And I smiled my smile. Some folks refer to it as THE smile, but only when I’m not in the room. I’ve been told it’s a kinda scary thing to see this “smile” of mine. In my head it’s just a reaction to me shutting down. It’s a little flashing of the gums before the switch flips to the off position. On the inside I’m hearing a pristine “click.” On the outside I’m just showing my teeth in a grin that doesn’t quite reach the eyes. I guess that could be creepy.
A lot of folks hold strong to the romantic notion that they can get their break in the film business by starting as a production assistant. That somehow getting that job is so easy because anyone can do it. “I’ll start at the bottom; I’m willing to get coffee.” Again the cliché. Let me tell ya, getting coffee for a crew at three in the afternoon after they’ve been shooting seven hours isn’t as easy as all that. There’s an art to getting the orders, calling the order in, picking it up and getting back in an hour. First off, don’t bother asking for who takes what in their java. What you do is make sure that you bring cream back with you to the set. And as for sugars, or sweet and lows or what the hell ever, you make sure every cup has a cup cozy. You take the coffee stirrer and you put it in the cup cozy and then you jam two of every single sweetener known to man into the space between the stirrer and the cup. Who cares what the drinker takes in their coffee you’ve covered all your options. That’s what a good P.A. does, they know that they are going to be doing a job with limited information and so they anticipate and compensate. It’s really so much more than “just getting coffee.”
See, believe it or not there is in fact a career path n film. If you want to be a director, than make your movies. Make them by yourself, make them with your friends, but make them. You can start by being a P.A., work up to being on set, and then work up to being an assistant director. Make no mistake though, in order to become a director you’ve gotta have work to show. It doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to have crane shots or zollies. It’s just has to be good, and complete in vision and void of needed caveats when being watched. If you want to be a story board artist or an art director then learn to draw, and become an art department assistant. And so on and so on and so forth.
However if you are coming to me, and saying hey I want to be a production assistant, than the first thing I’m going to ask is “Why?” Being a P.A. is a tough job. You’ll have to stand outside and tell people they can’t get into their own home until you get the all clear over your walkie. You’re going to be spending long nights in the office just to confirm that the package arrived in London and is sitting on someone’s desk on another continent. You’re going to make reservations for the producer and make sure his itinerary is waiting at the front desk of all of his hotels on his three city tour. That way when he (as in me) loses the copy you gave him he doesn’t have to call in the middle of the night to say “Where am I supposed to be?” You make sure that the theatre staff have pictures of your producer ahead of time so that when he walks through the door of a theatre he’s never been to before , everyone he’s never met says “Hello Mr. Light of my Life. We have your seats reserved for you in the theatre.” You’re going to have to pick up garbage after all the extras have trashed the stadium. I’m going to give you my soaking wet lap top and tell ya to get the data off it because it slid off the boat I was on last weekend. KERPLOOSH.
But if you get it right, then you’re agreeing to come into the family. You’re part of the small crew that is in fact the tail that wags the dog. As a P.A. you become a representative of production. You are the producer’s proxy, his or her eyes and ears. You are part of the crew but also set apart. You are production, anointed. A good P.A. is worth their weight in gold. They’re going to help make a hard job that much easier. They’re going to take care of the job, and the crew, and me and in return I will take care of them. I will go to dinner with other producers and brag about my P.A.’s. And the first question asked is “When are they available?”
I will send you on your way and your success will be a source of pride for me. Just as you started, I started and just as someone taught me I will teach you. So the lessons learned are handed down and you will be the embodiment of an entire generation of producers who came before you.
So why do you want to be a P.A.? There’s only one answer. Here’s a hint. The word “just” ain’t in it.