It has been a while since my last post but, honestly, when working on a production, it becomes tough to do anything else. Working on a “show” (feature, television show, or a commercial) can easily mean racking up seventy, eighty, or even ninety hours or more in a five or six-day work week. It is tough. You literally wake up before dawn, work all day, then go home and go to bed. Seriously, there really is not time for much more than that. But, the joy of working on a movie set is worth it.
So, now that I just wrapped the latest production, I thought it would be appropriate to post about an important factor in being a good production assistant, or camera assistant, or set dresser, or property manager etc…
This seems like a simple task to do but it can be a lot easier to not listen than it can be to actually listen. On most shoots, union or not, the majority of the crew gets issued a radio, so that they are readily available, and a headset so that radios are not making a lot of noise during filming. Departments such as camera, grip, electric, and transportation are usually on their own channels while the rest of production is on channel one, which is typically owned by the 1st Assistant Director. This way he can easily let everyone know what is going on, what the next shot will be, and in turn people can let him know the status of things so he can give precise updates to the DP and the Director. It is important that everyone knows what is happening and when so, for example, hair, makeup, and wardrobe can touch up whichever actor we will be looking at, so property knows which props to grab for the next shot, so the set dresser can move any furniture in or out as needed, and so on and so forth…
As a production assistant, working on the Assistant Directing Team, it is important to always listen when the 1st AD, or any other AD for that matter, is talking, whether they are talking directly to you or not. Often times they are looking for the answer to a question or the whereabouts of someone, and being a good production assistant means being proactive in responding. Perhaps you know the answer to the question or can easily find out for them. Maybe you are standing next to the person they are looking for or just saw them go into the bathroom. Relay the information. Knowledge is power (most of the time). If you can do anything to take a little weight off of the AD’s shoulders, do it. They will love you for it. Maybe you will hear them ask another PA to get something, but you are closer to it. Chime in and let them know that you can speed up the process.
Frequently, you are in a position to get physically near the 1st AD while he/she is conversing with others to try and work out a plan of action. Try and listen in if it is possible to do without getting in the way. Then, you may be able to find out what they need and act upon it without them ever having to even ask you. Again, they will love you for it.
It takes a little getting used to, however, to always have someone chirping in your ear so it is necessary to be on your toes and listen to your earpiece at all times. It is really easy to tune out the radio when talking to someone in person, and you would never know that someone was trying to reach you. Of course, it never fails that someone is going to address you the second you stop paying attention. I worked with a camera PA that was always getting into trouble for not listening to his radio. He blamed it on a faulty walkie, but we all knew the truth. It happens all of the time and it is very frustrating for people who need things and are trying to work efficiently but someone who is not responding to their radio is slowing everything down. There was a new camera PA a few days later.
It takes a little bit of skill to balance the radio world and the real world but practice makes perfect.
For more information on walkie-talkie protocol, check out Evan Luzi’s post on The Black and Blue.