Landing Your First Job as a TV Production Assistant

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A job as a television production assistant (PA) is a crucial entry-level position in which you can gain experience with all levels of the television production process, learn about various departments and their interactions, and make valuable contacts with people in the television industry. PAs have the opportunity to be on set during filming, converse with writers and executives, become familiar with the studio lot, and work in the production office.

A television production assistant helps the producer or director and is involved in every stage of the production process, from pre-production through post-production and transmission. PAs assist in a general capacity creatively, technically, and administratively: they research scripts, help plan program formats, rent equipment, keep records, and supervise the setup and operation of production equipment.

Though PAs’ responsibilities differ based on the budget, type of production, and whether or not the production is unionized, most PAs organize planning meetings, take notes at production rehearsals, book performers and artists along with their accommodations and flights, and deal with artists’ expenses and payments.

Office PAs work mainly in the production office handling clerical and delivery matters under the supervision of the production manager and production coordinator. They may assess permission and copyright concerns, handle the payment of royalties for additional footage or images, and manage contracts with other organizations.

Set PAs work under the assistant director on the actual set of the production, which is either a sound stage or location. They call out “rolls” and “cuts,” cue pre-recorded material, keep shot lists, and produce shot cards, shot lists, timing schedules, and logs for post-production. They often work the most of anyone on the production team, usually completing 12- to 16-hour days.

PAs on less unionized productions often take on a range of non-traditional duties because such projects have more positions that can be filled by non-union personnel.

Those interested in getting a job as a production assistant should be aware that most of the jobs are seasonal. Pilots hire from mid January to late February, dramas hire from late May to late June, and comedies hire from late June to mid July. Jobs are harder to find during the rest of the year, though positions do open up for mid-season shows, smaller network shows, and when people get fired or otherwise need to be replaced.

Aspiring screenwriter Devon DeLapp recommends visiting the website — which lists projects in development and production, along with each show’s production company and network — and looking for a pilot with which to pursue a job.

“A newcomer may have the best luck with a pilot because a whole new crew is being brought in, presenting more opportunities, as opposed to an established show where many crew members are returning. This is just my opinion, but I think because it is a smaller commitment of time (again, as opposed to a full-season, established show), the people in charge are slightly less particular about whom they hire,” De Lapp says.

Once you find projects you are interested in, the production offices’ numbers can be obtained by calling the studio lots the shows are made on or by calling the production company. The next step is to keep calling and calling, find out if they are hiring, and try to fax or email your resume and obtain an interview. Be extremely polite, and keep in mind that it is usually the production coordinator, assistant production office coordinator, or an associate producer who hires the PAs.

“For your resume, just include any relevant experience. The keyword job titles that people look for are ‘Production’ and ‘Assistant’ — list anything with that in the title. Did a few student films? It’s okay to list them. People realize that as a PA, you’re probably new to the industry, and they’re not expecting a huge amount of experience. Just present yourself as best you can. Always be sure to spell check everything. References can help a lot, particularly if they’re from someone in the industry,” DeLapp advises.

In the interview, make sure you appear willing to do anything, however menial the task may be, and call to follow up on the interview. Expect to do about four to eight interviews before you are given a position.
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 production company  rehearsals  expenses  executive director  production assistants  benefits  footage  industry  production team  formats

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