On set, Production Assistants have a vital, yet often thankless role to play. In this video from RocketJump Film School, we see a day in the life of a production assistant through the eyes of Colin West McDonald.
The tasks may be somewhat different for a production assistant on a movie, but there are many parallels to those of assistants on photography shoots, especially when it comes to mindset and attitude.
There are some very specific tasks and protocols on a movie set that we don’t usually have to deal with on a stills shoot. Some of this is simply down to the fact we have a much smaller crew to deal with, but part of it is simply due to differences in the mediums.
On a photo shoot, you typically don’t have to call out when people are to be quiet and stop moving so they don’t screw over the sound guys, for example.
What is very relevant, however, is the idea of anticipating the needs of others involved and preparing things in advance to make the day go as smoothly as possible. Even on a regular photo shoot, small delays can add up to a much longer working day very quickly, and there’s nothing worse than a tired or cranky subject in front of your lens.
One big difference here, I think, is that with movies, the production assistant is considered the entry level job, doing whatever may be asked of you.
It’s where one starts out in the industry, to learn the ropes and go on to do bigger and better things. You need to do it to cut your teeth, but you want to get out of it as soon as you possibly can.
With photography, while your ultimate goal may be to become a good photography in your own right, it’s a more socially insulated working environment.
With a much smaller (if any) crew, as a regular assistant to a photographer you’re pretty much only learning how that one photographer works. So, even when I was shooting full time, I still occasionally assisted other photographers.
There’s always something new you can learn by watching somebody else work, and being actively involved. It allowed me to look at and question my own workflow, to increase efficiency and productivity.
It also let those who I was assisting see new ways of tackling problems after setting me the challenges of resolving them so they didn’t have to deal with them during the shoot.
Many of those photographers that I have assisted over the years have also come to assist me on my own shoots.
It works both ways, and their assistance often proves to be invaluable.
What are your thoughts? Do or have you worked as an assistant in video or on stills shoots? Do you often have assistants work with you on your own productions? Let us know in the comments.