How to get a job as a TV (comedy) production assistant

There’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, and hey, if you don’t find anything there, remember YouTube and Apple stream shows now too. So many shows, so many production assistant jobs—right? Yes and…even so, they’re still hard to get. But not impossible!

I’m here to give you hope that, yes, there’s a possibility you could be locking up the set while Midge runs across the street with Lenny Bruce or while Number Five is jumping through time to stop the apocalypse. Over the course of summer 2018, I was a production assistant for a variety of gigs, which eventually led to an opportunity to work on Orange is the New Black, otherwise known as OITNB, or GGE (GREATEST GIG EVARRR). Here’s what I learned about how to get there:

So what does a PA job even look like?

You’re the grunt of the group, running here and there for whatever the show may need.  A good chunk of your time, especially as a first time PA, will involve set lock-up during taping. When a scene is rolling, it is the PA’s job to keep people from walking into the shot. This could include people working on set or pedestrians on the street.

I’m not going to lie, set lock-up will take up the majority of your time, but you may also be asked to run errands, help with crowd control, equipment setup, and craft services. Sometimes your responsibilities will depend on the level of production, whether it is a high- or low-budget project. On the lower budget sets, you tend to have more duties (a.k.a. take the small jobs too)!

It may not be the most glamorous role on the set, but it’s still an important one. If you hang in there long enough, opportunities will open up to move up as PA to more specific areas, like roles as Costume, Office, and First Team PA’s. At the bottom, you’re there to learn, work hard, make connections, and explore what interests you the most in production!

LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn

GOLDMINE! All the contacts you could ever need are on there! Did you find someone who is a production secretary for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Great! Message them. If you find someone who is a producer or a writer, definitely message them too! Keep in mind, though, people who are just a step or two ahead of you, like a production secretary, are probably looking to move up too and are more likely to check their messages and sympathize with your plight. Ask them to help a girl out! Introduce yourself, your experience, what you want to do, and ask them if they’d be willing to talk on the phone or over a cup of joe. Do not ask them for a job, but rather for advice. You’d be surprised how many people want to talk about what they do, especially if it’s something they love.

I messaged many, many people. A lot I did not hear from, but an occasional few took pity on my sorry self. One contact added me to social media groups where low- and high-budgeted projects post PA gigs. I applied to a super low-budget, unpaid PA gig and got it. Do not say no to those projects unless you have a good reason to (like food and/or shelter) because you just never know. A couple of the connections I made on that set worked for OITNB. They saw the good work I did and dragged me along with them on a few other projects until one day they asked me step into the holy ranks of OITNB.

Be “annoying” (sic)

We often confuse annoying with persistent. Do not be afraid to be persistent. Look, the people you’re messaging are busy. In fact, they probably did see your message and decided they’d answer later, but forgot. Can you message them again? Of course! I recommend waiting at least a week. Many times I’ve had people respond to me a week to a week and a half later. If you’ve messaged them again and still don’t hear back after a week, then you can probably drop it.  

This persistence applies to current contacts too. If you’ve built a solid relationship with past supervisors, reach out to them! Ask them if they want to catch up. Always, always, always touch base with connections every few months. If a job opens up at their company/show, light bulb! You’ll be fresh in their minds. A motto you will become very comfortable with this in this process: You just never know.

Keep your friends close, but your peers closer

Everyone starts out differently in the entertainment industry. Don’t fret if you don’t get that first PA job fresh out of college (not many get so lucky). And don’t get jealous when a former fellow intern or co-worker of yours does. Instead, be excited! Cheer and praise them and then slip in there and use that connection. I interned with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in spring 2018. It changed my life because I was suddenly surrounded by all these other interns who were interested in the same career path as me. And they have the drive to pursue it too. Their connections become yours and vice versa. You can be friends and value their industry connections.

I know it’s daunting. It’s still daunting to me! But keep in mind these aren’t the only things you can do. They just happen to be avenues I found helpful. I know people who were agent assistants who found the experience beneficial for work at production companies. People start as PA’s in news and broadcast and find connections in television through that. Don’t let the grind wear you down or make you doubt yourself. Don’t pass up opportunities that could lead to bigger things just because it’s not how you imagined beginning. Be fearless and proactive because, that’s right: you just never know. As Nicky says on OITNB, “You’re tougher than woodpecker lips. You’ll be okay.”

Photo via: Orange Is the New Black Wikia/Netflix

Erin Kinkley originates from the great state of Ohio and is an alumnus of The Ohio State University (hail Brutus!). Her interest in comedy and entertainment includes experiences in television as a former intern at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and as a set production assistant. Currently, Erin is attempting to unravel the inner workings of J.K. Rowling’s mind. What’s the formula for making the bestselling fantasy book series of all time? That’s what Erin plans to find out.