Creating a studio-backed Hollywood film can be a huge undertaking, with hundreds of union craftsmen, directors, producers, and actors all trying to row in the same direction. Meanwhile, dozens of small but vital chores start to pile up, with no one to address them. Enter the production assistant. This person acts as combination of office intern and entry-level gofer hired specifically by producers to perform routine — and sometimes not so routine — tasks on and off the movie set.
A production assistant's duties change from day to day. He or she might deliver script changes to the director at a remote shooting location, or coffee to the lighting crew. The producers may send this person to pick up a replacement part for a camera or deliver film canisters to the processing lab. If a scene calls for extras or atmosphere, he or she might participate as a background actor or assist in the direction of hired extras. It's not unusual for this person to find himself performing menial tasks like operating a snow machine or collecting props after a scene.
The job pays very little, if anything, but many people take it on for the experience of working on a major film. A production assistant may have an opportunity to interact professionally with major actors and directors, and there may be some travel to exotic set locations as well. Sometimes, he or she may get an official screen credit, which can be a positive step towards bigger and better positions in the future. The experience gained by working in this job can be invaluable to film students and theater majors.
There are a few downsides to working as a production assistant. The job is usually non-union, which means this person is essentially at the mercy of any number of producers. This can lead to very long hours spent trying to satisfy all of the production staff's needs.
Schedules can be variable, from an all-night shoot on Monday to an all-day shoot on Wednesday. Assistants must be flexible enough to handle all sorts of assignments, no matter how menial they may seem. It's all about the finished product when working in the film industry.