a position to hire me in the future. I also slapped together these little business cards, and handed them out liberally. The overt self-promotion made me feel a little cheap, but I reasoned that I'm just "Putting myself out there."

I'm back at home now I have a few non-writer/TV projects to finish (Gaq font, dad's website). In the next week, I'll be firing up the ol' job hunting gatling gun, and dialing those new contacts.
Tags: los angeles, production assistant, rant, television, the industry
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Journal - Indiana Jones, and the Last Crusade (1989) ddelapp: A Few Things I Learned From My First Experience As A Television Production Assistant
Devon DeLapp (ddelapp) wrote,

A Few Things I Learned From My First Experience As A Television Production Assistant

Here it is. Unemployed, again. Now that the 12-16 hour days are past, I have the free time to reflect on the past few weeks.

My last day on the pilot was Thursday. In summary, I'd describe the experience as overwhelmingly positive. I achieved most of the goals I'd hoped for from the job:
  • Witness as much of the TV production process as possible: My low placement in the hierarchy unfortunately did not allow access to much of the development process or casting sessions. But, I was on set during shooting, worked in the production office, talked to the executives and writers (even just in passing), and moved about on a studio lot.

  • Learn about the different departments, and how they interact: My art background resulted in more conversations with the Art Department, but one of the facts of a being a PA is that you work with (read: under and for) everybody. Though everyone on the show not only works in entertainment, but more particularly in the realm of single-camera television, the people of each department shared distinct personality traits, separating them from the others:

    • Art Department: All the art school nerds with capitalistic tendencies. As opposed to the generally stark offices of this two-month company, their offices were the most colorful and inviting -- logical, given it's their job to design and decorate interiors. They were usually friendly and talkative, though sometimes airy and ambiguous in their descriptions (it's hard to put art into words!). Don't approach them in the first few days before and of shooting -- they're working their asses off, and have little time for idle chatter.

    • Assistant Directors: Don't confuse them with the director. The big man's job is guide the whole production, while it's the ADs who actually steer the ship. Not very talkative. Their jobs require them to be bossy, but this sometimes comes up at inappropriate times (like when telling a certain PA what they want from Staples). The only conversation of any length I had with one was towards the end of a long day. I think the exhaustion weakened the tough persona. AD is a direct path from set PA, and I think a few still feel dangerously close to their roots, hence the school-yard revulsion to be taken anything less than completely serious. Respect their "authority", and you'll get along fine. Even throw in the occasional "yes, sir", and they'll do you favors, like tell Transpo to stop bitching about where you park your car.

    • Transportation (Transpo): These are the often overweight guys in their late 40's or 50's you see sitting around base camp, eating free food and talking in small circles with other drivers. Early on I was advised to stay friendly with the drivers, because they know everything that happens on the show. I found this to be totally incorrect. This is perhaps the most "blue collar" of the departments, and the prevailing attitude was "I'm just doing my job for the paycheck and don't give a fuck about much anything else." They were all friendly, in a weathered taxi cab driver kind of way. They work crazy long hours (first in, last out), but are paid very well, and hourly (towards the end of the day, they make more in one hour than I do in twelve, often just by sitting in their van and waiting).

    • Locations: They secure the locations for the shoot; not just where the camera and actors will be, but also things like where to park the the cars for the 40 extras and the 60-foot trailers for the stars. They looked exhausted constantly, and were always short on conversation. They were often out of the office. Another major part of their job was creating the little maps guiding everyone to the next days location. Despite the importance of the job (you do not want to be on the phone with an angry, lost actress), they used the dinky drawing tools in Word. The results were occasionally less than helpful.

    • Casting: I do not envy their job. Remember when I got all those calls from hungry artists? That's what they do every day, times one million. They put out the call for actors and actresses, and as you can imagine in this town, the response is massive. At the height of it, they had two large cardboard boxes out in the lobby for accepting submissions from interested parties. Those boxes had to be emptied twice daily. That's something like 8 cubic feet of peoples faces, every day. Their job was to sift through this mess, and pick out who would be the best person for each role, from the leads down to "Angry Waiter" to "Barely Legal" (actual role titles). When actors would come in, they'd collect in one particular hallway, awaiting their chance to audition. One of my most surreal experiences on this show happened when they were casting for a particular role. I turn down this hallway, and am faced with a dozen men, all in dark suits, dark haired, similar faces, looking expectantly on me. It was like the restaurant scene in Being John Malkovich, but with "Hunky Guy #2". The casting offices were right next to ours, and we enjoyed the regular parade of hot chicks. The closed door "sessions" with the hot chicks and a camcorder on a tripod did feel a bit skeevy, though. Interaction was friendly but minimal, except when it came time to order lunch. They liked their free lunches.

    • Accountants: We had two, and both were worked to the bone. The onslaught of POs, time cards, and bills almost rivaled Casting's paperwork. Somehow, they kept their sense of humor, and I enjoyed stopping by to chat. When the time came for me to turn around my petty cash (turn in receipts for items purchase in return for more cash to purchase more items), they would pull out the most cash I've seen in one place (at least 5 or 10 grand). From these thick stacks of 100s and 50s, and peel off my $500. Staying friendly with accounting is doubly important, because they're the ones who give you your paycheck. Their office had no windows (they never requested this -- it was just assumed accountants didn't want any outside light?) so they put up this door-sized poster of a colorful vista instead. Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated departments, except on Thursday. That's when paychecks were released.

    • Costume: Friendly, but prone to being anal. Maybe because some of the clothes being bandied about cost thousands of dollars. I had a good relationship with the costume head -- we gave each other nicknames (he was "The Stallion", I was "The Grain Silo"). Second to the ADs and Camera, they had the greatest tendency of asking for "favors", like driving a pair of shoes to an actress in the hills, or carrying heavy boxes around.

    • Actors: The most visible of everyone on the team, my contact was actually pretty limited. I can say that Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon and Regina King were both very friendly, and even remembered my name. I didn't really speak or interact with any other actors (I did bump into Kelli Williams in the hall, once).

    • Extras: My interaction was also limited with them. My strongest memory is seeing the extras holding pen. Like livestock, the unused extras are kept in one room. There, they sit in chairs, nap, read, and wait for their chance to be a blurry face or arm in the background.

    • The Production Team: This includes (in order of tax bracket) the Co-Executive Producer, the UPM (Unit Production Manager), the POC (Production Office Coordinator), and APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator), and me, the PA. The mortar between the bricks would be one way to describe us. Probably the most diplomatic of the groups by necessity. There are no creative tasks at the lower levels, except necessary resourcefulness in completing administrative needs. These were the people I worked with the most. These are generally the "office" people -- the PAs go outside daily, but the APOC and POC never leave the office. The UPM is the bossman, and has the personality to match. Different from the ADs though, he comes across as a professional, hard working, but nice and approachable guy. This is the kind of person that I'd imagine has the most success convincing phone customer service reps to give them free credits on their account. He also accepted a resume and spec from me, so he's totally great.

    • Grips, Electric, and Construction: More departments (along with Transpo) populated by big, often gray-haired manly men, who spend much of their day moving heavy objects. My contact was limited, but they all seemed hard-working and helpful.

    • Camera: Again, by being on set, my contact was limited. I did speak with the DP (director of photography, the guy in charge) a few times (coffee order), and he was always very friendly. You may not have heard his name (Russell Carpenter), but you've seen his work. Remember a little film called Titanic? He won an Academy Award for photographing that. They requested the most errands, which we were happy to do. An afternoon was spent combing stores for a particular brand of wet, Windex wipes. It was after I delivered them that I learned Russell just wanted them for cleaning his glasses.

    • The Executive Producers: Always very friendly with me. The bulk of their job I didn't get to see, because it usually happened behind closed doors with other important people. There was always a bit of deference to them on set. I rarely saw anyone approach or speak to an EP. It's lonely at the top?

    • The Assistants: This is not an actual department, but more just a general lumping. Many people had personal assistants: The director, the writers, and the producers. There were about seven in all. The common aspect was that they all kind of did the same kind menial tasks, and most of them wanted their boss' job. Their positions were similar to being a PA, but just about half a step further closer to their goal (being a PA can parlay into an personal assistant job, while a personal assistant job can parlay into an actual job in the arena one is interested). They generally have this aura of being beat-down, like that of someone much more qualified than the tasks asked of them (I hope I don't look like that). There is a certain level of kinship with PAs, but not too close. A personal assistant is just enough ahead of a PA that getting overly chummy could be construed as a lack of ambition -- people destined for greatness should fraternize with the greats, not the help. Right? Right.

  • Make some solid contacts:I think I did. I gave my resume and spec to at least 7 people who would be in a position to hire me in the future. I also slapped together these little business cards, and handed them out liberally. The overt self-promotion made me feel a little cheap, but I reasoned that I'm just "Putting myself out there."

I'm back at home now I have a few non-writer/TV projects to finish (Gaq font, dad's website). In the next week, I'll be firing up the ol' job hunting gatling gun, and dialing those new contacts.
Tags: los angeles, production assistant, rant, television, the industry
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