[Blog] To Hell and Back: The PA Survival Kit

This was sent to our email (buhaymediaph@gmail.com) last December 8 by Ms. Gay Domingo.

DISCLAIMER: Buhay Media is maintained by the Talents Association of GMA Network (TAG), but the stories published here do not necessarily reflect the views and experiences of all TAG members or the media industry as a whole.

Good day! Could I share this article I wrote years ago about being a production assistant? It’s not quite like the articles you’ve shared and posted but I hope pasok pa rin sa Buhay Media. I commiserate and identify with the challenges of those working in media. And I pray that a resolution is at hand soon for all career people in media, both freelance and network/company-based. Efforts will bear fruit. God bless us all.

Thank you very much.


To Hell and Back: The PA Survival Kit

Note: I wrote this article for Agenda Magazine when I was a production assistant at Star Cinema. Thanks to writer Mouse Muñoz for helping me make this article better. While it’s been years since I was a production assistant, I can only hope and pray that conditions are better for PAs now.


Mike de Leon, director of Kisapmata, Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and Batch ’81, was once asked by a production executive how many PAs he needed for a film project. De Leon answered, “I don’t know how many. I don’t know what they are or what they do.”

Production Assistants or PAs, as they are lovingly called, are those hapless young new graduates who do anything (perhaps virtually everything) on a movie set or television taping set. Their tasks may include finding a seat for the star, coercing bystanders to become spot extras, blocking anybody who might disturb the shoot (a.k.a. “trafficking”), running to wherever to purchase or find last-minute requirements, like for example, trained ants. There isn’t a particular job description. As long as there is something to be done, and it isn’t the problem of the director, production designer, or cameraman, who are you going to call? “Hoy, PA, halika dito!

There are male and female PAs. However, experience has shown that more females tend to stay on the job. That is not a gender-biased opinion, but merely a statement of a fact. Or one of the greatest mysteries in TV and cinema.

PA-ing is such a difficult job. For anybody who would want to go up the entertainment field’s corporate ladder, he or she would most likely start as a production assistant. Unless you’re such an extremely talented person, then you might be fortunate enough to be given a directorial debut in your 20s, like Steven Spielberg. Mere mortals would need to sweat it out at the bottom rung.

As I’ve said, it’s a very difficult job because of its ambiguous nature. Any bit of unsolicited advice might come in handy to anyone contemplating on venturing into the unknown battlefield. Take it from a three-time movie PA veteran who didn’t know better.

With my fellow PAs Annette, Rizza, Jenny, Monette, JD and artist Gilda at the pictorial of Christopher de Leon for the movie Madrasta.
With my fellow PAs Annette, Rizza, Jenny, Monette, JD and artist Gilda at the pictorial of Christopher de Leon for the movie Madrasta.

Right from the start, inquire about your salary—if you are entitled to one.

Don’t be shy to ask how much you will be getting for a project. Some bosses or producers would state the amount of compensation before a PA starts working. Other would keep mum about money matters. Speak up or forever hold your peace, at least until the end of the project. Some producers are sensitive enough and concede you deserve something for your efforts, even a measly allowance for transportation and food. Face it, PAs are fed scraps. If you want a high-paying job, then don’t plan on being a PA.

Forget your school or where you came from.

Don’t be boastful about being a college graduate, even if you came from a very prestigious university. You don’t need to know Descartes, Calculus, or the five axioms of communication to perform well as a PA. Common sense is the key and not theory. Giving meal stubs to the crew, buying makeup and technical requirements and bringing the footage to the editing studio may seem like menial jobs. But what must be done must be done. And oh, you need enough endurance to ride rickety and rusty service vehicles. So don’t forget your tetanus shots.

Color bars cannot be bought from the grocery.

When I was a PA, I heard of this long-standing joke. TV PAs on their first day will most likely be asked by the technical staff to buy one kilo of color bars. The naïve, innocent person would search markets and grocery stores, search throughout the network to no avail— only to find that the color bars were in front of him all along! Right there on the television screen!

Color bars are those multicolored vertical lines you see before a TV station’s sign-on. You can’t find them in the grocery and you can’t buy them at all. You’ll learn. And the next time they tell you to get some canned laughter, don’t run off to the nearest 7-Eleven. The T.O.C. (Technical Operations Center) is your one-stop shop!

Learn to smoke. If you already know how, develop the astig stance.

Members of the technical crew have a nasty tendency to intimidate newcomers, specifically new PAs. They tease or provoke anyone who might seem a bit weak or defenseless. One determined PA started smoking to look astig and gained the respect of the crew. So help me. Why? I don’t know but a cigarette seems to be a more effective weapon than a Magnum .357. I’m not saying that you should develop a vice, but don’t hide in a corner either. Learn the art of deadma… or take kickboxing lessons!

Forget holidays and weekends. Forget romance.

If you love going out, then you can’t be in movie or TV production. While all your friends are partying, you have to be at some god-forsaken shanty in Payatas, taking note of camera grind and sequences taken. You can’t rest on holidays, either. Some production outfits have been known to schedule shooting on Election Day, Labor Day and Christmas Eve. Thankfully, no one shoots on Good Friday (unless it’s a documentary shoot about the Lenten Season). At least that’s one guaranteed holiday.

Don’t expect to have a love life, too. You’ll be too busy to have time to date, much less meet eligible mates. Settle for someone nice and cute on the set like uh, the tanod in charge of crowd control.

Stars are people, too.

They have moods. They have needs. They have lives, just like you do. And they love shopping. One PA was tasked to call an actress in time for a take. There were no cellphones then so he didn’t know where to find her. He had to look for her inside SM Megamall and he didn’t have a clue where to start. Did he find her? Let’s just say that the shooting had to pack-up. And guess who was blamed and crucified for not being efficient enough?

Other stars need to be pampered. Sometimes they need someone to listen to them ramble on and on, and you the PA, have to say and shall we say, make chika, to keep the artist entertained. Always look interested—even if you heard the star’s story on the news weeks ago.

Never get the director angry.

Directors have artistic temperaments and terrible tempers. Once enraged, get ready to duck! They throw the first thing they get their hands on— a script, a chair, or even the wardrobe mistress. Directors can be clever writers. They drop memorable lines like,“Huwag mauulit ang kapalpakan mo, kung hindi lalabas ka sa set ng walang ulo!”  When that happens, don’t fret. Think of it as part of the job. Remember, you’re supposed to be a master of the art of deadma. (Refer to previous item.)

If the job’s so tough, why would anybody want to be a PA? Life was never easy, especially in show business. I can only surmise that it’s prestige. When the film or TV show is in the can, you have that 15 seconds of fame (not 15 minutes, Andy Warhol never knew what PAs were or what they did, either) when you see your name in the end credits… right beside the guy who managed to find the trained ants.


View the original article here: http://gayace.blogspot.com/2014/02/to-hell-and-back-pa-survival-kit_27.html

If you wish to share your own #BuhayMedia story or you want to speak up as one of the #HumansOfMedia, just send us an email at buhaymediaph@gmail.com.


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