Adventures of a Production Assistant
(or How to Get into the Film/TV Business)
If you have a lot of stamina, tons of initiative, and a willingness to be a reliable Go-Fer for what may be 16 hour days, and if you can put aside any ego defensiveness – plus run into a bunch of good luck – you too may be able to get your toe into the entertainment world as a Production Assistant. Hard work, to be sure. But PA’s get to see a lot and learn a lot. A production can’t get along without them.
I wanted to learn more about what a PA really does and was fortunate enough to encounter a former PA, Kerry, who had worked on Star Trek. I was fascinated by her tales of being a PA, a job that while at the bottom of the food chain in film and television production is nonetheless necessary for the smooth functioning of a set – running errands, making deliveries and generally doing whatever is asked. Plus meeting a whole lot of actors and others. Wow!!! My first question was “How’d you do that? How’d you get the job?” Here’s Kerry’s story.
“I fell into film and television production – it wasn’t something on my radar AT ALL while in college. While I was working and going to the university, some friends dragged me to my first Star Trek convention…. nearly 20 years ago. I remember vividly that the speakers were Jonathan Frakes and Nana Visitor. Nana was working on the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at the time, and sometime during her talk, she mentioned that she was looking for a new nanny for her baby. So I went home and sent her my resume and a cover letter care of Paramount and didn’t think much else of it.
“So, I came back to Reno and started looking for nanny jobs in Los Angeles. I called a whole bunch of churches to put ads in their bulletins. One I called was Bel Air Presbyterian Church and they let me place an ad… and then told me that there was a couple already looking for a nanny. Again, that synchronicity at work.
“Off to Paramount I went. Again, the amazing lining up of the stars… the production office for the sitcom “Platypus Man” was in the Cooper Building… and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in the office right next door. Over the couple of months that we filmed the sitcom, I made sure I met every person coming up and down those stairs. I also let Nana and Sid know I was there, and we kept in touch distantly. I worked my BUTT off. We had horrible hours. Our writers were night owls, so we ended up having two shifts – a daytime shift and an overnight shift – which swapped every week. It really sucked coming in to work at 6pm and leaving at 8am, let me tell you! The show didn’t last long and we got cancelled by UPN, but I’d been seriously bitten by the production bug. The biz was in my blood. I LOVED working 12 – 16 hour days and being on the go much of the time. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and I simply thrive in this environment. It was wonderful in a way that working as an early childhood educator was not. I loved the creativity and the magic. I was hooked. I was in my young 20’s, healthy, strong and hungry. When the sitcom was cancelled, a Production Assistant job opened up over at DS9 at the same time.
I’d always liked Star Trek… I remember watching the original Star Trek (TOS) as a kid in reruns and occasionally running around with phasers. I have to admit a fondness for a certain captain’s British accent! I liked the emphasis on a positive future and people working together to make the world/Federation a better place. I loved the inclusiveness and the diversity of the characters and the morality they portrayed. I was very excited to be a part of this positive vision of the future.
I had made friends with Heidi Smothers, the Production Coordinator, and I immediately took over my resume and staunchly stated I could start immediately. After a couple of interviews, Heidi told me “it wasn’t looking good” – because the producers had discovered that I was a member of Sid and Nana’s fan clubs. Production generally has a very love/hate relationship with fans. They see only the freaks and nutcases, so it definitely colors their views of fandom. Luckily for me, Sid and Nana laughed and told the producers to hire me immediately!
“I started on DS9 on an episode called “Through the Looking Glass” (another Intendant episode, conveniently enough!) in Season 3 and ended on an episode called “Broken Link”, at the end of Season 4. I have always thought that was apropos. I did indeed go through the looking glass and leaving was definitely a broken link experience. I had a great time working on DS9, which was a challenging hour-long drama series to work on because of the complexity of the show and the hours.”