Paying PA’s

Because I’m on summer break from Columbia College I’ve been browsing the job boards with a lot more fervor than usual; and I’ve noticed a trend in the listings that really angers me. It seems like every posting for production assistants (PA’s) wants to get the work done for free. I’ve noticed a few posting that go as far as asking for entire crews for free. As a producer, and an experienced filmmaker, I see a lot of things wrong with this.

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The first thing that really gets me going on this is the lack of respect these people have for PA’s. I realize that we (I say we because I’m finding myself doing a lot of PA work) are on the “bottom of the ladder,” but you are asking us to give you a minimum of 12 hours from our day, working hard, for free. That is just wrong. A minimum day rate for a PA, in Chicago, is $150/10 hours with overtime (1.5x time) after that. The producers that want work for free belittle the industry, and are mocking those who work in it.

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Then there’s the people who offer “copy/credit/meal.” These projects aren’t worth taking. Any self-respecting PA knows better than to take these jobs. The producers that offer “C/C/M” think they’re doing us a favor by allowing us to work with them. All they are doing is showing how cheap and unprofessional they are.

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I recently got offered a PA spot for “C/C/M” and the “opportunity to work with a professional LA crew.” I usually just throw these out the window, but I decided to inquire more about the job. I come to find out that production is flying in three producers, director, DP, production designer, gaffer, and 1st AC. Now, I have no problem with crews that are used to working with each other for ease of shooting, I do it too. But by flying in the gaffer and 1st AC, production is spending an extra $3000 (minimum) just on airfare, hotel, and per diem; this excludes their day rates. Instead of doing this, why can’t they hire locals and then be able to afford to pay their PA’s. Why don’t they? Because they don’t respect the PA’s.

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Doing unpaid work is rarely beneficial to anyone in the industry, and is even more rarely beneficial to PA’s. At least one of three things needs to happen in order for me to take a “free” gig:

1) I am personally invested in it (IE: a school project, a passion project, etc). This gives me a reason to WANT to work on it.
2) It’s a friend asking for a favor/ calling in a favor. Either I’ll be able to get them for free, or already got them for free, on a project of mine.
3) It will ACTUALLY benefit my career. This means I’m learning something new, getting a great portfolio piece, or working directly with someone who will push my career forward.

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Unless you’re offering one (or more) of these three things, don’t belittle my talents by offering no pay or, even worse sometimes, copy/credit/meals. My advice to other PA’s out there: Take a stand for your work! PA’s are the backbone of production. We pour blood, sweat, and tears into working (I’m not saying others don’t, but you’re more likely to find unpaid PA’s) and deserve to be fairly compensated for our time.

Paying PA’s should be a given in our industry. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I’d love to hear other peoples’ laugh stories, share them in the comments!

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