Putting together a studio-backed Hollywood film can be a massive undertaking, requiring hundreds of union craftsmen, directors, producers, and actors to work in unison. Meanwhile, dozens of minor but important tasks begin to pile up with no one to complete them. The production assistant is introduced. This person serves as a cross between an office intern and an entry-level gofer, hired producers to perform routine — and occasionally not so routine — tasks on and off the set.
The responsibilities of a production assistant vary from day to day. At a remote shooting location, he or she might deliver script changes to the director or coffee to the lighting crew. This person may be dispatched the producers to pick up a camera replacement part or deliver film canisters to the processing lab. He or she may act as a background actor or assist in the direction of hired extras if a scene requires extras or atmosphere. This person is frequently found doing menial tasks such as operating a snow machine or collecting props after a scene.
The job pays very little, if anything at all, but many people accept it for the opportunity to work on a major film. A production assistant may have the opportunity to work with major actors and directors on a professional level, as well as travel to exotic set locations. He or she may receive an official screen credit from time to time, which can be a positive step toward bigger and better roles in the future. Working in this position can provide invaluable experience to film students and theater majors.
Working as a production assistant has a few drawbacks. Because the job is usually non-union, this individual is essentially at the mercy of any number of producers. This can lead to long hours spent trying to meet the needs of the entire production team.
From an all-night shoot on Monday to an all-day shoot on Wednesday, schedules can be unpredictable. Assistants must be adaptable enough to handle a wide range of tasks, no matter how insignificant they may appear. When working in the film industry, it’s all about the final product.