After I graduated from film school, I still wasn’t 100% certain that I wanted to start working in movies right away. I was debating between going to graduate school for who knows what or trying out the filmmaking thing. I was still working for Cinematexas International Short Film Festival
but knew that was really just serving to delay the inevitable: making a decision.
My best friend had decided right away it was what she wanted to do, so she had been working on local short films here and there. I finally told her I was ready to make the choice to work on movies. Luckily for me, she was about to produce a feature-length horror film. It was a small budget, local film, with a tiny crew. Since I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do, I told her I would be a PA for her. For those not in with the unglamorous world of filmmaking, a PA is a Production Assistant and basically means everyone’s slave. It is pretty much the bottom rung. But at that point I really just needed to get some work on my resume that wasn’t a student project.
Because of how small the project was, the schedule was far from what many movies deal with. There weren’t incredibly early call times or really late nights. And the PAs were scheduled in shifts, so I didn’t have to work a full day every day.
I found myself fitting into a groove with the people working in the production office. I liked the organizational tasks. Unlike in my personal life, when working on a project I am rather anal and enjoy knowing that things are being done when they need to be done. I was extremely fortunate in that the Production Coordinator and Production Manager were interested in helping me learn the ropes too. I was given a few books to look over that described the actual tasks of a few positions they felt I would be good at doing. The actual tasks meaning not the glossy version you’re told about in film school.
Yes, I had to run pointless errands that would drive anyone crazy. I also had to act as a stand-in for lighting to get a set just right before the actors came out of their dressing rooms. I’d have to move furniture around or carry cables. But, to be honest, being a PA was a whole lot more “hurry up and wait” than actually doing anything. It was good to know that should something need to get done, there was a body there to do it, but PA work definitely makes you feel disposable. Because basically, you are.
The first film wasn’t all roses though. There were certainly personality clashes between several people on the crew. It was a lesson, nonetheless. I had to learn to let my usual self go – the one who sticks up for those who are nice to me. I couldn’t take things in a personal manner, mostly because they weren’t meant to be personal towards anyone, but also because I wanted to discover my professional self. Fortunately, the person that ended up looking unprofessional wasn’t myself but someone else on the crew who thought too much of himself. I quickly learned that on set there are two types of people: people who are good at what they do and people who just think they are. Right then and there is when I vowed to myself that no matter which task I had, I was going to be in that first group.
I also made some good friends on set, friends who are fun to hang out with. But good friends in that when they hear of a job opening, they call and give me a heads up to help me out. That means sometimes we are competing against each other for one job, but it also means we’re looking out for each other. Good karma couldn’t hurt.