Getting My Gervais On.
September 14, 2010 3:46 AM   Subscribe

So on Wednesday I'm slated to be an extra on a network TV series filming locally. While I'm there, is there a tasteful, appropriate way to inquire about PA openings on the show? If so, how would I go about this?
posted by the NATURAL to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can ask the extra's rangler (probably another PA) who does the hiring, then give that person your resume (not for acting, but with whatever other skills you can do). They're probably all crewed up, but PA's come and go and you never know. If it's a network show, they're probably union, which might ruin your chances right there.

If you don't have experience, you can always get some by checking on craigslist for whatever "for free" projects are going on and build on that. Good luck!
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 4:26 AM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: If you have no experience or particular qualification/interest/reasons for asking, don't.

Background actors who think they're there to schmooze are one of the Most Annoying Aspects of working in the film industry. I say this as someone who just got promoted past PA a couple weeks ago (and will probably PA again when I need the money).

The background wrangling PA hears this every day. Probably multiple times per day. If you don't have a damn good reason to believe you're a good fit for that sort of work, don't go there.

If you think you really are qualified to do this, the best way to do it IMO would be to bring it up in a way that isn't pushy or schmoozy. Ask how they got their first job or how they came to the industry. Have a genuine conversation. Actually listen. Then, after you have shown that you are not one of those obnoxious extras who thinks they're going to wrap out for the day as an AD, say something like, "I'd love to get involved on set" or "I've always been curious about becoming a PA."

Expressing an interest in production office work is also a good move - productions need a lot more accounting clerks and phone-answerers than they need set PA's.

If you're genuinely interested and live in a city which sees a lot of production work, call your local "mayor's office" or film board. The office here in New York actually has a PA training program. I don't know how common that is, but you can at least get information about what projects are coming up and who might be looking to hire a green PA.

Re the ashtabula's answer - PA's are not unionized on most television shows, network or not. So that's not really the issue. Also, resumes aren't really the thing for set PA work. Either you have experience and there is word of mouth out there about your skills or lack thereof, or you don't. Either they're open to hiring a green PA or they're not.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and one more thing - the background PA does not do ANY hiring. In any capacity. Ever. She is there to make sure you don't wreck the place or run off before they need you. That is all.

The person who hires background actors, as I'm sure you already know, is the extras casting director. Usually these are people who work for an outside casting agency that the production contracts as a sort of vendor.

The person who hires PA's can be one of several people, depending on the job. It will typically be someone in the AD department. Exactly who it is will vary depending on the size of the job and the particular production. Note that there are other sorts of PA's in addition to set PA's, and those PA's will be hired by their relevant department (the wardrobe PA is hired by the wardrobe department, for example).
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've worked on any number of productions over the decades, a few times with direct access to extras. Fact is, if it's a typical shoot, there will be plenty of down time. There will be various crew members hanging out, shooting the breeze etc, so the notion of engaging one of them and talking shop isn't entirely misguided. My recommendation is to be less concerned at scoring a job than just making a connection with some who's "in the biz".

There is no set way to make it in the biz. Many go to film school, network and stomp pavement from there, eventually get their first job and start working their way up the ladder. But many also just get gigs because they know somebody (ie: doesn't take a Tarkovsky scholar to direct traffic, or clean up a parking lot).

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 8:31 AM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: My brother was the DP on a very, very small indie film. After that experience, he said "The best way to ensure that I want to work with you in the future is to do two things: show up, and shut up. If I ask for you to be there at 6:30 AM? Be there at 6:30. And if it's 10 AM and I still haven't gotten to you? I don't want to hear about it. And if you have ideas as to ways a scene could be blocked, or shot, or how dialogue could be altered, and you're not IN the scene? You can tell your friends about it over drinks, later, but I do. not. want. to. hear. about it."

I would urge you to consider this carefully. The best thing you can do is show up and shut up. If there's downtime and people are shooting the shit, then sure, talk to someone, or! better yet! offer to help with some task. (Where "help" is "Would you like me to carry your cup of coffee so you have both hands free for your Blackberry," not "So, want to hear my thoughts on this scene?") But for God's sake, don't interrupt someone who's trying to work. It is much easier to make enemies than friends under those circumstances.
posted by KathrynT at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

KathrynT has it exactly right.

When I use words like "qualified", by the way, I don't mean "went to film school". I, myself, did not go to film school and started out as an unpaid intern on a production that needed a few extra hands, mainly just because a friend in the business knew I was not a total fuckup.


A lot of people don't really ask about PA work because they want to be PA's. They ask because they want somebody to read their screenplay or get their short film into a festival, or they think they're going to get discovered (or maybe just sleep with a celebrity). As a set PA, you have basically zero chance of something like this happening. And if you put yourself out there looking for PA work, on the off chance that you're taken seriously, and that the person remembers you later when they need somebody, you had better be able to put your money where your mouth was. You have a minuscule window of opportunity to not fuck it up. And if they get a whiff of a notion that you're not there to work but to get something out of somebody, your window of opportunity will be all the smaller.
posted by Sara C. at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2010

I think the 2 shortest routes to working in the biz is either be an unpaid office pa OR become a regular stand-in. Either option SHOW UP ON TIME. If your car becomes disabled on the freeway, abandon it and call a cab, call and have a friend arrange the tow truck.

Stand-in's see all the machinery of on-set production. Watch. Be open. Don't approach each person with "What can you do for me". Crew can sense this from people.. Smile, Be nice, Everybody around you is under a lot of stress and little sleep.

As an intern, If your on time, are sharp and don't add your drama to the mix. You have a better than even chance of being hired before the end of production.

I'll hire somebody who's not as qualified but shows up on time over an erratic hot shot.
good luck.
posted by Pecantree at 8:37 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Autotune my desperate efforts   |   Movies and Books for Young Minds Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.