A Well-Buttoned Up Production from a Production Assistant’s Perspective

I have wanted to make movies for as long as I can remember. By the time I was eight years old, I was using my father’s 1980s VCR-Camera combo to make my very own Apocalypse Now featuring every G.I. Joe I could get my hands on. By the time I was ten, I had filmed three sequels to Star Wars that I would still rather watch than the Jar-Jar disasters.

Long story short, I went to school for film, moved to Hollywood,  took a class on how to be a P.A., and got picked up on a modest sized independent film. For 4 weeks, I basically got paid in 12 hour days and donuts (I did make enough to pay rent for a few of months, but I also rented a house with four other people). The budget for the film wasn’t huge,so I got to do a little bit of everything: getting coffee, running errands,wrangling the cast, and standing around a lot. For the most part, it was brilliant.

On this set, mostly full of working professionals who were completing their third or fourth major project together, I was welcomed in as another part of the family. Maybe it was because I still had a baby face, maybe it was because it was independently financed, or maybe it was because they all knew each other well enough that even when we were behind schedule no one really sweat it, for whatever the reason, I was treated like gold.

I had personal direction and lessons from someone in almost every department, including long talks with both the line producer and cinematographer. I learned practical things about lights and time constraints that school never bothered to teach. I learned a ton; about the process, about people, and interestingly, about actors.

Despite the stereotype,most of the actors I have met,whether name or no-name, have been great. They area little more neurotic than the rest of us,but I like to think that that comes with the territory. Still,to that point, I had never worked with someone who could shutdown a production just because,after an hour in the make-up chair, her hair wasn’t the way she wanted it.

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To see fifty people standing around twiddling their thumbs because a former TV actress was in tears in her dressing room? It was crazy. It was also the most important moment I have ever had on a set.
The line producer, a middle-aged man who was deaf in one ear, took the director, who didn’t like the woman, and guided him to her dressing room.
Being the one who had broken the news of her meltdown, I followed the men, eventually setting myself at the foot of the trailer. Her howls of complaint made it through the steel facade, but once in a while, so too did the magic words of the two men. They told her how beautiful she was,and how great her hair looked, and how everyone needed her. They sold her the world, and ten minutes later, we were rolling.

The line producer winked at me as the trio walked out of the dressing room. It was a moment I’ll never forget. In a wink he had told me everything I needed to know about movie making. In a wink he told me that I was just as important to him as his leading lady.

How do you run a buttoned up movie set? There are probably a lot of ways, but they all start the same- by treating everyone with respect.

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Juliana Reed on Google Plus, is a Film PA and a dab hand at extending the networking for fellow filmmakers to introduce them to the world of real film business. Feel free to reach out to her if you are looking for advice on where to start with your film venture.

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