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What is a Production Assistant?

Many people who have a passion for film and video start their careers as a production assistant. But what is a production assistant? They can serve in a variety of roles within the world of production. A production assistant is essentially the lowest title that you can have on a production, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important.

Consider these assistants as film and video trainees — they are there to work hard and to learn along the way, playing critical roles in different departments and through various stages within the production process. Let’s take a deep dive into the world of production assistants, who take on a variety of roles within a production. Here are a few key ways they help out.

Responsibilities of a production assistant

On-set production assistance

When you think of a production assistant (PA), you probably think someone who works on set for a film or television production. This is a large part of PA work and the most desirable PA gig in a lot of ways. An on-set PA has a variety of roles and responsibilities. These responsibilities most likely include assisting the assistant directors with various tasks. 

On a large production, there can be several assistant directors (ADs) and often PAs work their way up to being an AD. Yes, these PAs are assisting the assistants. An on-set PA will most likely be responsible for sharing critical information among the various production departments. Another key responsibility of a PA is managing lockups. Lockups refer to the process of locking down the set. This could mean keeping people from walking through a set or shot, as well as keeping the cast and crew quiet as the cameras roll.

On-set PAs know how the work within the world of production and are usually well versed in production terminology and best practices. They know how to communicate with all the various departments and use the walkie-talkie lingo of film and video production. 

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Office PA tasks

When you think of an office PA, think of someone who assists with things like printing copies, making sure everyone has the latest version of the script each day. Also, they make sure the office is well stocked with supplies and serve as a communication liaison, answering phone calls and emails.

An office PA might also deal with confidential or sensitive documents and/or help with various stages of pre-production, including researching locations — with Peerspace being one of the leading resources for location scouting. So much happens in pre-production and off-set that is critical to what does happen when the cameras roll. 

Runner errands

Many PAs first gigs were as runners. A runner is really there to do errands for the production executives and other key players within the production or production company. This can be production-related errands, such as picking up rental equipment, and other tasks, such as picking up lunch or taking care of a coffee order for the cast and crew. 

You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with production? The answer is not much. The production world values hard work and dedication. Reliable, on-time, courteous, and hardworking runners are more likely to move quickly up through the ranks. 

Talent assistance

Oftentimes, PAs will assist in helping the talent get to where they need to be when they need to be there. This is a position that requires a lot of trust and great interpersonal skills. PAs who assist with talent are able to work with celebrities in a personal, professional, and respectful manner. 

Post-production assistance

A post-production PA is usually someone who is starting out in their career who has an interest in film and video editing, as well as post-production at large. A post-production assistant’s main role is administrative and task-based.

Post-production assistants will assist with tasks like keeping footage organized and properly named for the editors, maintaining tidy and organized edit bays, and making sure that hard drives are backed up and organized. Touching a hard drive or footage should be treated with the same care as carrying a newborn baby. Good post-production assistants will know that this is the most important part of their job and will take the utmost care when handling any footage. 

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Qualities of a great PA

Hardworking and dedicated

PAs in all departments should have a great work ethic. This is an opportunity for the PAs to make a positive impression on all the members of the crew. Production assistants should be the first people on set and essentially the last people to leave. There is no sitting down when you are a production assistant. 

Confident communicators

While being a PA is can be challenging with task-based work, great production assistants will bring a sense of confidence to set. This is critical. Senior members of the crew are very busy, and coddling and helping a production assistant is not on their list of tasks for the day.

Great PAs need to take charge of their assigned tasks — even if that means providing instructions for entire departments. While being confident in communicating with sometimes intimidating fellow crew members, an outstanding PA will be friendly and look to form a sense of trust and camaraderie. 

Respectful of roles and responsibilities

Some believe Hollywood functions similar to the military. You have to earn and work your way up the ladder. A good PA will refrain from chiming in when it comes to providing feedback on the production to key production leads or other PAs. There is neither gossiping nor offering of creative feedback when they are not directly asked for it.

Always prepared

An excellent PA will show up with an arsenal of tools. On-set PAs know to dress for the weather and the type of shoot, bringing a variety of smart and useful tools, such as a multi-tool. Also, they always have a pen and paper handy to jot down notes and tasks. 

Now that you have a deeper understanding of what a production assistant really does, you should feel confident in hiring the right PA for your next project. Happy shooting!  

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