Would you like whip cream with that? It’s a simple question. One I should be able to answer for the barista, but I can’t. This coffee isn’t for me. In fact, I don’t even drink coffee. I know it’s hard to believe in an age where there is a Starbucks on every corner, but it’s true. Yet every day my job brings me to a coffee shop. I work as a Production Assistant (PA) in the film industry. Every gig is different. I just finished a commercial where I was paid a lot of money to drive around a group of German directors and producers as they scouted for locations. Most of their conversations were in German and the only words I could make out were “Germany’s Top Model” and “MacGuyver” (yes that MacGuyver).
We looked at locations from the slums of 4th and Alameda to the ninety eight million dollar homes on Sunset. All in all, it was pretty standard for a location scout, until I was asked if Club Fuck (that’s right) was still open. I’m not clubber. If you saw me you’d know that right away. Short of an invite to the Playboy Mansion, having sex with and in front of strangers is not my idea of a fun. Yet this guy was not only interested in knowing if it was still open, but if I had gone. Welcome to Hollywood kids!
Now if you’re interested in working in the film industry, short of writing the next “Matrix” script, you’ll probably work as a PA at some point on your move up the Hollywood ladder. As a PA, your job is to keep the production moving. This entails disseminating information from the director to the crew and actors, setting the background actors, keeping the production and spectators quiet, getting coffee and above all else always looking busy. That’s not say you won’t be busy. Typically you’re at work two hours before the rest of the crew (except for the teamsters, but they have a union and make an assload of money compared to the minimum wage you’re making) and you leave two hours after everyone else in the crew is home. Then you come back the next day and do it again. Often it’s thankless job, but there are some real benefits to it too. You get an in depth look at how movies are made. I’m not talking about Blu-ray and DVD extras.
You can get a chance to watch everyone including the director, actors, camera department and other departments work and what their jobs really entail. And the best part is, you get to ask questions. Questions that will hopefully help you understand how the industry works and ultimately help you on your way up the ladder. If you find you like what you’re doing don’t worry, there’s not something wrong with you. It means you can manage people and events. In fact, if you work as a production assistant long enough you can join the union and become an Assistant Director. That’s a fancy title for a manager or production assistant. Now, instead of getting yelled at by everyone, you’re getting yelled at by everyone; but now this includes the producers, actors and the director.
Why would you want this job? If you say it’s because you love what you’re doing and you love movies, then you’re in the right place. You’ll also get union benefits and more importantly you get residuals on the shows you work on. That’s free money for putting up with all the shit you had to endure while making the movie. The real question: Is it worth it? I think so. There are days when I vow I will never work on another film again. Days when I can’t for the life of me figure out how a horrible movie gets made, or why the kids who wrote “Transformers” keep getting hired to write big budget scripts and I can’t even get a foot in the door. Then there are days where I’m helping to close down Hollywood Boulevard so we can blow up three busses, or I get the chance to have some face time with the director or an actor and ask them about their process. Those days, those days are the ones that make up for the coffee runs and make it all worthwhile. So, when you’re taking those coffee orders for the actors and director and hating life (and coffee). Remember to keep your eyes and ears open and learn all you can. Find the opportunities presented to you to get noticed and don’t forget to ask if they want whip cream.
—Randolph Bookman lives in Los Angeles where he now works as an Assistant Director. He has worked on many television shows and films, including “Arrested Development”, “CSI Miami”, “Die Hard IV”, and “Indiana Jones IV”. He would like you to read his script.