This much is clear: we need more women in film.
The shortage of female directors and crew members is real, particularly for women of color, and the result is a male-dominated industry that consistently produces media infused with sexism. Representation matters, and real change happens when we start telling our own stories.
If you’re considering pursuing a career in film — whether you're a beginning crew member, an aspiring director, or an actor looking for a day job in the industry — becoming a production assistant (PA) is a great place to start.
It isn’t a glamorous gig, but it’s a way to get your foot in the door of an industry that relies heavily on internal networking for hiring. As a PA, you can learn a variety of production skills, discover what you want to do and make connections with people in the industry who can help you land future jobs.
What is a production assistant (PA), and how do I become one?
PAs occupy the most entry-level position on a set (aside from unpaid interns, who are usually students). Their main purpose is to aid the production crew in any way necessary in order to keep things running smoothly. This means tackling any number of odd jobs, from transporting people to and from set, to grabbing coffee, to speed-walking across the East Village with a producer’s credit card to the one Best Buy that’s still open to buy “any WiFi router you can find” (this I know from personal experience).
There are several avenues to get into PA-ing, even if you have little experience in the field.
Do I have to live in New York or Los Angeles to be a PA?
In order to work frequently enough to make a steady income, living in an area where film and TV production is happening helps. These cities are obvious choices as they are some of the biggest markets. However, it's possible to break into smaller markets, such as those in the southeast (New Orleans, Atlanta, Savannah), Chicago or Toronto.
If you don’t live near regular film and TV production, look for PA openings at your local news channel, radio station or media companies. Generally speaking, wherever media is being produced, PAs are needed.
What kind of educational background is required?
There’s no specific education required to be a PA, but certain skills and qualifications can make strengthen your resume and make you a more competitive candidate.
While you don't need a bachelor's degree, having one in a creative field can enhance your resume. Some PAs come out of film school, which can be an advantage when applying for jobs, mostly because it means you probably already know your way around a set and have a network of connections in the industry.
However, there are other ways to learn the basics (the industry-specific terms and phrases, members of a film crew and their responsibilities, and the different phases of production process), enhance your hiring potential, and show up to your first day on set prepared.
There are production assistant training programs, like P.A. Bootcamp in Los Angeles and the "Made in NY" Production Assistant Training Program in New York, that teach the foundational knowledge every PA needs to know. These can be great networking opportunities, and they can definitely boost your resume. However, they can be costly, and you don’t need one to land a PA gig.
Another option is to learn on the job, by volunteering on passion projects or student films. While unpaid, opportunities like these can build your resume and familiarity with the production process. Perhaps more importantly, these are the places where you meet the people that can get you your next gig: working PA's that can connect you with their employers, or people who will want you on their (paid) team when eventually making their own work.
Skills and certifications that can help you get hired:
Having a valid driver’s license: Productions need drivers to transport crew, talent and equipment to and from set, and this responsibility often falls on PAs. Some job postings list a valid driver’s license as mandatory, so having one can broaden your job prospects. Bonus if you have experience operating large vehicles, like a 15-passenger van or equipment truck.
Experience as an assistant, in any industry: If you’ve been an executive or personal assistant, for example, you probably have experience keeping track of receipts, filling out paperwork, running errands, and maintaining a high level of organization in general. These skills transfer well to PA-ing, and credits like these on your resume demonstrate your competence with the more ubiquitous aspects of assistant work that make up the bulk of a PA’s duties.
Being a “yes woman”: The primary qualifications for PAs are listening skills, a willingness to wear many hats and common sense. So, say yes to everything (within reason), be quick on your feet, and don’t turn down a task out of feelings of superiority or over-qualification. Sometimes, PA-ing can mean racing to be the first to take on the task that will make you stand out or help you connect with the person on set who has your dream job.
Different career paths of PAs:
As mentioned, PA jobs are entry-level positions and stepping stones to advanced careers. It's a notoriously thankless position, and no one wants to be PA forever. Where you go from there depends on knowing where you want to end up and making the most out of the experience. There are several ways you can use PA experience, depending on your path:
Primarily for networking (for writers/actors/directors): If your ideal career path is on the creative or performance side of the industry, being a PA allows you to observe and make connections with future collaborators and people already doing what you want to be doing, while working on your own projects on the side.
Building experience toward a crew position: If you want to work in a film crew as an AD (assistant director), production coordinator, producer or another higher-level position, you need to have documented PA experience on past productions to climb the ladder.
Getting employed in a specific department: If you’re interested in working in a specific department, like the Costume or Art department, you can often request to be a specialized PA assisting that department and gain experience and contacts specific to your desired field.
Resources for Finding Jobs:
Since it’s common to get jobs from recommendations or by word of mouth, your main priority should be to meet as many people in the industry as possible. Start by asking anyone you know in or around the film industry if they can connect you with someone who might need a PA. You'd be surprised who can help out with a simple referral.
If you’re less experienced, look for internship jobs with production companies, or seek out student film sets and indie projects. Facebook is a great place to find these kinds of jobs, and is an accessible platform for connecting with a community in the industry. Most colleges have their own groups for crew calls, which you can apply to join if you live in the area, and there are a number of other groups that are great resources for advice as well as job postings, some location-specific and others unspecified.
A few to know about:
Some are specifically devoted to inclusive hiring, providing job postings for women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ people:
Some other sites where PA jobs are posted:
More formal than Facebook (for better or worse) these sites are great resources to register with. You can create a free profile and submit your resume to posted jobs, as well as update your on-call availability by the hour for job postings with a quick turn-around.
Also, The Anonymous Production Assistant is useful for job resources, forums and helpful tips.
How much money will I make as a production assistant?
Most production assistants are freelancers, so it’s most common to be paid a “day rate,” calculated based on the minimum wage. While technically paid by the hour, PAs are paid based on a 12-hour day (8 hours at minimum wage and 4 hours of overtime at 1.5 times the minimum wage) even if they work fewer hours.
A standard PA day rate in New York City (where the minimum wage is $15 an hour) is $210, with more overtime if the shoot exceeds 12 hours or goes overnight. Depending on the size, budget and union status of the shoot, your rate can be higher, in cases of larger film productions or a television series at a major production company.
Some PAs are contracted employees and work full-time, at companies like NBC or CNN, though these jobs are rarer and harder to get, and there’s a wide salary range. Glassdoor estimates an average of around $43,000/year.
Keep in mind:
PAs don't work under traditional hours or conditions. You may be asked to work in an interior office space from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or at an overnight exterior shoot in freezing temperatures on a Saturday.
Be willing and ready to adapt, and remember that your time as a production assistant is largely what you make of it. Often, it means doing the jobs that no one else wants to do but that everyone has probably done at some point during their career. Use it to learn, meet people, and hone in on what you want to do, propelling you to your next step!
Haley Riemer is a multimedia writer and performer interested in telling stories that are important to women. She's a recent graduate of Tulane University, and her current hobbies include drinking too much iced coffee and talking about feminist political theory at parties.