That being said, we’re not doctors or engineers. No one checks your credentials. What they really want to know is if you have experience. Completing a cinematography course doesn’t mean much, except for adding some cool shots to your reel.
Remember what I said about a higher education degree demonstrating a certain amount of grit and determination? A Lynda course is the exact opposite of that. The whole point is that these classes are easy and cheap to take.
As far as I know, no great editor has learned their craft from an online course. They learned it by starting as a post PA, then getting promoted to an assistant editor, where they learned at the feet of an experienced professional.
Which is not to say these courses are useless. I’ve learned a ton from online tutorials. Anytime I run into a speedbump with Premiere or After Effects, YouTube is the first place I look. Video tutorials are almost always easier to understand than the manual or official FAQ.
By all means, take online courses if you think they’ll help. (Especially free ones, which I believe Lynda is for enrolled college students). Just don’t put it on your resume.
Is It Relevant?
The above doesn’t really apply to IRL courses. I don’t think a UCLA Extension course in screenwriting counts for much, but if you took a special training course through 728 or 600, that can definitely help you later in your career as an SLT or camera assistant.
But almost none of it applies to being a PA. An office PA doesn’t need to know the specs of the latest RED camera, or how to mix special effects blood. So be wary of appearing overqualified. Too many certifications makes it look like you’d rather do anything but be a PA.
Another question came in over Twitter, as a sort of follow-up to the sudden cancellation of Roseanne:
Are you an idiot for spending money knowing you’ll have a job for season 2?
Not ME, of course. I don’t do this.
Nothing Is Certain
Even if the star of your show isn’t a total nutjob, there is no guarantee your show will actually come back for another season. And even if the show does come back, there’s no guarantee it’ll last through the season; hell, it may only air a single episode.
Shit happens, and it’s almost certainly not a PA’s fault. Maybe the ratings are bad, maybe the show runs over budget, maybe one too many horses break their legs. The point is, you can’t count on the show continuing.
So no, don’t spend money you don’t have yet. In fact, don’t spend money you do have. Save it, instead. Even setting aside calamities and sudden cancellations, you ned to be prepared for hiatus. You’re going to be out of work for a couple of months between seasons.
If you’re starting out, in your career and in life, you need to save as much money as you can. Get a roommate. Live in a more affordable part of town. Don’t go out partying every night. Find ways to entertain yourself for free.
This way, when it comes time to tighten your belt, A) you won’t have to tighten very much, and B) you’ll be used to a thinner waistband anyway.
None of this is very fun to think about. You’re young, possibly single, living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. But if you want to last in this business, you need to actually learn to be a responsible adult.
Is it bad etiquette even in the twitter age for any below the line people to publicly roast Roseanne (or any talent) for basically costing them money? Would a PA get looked down upon for that?
Don’t do it. It’s that simple. Don’t bad mouth anyone in public fora.
Not Everyone is Roseanne
Right now, Roseanne is a big, easy target.1 She’s not terribly popular in the industry, for a number of obvious reasons that I won’t go into here.
But that’s a pretty rare thing. No one gets very far in this business without making at least a few friends. If you were to call, say, Howie Mandel an asshole,2 you’d probably find a lot of people coming to his defense. And those people will likely not hire you in the future.
“But TAPA,” you may say, “There’s a world of difference between an antisemetic lunatic and the guy who voiced Gizmo from Gremlins.”
Bet you didn’t know that, did you?
Yes, that’s true. But there are always borderline cases. You may think some celebrity is obviously a prick, but others may have had different experiences. You don’t want to wind up in a Rambo III situation.
Furthermore, even if you’re right, you’ve still talked yourself out of a job. Why would they hire a PA who has issues with one of the stars?
Let’s set all that aside, and take a really straightforward example. For instance, say you were a PA on Triumph of the Will, and you’re thinking about sending a telegram: HITLER A JERK STOP
The jerk store called…
I’m not going to argue with you, other than to say that “jerk” is understating the case quite a bit.
The problem is, you’ve still harmed your chances of getting hired. Not because you called history’s greatest monster a name. It’s because your potential employer has no way of knowing if you’ll limit yourself to calling out genocidal maniacs.
Some people just like to complain. They may be right about Hitler or Roseanne,3 but who knows what else they’ll publicly complain about? They might leak set photos to the press, or spread rumors about a director’s “bad behavior” that amounts to little more than a perfectionist demanding the best from her crew.
Remember, these days, it isn’t just office gossip anymore. When you send something out on Twitter, it’s there for the whole world to see. No one wants to be the target of your next “public roasting,” whether they deserve it or not. If your once or future boss catches you saying something negative on Twitter, they may think twice about hiring you.
So, even if you’re okay with burning a bridge to any future Roseanne comedy specials, I’d still advise against joining the dog pile on twitter. She may deserve the scorn, but you deserve a job.
Footnotes ( returns to text)
See what I did there?
He’s not, by the way, which is why he’s my example.
Not really in the same category, but you know what I mean.
Zack writes in about taking days off in the middle of a production:
I am about to start work as an Office PA on a TV show. It’s a long run, from July to April.
I have 2 -3 days sporadically that I know I will need off. I am prepared to ask well in advance since I know the dates.
Am I allowed to ask for days off as a PA? How would I go about that?
The word “sporadically” threw me off. I was afraid he meant 2-3 days off at a time, several times per season. So I wrote back to clarify, and Zack replied:
2 days are for travel that my family planned around Christmas, 1 would be to go home for the Jewish high holidays.
Zack’s in luck. Vacation plans and holidays are two of the more understandable excuses to take a day off. As we’ve explained in the past, it’s pretty impossible to plan a vacation, due to the eratic schedule most freelancers are on. TL;DR: book your travel days and hope for the best.1
Religious holidays can sometimes be tricky, depending on who you work for. Jews don’t “run Hollywood,” as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe, but there are a fair amount of Jewish people in the Industry. Most people won’t bat an eye if you say you need to take a day off for the High Holy Days.
On the flip side, when I asked for the morning off so I could attend Ash Wednesday mass, my boss scoffed and claimed he was raised Catholic and had never heard of “Ash Wednesday.” Luckily, the UPM happened to be walking by, and literally laughed in his face. “I don’t know what your parents taught you, but you weren’t raised Catholic.” Then he gave me the day off.
Other valid excuses include jury duty, because the law requires it, a death in the family, or being well and truly sick. Of course, you don’t really plan on any of those, so they don’t really pertain to Zack’s question.
Just a Few Days
Whatever the reason for taking time off, it’s really a function of how many days off you need compared to the total production. Taking off a couple days early for the mid-season hiatus is probably fine for a multi-month production. It’s more problematic if you want to take three days off a week-long commercial shoot.
If you’re asking for something like a week off, you better have a pretty good sob story. Like, your-sister’s-destination-wedding-was-booked-three-years-ago-and-you’re-the maid-of-honor good.
Don’t Just Ask
Assuming you have a real, legitimate need for a day off, don’t just ask. Lay the groundwork, first.
To begin with, don’t ever tell someone about your vacation plans during an interview. I cannot stress this enough. You will not get the job if your first impression you leave is of someone who’s not going to be there.
By extension, unless it’s absolutely necessary, do not ask for time off in the first couple weeks of the shoot. Everyone’s extra busy, not just trying to get the shot, but trying to figure out who the hell everyone else is on the shoot. You don’t want to be the guy asking for favors right from the start.
There’s one more thing to do before you ask– find a replacement. See if any of your gentile or single lady friends are between shows. It’s even better if you can find a couple of options.
Don’t lead your friends on, though. Just tell them your show might be in need of a day player on such-and-such dates, maybe. Don’t ask them to hold the date until you’ve gotten approval from the boss. Just ask for their resumes.
How to Ask
This is one of those situations where the direct approach is best. Just wait for a time when you and your boss are not (too) busy, go into their office (or trailer) and say, “Hey, boss. I was wondering if I could take Tuesday off; it’s Yom Kippur.”
Hopefully your boss says yes, at which point you can let them know you have a few options for day players. Hand over the resumes, with your favorite friend on top. That’s probably the one your boss will choose, anyway.
You get a couple days off, your buddy gets a couple days on set, and your boss doesn’t have to deal with any bullshit.
Now the only thing you have to worry about is if your friend is better at your job than you are…
It’s happened before.
Footnotes ( returns to text)
The couple weeks around Christmas and New Years are a pretty safe bet, generally.
If you’re new to the business, walkie talkie lingo can be daunting to get used to. “I’m going 10-1,” “Copy,” and “Go to 2” are all things you’re going to hear frequently. The first to are relatively easy (“I’m going to the bathroom,” and “I understand,” respectively), but the third one merits some deeper explanation.
Channels of Communication
Okay, this is real basic, but I want to make sure I don’t lose anyone who’s green. I wish someone had explained basic stuff to me when I’d started out.
Most productions rent walkies with 16 channels. That way, each department can have their own channel to communicate with each other, while not bothering anyone else. I don’t really need to hear what the grips are talking about, and they probably don’t need to hear what the camera guys are discussing. It’s not a privacy thing (we’ll get to that in a minute); it’s just that the entire crew would be talking over each other if we were all on the same channel.
There’s no fixed, industry-wide standard for who’s on which channel, except the first two channels. Production is always on channel 1; channel 2 is always “open.” Often, the medic is on channel 16, because in an emergency, you don’t even have to look at your walkie to switch to the right channel.
If your production is smart, the walkie channels are listed on the call sheet, and sometimes even the crew list. Sometimes it falls on the walkie PA to label the individual walkies with the correct channel.
Check Your Channel
This may sound insultingly obvious, but make sure you’re on the correct channel. It’s easy to bump a walkie that’s hanging on your belt without even realizing it. Not to mention the fact that the channel knob is right next to the volume knob, and you might just turn the wrong one.
In production, it’s easy to stay on the right channel, since it’s all the way at one end of the dial. Unless…
Let’s Take This to Channel 2
Channel 1 is utilized by the largest group of people, generally to announce things that affect the entire set. Stuff like, “First team flying in” or “Turning around!” or “Don’t let the extras get to the catering truck before the crew, because they are like locusts.”
But if you need to have a detailed, one-on-one conversation, that’s not for channel 1. If the AD (or anyone else) wants to give you detailed instructions, they’ll ask you to “go to 2.” Obviously, do as you’re told and change the channel.
Sometimes you’ll get a seemingly simply request over channel 1, but you need to ask for more detail. In that case, it’s perfectly fine for you to ask, “[AD name], can we go to 2?” It’s not like some hallowed ground PA’s dare not tread upon. If you need more info and feel like you’re going to clog up channel 1, just ask to follow up on 2.
Occasionally, people will engage in a longish conversation on 1, and a third-party will interject: “Guys, take it to 2.” If you’re a PA, you should not interrupt like that. Just deal with the chatter. But if someone says it to you? Go to 2, and don’t bitch about it.
On a crew with dozens or even hundreds of members, at least one of them will be overcome with curiosity and switch to channel 2 to listen in. Never, ever, ever give out private or confidential information over the walkie. Treat channel 2 like you would channel 1 – just pretend everyone can hear you.
One AD I knew had a trick– if he had something private he wanted to tell us, he’d say, “I’ll inform you on channel 2.” That specific phrasing meant that he wanted us to go to channel 13, which was an unassigned channel. He was still smart enough to not give out any real secret information, but he was a little freer than he might otherwise be.
According to a recent poll of my readers, there seems to be a sections of the TAPA website you might not be aware of. Also, since most of you are into movies, I thought I’d give you some tips on how to get movies for free (at least if you’re in LA).
Where the Jobs at?
A lot of you come here looking for jobs, which is totally understandable. It’s very competitive out there.
I’ve actually got three pages for that:
First, there’s the UTA joblist. It gets updated a couple of times a week, usually. (In fact, I have to update it later today.)
My jobs page, which consists of job notices that have been sent directly to me.
ZipRecruiter, which has a surprising number of production-related jobs. That gets updated all the time.
How Can I Help You?
Production resumes are a weird beast. They’re not meant to look the way traditional resumes do. It’s more like a credit list than anything.
I recently raised my prices, but since many of you weren’t even aware of the service, I’ve decided to offer a deal until the end of the week. If you mention this blog post before the end of this weekend, I’ll give you the old rates: $100 for the resume, $100 for your cover letter, or $150 for both.
There’s also a glossary page. I’m working on expanding this with more entries, so please be patient.
If you’re new to LA, you might not be familiar with the concept of “test screenings.” The studios, being the scared business people that they are, don’t trust filmmakers to make a good movie. They insist on playing the movie in front of a real audience ahead of time, just to see how the audience reacts.
There are a few companies that help the studios run the screenings. Not all of them are in LA, either, so even if you’re not in Hollywood, I recommend checking them out, just in case.
Gofobo – dumb name, but I’ve seen a lot of movies this way.
The Q&A – this is just in LA. Not only are there free screenings, but there’s a Q&A with the writers after.
Now, the big problem with most of these is, you have to stand in line. Like, a long time. You can’t just show up at showtime and expect to get in, sadly. So, hopefully you have an extra hour to spend hanging out, in exchange for the free movie.
Lastly, if you have a library card, you can stream movies for free. Totally legally and everything:
Kanopy – This has the Critereon collection, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Hoopla – I’ll be honest, I mostly use this for the free comic books. Still, there’s some good movies on there.
Overdrive – Okay, some of these movies are really not good, but they also have a massive collection of audiobooks, which comes in handy when you’re on a long run.
That should keep you entertained until you land your next gig.