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Advancing from being a PA


Kenny Williams
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Just a little about my background. I'll be turning 25 next month and I worked as a pa at a news station for about 2 years before I moved to LA. I was doing everything from editing, shooting, floor directing, etc in the live often hectic live news. I got tired of news and had an opportunity and quit and worked as a pa on a reality show. Then got another opportunity to moved down in January of this year for another show in LA running until March so I moved. Didnt finish because covid hit a few weeks before wrap. We eventually finshed then I got another show, a car commercial, and then 3 more shows and I'm starting another running through spring 2021 coming up soon. My initial goal was because I've ONLY worked reality or competition shows I wanted to get on something scripted before I tried to make the jump (whatever that is) after being a pa. Not to be arrogant but I feel my time in news prepared me more than your average pa on a shoot for the very first time amd yes I know they are very different worlds. However for whatever reason I feel like even without that experience on something scripted where responsibilities are very different I feel I might be ready to advance or perhaps I could be burnt out. I'm a person who enjoys working and I've done alot of shoots lately where there is 2 hours of work in a 14 hour day so I'm mostly hanging out and I enjoy working for my money not standing around. Anyway although grateful and have done my fair share of insane tasks as a pa I think I want to start looking to start something else. My end goal is I'd love to work up to director, but I can see myself as a 2nd ad in the near future or even a key pa for now. I was wondering if anyone has any advice or if there is even a way to advance or is just luck meeting the right person at the right time? Again I want to stress I'm not ungrateful getting work and I know I'm still very young and have been lucky enough to work more during covid then I ever did. Sorry started rambling I hope this made sense. 

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Sounds like you know what you want to do long-term, which is really good. And the fact that you have all those skills from your news career is a big advantage. Is there any reason you aren’t producing, editing, or shooting your own small narrative projects right now?

I know Covid is still wreaking havoc with business as usual right now, but in more normal times I would suggest trying to balance this personal creative development with trying to get onto larger commercials and indie film sets, where you can meet more like-minded crew and mentors. Many PAs, Grip/Electrics, and ACs that I’ve met on those sets are also writing, shooting, and directing their own personal projects and are looking to move up as well. So the more of them that you meet and work with, the more opportunities you’ll have to do what you actually want to do. By and large, I have not found this to be the case with the crews on the reality shows I have worked on in the past - it’s just a different world (or at least it was 10 years ago). 

I also would consider saving up and applying to AFI or other high-end film grad program in the LA area. Again, it’s about surrounding yourself with mentors and like-minded people who are in the same world you want to be a part of.

Lastly, I would suggest looking at every work experience as a learning opportunity. If you’re only actually working 2 out of 14 hours on your next commercial, you can use that time to observe and learn from the various other departments. Maybe the gaffer, key grip, or 1st AC is short handed and could use an extra hand - I’ve often seen PAs get pulled (with permission from the 1st AD) and assigned to help a specific department in those cases. Once they know you and trust you, you’ll likely be getting a call from one of those guys on their next shoot. 

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If you plan to make your pathway through working as an AD or in production in general the best thing to do is to keep getting on set and befriend those people. Ask for advice and do a good job. I often see PA's move into production coordinater/manager roles or into 2nd AD roles over time working with the same producers. Be the most thoughtful person on set and show you can do more than whats expected and just have a good attitude. 

That said people do get trapped into one type of work and if you want to move away from commercial or reality into narrative you need to meet people in that world. At first that might mean just working on low budg short film with out much pay. 

Directing is it's own thing, though production and experience on set is great and those connections can help you that is not the way you actually get work. Lots of directors don't even have a great deal of on set experience, but what they do have is strong creative foundation and a vision for what they want to make, and a good portfolio. Know the type of work you want to direct and start working on making it... even if its commercials, go make commercial specs or make your low budg shorts. 

Working in production can be a great way to support yourself while you try to build a directing career 

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  • 1 month later...
On 11/5/2020 at 11:07 AM, Satsuki Murashige said:

Sounds like you know what you want to do long-term, which is really good. And the fact that you have all those skills from your news career is a big advantage. Is there any reason you aren’t producing, editing, or shooting your own small narrative projects right now?

I know Covid is still wreaking havoc with business as usual right now, but in more normal times I would suggest trying to balance this personal creative development with trying to get onto larger commercials and indie film sets, where you can meet more like-minded crew and mentors. Many PAs, Grip/Electrics, and ACs that I’ve met on those sets are also writing, shooting, and directing their own personal projects and are looking to move up as well. So the more of them that you meet and work with, the more opportunities you’ll have to do what you actually want to do. By and large, I have not found this to be the case with the crews on the reality shows I have worked on in the past - it’s just a different world (or at least it was 10 years ago). 

I also would consider saving up and applying to AFI or other high-end film grad program in the LA area. Again, it’s about surrounding yourself with mentors and like-minded people who are in the same world you want to be a part of.

Lastly, I would suggest looking at every work experience as a learning opportunity. If you’re only actually working 2 out of 14 hours on your next commercial, you can use that time to observe and learn from the various other departments. Maybe the gaffer, key grip, or 1st AC is short handed and could use an extra hand - I’ve often seen PAs get pulled (with permission from the 1st AD) and assigned to help a specific department in those cases. Once they know you and trust you, you’ll likely be getting a call from one of those guys on their next shoot. 

I moved from Sacramento to LA about three ish months before covid shutdown life. I was working semi consistently and moved with one friend from school, but while on set was just trying to meet more people just to find friends in a new city. While not working I was hunting down weekly festivals and was going to go to a writing workshop but they always met while I was on set. I planned to do that after we wrapped, but we never did because covid got shutdown until mid July and you know the rest. Amazingly I've worked pretty consistently ether  through a recommendation or jobs via staffmeup. Definitely  grateful I've met some great people there. I have been writing a lot and just sharpening my skills reading and things like that, but unfortunately it pains me to say this but I don't think the people I moved here with from film school are as "down" for a lack of a better term as I am to just creating to create. So it has forced me to try and find others which I have now just people I've met on set who are kind of getting reality show fatigue and want to create and work on larger productions to learn more. It's really a long story, but I appreciate your feedback and insight! Occasionally I can help the camera department on some of the smaller shows I would work on the DP on one in particular loves me. I don't want to use the covid excuse but it has definitely stopped if not completely altered plans or careers. 

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On 11/5/2020 at 1:13 PM, Albion Hockney said:

If you plan to make your pathway through working as an AD or in production in general the best thing to do is to keep getting on set and befriend those people. Ask for advice and do a good job. I often see PA's move into production coordinater/manager roles or into 2nd AD roles over time working with the same producers. Be the most thoughtful person on set and show you can do more than whats expected and just have a good attitude. 

That said people do get trapped into one type of work and if you want to move away from commercial or reality into narrative you need to meet people in that world. At first that might mean just working on low budg short film with out much pay. 

Directing is it's own thing, though production and experience on set is great and those connections can help you that is not the way you actually get work. Lots of directors don't even have a great deal of on set experience, but what they do have is strong creative foundation and a vision for what they want to make, and a good portfolio. Know the type of work you want to direct and start working on making it... even if its commercials, go make commercial specs or make your low budg shorts. 

Working in production can be a great way to support yourself while you try to build a directing career 

Copy that! Whenever possible I am trying to buddy up with coordinators of managers, but often times in my experience they are just back in the PO on their laptop or phone nonstop and I rarely see them on set. At least on the things I've worked on, and I know what I want to do in my career and obviously understand you don't just walk into it. As of now I'm focused on working in any capacity and learning and doing any job on set to pay the bills/ fund my own projects. 

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If you work with same production team 2-3 times no one will be offended or put off by a simple email saying hey, I want to do what you do one day. Some people are busy or not helpful for sure, but some might be of some help. Or just going up to them during lunch or after wrap, building confidence in social/networking skills will really help you out...I know everyone says that, but unfortunately its true. that said lots of people who have no social skills manage to make it too so don't worry about it if you cant do that. 

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