Have you ever wondered what it is like to be production assistant?
Recently, on the boards of Reddit, several former production assistants went on a walk down memory lane discussing their craziest moments as a PA.
Here are are the five best stories from /r/filmmakers:
1. ‘I was officially the “handler” for the drug addicted actor’
Many, many years ago I was officially the “handler” for the drug addicted actor who constantly kept disappearing from the set to snort MDMA in any bathroom he could find.
I’m not even joking, I was warned by a fantastic producer to stick to him like “white on rice”. The actor was also getting fairly well known by this point. However, he was a slippery one.
Once we were filming in a gigantic warehouse for an amazing feature for TV. He disappeared right at the moment we were ready to shoot, and day light was already disappearing. In a panicked frenzy I ran EVERYWHERE looking for him. About two and a half hours later I found him in the bathroom of a nearby pub, high as fuck and annoyed that I had discovered his “secret”. Lays into me, to the point I think he’s going to hit me.
I have to remind him of the time, he panics, and we race back to the set whilst he is still throwing insult after insult at me. Get to the set, he does his supporting scenes with a horrible nervous twitch that’s still visible in the final cut. Producer storms over to him when he’s done and gives him the most epic, Malcolm Tucker style dressing down I have ever seen.
She was a whole foot shorter than he was, but she might as well have been a giant.
Years later, said actor, still high, rocks into my audition room for a commercial I produced for Amazon. Told him – instantly – to get out.
We can only guess who was the actor.
2. Driving Coolio’s Hummer to an Inglewood Car Wash
My first job in LA was a short-lived reality show with Coolio. I was told to take his vehicle to the carwash because they were doing driving cut-ins later. Coolio drives a late-90s baby-blue Hummer with matching rims and a crazy sound system. All eyes on me as I (a 22 year old, chubby white kid) jumps out of that Hummer at an Inglewood car wash. I swear there was a record scratch heard somewhere.
The kicker is: a few months later, Coolio makes news getting pulled over for expired plates. The plates had been expired for years and no one on production noticed. Cops found drugs in that car, and he was arrested.
To this day I get nervous imagining getting pulled over by the cops, and having to claim, “I swear, officer, those are Coolio’s drugs!”
3. Organic Rotisserie Chicken Every 4 hours!
PA’d for Ian Ziering (of Sharknado fame) and he requires 24oz of organic rotisserie chicken every 4 hours as part of his diet. Needless to say… I visited California Chicken Cafe a lot that day.
4. Stuck in traffic with Rob Lowe
Back when I was PAing, I worked on a reality pilot that was being produced by Rob Lowe here in Washington DC. Typical PA stuff throughout the 3 day shoot until the final day in the afternoon. One of the producers pulled me aside and asked me to take my personal car to pick up Rob from a restaurant, take him back to his hotel to change and then meet at the final location of the day.
I pick Rob up from Legal Seafood and get stuck in DC traffic. I ended up being stuck in the car with hime for about an hour in total and had the coolest chat with him, talking about the business and my aspirations of being a TV writer. At the time, Rob’s autobiography “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” was in the works and while he was with me his agent sent the dust jacket summary of the book to him so that he could proofread it. He asked if he could read it out loud to me so I could help him catch any errors. Here’s the summary that he read to me:
“A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye
A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood’s top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.
The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.
Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.”
It was while he was reading it to me that it really hit me who I was sitting next to. It was a really surreal experience and one I remember to this day.
Here’s a photo from the shoot. Rob’s on the left obviously and I’m the guy on the right hauling the monitor
5. Never bring the wrong type of lettuce
UPM on a show once gave me a dressing down in the production office in front of everyone because I bought him the wrong type of lettuce.
He told me “get a head of lettuce” for his pre-lunch meal, and the only grocery stores in 15 blocks of the office had iceberg. Dude flipped a ****.
Still want to become a Production Assistant?
Check out these amazing tips on how to improve your career as a production assistant from Angerbang23 a PA that worked on several feature films:
- Don’t be nervous. You are the low person on the totem like but the entire crew knows this and usually respects this. I say usually because you do get the random asshole who will throw you under the bus and say “some pa won’t let me do my job”
- My best advice to new PAs that I work with is to
- Always copy on the radio. Especially when talked to directly. If you are an additional, you don’t need to copy when certain tasks are being asked about (for example, is first team wired/propped up. Leave that for the first team pa)
- Take any and all conversations to channel 2. No one, especially the first AD wants to hear chatter on the radio. Especially when he is in the middle of set getting asked a million questions by the director, DP, producers etc.
- If you are on a union gig. DO NOT TOUCH ANY DEPARTMENTS EQUIPMENT. You may ask them if they need any help. But even if it’s something as small as a shop bag. Ask a grip first.
- Make sure you confirm any and all information before relaying it. Not only does it ensure that you aren’t relaying wrong information, it shows your ADs that you are willing to follow through.
- Follow up on any task or request you are assigned to. Don’t trust anyone to complete a job, follow up with them to insure that it has been done. (For example, if it’s cold and you are inside about to move outside. Check with locations numerous times to ensure the warming tents are already set up. Even go as far as traveling ahead to ensure that It has been done. Even tho it is not your job, it will potentially fall on the AD department for not being prepared.
- When taking care of cast, always preface with the question of how they like for things to be done. If they have to get wired, ask them if they want to be wired in their trailer, or on set. If you have to cue them. Ask if they prefer to be tapped, or use a visual cue. These things are small. But it means a lot to the talent.
- DO NOT BLOW YOUR LOCK-UP. It doesn’t matter if the UPM or executive producer is trying to get in. Even tho they are technically your bosses. Unless you FIRST AD has specifically told you to allow someone to enter. Do not let them in. Departments will always try and sneak their way in. Do not let them no matter how much of a fight they put up. That being said. Never get physical. If a crew member insists on entering and they push you out of the way. Let them through, and then tell your first (NOT ON WALKIE) and let them talk to that persons respective department head.
- Always ask questions. Being on set is a hierarchy. And people love to talk about what they know. Being green just remember that you know nothing, but people will love to teach you. It gives them a chance to show you how much they know. But more importantly it gives you a chance to learn. Don’t be afraid to talk to the cam ops or acs about what a certain piece of equipment does. Or ask an electrician what a tweeny is. People love questions. Stay curious my friend.
- If you are key, don’t wait for someone to tell you what the left and right frames are. Befriend the camera operators, they will always work with you and get you a more direct answer than anyone else. Your first and 2nd2nd are usually pre occupied, take it in your own hands to ensure your lock ups are set and strong. Don’t be afraid of setting someone on a deep lock up (I call it the jerk off lock up cause there’s nothing better to do than jerk off) but be nice to your additionals and don’t keep one person on a deep lock up all day.
- Make sure all of the paper work checks out. Make sure that everyone fills out their I-9 correctly, and that it’s been signed off on. Make sure that the daily time sheets have the correct lunch on it (your 2nd2nd will love you for it because it saves them hours of phone calls while they are filling out the PR)