It’s easy and hard to forget everything you need to do right to make a good (first) impression onset. Director Matthew Fridg puts his spin on this and takes us through some of the worst things a PA can do onset. Whether you’re still in school looking for an internship or been in the game for a while, take a look at Matt’s list to make sure you’re not doing any of them.
I have seen my fair share of excellent and terrible crew members. As a director, by the time a shoot happens, I’ve spent days or maybe weeks planning, preparing, writing, crying, cussing and more. Basically, I’ve poured my heart and soul into preparing to put my vision on film. So, you can imagine how disheartening it is to have a crew member show up who couldn’t give af#$%, right? Most of the time, a crew is comprised of extremely professional craftsmen and women who take considerable pride in their work. But every once in a while, you will get one person, often a PA, with little on set experience, who seem like they have no desire to ever get hired again. Of course, no one reading post this is that person. But, in case you know one of those people, here are some sure fire ways to help them never get hired again. Hint: for anyone not getting the joke, you could just do the opposite and then increase your chances of getting hired. But you knew that already. Why did I even write that? I don’t know. Nevertheless…
- Have an expired driver’s license
When you are a PA, 50%, 60%, maybe 70% of your job could be driving around getting stuff. Go grab this at the rental house. Go get coffee. Go get the director’s dry cleaning. Just kidding, who would be that rude? But all in all, an easy job, right? Who wouldn’t want that job? You get to work on a commercial or movie and drive around. How hard can that be? But in case you were wondering how you could engineer your failure in this business, make sure your license is expired, revoked, suspended or just non existent.
It’s amazing to me these days how many young people I know in college or just graduated have never received their driver’s license. According to the USA TODAY, “The percentage of 19-year-olds in the United States who have driver’s licenses dropped from 87.3% in 1983 to 69.5% in 2010, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.” We live in 2017, not 1817. Get a freaking driver’s license. I was recently on a shoot and we reached the ⅔ point of the day. You know, the point where caffeine becomes the only thing to keep the ship moving forward. We were shooting in a suburban neighborhood, maybe a mile or two from the nearest Starbucks. I asked the PA if he wouldn’t mind grabbing coffee for the crew. He asked, “When do you need it?” I told him like 15 minutes. He just responded with a sigh. A sigh? I didn’t know what to say, it was such an odd reply to my question. I asked if that was a problem and he said, “Uh, yeah, that’s the thing.” Ok, since when does anything good come after those words in a sentence? Rarely ever, right? “My driver license is suspended,” he said. Yikes. “How did he even get to set this morning,” I wondered. What I didn’t realize at the time was he was he asked when I need the coffee because he was calculating how long it would take him to walk to the Starbucks and back. We probably would have been wrapped by the time he returned…with cold coffee. I credit him for trying to solve the problem but, let’s just say, it would be hard for me to hire him again unless I was assured he had a valid driver’s license. Had I known he couldn’t drive, he wouldn’t have been hired to begin with. My guess is he knew that. Nevertheless, the lesson is…get a driver’s license, learn how to drive, drive a decent vehicle and if you want bonus points, know how to drive a stick.
- Show up as if you are in a fashion show
Have you ever heard the business advice, “Dress for the job you want?” In most cases it’s sound wisdom. Nobody wants to recruit a potential CEO who dresses like a bum. But sometimes this advice can be taken too far. On a recent shoot I arrived on set and met our PA. But I didn’t know it was our PA at first. I thought it was a producer or a slick businessman. Why? Because our PA showed up in a suit, complete with italian leather dress shoes. To his credit, he was extremely dapper. But my jaw just dropped because I wondered if this guy knew what job he had. I double checked the call sheet…yes, he’s the PA, not the producer. Ok, but I couldn’t help wondering, “Why is he dressed like that?” Needless to say, I hope those dress shoes were comfortable, because he did all sorts of running around in them. And I hope he could afford to dry clean that suit because there was plenty of gear to move around in cold, wet conditions.
So, the set is not a fashion show. Leave it up to the DP’s to show off their Patagonia and the producers/clients to wear completely impractical attire. Wear comfortable, weather appropriate clothes that you are not afraid to get dirty. Also, wear comfortable shoes because you could be standing or running around all day. Otherwise, you may dress for the job you want, but never quite get it.
- Act Like Anything Asked of You Is A Major Burden
Working on set as a PA can be demeaning and thankless work. But anyone who wants to move up the ladder starts out as a PA. But if moving up the ladder isn’t what you want then be sure to have a terrible attitude. I’ve had PAs that have everything going for them but you ask them to do something and it’s like you’re putting them out. It seemed like I was asking them to stop what they were doing and do their job or something. I have to wonder, “Why are you even here?”
If you have something better to do, GO DO IT. If you can make a living doing something else, GO DO IT. Only show up on set if this is the only thing you want to do, if being part of the greatest profession ever is a passionate, burning desire in you. With that in mind, if someone asks for your help, do it with an awesome attitude, even if it’s “below you.” If you want to make it you need to be feisty. There is an acrostic that a military general used for that word:
Solve the problem
Yes, I do windows
No matter who you are, whatever job you have, no matter how high on the ladder, you can always do windows. That means there is no job below you. The thing that will get you far is having a positive attitude in the face of a demeaning job. You aren’t the DP, you are a PA. So, go get the coffee. Maybe if you have a good DP (who still does windows), you may see him bring coffee one morning for his department. You don’t want to be the PA seems like he’s being interrupted just to do his job, unless you don’t want to ever get hired again. Unless you want your first set job to be your last, make it a joy for someone to ask for your help. Otherwise, they may stop asking and maybe stop calling you for jobs altogether.
- Be sure to show up on time
A great way to ensure you lower your chances of getting hired again is to show up on time. When the call sheet says 8:00am that means you are ready to start work at 8:00am. At least this is what most producers expect. But if you are just pulling in at that time, you are already late. I had a mentor once tell me, “If you’re five minutes early, you’re ten minutes late.” This was after I arrived on set right on time. I never forgot that moment. I arrived thinking, “Man, I am right on time.” But that moment of elation sunk when I saw the whole crew ready to go, looking at me like I had three heads. I felt like a complete moron. I was late. From then on I try and show up an hour or at least 30 minutes early. Why SO early you ask? I’ll tell you.
Have you ever had a problem with your GPS? Have you ever put in the wrong address? Have you ever had a flat tire? Have you ever made a wrong turn? Have you ever had to go to the bathroom really badly? These things happens and guess who cares? No one. Be early, no matter what. I once had a PA not arrive on set. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and waited five minutes for her to call and let me know she was on her way. Except she never called. So, I called. When I asked where she was she told me she was an hour away. I was very perplexed, and a little upset. How could that happen? She told me she took a wrong turn on the Turnpike and went the wrong way for a half an hour before realizing it. I told her to just go home. And she did. The days of printing out maps are over. We have amazing power in our hands to navigate. Magellan would be so jealous. So use it and don’t make it someone else’s problem. Be early, unless you really don’t want to be hired again.
- Make everyone else do your critical thinking
Working on set can be extremely stressful. Producers, directors, gaffers and other department heads have incredibly straining demands put on them. As a PA, you are there to make their jobs less stressful. PAs are an important part of the crew. They are the grease that makes the machine run without squeaking. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate their PAs doesn’t deserve them. But not all PAs are a blessing. If you want to ensure you never get hired again as a PA, pass off all critical thinking to others. Critical thinking is simply the ability to think about a problem, asses and analyze it and come up with solutions. Sounds complicated. Well, it can be.
We will use a familiar example. Imagine the producer asks you, the PA, to get coffee for the crew. What that producer wants is for that coffee to somehow appear before them. That producer has 800 other tasks their thinking about. They are super stressed. Here is an opportunity for you to take one thing off their plate. It’s up to you to figure out where the nearest coffee place is, how you’ll get there, how you’ll carry it all back, etc. The last thing that producer wants is to have to figure all that out for you. You are resourceful, you are feisty, you are the PA. Don’t pass the critical thinking off to someone else. Take it upon yourself and do the S of our feisty acrostic – Solve The Problem. And that’s just it, my favorite PAs are ones that simply solve problems (and honestly, they aren’t PAs anymore, they’ve moved up). It’s ok to ask for help, but asking for help and expecting someone else to think for you are two very different things. If you don’t’ want this job, make everyone else do the work for you and multiply their stress. If you do want this job…relieve their stress and solve the problem.
Filmmaking is the best job in the world full of interesting people and places. You will get very far if you do a couple simple things. It’s not complicated, it’s not rocket science. If you are a PA, be an amazing one. And soon you won’t be one (you’ll be something better). But be a lousy PA and soon you won’t be one (you’ll be unemployed).