READER QUESTION: How do I get a PA job?

Hey, screenwriters—

Thanks for all the mail lately—even those who have disagreed with me on some of the strike-related issues.  As always, I love hearing from you all… your questions, comments, thoughts, arguments—whatever… and I’m always available at WDScriptnotes@fwpubs.com.

I wanted to take a quick moment today to follow up on a comment posted last week by Charlie, who responds to Thursday’s post about how to get your spec scripts to TV showrunners and producers.  I wrote a lot that day about getting a gig as a Production Assistant, and Charlie asks:

“What’s the best way to become a PA?”

First of all, for those just joining the discussion, a PA, or Production Assistant, is the entry-level position for most people breaking into the world of film and TV production.  Production Assistants do all the jobs no one else wants to do.  They fetch coffee, run errands, stock the fridge, make coffee.  I’ve known PA’s who have washed their bosses’ cars and taken in dry cleaning.  Often times, different departments of a show or movie have their own PA’s: the writing staff, the production office, the set, the post-production department, etc.

There’s not much glamourous about being a PA, but—if you work hard, have a great attitude, and make an effort to get to know those above you—you can usually parlay a PA gig into a job into a better position in whatever area you’re interested in: development, production, representation, writing, etc.  Being a P.A. is like being a stem cell… it’s pretty generic, but if you play your cards right, you can become whatever you want later.  (Of course, President Bush will now try to outlaw PA jobs.)

But the question still remains:

How do you get that first PA job?

Like all things in Hollywood, the best way to land a PA gig is by using contacts and connections.  Don’t be afraid to call everyone you know—whether they work in entertainment or not—and ask if they’ve heard of any TV shows or films crewing up.  Let them know you’re looking for a PA gig.  If you live in LA, I promise you—you’re probably never more than two degrees away from a good PA job.

But what if you don’t know anyone?  What if you’re new to town and have no real connections?  What if you’re switching careers?  Then what?

Here’s a quick list of other great resources to help you land that first PA position…

•  The UTA Joblist.  Regularly updated, the joblist maintained by the United Talent Agency (one of the biggest five agencies in Hollywood) is one of the industry’s premiere job-hunting resources.  Unfortunately, it’s not available to the public, which  means you need to know someone—or know someone who knows someone—at UTA in order to get a copy.  Still, if you’re scrappy and ask around a bit, you’re certain to find a connection who can get you the latest edition.

•  Get an internship.  Everyone loves free labor, and internships allow you to start working, learn how the industry works, and make real connections.  Plus, many internships evolve into paid PA gigs.  Talk to the alumni association or career center at your college or university (even if you’re already graduated).  They often have databases of internships… or connections to alumni who may know of something.  

The bad news: most employers can’t allow people to work for free… so if you’re not able to get class credit, and the internship can’t pay you, you may be out of luck.  But there’s a clever way around this: you can often enroll in a local community college for minimal amounts of money—sometimes as little as $100 per class hour.  Find a college near you, enroll for one hour, then use the internship to get your class credit.  Sure, this means you’re technically paying to work, but you can’t think of it like that—you’re actually just paying to get your foot in the door and begin your career.

•  Check corporate websites of your favorite film and TV companies.  Most networks, studios, and big production companies with their own websites have a job-hunting section, and these often list PA gigs.  Here are a few good corporate job sites, and if you head to other companies’ sites, you can probably find more…

Comcast
Disney
Scripps Networks Interactive
Fox
MGM
Warner Brothers
NBC

•  Call an employment agency.  Employment agencies don’t often offer actual production assistant jobs, but they do have jobs that can lead to PA jobs—temp jobs at agencies, studios, networks, etc.  Some employment agencies even specialize just in the entertainment industry, and these are three great starting places…

Brad Marks International
The Comar Agency
The Friedman Agency

•  Online job resources.  Hollywood also has several terrific job-hunting websites containing everything from assistant positions to VP openings…

4 Entertainment Jobs
Entertainment Careers.Net
The Grapevine
The Hollywood Creative Directory
Mandy
RealityStaff.com
Showbizjobs.com

•  Check the trades.  The main industry trades also work hard to collect job openings.  You can check the print editions, or pay them a visit online…

Daily Variety
The Hollywood Reporter
Backstage

AdWeek and MediaWeek

Hope these help, Charlie—lemme know if you have more questions, and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

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