Production Assistants (PA’s) are the lifeblood of any set. Without them, the production inevitably falls behind and falls apart. Any good PA will be prepared with a few essentials to get them through the longest and hardest set days. Here’s what every production assistant needs on set.
What to carry:
- Pens , Sharpies & dry erase markers
You know how often people lose pens in the office or at home? Multiply that, and you’ll have an idea of how many pens go missing on set. Everyone needs them, but it seems like nobody ever has one. Keep a few on you at all times and you’ll be the hero on set. Sharpies disappear just as often and are perfect for marking up papers and jotting down any last-minute notes. Always have these on hand, and you’ll never be caught off guard. If you want brownie points, also bring some dry erase markers for the slate. Crew members always end up misplacing handfuls of them, so having an extra on hand will make a production assistant indispensable.
Highlighters are one of those writing utensils nobody knows they need until they need one. From marking important changes to noting what scenes are complete, highlighters are essential help production assistants keep everything organized and on track. Keep a whole rainbow on set to make sure no part of the script is overlooked or forgotten. You’re higher-ups will thank you later.
- Extra batteries
Equipment always dies exactly when you need it the most. The last thing you need is to be on the other side of a large set and realize your walkie-talkie’s dead. Keep a few extra batteries on you at all times to quickly replace any that go out at a moment’s notice. While a dead walkie-talkie seems easy enough to work around, a dead DAR and wireless microphone will prove to be much more of an issue. With batteries on deck at all times, no need to waste precious brain space on your dying equipment.
If you’re a production assistant on an outdoor set, especially in LA, you’ll want a sturdy hat to get you through the day. With raging temperatures and the ruthless sun beating down, you’ll need something to fight off the heat exhaustion that’s bound to come. A hat keeps you cool and keeps the sun out of your eyes so you can focus on what’s important: keeping things running smoothly.
- Copy of the call sheet and shot list
It’s a lot easier to stay on top of what will be needed on shots if you have an idea of what shot you’re actually on at any given point. Having copies of both the call sheet and shot lists means never falling behind or getting lost in the script. Plus, you can get ahold of everyone at a moment’s notice. Anticipating where you need to be as a production assistant and doing it well makes for a great shoot. So make your life easier and make sure you have these papers on you.
Things break on set. A lot. Whether its prop boxes bursting at the seams or random wires sticking up and tripping crewmembers, there’s nothing that a little tape can’t help fix. Keep a roll on you to fix whatever breaks that minute. Bonus points if you have Gaff Tape for helping out the G&E department. When things start going awry at the worst time, you’ll be the shining hero that came prepared for the worst.
- A good pair of closed toe shoes
This should go without saying, but a production assistant a lot on set. Depending on the length and size of the set, you could be walking a total distance of anywhere from the length of a football field to upwards of six miles! (We’re speaking from experience.) Plus, as a PA you usually have to lift heavy things, and sets can be hazardous to exposed toes (try accidentally catching the base of a c-stand in sandals… You’ll be out of commission for weeks). Having comfortable shoes is a must if you’re going to get through the set without crying or having a mental breakdown. This is not the time to break in your new flats or sneakers. Use shoes you know can go the distance. You’ll thank us when you’re not covering your feet in bandages the next day.
- Energy drink/ coffee
Set is exhausting. There we said it. Between running around all day, keeping track of seemingly endless small tasks, and making sure everything keeps moving, you’ll definitely find yourself dragging your feet at some point or another. Have an energy booster on hand will help you get through the inevitable crash. Coffee and Redbull not your thing? An apple is just as good at perking you up with its natural caffeine content. A lot of times, production will supply the caffeine for you (we always do)! But just in case crafty is running low, it’s always safe to bring your own. Whatever your vice, keep it on hand to make even the dreariest of times bearable.
- Get some sleep
Your sleep schedule on set may not always be up to you, but take whatever time you can get to rest. You never know what the next day of production will bring, so it’s best to be prepared for anything. We know we suggested keeping an energy booster on set, but you don’t want to overly rely on those to get you through the day. Do what you need to get as much rest as possible beforehand. Your body will thank you.
- Don’t take it personally
As a production assistant, there is a 99% chance someone will get snippy with you on set. Unless you royally messed up, there’s also a 99% chance this person’s frustration is misplaced and has nothing to do with you. You may have heard the term “hurry up and wait” – there’s a lot of this that happens on set. Every minute on set costs production a lot of money, so there is a lot of pressure to get things done as quickly as possible during “hurry up” moments, And during those portions of the day, people tend to be in task mode, not chat mode. So don’t take anything on set too personally. Tensions can run high, especially if things are running behind. If you do your work, whatever else happens is beyond your control. So take a deep breath and get to work. You got this. And always remember – PA’s are one of the most crucial members of the crew, and everyone on set knows it!
- Make sure you’re eating.
During the rush of the day, it’s easy to forget that you need to be fueling your body. When the crew takes lunch, a production assistant may be asked to run various small tasks that couldn’t be done while the tape was rolling. Still, at some point take a minute to eat. Without food, you’ll crash in the middle of the day, turning you from the best PA to a useless potato sack on set. And no one wants to hire a useless potato sack.
- If you have a minute to sit, SIT.
As a PA, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be on your feet the entire day. It’s just part of the job. However, sometimes lulls in the action arise where you have a couple minutes without instruction. (Remember “hurry up and wait?” This is the “wait” portion of the day.) Take this time to sit, stretch out, and rest. If you’re working long days over multiple days, it’ll start to take a toll on your body. Take these momentary respites and use them as a brief recharge period before the madness begins again.
Would you like to learn more about production assistants, or about any other video topic? Reach out to IDR for additional information and answers to all your questions. You’ll discover why we’re Orange County’s premier producer of TV commercials, infomercials, and online videos for a wide range of businesses, organizations, and brands.