You’ve maybe been a runner, you are super organised, you love logistics, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of new stationary.. Classy stuff no “my little pony pencil case” however ironic… And you’ve got a job as a production assistant. Your calm manner, and abundance of examples got you through the interview, along with a broad smile and neatly ironed shirt, but now it’s time to prove yourself. On the surface the production team seemed lovely but you second guess yourself and wonder am I prepared for being at the cut and thrust of production.. Do I really have what it talks to be the kind of production assistant that everyone wants to work with, that knows where everyone is, who everyone is and that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing..? You’ll have heaps of support but here are a few tips to make yourself stand out as a production assistant.
Know your excel and love your spreadsheets
Love a spreadsheet, love excel, be the type of person who makes lists and documents everything. That might sound uptight, but everything is accountable on a production so get to grips with excel. Now don’t be ruled by a spreadsheet as at times there will be a need for flexibility but there is no use having everything in your head, for no one to find. Share the spreadsheets with your production co-ordinator and manager, show initiative for making things more accountable, easier to find and ultimately help to make their job easier. There is a fine line here, don’t become so obsessed with spreadsheets that you are documenting the teams toilet breaks or you’ve created an excel formula to determine who’s the most attractive on the production, keep it real and keep it useful.
Always think of a way to save money – love the budget
You’ll get pressure from producers and assistant producers about the budget. Your production manager might have just nipped to the shop for a cheese and ham roll when the AP arrives at your desk saying that they need money now for a shoot, and it has to happen now. Ultimately this will be your production manager’s decision but you might get pressurised to give answers. If possible delay until your production manager is back, but if that’s not an option then think of ways to save money. Think about what’s practical and what’s doable and always come up with creative solutions.
Even for travel and hotels you may get a producer who claims to only travel first class or will only stay in a certain type of place. Explain where the crew are staying, and what you have the budget, sometimes this can be quite self explanatory if there aren’t any other hotels around, but do quote policy in a helpful way not to agitate them. If in doubt then refer up for those kind of decisions. You should always be keeping your production manager in the loop about these kinds of conversations. Do this directly after the conversation as you don’t want to be accused of agreeing something that you didn’t.
Have the kind of mind that’s constantly thinking how can we save money on this programme, still have wonderful output but where can we find savings. Start to have those great negotiation skills to get things cheaper, ask if there would be discounts, have a savvy attitude for a bargain.
Get to know the team and how they think
Immerse yourself in the team, get to know how your production manager works and what they expect of you. Keep them informed of where you are with work. You don’t need to be there every five minutes seeking approval, like a child who’s just done their maths homework but do keep them updated.
Get to know the editorial team, their style, how they work, their schedule and what makes them tick. Don’t be a stalker or be overly familiar as that could freak them out, but show an interest. This can really help make your job easier.
Love booking travel
Learn to love booking travel, where the best place for that hire car is, what train they’ll need to get to start filming at 9am. Which hotel is going to be most convenient for filming. Also learn from mistakes know the history, oh if they get that train then there will be three changes and they’ll have all the camera equipment with them and that’s going to annoy them. Or that hotel last time someone complained about noise as its above a club.. Was that just that person or will it just be safer to book them somewhere else. All these things which at first might seem insignificant can really make you shine.
Don’t be a teacher – offer creative solutions
You have responsibility, you are working with the production manager to ensure the programme comes in on time and to budget. That’s important and great experience for you. It doesn’t make you GOD though and it doesn’t mean you can police the production telling people what they should or shouldn’t be doing, “I said only one sandwich Theresa!” By adopting that attitude so early on in your career its a sure way to piss off the editorial team and for you to be seen as inflexible. Offer creative solutions, listen to the concerns of the editorial team and be realistic, actually they might need another days filming or a later train ticket. Make decisions based on the evidence and if in doubt refer up.
Refer up and respect your production manager
Respect your production manager, they are the heart of any production. Often it can be seen as a stressful and thankless task. They hold all the reins and are often there to support the editorial team not only professionally but sometimes emotionally too. Know what they have to do and support it. Make their life easier. Keep them in the loop and work with them, not against them. Sometimes production assistants with delusions of grandeur have felt that they can do a better job, and they have made decisions or promises without knowing the bigger picture or the rationale behind the original decision. Yes, you want to impress the producer and you want them to see you as being a star, but don’t do that to the detriment of your production manager.. Respect them and they will respect you. Oh and when you see them stressed out make them a cup of tea and do get them a vanilla slice.
The key to being a good production assistant is to remain calm, love a crisis.. Don’t get whipped up in the drama, rather see through it and see obvious practical solutions. The team are on location and the contributor is no where to be found or they’ve got two days filming on the Yorkshire moors in July and it hasn’t stopped raining all week.. Think about practical ways to help and calm them down. Be supportive and assist them but ultimately remain calm and aim for solutions. At times you might want to curse them all out and bemoan their stupidity, do that later in the pub with your non telly friends, that might be a natural response but tutting and I told you so won’t win you any favours.
Know that you are at the heart of production.
People are often blinded by the perceived glamour of being a researcher, or a producer, it’s the exciting bit or so they think. Remember though as a production assistant you are integral to a production. You are at the heart of it and you see the production from start to finish. Your role is key to the programme. You might not think that some days but know that it is. Going through the ranks of production management will give you amazing skills, sort out your time management and efficiency and ultimately put you in a pool where there are longer contracts and more jobs..