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How to Become an Office Production Assistant in the Film and TV Industry

Posted on: April 22, 2022

By Jennifer A. Haire and Gilana M. Lobel

Working in the television and film industry is glamorous. You are constantly surrounded by celebrities, going to fancy parties, walking red carpets, being showered with free things, it’s the most exciting industry to be in, right? Eh, not quite. For 99% of those who work in the industry, it’s a job and for the other 1%, the glitz and glamour is simply another part of their job. But we get it, you want in. You want to be part of the process that tells inspiring stories, that brings artistry to the screen, you want to know how the rabbit gets pulled out of the hat. You want to make movie magic.

You can. You will. And it starts with being an Office Production Assistant.

Keys to the Production Office is your guide to beginning your career starting as an Office PA. We began by working in the production office which proved invaluable to our successful advancement in the industry. With over 40 years combined experience, we’ve seen what works, what doesn’t and what can be better, now you can have the keys.

Graphic of a pair of headphones with attached microphone and speech bubble

What is an Office Production Assistant?

The Production Assistant is the entry level job on a film or television show (and really any content being produced for viewing, including non-fiction, variety, talk shows and gaming platforms). They are brought on to assist the production in every capacity. A Production Assistant is tasked with duties that facilitate the needs of a particular department to bring the creative vision to life. Most commonly they assist Costumes, Art, Locations, Post-Production, Assistant Directors/set, Accounting, and our favorite, the Production Office. The production office is essentially the core of the production. Everything that goes into getting the story to the screen starts here. And that makes the Office Production Assistant one of the most vital components to the production team.

PRO TIP: Skills like time management, attention to detail, follow through, efficiency, active listening and basic common sense, are required for the job.

 

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Prep-Film-Wrap

Of all the jobs on a production, the Office Production Assistant can be one of the people employed the longest on a show. They are needed from the ground up assembly of the Production Office to the complete tear down once principal photography is complete. Office PA’s are essential in the pre-production, principal photography and wrap phases of a project. No other Production Assistant job offers this length of work on a show.

PRO TIP: The Office PA is one of the first crew members hired and one of the last to be laid off after filming is completed.

 

 Free Chapter: Reel Life, Unhinged

Reel Life, Unhinged

Get a real-life look at what having a job as an Office PA will be like, beyond the scope of the work itself. This free chapter describes how to navigate being a freelance employee and unemployment, how to get paid, what kind of compensation to expect, as well as individual protections and safeguards to be aware of when on the job.

 
DOWNLOAD A FREE GUIDE TO BEING AN OFFICE PA

 

Graphic of a circular arrow around the words 12 hours

The 12 hour day

Get ready, traditionally the work hours for cast and crew, including the Office PA is a minimum 12-hour day. Sometimes in prep or wrap the days will be limited to 10 hours, but during principal photography, 12 is likely your minimum. Though the industry is making strides for shorter days, we are not there yet. If you want work/life balance, balance it when you are unemployed or between jobs, because you’re going to need the weekends while working to sleep, do laundry and call your mom.

PRO TIP: Your day rate is based on an hourly wage. Overtime starts after 8 hours.

 

Sun and moon with stars

Early-Mid-Late Shift

Depending on the size of the production there could be anywhere from one to three Office PA’s on a show. The office needs to be open during business hours to conduct business with vendors and crew, and during filming hours to assist the production. They are constantly prepping for the next day, putting out fires today and wrapping what was filmed yesterday. The crew working on set may have fluctuating hours to accommodate the filming schedule, but the office will have some level of consistency. You may be the PA assigned to the early shift to “open” and assist with any office needs before filming begins that day, or you may be assigned the “mid” shift and arrive late morning. Perhaps you’re “closing” on the late shift this week and will be available to ensure the crew has what they need to wrap filming for the day. The overlapping of work shifts is designed to avoid extensively long hours for the office staff. This doesn’t mean the hours are guaranteed to be reasonable, one week the early shift may start at 5AM and that same week the late shift may start at 5PM. But at least it’s consistently inconsistent.

PRO TIP: On the week where you’re the late shift, you might be able to get some self-care in before your call time.

 

Graphic of person with an earphone and microphone

Office PA vs Set PA roles & responsibilities

The set is where principal photography takes place. Where the cameras are rolling, actors are performing, and all the magic is being captured. The Office PA works in the production office and reports to the Production Coordinator. This is an entirely separate location from the set. The office could be on the 3rd floor of the studio lot where the show is filming, or across town in an old former Blockbuster Video. But other than when you are making runs to set, your work will take place in the office or at various locations around town.

Decide what kind of PA you want to be, is being an Office PA, a Set PA or in another department right for you? Are you comfortable shouting “rolling” and “cut” to cast, crew and strangers? Wearing an earpiece and talking on a walkie talkie? Standing on your feet (sometimes in the rain, snow, sleet, hail) for 14+ hours a day? Or one that is doing research on the computer, answering phones, buying snacks, and setting up meetings? That being said we encourage you to be a well-rounded PA, so take opportunities to work in other departments. It will help you learn where you want to go in your career, and where you don’t. You may even find your way back to the Production Office.

PRO TIP: By working in the Production Office, you are most likely to hear about what is happening in all departments on the show.

 

Graphic of gear, clipboard and person

What does an Office PA do all day?

Those who master being an Office PA can be successful in any career they choose. Whether it’s in TV and film production or elsewhere. The skills and traits needed are applicable are applicable to almost any job and certainly any office job. Office PA’s are hired more for their brain, than brawn. It’s not hard work, but it isn’t mindless either.

An office production assistant job description can vary. The office is responsible for communication, whether this is through paperwork, emails or plain old verbal (yes, you’ll have to talk to people). This can take many forms such as document distribution, meeting set up and tear down or simply passing a message. Your day to day can consist of just about anything. You might have to drive the director to set, make copies of ten scripts and collate the colored pages, build a shelf, or call a vendor to find an item, maybe you’ll be shopping for groceries, ordering lunch for 40, or bringing costumes their missing package. Some days the phone won’t stop ringing off the hook, other days you might bring your favorite celebrity a cup of water at the table read. While an Office PA’s priority is to the production office, they are also in the unique position where they could potentially be “loaned out” to any department in need. No two days will be the same.

“Pull the sides, then run this Day-out-of-Days to the honeywagon. When you get back clean up the kitchen crafty then start setting up the table read.” (An hour in the life of an Office PA).

PRO TIP: Be ready for any task and anticipate the next need. Follow instructions as you are given them. It is better to ask questions first than waste time having to do it again.

 

Keys to the Production Office: Unlocking Success as an Office Production Assistant in Film & Television

Keys to the Production Office

This practical book maps out a career path for anyone wanting to break into the film and television industry. Drawing on over 40 years’ combined experience, authors Jennifer A. Haire and Gilana M. Lobel demystify the behind-the-scenes life and provide the vital information on Production Office operations to help aspiring professionals succeed. 

 
DISCOVER HOW TO EXCEL AS AN OFFICE PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

 

Graphic of open book

How to learn the job of an Office PA

The funny thing about being a Production Assistant, there really is no training required and it is one of the few jobs where you can be hired based on having common sense, enthusiasm and zero experience.

Most of the time Production Assistants learn on the job. Often that is the best training there is. Sure, film school and various production training workshops can offer an overview of big picture creative production and a crash course in the process highlights, but very little can take the place of actual experience. If you want to learn how to become a Production Assistant, Keys to the Production Office is as close as you can get to on-the-job Office PA training. It is designed to be a handbook used at work. Whatever task you are assigned, now there is a “how to” you can reference.

PRO TIP: Attitude, curiosity and accountability > experience.

 

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What’s so special about the Production Office?

All paths lead from the Production Office. Almost everyone on the production, cast and crew, need to visit the production office for one reason or another. Guess who’s there to greet and assist them, you! This is your opportunity to meet and professionally interact with other members of the production team. Most of your facetime will be during pre-production when the entire show is being planned out. You are a direct part of assisting with whatever someone needs to do their job, the more efficient they can be, the more the work can get done and the sooner you can go home to your dog. Never underestimate the value of being the one who can be relied on. The Director of Photography will remember you always brought them hot sauce with their lunch because they asked for it the first day. The Assistant Director will appreciate that you gave them the first script off the copier, the Producer will recognize that you hustled to get the Production Designer on the phone for them, and the Costume Designer will thank you for walking the actor to the fitting. You’ll have your hands in every aspect of the production and see it grow and take shape until it’s this massive moving principal photography machine, capturing script page after script page each day until there is nothing left. And at the end, you’ll help wrap it into a nice, neat bankers box package, hand it over to the studio, and it’s on to the next show.

PRO TIP: Starting in the Production Office can open doors to many industry career opportunities.

 

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So, where are these entertainment industry jobs?

33 US states currently have filming tax incentives designed to lure productions to film in their state. Do you live in one of those? Call the film office, find out if a project is coming to town. That production will need Office PA’s. Ready to get out of town? Consider moving to a production hub where a high concentration of shows film. This includes New York City (New York), Los Angeles (California), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Chicago (Illinois), Atlanta (Georgia) and New Orleans (Louisiana). Not ready for a big city? Places like Oklahoma, Montana, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania are some production hub runners up. List yourself on the film office website crew listings. Learn the city, be the “guy/gal/they, in the know” and you’ll be invaluable.

PRO TIP: Be where the filming is happening.

The best part of being a Production Assistant is that it’s not for life, it’s for the life of the show. A Production Assistant’s salary may be minimum wage, but you’re being paid to learn, and you needed no experience to start. The only way is up! Consider what draws you to the industry, what aspect do you love most? Movie magic exists in the Production Office too. Before they filmed the rabbit being pulled from the hat, you ordered the rabbit food and delivered the hat to set, because you’re the Office PA. Ta da!