Hey terriers! While many begin the hunt for a summer internship, I thought I’d reflect a little on my own.
This past summer, I had the most incredible first internship a film student can ask for – being a production assistant on the set of a feature film. The Place Beyond the Pines, a film written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), and starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, began filming last July in Schenectady, NY. Schenectady might not sound familiar to you, but I grew up practically next-door. It was a BIG deal for such a small town.
Being on set was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I gained practical knowledge, made connections and experienced feature filmmaking first-hand. It turned out to be the most rewarding (and brag-worthy) internship I could have hoped for. It was also the most overwhelming. I went through a trial and error period in the beginning, but I learned more from my initial uncertainty. Here are just a few things I picked up as a first-time film intern.
1. Comfortable shoes are essential.
Twelve-hour days are average. Fourteen-hour days are typical. Sixteen-hour days are not unlikely. Production assistants do not sit. Ever. You might get twenty minutes to scarf down lunch, but that does not guarantee you any time off of your feet. Flexible shoes with some support will help prevent throbbing feet at the end of the day. After day one, I ditched my tennis shoes for an old pair of running sneakers.
2. It takes a LOT of people to make a movie…
…and you have to know all of them. I was astonished to discover how many people it takes to make a feature film (this was a low-budget, independent film, mind you). Directors, producers, gaffers, electricians, personal assistants, sound mixers, location scouts, prop masters and makeup artists make for a substantial crew. When you consider all of the work done both before and after filming, the crew on set is just a portion of a larger team – a team of hundreds. As the eyes and ears of the assistant directors, production assistants are responsible for knowing who everyone is and what everyone does. Study up right away – there will inevitably be seven Mikes.
3. Filmmaking has its own lingo.
Do you know what sides are? A hero house? A squib? Neither did I. There isn’t any kind of vocabulary list you receive before hand, but nearly everything on set has some shortened ID. The key PA might brief you on your first day, but just like knowing every person on set, it’s your responsibility to know all of the terms used on set. It will mostly come with time and repetition, but doing some research beforehand can’t hurt.
4. Everyone is your boss.
The only position lower than a PA is an interning PA. There is a key PA who all others will generally report to and receive instructions from. The higher-ups will relay instructions, requests and problems to the key PA, who then delegates responsibilities to everyone else. It seems pretty common, however, for other crew memebers on set to ask a PA for assistance. Whatever they ask – do it. For me, most times it was someone asking for a pen or a new radio battery (or to hold an umbrella for Ryan Gosling so the rain won’t smudge his tattoos). If a crewmember asks you to do anything that requires you to leave set or an assigned post, make sure you tell the key PA. They must keep tabs on their minions at all times!
5. Days are long, but not necessarily busy.
On my first day, my key PA told me that the job involves doing everything and doing nothing – bizarre, yet true. There is no single responsibility of a PA. Tasks change with current needs and circumstances on set. Most days, my responsibilities required me to run around set for twenty minutes and then act as a human traffic cone for the rest of the day. It’s the nature of the business; I had to do my job so the actors and directors could do theirs. If you want to impress the crew, be the happiest, most attentive traffic cone on set. And don’t sit down!
6. Call sheets are tricky.
Call sheets hold SO much information. This one piece of paper holds almost everything you need to know for the day – call times, weather, scene numbers, props, location and the entire crew list. It isn’t of much use, however, if you don’t know how to read it. My key PA tried decoding it for me on my first day, but barely made it through the heading before he got pulled away. This is another thing you kind of have to learn through experience. The interns on set would often band together to decipher the scene descriptions. I found out, though, that interns are not the only ones who have trouble reading call sheets. The assistant directors would often joke about holding a Call Sheet 101 class.
If you have the opportunity to work on a movie set, take it! Maybe my rookie mistakes and lessons learned will help you through your first few days!
The Place Beyond the Pines is scheduled to release in the fall – go see it!