I spent the past three weekends in September working on the set of a small movie being shot here in Pittsburgh. I was an unpaid production assistant, trying out something new and looking to gain some experience.
As a production assistant, people tell you what to do and you do it as quickly and efficiently as you can. When they don’t tell you what to do, you should be paying attention to what’s going on so that if someone mutters something under their breath, you can then do it before they actually ask. Production assistants carry things and move things and get people things. They stand in the rain and direct traffic and drive the transport van back and forth from the parking lot. They make runs to Starbucks for coffee and for snacks and for hardware and nails and for sunscreen. Production assistants ask people to be quiet and then they yell loudly for people to be quiet. They keep the talent hydrated and fed and amused. They hold the slate or wrangle cords or bring apple boxes then take apple boxes away. They stand in for talent so the camera can set up the shot or so the current actor knows where their eye line should be. They pose as extras if needed and sometimes their backs are used for over-the-shoulder shots. They use the walkie talkie all day every day and if all of this is understood, they say “copy that.” That’s just the basics.
I knew all of this. I’ve been a production assistant before. I have the production assistant handbook. But it was a little different trying to jump into all of this with a small group of people I’d never met, asking me to do more than just refill coolers. I should be happy. I should be glad that they needed me to do some real production things like set up lights or hold an iPad for them. On a bigger production, I hadn’t been allowed to touch anything technical. So this was pretty cool. But it took me a little while to get into the swing of it. Luckily some of these great crew members were willing to be patient and teach me a few things.
I would say I felt much more useful by the end of the shoot and I can definitely say I learned a lot. By the last day, I was able to set up a branch in a C stand by myself to make it look like a tree outside the window. I was able to set up flags and put silks on frames. People could ask me for gels or scrims or a combo or a lolli and I knew what those things were.
These were some long days, but they were worth it.
And hopefully no one recognizes the awkward girl in the background of some scenes. Because that would be me and that would be embarrassing.
To read more about my experiences on the set of “Lemonade” check out my guest post on the Hollyburgh blog: The Real Meaning of “Lights, Camera, Action”