How to work in the Film Industry as a Production Assistant

Jay Lopez

Things You'll Need

  • Persistence
  • Determination
  • Patience
  • Time
  • Internet Access

Ever wanted to work in the Film Industry? Believe it or not it's quite easy to get a job in the Film Industry working as a Production Assistant on Commercials and Movies. With a little know how and persistence anyone can become a full time Production Assistant. I've spent three years as a Production Assistant before advancing positions in to a Set Dresser in the Art Department. I continue to work on Commercials, Photo Shoots, Corporate Videos, and Movies as a Set Dresser and Props Assistant full time.

What a Production Assistant (PA) does?

A PA is basically the lowest position on the totem pole when it comes to the Production Department. There are also PA's they may put in specific departments, and they are also considered the lowest position in their respective departments(Ex. Camera PA, Wardrobe PA, Art PA, etc..). You are basically a grunt and usually do a lot of the dirty work.

-Getting Coffee for the Producers -Drive around the Directors, Producers, Director of Photography, etc. -Taking out Trash -Buy or Pick-Up Production related Supplies -Lock-Out: Basically stopping people or traffic from entering into a scene -Photo Copying -Picking up important people and not so important people from the airport -Random task that don't require a lot of skill


Tailor your resume to include any skills that are complimentary toward any position that may be relevant in the film industry. There are many different positions with in the Film community, especially when it comes to Movies. For example if you are good with various computer applications list them on your resume. If your good at Microsoft Word or Excel that may be helpful to the Production Managers or Production Coordinators. If you know how to sew, that may land you a job as a Wardrobe PA.

Working for Free:

I know working for free doesn't sound like fun, but I actually got my first job responding to a ad for a small low budget movie. There was no pay, but I gained on hands work experience that was equivalent to paying for the education of going to film school. Not to mention the various people I networked with that brought me on to other paid gigs with them later on down the road. This amount of networking was invaluable to my success in becoming a PA. This will be a first stepping stone that many of the PA's that are still working as PA's started off doing.

Work Ethic:

Good work ethic is very important. Whether your working for free or on a paid gig I recommend being on your best behavior. On a lot of the free gigs there tends to be a more laid back atmosphere. You may even party and drink amongst your co-workers when working on free gigs. This is usually because on free project you may very well be working with other full time PA's that make their living working as a PA on Commercials and Films. On their own projects they may act as a higher position like a Director or Assistant Director in order to gain those credits. Even though in essence these free gigs are usually more free in spirit you should still show good work ethic as these will be the people that recommend you for jobs that they have to turn down because they are already booked on another job. If they see your a hard worker and take the initiative to learn, they will be more inclined to recommend you for jobs they can not take. You will notice once you get a paid job how different the atmosphere is. Paid jobs are more demanding, there are more people around that you need to impress, and more higher ups that are critiquing your every move.


You may very well see others smoking on set. Grips, Electrical, Art Department, Producers, Actors, and even Craft service people may all have their smokers. This doesn't necessarily mean it's okay to smoke. Their higher ups (Keys) may smoke, or they may have a key that has worked with them a long time and is okay with it. I have noticed that when PA's are smokers they tend to get called for jobs less. If you have to smoke on set at least be discreet about it. Never smoke in front of a Producer or Director, unless a Director ask you if you have a cigarette. In general never assume it's okay to smoke. Feel people out before you just light up a cigarette. The last thing you want to do is give off a bad first impression to someone who may have thought of you as their first call, but changed their mind because they don't like the fact that you smoking on set. It's a fine line, and I recommend smoking on your own personal time. I can say first hand that I used to smoke, and I have now quite for my own personal health reasons. But I have been pulled aside from a Production Manager that said they were disappointed in me for smoking on set. They said it maid me look careless and bad. I'm not trying to preach, I'm just talking from personal experience that it's just not a good look.

Production Coordinators and Production Managers:

Chances are the majority of the people that will hire you will be your local Production Coordinators and Production Managers. I recommend doing a Google search on for your States Film Commission website. You can obtain information from those websites usually located in the Production Staff sections of the website. Figure out who your local Production Coordinators and Production Managers are and email or fax them your resume with a brief description of why you think you would be a valuable PA on their next job. You may never get a response, but in some cases there may be multiple productions going on in your area. Usually when there are multiple productions going on they may be short of crew members including PA's. They may be desperate to find PA's and willing to take PA's with little to no experience. The main way to get PA work is from word of mouth, as very rarely will a Production Coordinator or Production Manager hire someone they have never heard of, but there are instances when it is extremely busy. If your resumes gets sent to them at the right time of need you may be in luck. This is one of the ways to build your rep as a good PA. You'll find some of the Production Coordinators and Production Managers may love you, some may not like you. That's just the way it goes. You have to build their trust by showing them your a good worker. For some it may just take time for them to familiarize themselves with you. You can't be on the top of everyone's A list, and you just have to try your best. It takes persistence and time to get on the A list as a lot of other more experienced PA's are vying for those spots.

Local Production Companies:

After you have a few jobs on your resume (paid and unpaid), I recommend searching in your State or Local film directory for all the local Production Companies and send them your resume. Chances are if there are no Film productions going on in town then most of the local crew is working on Commercials, TV shows, Industrial Videos, or Photo Shoots.

Finding Movies that Film in your city:

You can call your Local or State Film Commission to find out what Films are filming in your area. They usually even list the Production Office phone numbers and fax numbers for you to send your resume to. Talk to your local Film representative introduce yourself and ask for a little advice.

Being Proactive but not a pest:

Keep your visual appearances up, but by no means should you beg for work. That can turn people off and may detour them from hiring you. They're is no need to email or fax your resume to the local Production Coordinators or Production Managers or even other PA's every week to try to find jobs. A friendly reminder once every three months I think is okay, just make sure it is addresed in a sincere non pushy, desperate way of asking for work. You may want to send your resume to Production Coordinators or Production Managers that you have not worked with before, but I recommend only sending them once or twice a year at the most. If your a good hard working PA your name will get around trust me. Chances are if you are not getting calls, it means one or two things. One, the Production Coordinator or Production Manager doesn't want to hire you because they either have never heard anything about you good, or bad. Or two you might be lower on their list, and unless they are really desperate they will call you.

Getting chummy with the Director:

It's certainly okay to be friendly with the director, but you should keep it to a distant. They have a lot on their minds in how they are going to go about shooting the commercial,movie,television, or photo shoot. They may be under a lot of stress. Certain directors may be better at handling that stress than others. Directors like all people will have personalities ranging from pre-modonna, to super laid back, to having screaming fits, to very introverted and non talkative. So it might not be in your best interest to tell them about the short film your working on unless they specifically ask you. Look,chances are they are in their respected position because they worked hard at it, they paid their dues and put in many years building their reel. Sure there may be some flukes out their that may have just got out of film school, or came from an advertising background and may have never even been a PA. But what ever reason they are there do not approach them to self promote your ideas. If a Producer sees you constantly hounding a Director or trying to get ideas from them, it can be a real big turn off. It might even get you fired. So don't be that guy/girl that got a little to chummy with the Director. It's certainly okay to be conversational as long as it doesn't interfere with the work-flow at hand. I usually try to avoid the Director unless there is direct communication that is needed by them that the AD is not able to address.

Walkie Etiquette:

This is a little hard to explain with out actually physically experiencing it for yourself. But basically on almost every commercial, film or television shoot you will be given a walkie as a communication device. The AD (Assistant Director) will be first in command, as he/she will be orchestrating the crew on what needs to be done to keep on production schedule. He'll be telling people if water is needed on set, to asking when wardrobe will be done dressing a specific actor, to telling the crew it's time to move on to the next scene, you name it he/she will be the one most widely heard on the walkie. Usually he will stay on channel one. Other departments will stay on other channels. The reason for this is so there are not a bunch of people trying to communicate on the same channel (Ex. Grip & Electric might use channel 7, Art Department might use channel 4, etc.) Generally speaking the AD is first in command, so if you are responding directly to him on the walkie on channel one then it's kosher. However keep it short and sweet as the production schedule will be moving fast. Take all other conversations to channel two.

Situation: Say you need to ask another PA where the folding chairs for lunch are located. The proper way to do this would be. In the example below let's say your name is Bob and John is the PA you want to ask.

Announcing on channel one You: Bob to John come in John: Go for John You: Hey John can you switch to channel two? John: Switching

Now both of you will now be on channel two, freeing channel one for more important stuff that the AD and Producers might need it for.

Announcing on channel two John: On channel two You: Hey John, do you happen to know where the chairs are for lunch? I can't seem to find them. I wanted to start setting up the lunch area. John: Well the reason you can't find them is because me and Pam have already set up the lunch area, duh!! You: My bad, I just got back on set and didn't even think to actually check the lunch area. John: No worries, it's been one of those days. Back to one You: Back to one

As you can see this was quite a long conversation, but none the less it was communication that was needed, but had this conversation been done on channel one you would have most likely tied up channel one with conversation that was not super critical to obtaining a shoot needed for a particular scene. There is no way to sum all of the walkie etiquette up very easily in text.

Mimic the A-Listers (Top PA's):

Observe what the A-Listers are doing right: -Chances are they always look busy -Think on their toes -Don't complain about having to take out trash or work late -May offer suggestions, but never think they are Mr. Know it All's -Always 15 minutes early -Never have an excuse for being late because they never are -Never lie, be honest -Be respectful -Have a good attitude even when things really suck -Don't bring personal problems to work

Look you will never be on every Production Managers/Coordinators A-List, but if you do a good job chances are you will be on some of the Managers/Coordinators List. I've worked for two and a half years as an A-Lister for 2-3 of the top Managers/Coordinators, and never even worker for some of the other top Manager/Coordinators until after I had moved on from the PA position. The fact of the matter is people call who they are familar with and who they enjoy working with. You can't take it personal.

Light Hold, On Hold and Being Booked:

In the Film industry nothing is a given, but here are the general rules of thumb when a Production Coordinator or Production Manager call you for a job.

Light Hold: If a Production Manager or Coordinator puts you on a light hold, this means the job is not definite. They may already have someone else in mind that they would rather use but are unsure if they could work because that person may have not gotten back to them. Or the job may not have been awarded yet to a particular Production Company so they are unsure if the job will even come to their town. The proper procedure is for a Coordinator or Manager to call you back and book you if the job is a go, or to release you if the job is a no go or they find someone else they are more comfortable working with.

Hold: This is similar to a Light Hold, however it is more likely you will get booked for the job. It means to hold those days and write them in your calendar. Same rules apply you will be notified whether you will be booked closer to the dates you are on hold for.

Booked: This means you have the job, and they are relying on you to be able to work on the days they book you for. Be sure not to double book, meaning you booked a particular day with two different jobs from two different Production Companies. Trust me it can happen to the best of them, just be sure to check your calendar before you tell them you can do the job.

So basically if you are put on a light hold or a hold, that means these dates are held for that particular Production Coordinator or Production Manager. That means if a different Production Coordinator or Manager calls and wants to either book you for the same days or put you on hold for more days that conflict with your current hold days. Then you would have to call back the first Coordinator/ Manager and ask to be released first before you can accept the new booked or hold dates. Why would you do this? Well if your being called from someone else to be booked, that means you have the job unless something drastic happens. Or you get a call from someone else that wants to hold you for more days then that could equate to more money.

However if your already booked for 5 days, and you get a call from someone else to be booked for 10 days, you should tell them which days conflict and say you can only work the days that do not conflict. When someone books you they are committing to you, so they ask in return that you commit to t


Commercials: Usually somewhere around $200 per day as a flat rate. Some commercials pay less, some pay more, and some are on a 10 hour work day meaning anything over 10 hour is considered overtime. Jobs usually last from 1-10 days sometimes longer but rarely over 15 days. Other jobs may ask you to be on a 12hr day. It just depends, so you should clarify if you are unsure.

Television: Usually between $100-150, or coarse this can vary based on what city your in, production budget, among other factors. The reason why the rate is less than Commercials is because you usually get more working days and can in some cases work for the length of the television show which could be anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years.

Movies: Anywhere from Nothing to $125 is the usual rate, sometimes it's more of coarse. It really depends on the budget, but even high budget movies may pay on a lower scale. Jobs usually last 1 to 3 months but can go longer but usually never over 2 years.

Answer your phone!

Not answering your phone could cost you a job. As certain jobs require last minute help, a Production Coordinator or Manager could be trying to fill their roster with a plethora of PA's. If they call you and you don't answer, they will probably call someone else within the next five minutes. If you look at your phone and decide to call them back in an hour, chances are your job will already be filled. Also even if you can't do a job it's a sign of courtesy to call them back and tell them your unavailable. When I was a Production Coordinator I would leave messages on PA's phones for jobs I wanted to hire them for. Some would call me back right away, others may have been busy but still had the courtesy to call me back later. Some never even called me back, and guess what? On the very next job I coordinated I never called the PA's that didn't respond to my calls from the prior job. Calling back is a courtesy, if a Production Manager/Coordinator has given you consideration to possibly hire you, it's in your best interest to call them back. Regardless of whether or not you are available to work.

Get a laptop:

Get a laptop, and when getting hired ask if you should bring it. Preferably you should get a Mac. I'm not debating which is better by any means. The fact of the matter is that 80% of the time the Production Managers, Coordinators, Producers, Directors, etc.. will have an Apple computer. You never know when you might be helping them with something computer related, and it's just easier having the same system. Sure you can still get by with a PC, but you will be less prone to formatting problems among other issues if you have a Mac. Trust me the first two years I had a PC and had numerous problems from being able to print, to formatting issues when printing, to exchanging files, and I'm extremely computer literate. Not only that, when I bought my Apple laptop I doubled the amount of hire days. I guarantee you that if you asked any Production Manager or Coordinator which PA's get the most work, Ones with Apple laptops, or ones without them? And they will tell you the ones with Apple laptops get more work. This is because generally when they need PA's with laptops they need them on the Prep days not only the shoot days.

So most of the PA's I know that do not want to by an Apple have reason ranging from, I don't like Mac's to I can't afford one. These are all excuses and in my humble opinion you should not let these factors hold you back and here is the reason why. The first job I got hired as a Coordinator I had just recently bought a Mac laptop, when preiviously I had a PC. That job lasted me 10 days at a rate of $350 per day = $3,500. The cost of my Mac was about $1.500. So had I not had a Mac I might have never been called for the job, or called for less days to work based on the fact that I didn't have a Mac.

Listen, I know you can get by on a PC, but when you start to have issues it looks bad to all the Coordinators and Production Managers that actually do use Macs. That thought resonates in their head every time they are looking to hire Office PA's or even Set PA's for that matter. Their job is to make pre-production, shoot and wrap as smooth and hiccup free as possible. So if that means hiring an all Mac friendly PA staff, then most likely that is what the will go with. The investment will pay for itself trust me.


Generally everyone in the industry is a Freelancer, including the Production Managers and Coordinators. They are usually called from an out of town Commercial of Film production company that wants to film in your city or state. They find a local Coordinator or Production manager that knows the local film crew. This is why knowing your local Coordinators and Production Managers is essential.

The Exception:

Is when there is a local Production Company that you work for. If you work full time for them they may put you on their payroll. Or their Producers may or may not be on their payroll. It just depends, In most cases you will still work for them as a freelancer and get a 1099 at the end of the year.

Also generally on larger budget commercials and movies you will fill out a time card and therefore have taxes taken out. This means you are a temporary employment.

How long will it take to be full time status?

From my personal experience, it took me about a year to gain a full time income. I paid my dues and worked on some unpaid jobs to get my foot in the door, and to get myself familiarized with the local community. After about a year of working with a lot of the same people over and over again people started remembering who I was, and I started meeting other people that I hadn't worked with before. My name started getting passed around as a solid PA, and I started getting more work.

The Balance:

Between working on Movies, Television, Video, Commercial, and Photo Shoots you'll see they are all different worlds. They may very well have their own little circles. You may find yourself working on a Photo Shoot with people that you would never work with on a Film Shoot. Some people that work on Photo Shoots don't like Film Shoots and vice-versa. My philosophy is like the stock market, you have to diversify. Some times the Film jobs dry up for a while. Some times the Photo industry gets slow. But if you try to balance out the work, it could really pay off. Work with as many different people as you can, but at the same time try to continue to work with the people that hire you on a consistent basis, because it's easy to go off someones radar if they haven't worked with you in a long time.

Moving on up:

Once your in the business and you have made a good name for yourself it is easier to move to different departments or higher positions. With in a year and a half I moved from working as a PA to working as an Accounting Clerk, Production Coordinator, Props Assist, Set Dresser, Camera Assist, 1st Assistant Director, and even a Producer. Granted a lot of these roles where on smaller budget projects. My point is there is always opportunity if you are determine you can move up relatively quickly. The hours can sometimes be long, and there may be some travel involved, but I love my job. It's always changing, I'm always learning, and there are endless fields within the film industry to venture off in to if you get board with one position. Best of all you can meet some really great people. That's not to say it doesn't have it's ups and downs.


  • Be patient, it may take up to a year to get steady work Not all communities have large Film Crews, chances are there is a Film Community You may go years without ever working for the top Coordinator or Managers


  • It's fairly easy to get in to the business and even easier to get black listed

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