For over a year I worked as a full-time production assistant on a lifestyle television series, it was a very long and busy year. I am writing this post because working as a Production Assistant in lifestyle is very different from working as a Production Assistant in film. Check out Working as a Production Assistant for a more general outline of PA responsibilities.
Production Assistant Responsibilities Include:
Petty Cash: I was given a large float of money that I would make make expense reports for every week and top up until the end of the production. The float I was given was quite large so I had to be sure to be very organized with my cash and receipts. I had to pay for many things including gas, parking, food and props. Always make sure that you have cash on you, it is also good to keep a portion of your float on a debit card for larger purchases. If you have a credit card you can use that as well, it is a great way to collect points, miles or whatever else you may collect. Also be prepared to do expense reports for other people, they seem to be a pain in the ass for most people and I ended up doing more than just my own.
Props: Every episode of our show had different scenarios play out, therefore different props were needed. We did have a certain structure to our episodes as well so we had staple props also. I had to make sure that I understood the props and knew how to use them and also needed to know how to fix them. When it came to the props that we only used once, I had to find places to get them and then drive all over the city and pick them up. It is always a good idea to go over the script for the episode and make sure that all props are accounted for and that you haven’t forgotten to pick anything up.
Equipment: Anytime a piece of equipment broke down or started to act up, it was up to me to get it fixed. I had to take the equipment to the supplier and have it fixed. There were certain problems with cameras that I learned how to fix myself, it saved me quite a few trips back to the warehouse. I kept spare parts on me and fixed the problems as soon as they happened.
Transportation: I was given the responsibility of a production vehicle for the year of my contract. I would take it home on weekdays and on weekends I would hand it over to the Production Assistant that was working. If anything ever needed to be picked up, it was my responsibility, be it props, documents or equipment, I would get it. Not only did I pick up items, I picked up people, I had to pick up and drive around participants on most shoot days. Sometimes I would have to drive for over an hour to pick someone up and then drive them back to where I came from. This added two hours to the top and end of my day, you have to make sure that you are well rested as the Production Assistant because your days are going to be longer than everyone else. Take care of the vehicle that you are given, keep it as clean as possible, the more organized you keep it the easier and quicker it is to find things. I can’t tell you how many things disappeared in my van.
Craft: Food is the best way to get the crew to love you! It was up to me to buy all the snacks and drinks for the shoot days. The best thing to do is get to know what your crew likes, then buy lots of it. I always liked to have a balance of junk food and healthy snacks, it usually pleased everyone. People love chocolate, even if they say that they don’t eat junk, buy a small thing of chocolate and bring it out at the right time and it can lift spirits tremendously high on a long day. Remember to keep a cooler with ice in it, fill it with more than just water. Water is the most important thing to have on hand and I recommend you always have bottles in your backpack if you can’t get the cooler close to set. Offer water around to the crew, not everyone has the time to go looking for it. Keep paper towel and garbage bags in your backpack as well, the crew can be messy and they don’t really clean up after themselves.
Coffee: I have separated coffee from craft because in my experience, coffee is the way to most people’s hearts. If your budget allows it, buy coffee for the crew at the top of the day. Get to know what everyone likes, if you show up with coffee before they even ask for it, you will be the hero. If you are going on a coffee run, just make sure that you are not needed somewhere else that might be more important first. If you can avoid the coffee that comes in a box and everyone makes their own, then avoid it! Individual orders are preferred by everyone. There is less clean up and not everyone likes coffee! This worked nicely for me because I was never working with a crew larger than 15 people. It is understandable that you can’t do individual orders if the crew numbers get any higher but in lifestyle television that shouldn’t happen. On the average day we were no more than a crew of four.
Keeping on the Schedule: Lifestyle television moves quickly, there is usually no assistant director on set and the actual director needs to focus on the participants and the story. It was usually up to me to keep up with the call sheet and make sure that we were staying on schedule. It is good to give reminders to the director of the time and how much is allotted at certain locations. We would go to multiple locations in one day, sometimes as many as five, so I would have to call ahead to locations if we were running behind and sometimes call and let them know that we weren’t going to make it at all. Don’t let this responsibility get to your head, you are still the Production Assistant, make sure that you give timing warnings but never give commands. You want to be liked! Always have a printed copy of the call sheet on you, someone will always lose theirs and need the address for the next location.
Paperwork: I had a lot of responsibility when it came to paperwork. I had to get releases signed by all participants, anyone that appeared on camera had to sign a release. I had to get a release signed for every location that we shot at and then log all of the releases into a document at the production office. I had to get invoices for locations that we paid for, I had to write receipts for any payments that were made to participants or locations. Sometimes I would have to post signage to let people know that we were filming. I kept a binder with me at all times, it had blank copies of every kind of release that I might need to get signed. At the end of each shoot day I would also complete a daily production report also referred to as a DPR. The DPR had all of the information for the day so that the office staff who were not on set had an idea of how the day went. It includes call times, lunch breaks, crew members on set, participants on set, any releases that were signed, any payments made and any other notes that might be important for the office to know about.
Payments: This is where your petty cash comes in, I had to pay for a lot of different things on any given day. Some locations would be paid with cash so make sure to have enough on you at the top of the day. If I ever made a payment to someone but there was no receipt given, I had to make sure to write one myself and get them to sign it. It is very important to keep track of where all of your petty is going, any money missing when you do your final balance is going to come off of your paycheque. Be as organized as possible, keep your cash in a safe place, I found using my wallet didn’t really work because I would mix my personal receipts and money in there too. I would also have to pay participants for things like gas, parking or food. Those will all need receipts and it is best to carry small bills and change for that kind of thing. Asking a participant to bring you back change and a receipt doesn’t always end up happening. It is easy to forget about the money once it has left your hands.
Assisting the Director: The director usually has a lot on their mind, you need to support them in their decisions and help them when they ask for it. If they are being unreasonable don’t be afraid to say it but say it politely. Sometimes they don’t realize how much you are actually taking care of. Give them timing reminders and let them know when participants are coming and going. It is always nice to set up a monitor for your director, they will appreciate it when you just hand it to them without them having to ask. Just make sure that you are readily available to help with something, don’t wander too far from the director.
Assisting the DOP: This part of the job was definitely the most physically demanding and time consuming. At the top of the day I would help the DOP unload their equipment and bring in anything that we might be using on the day. I would help with the set up of the lights and the camera. It was my responsibility to keep track of the tapes we shot, I would label them and always keep a fresh tape on me. It is probably less and less likely that tapes are used in lifestyle television but whether it is tapes or disks, be very careful with them, label them as clearly as possible. Always be on standby, be ready to move a light, dim a light or clear a cable. There is a lot of set up and tear down when you are moving to multiple locations in a single day. Be quick but be careful, always have the DOP’s back.
Assisting Sound: Sound is usually pretty self sufficient but from time to time they may need you to unplug a loud appliance or ask for music to be turned off. Have their back just as much as the DOP’s and they are likely to give you a hand in return. In my experience, the sound guys that I worked with were always willing to give me a hand, whether it be with setting up lights or packing up the car at the end of the day. Being nice will get you a long way.\
These are the main responsibilities that I encountered on the job but I came to work everyday knowing that I might have to do something I never thought I would. Be prepared to do anything that is asked of you, within reason of course, but make sure you have a “can do” attitude. Being a production assistant can be a pretty thankless job but if you look out for your crew and take care of them, they will acknowledge your hard work and thank you for it. If you can shine as a PA then you are more than likely going to be able to work your way up in the company. Come to set with a positive attitude and try to keep spirits high throughout the long shoot days.