Vol IV: A Typical Day for a Production Assistant

posted in: Production Book | 0
This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Production Entry-Level Guide

Okay, so this is going to totally sound cliche, but there really isn’t a typical day in a production assistant’s life. One day you’ll be shuttling crew from base camp to mansion in the hills. Another day you could be cleaning the pool at a home overlooking the ocean. Or you might even be eating lunch across the table from your favorite celebrity! This article will, however, try to break down the job down to the core functions that are standard on most shoots.

There is a lot that must happen prior to your actual call time. It's important to prep for your call time and entire day before you step foot on set.

  • Consult your handy-dandy checklist to make sure you have everything you'll need.
  • Eat something (chances are load-in will happen prior to the first meal, so you'll need calories).
  • Check the traffic on your route.
  • Ensure you leave plenty of time to park and get to your first check point.

Pre Call

It's showtime! Your call time is one of the most important pieces of information on the call sheet. You must never be late. Even 5 minutes late will reflect poorly on you!

  • This is the time you are expected to be at your check point to receive assignments from the production manager.
  • Typically your call time as a PA will be slightly before the rest of the crew to prepare for potential transpo or supplier load-in logistics.
  • Once the rest of the crew starts to arrive, you'll be tasked with directing where they park, where suppliers load-in from and possible transpo of crew to a remote base camp.

Call Time

This is where things get nuts. Huge trucks are pulling up, crew cars are parking and people are running around. It's time to roll up your sleeves and start sweating!

  • This is when all gear, equipment, prop and clothing rentals must be loaded off their respective cubes and to their proper staging areas in base camp.
  • Usually departmental load-ins are covered by their respective assistants, but you may be expected to help out, if needed.
  • Load-in time is critical and has likely been carefully timed out in the schedule to allow for maximum shoot time on set.
  • Any delays could trickle down into the entirety of the shoot, causing massive overtime costs.

Load-in

Depending on the production, there may or may not be an initial meal right after or during Load-in. I tend to always provide a first meal to fuel up my crew.

  • Most of the shoots I work start in the morning, so this meal is typically breakfast.
  • Don't expect too much from the first meal. Depending on the scope of the shoot and budget, this meal could be a simple continental breakfast or a full-menu with hot items and sides.
  • It's always a good idea to have something to eat before you arrive on set.

Meal 1

This is where the talent gets prepped for their upcoming shots.

  • It's important for talent to get into the makeup, hair and wardrobe chairs soon after arrival.
  • Typically those in the first shot will be the first in the chairs.
  • To save time, a Producer will sometimes schedule Talent Prep during Load-in and/or Meal 1.
  • Talent schedules will generally be handled by the Client and Producer.
  • You may be asked to escort talent to set.
  • If the talent is a celebrity, resist the urge to snap a candid photo on your phone. This could get you fired!

Talent Prep

This is the time when the Clients, Producer and Photographer will have a pow-wow to discuss any last minute tweaks to the shoot schedule.

  • Sometimes changes are made due to timing restraints, weather conditions or other unforeseen factors.
  • It's important to not bother any of these people while this is happening, unless it's an emergency.
  • The First Shot prep also occurs at this time, including lighting and art department set ups.
  • The photographer's first assistant will also take this time to test the lighting and camera settings with the digital tech.

Shot Prep

All that work paid off - it's time for the first shot!

  • At this point, a few hours may have passed, but the first shot always takes the longest to set up.
  • Each shot has a finite amount of time to complete on the schedule, which is carefully monitored by the production manager.
  • During shooting is when there is the most potential for conflict between production and creative, but a good PM will know how to keep things on track with little to no time overages.
  • About 2/3 of the way through the shot, the Keys will start to prepare for the second shot, typically keeping the 1st assistants on set to manage any touch ups or basic needs on set.
  • Once the shot is completed, immediate breakdown of the set occurs and transitioned over to the new set.

First Shot

By this point, you will have likely finished 3-4 shots or more depending on the setups and shot count.

  • Whenever the second meal is scheduled, the caterer should arrive between 30-45 minutes prior to ensure the food is ready to eat at the specified break time.
  • As a PA, you will typically be the last to eat to ensure the main crew has finished completely.
  • Meal breaks are typically 30 minutes.
  • Depending on the schedule, some shoots will stagger meal breaks to ensure a continuous flow of work is being done on set. This happens frequently on shoots that are running behind schedule.
  • YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A MEAL BREAK. It's against the law for your PM to deprive you of at least a 30 minute break.

Meal 2

Sometime after Meal 2 the crew will start to slip into food coma. Be prepared to do a coffee run.

  • This is another time when your notebook and pen will come in handy.
  • You can write down orders or have crew members do it themselves - just make sure you can read the writing.
  • Pick a generic place like Starbucks, as most people have a preferred order from there.
  • If people forget to indicate the size of their drink, err on the side of caution and get a Venti.
  • Make sure to note any allergies or sensitivities to dairy or other ingredients that might be in their drinks.
  • Usually the PM will order on his/her app or give you their card. If not, don't be shy about using your Starbucks app and get those points! You can expense this later!

Coffee Run

The Martini Shot is the last shot of the day, but there's a lot of work left to do!

  • Most of the props, equipment and gear has been used and will not be needed for the Martini.
  • Production gear like tables, chair, mobile offices, etc can be broken down and stacked for load-out.
  • Getting everything ready neatly will save a lot of time during load-out.
  • On a lot of my sets, the end of the Martini Shot is marked with a group photo. You don't have to be a part of this, but it's great for your online portfolio and proves you actually have experience on set!

Martini

Load-out is similar to load-in except in reverse!

  • This is where all that hard work and prep during the Abby and Martini shots pay off.
  • Most of the gear and equipment will be stacked nicely for the suppliers to come and load onto their cubes.
  • As a PA, you will be expected to help load these items onto the trucks, including the gear from the other departments.
  • Except for Art Department, every other department leaves once they have packed up their personal kits.
  • Sometimes load-out has to happen extremely fast, especially if a shoot has run long, to avoid costly overtime.

Load-out

This is the moment that everything must be completed by and the last person leaves set.

  • Tail lights can be set based on overtime costs or by law.
  • Some cities or other types of locations require that film crews be off the premise by a certain time.
  • Failure to heed Tail Lights mandates could come with stiff financial penalties, inability to ever use the location again or, in rare cases, criminal charges.

Tail Lights


Every shoot has different clients, different crews and ultimately different needs. As a result, your timelines could differ greatly from this one. As you become more experienced, you’ll be able to adapt more easily with the dynamic nature of the industry.

As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments section!


Series Navigation<< Vol III: Production TerminologyVol V: Dos & Don’ts >>
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