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Script Coverage: Why You Need and Where to Get It

Script Coverage: Why You Need and Where to Get It

Content is king, and you know it — that’s why you wrote a script. But if you don’t get script coverage before you send your baby out to prospective buyers, you might not be putting your best foot forward. If you just wrote your first screenplay, you already know script writing is a great place to get started in the film and television business. It costs nothing and all you need to invest is your precious time… (and perhaps some cash on script coverage — but we’ll get to that). That said, it’s an incredibly competitive field and the number of scripts that are written vastly outnumber the scripts that get produced. You need to stand out. If someone requests to read your script, you might just get one shot to show them what you can do. If your idea is great but it is poorly structured and under-developed, you might be perceived as a hack, and be quickly dismissed. On the other hand, if you hand in a polished beauty of a script and they aren’t hot on the idea, they are more likely to look at something else you have.

By now you’ve probably done your homework. You’ve read every book on script writing, you’ve listened to podcasts, you’ve given birth to a draft, and have suffered through many re-writes. You’re so close to success you can taste it. But until your script has an audience, you really have no idea if it is working or will have your intended effect on people. This is why you don’t want to send it out, yet. You don’t want a very busy Script Analyst, Producer or Manager who holds the key to your future to be your guinea pig. Let someone else do that, someone who will give you constructive feedback and make your script better. And the best person to do this is a professional – someone who analyzes scripts for a living. But before you dole out money for script coverage, I would take a look at other ways to get feedback on your script before you spend the big bucks.

In this article, we’ll look at the following options for script coverage:

  1. Writers groups
  2. Film festivals like Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition
  3. Websites that give feedback like The Blacklist and American Zoetrope
  4. Script coverage services like
  5. Writer career sites

Writers Groups

The safest place to get feedback is from your friends. They are so supportive and want nothing but success for you. They also rarely tell you the cold, hard truth. They will focus on the good stuff and not mention what isn’t working for them. So you may want to start there, but move on quickly!

The best way to begin the torture of getting criticism is to find other Writers. Even if they are not seasoned professionals, they can tell you if something isn’t clear. If you are open to it, they can also suggest something that might help make it better. It might not be something you agree with, but it might lead you to the right solution. Make sure you choose people who have the same sensibilities and are equally as motivated as you. You won’t get everything you need here, but it’s a great place to warm-up.

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars.

Film Festivals

Another place to get objective feedback is through film festivals. Two of the most popular places where they offer decent feedback are Slamdance and Blue Cat Screenplay Competition. It may not be too detailed, but it will be anonymous, which has its benefits. They don’t know you, so their critique is formed solely by the words on the page. These people, however, are rarely industry professionals, so it won’t be as constructive as in-depth coverage. Nevertheless, it’s a great stepping-stone that costs less than script coverage services. Screenplay competitions otherwise don’t do much to advance your career so be careful about spending money in this arena. There are exceptions, but do your research. By choosing festivals that offer feedback it’s easier to justify the fee. At $35 and up a pop, I’d submit to a few and save your money for something that can be more beneficial to your writing career or getting your script in tip-top shape.

Websites That Give Feedback

There are two kinds of websites where you can get feedback – peer critique and industry critique. Both have value. You just need to take the feedback with a grain of salt. There are a number of these sites, but two of the most popular ones are The Blacklist, which is industry review and American Zoetrope (of Francis Ford Coppola fame), which is peer criticism.

The Blacklist website was designed to give writers “industry access.” There are a number of sites like this, so make sure you know what you are getting into. They often dangle a carrot: if you sign up with them and your script is up to snuff, it could get the attention of Producers or Managers, who can search the site to see if anything grabs their attention. This might happen, but don’t hold your breath. The Blacklist touts that six scripts have been produced in three years… out of 55,000 scripts submitted!

American Zoetrope is a peer review site, which is an expanded version of a writers group. In order to get reviewed, you must give a review, so it’s a bit tricky. You don’t know how experienced the Writer who gives feedback on your script is, and not everyone is good at constructive criticism. You have to have tough skin with these sites. They both can hit you in the gut.

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it.

Script Coverage Services

There are loads of script coverage services out there. Here’s what you need to look for: have these people, indeed, worked in the industry doing studio coverage for industry insiders? Have they worked in development? Are they in the Editor’s guild as a story analyst? Check their credentials before you fork over hundreds of dollars. Also, check out what they offer. Some will just give you “studio coverage,” which is the kind of coverage they would give to their bosses; others give you more constructive criticism. I prefer the latter. Studio coverage will get in the weeds and let you know what is working and what is not, and give you a “recommend,” “consider” or “pass” grade, but detailed feedback will give you more tools to jump into a rewrite. See if they offer a phone consultation so you can clarify things and ask questions.

Writer Career Sites

Another resource for Screenwriters are sites like the International Screenwriters Association or Roadmap Writers. There are others, but these are the most popular. Both of these sites offer coverage, but also offer ongoing support for Writers. Roadmap Writers, in particular, will work with Writers not only on developing great scripts, but they also help Writers develop their careers. They, too, offer to hook you up with industry professionals, but they help you hone your craft first, then pair you with industry professionals they know and who would be a good fit for you. With these sites, you get more attention and they offer a solid sounding board for Writers who toil away alone in the dark. They can also be your champions. The more Writers they shepherd to the top, the better their reputation is and the more business they get.

What to Expect With Notes

First of all, it’s ok to disagree with a note. I have a five-time rule. If five people say it, I need to think about it. Also, sometimes people will respond with their taste. If it’s not their favorite genre, they may not be hot on your story. Or if the character is someone they don’t like, well, you’re out of luck – with them. Let it roll off you and move on.

However, there are times to pay attention. If something isn’t clear, make it clear. It might make sense in your head, but not to a reader. What information did you forget to put on the page? Character notes are also important. If the character is misunderstood or has no depth, you really need to take heed. We watch movies to identify with characters so dig into these notes to make sure you have created a character an audience can latch on to. The same goes with the character motivation. These things are the backbone of your script.

Structural notes are also important. I’m not keen on the three-act structure, or things happening on a certain page, but if your reader can’t follow the story, that’s a legit problem. One somewhat ambiguous note you might get is, “the stakes aren’t high enough.” To address this note, a good question to ask is, why do we care about what happens to these characters? The more your character has to lose, the more engaged your audience is.

The most important thing about getting notes is to remember that they are not personal. The more you get notes, the more you will be able to decipher what is critical and what is opinion. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Ultimately your goal is to sell or produce your script. So you absolutely want it to be rock solid or it will be tossed in the garbage after a few pages, or, if you made it yourself and got it on a screen, it will be turned off in two minutes. Your work will get better with notes. Notes are a part of the life of any filmmaker. Quite frankly, the more successful you are, the more notes you will get – Director notes, Producer notes, studio notes…. Get used to them and make them work for you!

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How to Storyboard: Envisioning a Film’s Look

How to Storyboard: Envisioning a Film’s Look

As a filmmaker, how to storyboard is a critical skill in bringing the story from script to screen. But for someone who has yet to take this step, the central question may initially be what exactly is storyboarding? In short, it’s putting pen to paper — or using digital software — to draw out the scenes that will become the visual road map during the filming process.

While every filmmaker may differ regarding to what degree they flesh out their storyboards, having them offers a clear direction from which the entire production crew — including the Director, Cinematographer, Production Designer, Costumer, etc. — can move forward to create a cohesive look for the film. Given the highly collaborative nature of filmmaking, storyboards offer a critically important blueprint of what a story is going to look like on screen that all members of the crew can continually refer back to throughout production.

So where to start? The steps below highlight some of the key stages of how to storyboard:

  1. Study the script
  2. Select character positions
  3. Decide character motion and camera movement
  4. Determine background elements
  5. Include shot numbers
  6. Assemble storyboards

Study the Script

What eventually becomes part of a storyboard can typically be traced back to what was in the script. Every element of a script — slug lines, dialogue, action — can inform what belongs in a storyboard, so it’s crucial to first analyze the screenplay.

How a filmmaker wants to label the elements of a scene is entirely up to them. Some prefer using computer programs that help to identify and categorize various components like character, wardrobe, and setting. Others may instead physically mark up the script with highlighters to differentiate those elements. Should a filmmaker choose the former, they have at their disposal a wide array of software options, many of them entirely free to use. Among some of the more popular digital storyboarding options are Boords, Frameforge Storyboard Studio, Moviestorm, Plot, Studiobinder, and Storyboarder.

This stage of storyboarding is important for two reasons. Not only will it aid the filmmaking crew in identifying what will be required for each scene, but also it can help to clarify budgetary needs. For instance, if a scene is set in the Empire State Building, the filmmakers will have to address whether they intend to film on location or replicate that venue, a decision which usually will be based on cost.

At this early stage of the storyboarding process, a filmmaker may also want to make the decision of aspect ratio, meaning the dimensions of the film as a whole. Why would this be important before the camera equipment is even rented for the shoot? Because aspect ratio will determine the size of the storyboard frames. Most features are shot with either a 1.85: 1 aspect ratio or 2.39: 1 aspect ratio, depending on the film genre.

Camera movement can also be shown in a storyboard through the use of arrows. Tilts, pans, zoom-ins, zoom outs, as well as other types of camera movements, must be clearly described during the storyboarding process so that the cinematography unit can better understand what will be expected of it during production.

Select Character Positions

Not every shot will include a character. Especially in the beginning of a scene, an establishing shot may only be that of a city skyline or rural farmhouse. But in learning how to storyboard, filmmakers should prioritize the placement of any character in a shot that calls for them.

Deciding where the character will be in the storyboard may sound relatively straightforward, but several factors should be considered. For one, character placement is important for blocking purposes, meaning that it will indicate to the Actors where they should stand, sit or otherwise be present from shot to shot. Two, character placement will help in providing subtext to any given scene. Positioning a character front and center in a particular shot may indicate their power or control over others in that scene. In contrast, placing a character towards the side or background of a shot will effectively lessen their literal and possibly contextual presence. Three, with character placement may come decisions about how they look, including hairstyle, makeup and costume.

Decide Character Motion and Camera Movement

Few shots in a film are truly static, where neither the characters nor the camera are moving. In many cases, both are happening simultaneously. As a filmmaker, it’s important to indicate these elements to clarify for the rest of the filmmaking team how to approach each storyboarded scene.

The element of motion is often described through the use of arrows. So if a character is running from left to right in a particular shot, an arrow pointed towards the right can show that motion. Arrows can also indicate if a character is moving from foreground to background or vice versa. In fact, arrows can be used for any display of movement, including if a character is required to twirl in circles in a particular scene, making them a highly versatile tool.

To better estimate if a character’s movement in a scene will work, some filmmakers may go through the additional step of creating an animatic, which is basically a set of storyboard frames strung together that actually show the motion of the character. With modern filmmaking software, the creation of animatics can be done rather easily.

Camera movement can also be shown in a storyboard through the use of arrows. Tilts, pans, zoom-ins, zoom outs, as well as other types of camera movements, must be clearly described during the storyboarding process so that the cinematography unit can better understand what will be expected of it during production. Mapping out camera movement can also help in deciding if continuity is being preserved from shot to shot.

At this point, filmmakers should also add descriptions of the type of shot and camera angle being used for each storyboarded frame. For instance, is the shot a close-up? Is the camera intended to be looking down from a bird’s eye angle? Again, providing clarity regarding specific camera shots and angles for the rest of the filmmaking crew will only help to ensure that the actual production process will go as smoothly as possible.

After sending out their storyboards, a filmmaker should prioritize having their production team look over them so that a conversation can be had about any potential issues, errors or questions. How to storyboard is often a lesson in revisions, as is much of the early filmmaking process.

Determine Background Elements

The next question after deciding character placement and movement in a shot is what surrounds them? Are they relaxing in an Italian villa or walking through New York City? Both scenarios instantly bring to mind markedly different settings, which need to be brought to life through the storyboard.

During the storyboarding phase, it’s the job of the filmmaker to faithfully recreate on paper the scene described in the script. That means for every shot deciding exactly what needs to be in it, and what those background elements are depends entirely on the story being told. Again, that is why step one of how to storyboard sets the foundation for the rest of the process. By paying attention to what is in each scene — or inferred from it — the filmmaker can then flesh out the shot beyond the character with those necessary elements.

How detailed the background elements are in a storyboard is ultimately up to the filmmaker, but it should be noted that storyboards are meant to be shared. As a result, including as much detail as possible can only help the rest of the filmmaking team to better and more quickly understand what is trying to be conveyed in each scene.

Include Shot Numbers

Label. Label. Label. Once all the basic information such as character placement, camera movement, and background elements are drawn or described for each storyboard, it’s essential to number each frame in chronological order.

Filmmakers who use digital software for their storyboarding needs will likely have this step automatically completed for them. For those who prefer to storyboard by hand, perfect execution is mandatory. Having even one shot labeled out of order could mean a costly and/or time-consuming mistake, so taking the time to carefully number every frame is key.

Because some shots may actually be comprised of more than one storyboarded frame, filmmakers should include secondary symbols like ‘1a’ and ‘1b’ to frames that belong to the same shot in order to both differentiate and chronicle them.

Assemble Storyboards

Once all of the above steps have been completed for each scene in a script, it’s time to arrange the storyboards and disperse them to the appropriate individuals. However, a filmmaker’s work is far from over at this stage.

After sending out their storyboards, a filmmaker should prioritize having their production team look over them so that a conversation can be had about any potential issues, errors or questions. How to storyboard is often a lesson in revisions, as is much of the early filmmaking process. For instance, another member of the production crew might have a better suggestion for a particular shot or they might have interpreted a particular scene in an entirely different manner than what was storyboarded. This final phase of storyboarding is when concerns should be discussed and worked into updated depictions of each shot. Only once the appropriate individuals have all signed off in agreement on the storyboards should the project move forward to production.

This final step in how to storyboard exemplifies why the process is so critical to a successful film production. Even the most modest of films require significant collaboration between dozens if not hundreds — or even thousands — of individuals. While executing the vision of the screenplay is of primary importance, into that execution is a considerable investment of time and financial resources. Few productions have an open-ended budget, which is why storyboarding well can help to save precious dollars and energy later.

Many filmmakers are eager to make the leap from script to production as soon as possible. But if in the position of heading up a film project, they should recognize that a thought-out set of storyboards will be much appreciated by the rest of the filmmaking team, making how to storyboard a vital part of a successful film production.

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Script Writing Basics: Creating a Story That Stands Out

Script Writing Basics: Creating a Story That Stands Out

Why do the basics of great script writing matter?

Because a professional Script Reader might read eight or nine scripts in a single day. That’s nearly 50 scripts a week. Over 2,000 scripts a year. And that’s not including the “favor” scripts they agree to read for friends and friends of friends on weeknights and weekends. Managers, Agents and Development Executives have an endless pile of scripts on their desks as well.

These professionals are typically the gatekeepers through which Writers make it to earn fellowships, win contests and get meetings. So to truly stand out from the thousands of competing stories vying for the attention of these individuals, stellar script writing is key.

And for a Screenwriter to rise to the top, it’s essential that they master not just one but all of the following script writing fundamentals:

  1. Unique premise
  2. Memorable world
  3. Distinct, engaging characters
  4. Suspenseful plot
  5. Cathartic climax & resolution

Unique Premise

Every great script begins with a compelling premise. A shark terrorizes an east coast community over the Fourth of July. An adventurous Archeologist searches for the lost Ark before the Nazis find it. A young boy tries to hide and protect an alien left behind on earth.

The above concepts might all belong to Steven Spielberg films, but they’re also some of the most iconic movies ever produced. Why? Because at the time, those stories had never been seen before. Spielberg — and his Screenwriter collaborators — found a hook in each story that got people to not only pay attention but also want to know more.

That can be an overwhelming challenge to an aspiring Writer. After all, what story hasn’t been told at this point? It sounds simple, but in many regards, the first step to great script writing is asking one simple question: “Would I want to see this story?” While few scripts will appeal to all demographics, by keying in on a novel concept or putting a twist on an established genre, a unique premise will invoke curiosity and interest.

Memorable World

Let’s go back to those concepts. Beyond hooking the audience with a unique premise, each story was brought to life through the creation of a believable, three-dimensional world — and that world begins long before a camera shoots it. It always starts on the page.

It’s important to note that a screenplay is not a novel where lengthy, and sometimes flowery, descriptions of the world are common. In a script, economy of space is vital. Which makes it all the more essential that a Writer knows how to describe and build a world with minimal words.

World-building also applies to all genres. Some Screenwriters might think it’s applicable only for fantasy or sci-fi stories, but it’s just as important to create a fully fleshed out world for an intimate, character-driven story set in Omaha, Nebraska as it is for a large, action-driven piece set on Krypton. For Writers who prefer to set their stories in a real locale — don’t be complacent about creating that world because of the assumption that the audience already knows it.

It sounds simple, but in many regards, the first step to great script writing is asking one simple question: “Would I want to see this story?”

Distinct, Engaging Characters

When deciding on characters for a story, here’s a good rule of thumb for Writers: you should know who is saying what even if you remove the character headings from the script.

Characters should not be interchangeable. Each one must have a distinct voice that is separate from every other character in that story. But how to develop those distinct voices? While not mandatory to create a memorable cast of characters, many Writers choose to write backgrounds for each of their characters. Others have a list of questions that they answer for their protagonists and antagonists. Both exercises serve to provide more specificity for their characters, which helps to make them more distinct. Again, think Quint from Jaws, Elliott from E.T. or the titular Indiana Jones. It doesn’t matter if the character seems larger than life or like the boy next door. They should all make an impression that sticks with the audience.

Script writing, as it applies to characters, also means making each character count. Some Writers like large ensemble casts, as it often translates to more opportunities for conflict and dialogue. But another question that a Screenwriter must ask themselves is whether or not every character serves the story. In short, are they helping to move the plot forward? If not, merge that character into another or remove them entirely.

Suspenseful Plot

Speaking of plot, a logically and thematically sound plot is crucial to any script. Writers should keep in mind, though, that logic doesn’t necessarily mean what makes sense in the real world. They can make up any rules they want for their story, but those rules need to both fit together and build upon one another. Whatever the logic, it must make sense for that particular world.

Another question to ask: what is the story really about? Is it just about an Archaeologist finding a lost piece of history or is it about the forces of good overcoming evil? While the plot should move along the action and progress of the story, it should also be continually building upon the larger themes of the story, whether that’s love, redemption, independence or any other human experience. Because while a fast-paced race to find the Ark of the Covenant can be fun to watch, it’s the larger themes of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark that make the audience care about whether or not Indy will be successful.

And when it comes down to it, that’s really what sets apart expert script writing from the rest — caring about where the story goes. The truth is that if someone doesn’t care about the story by page 10 — or sometimes earlier — they likely will not invest the time and energy to see if they change their minds by page 90. A Writer must immediately set the stage for a suspenseful plot that keeps the audience wanting to follow through until the end.

Keep in mind, though, that a suspenseful story doesn’t have to mean stakes as high as saving a community from a man-eating shark or helping an alien get back to his home planet. It can mean a reconciliation between an estranged father and son or a couple finding out that they’re going to adopt the baby they’ve always wanted. But for the audience to care about those outcomes, not only do Writers have to find a unique premise with which to draw them in, create a world that immerses the reader or viewer and draw characters that feel authentic and memorable, but also they have to build a plot that takes the audience willingly along to find out what happens.

It takes time, persistence and energy to hone the skills that will make for a great read. It’s not uncommon for Writers to get the attention of a Manager or have a script optioned only after they’ve written a dozen or more other stories that never see the light of day.

Cathartic Climax & Resolution

When the audience does find out what happens — that Brody blows up the shark or that E.T. does go home — how will they feel? Will they think the outcome was warranted? That there is satisfaction in how the final climax leads to the resolution? It’s up to the Writer to give the reader not necessarily what they want but rather what the story needs.

Some people may have been shocked and saddened that not only was Quint not the one to kill the shark, but also he was the victim of it. Sure, he could have lived, but then would it have been as compelling to see Brody — a man who is admittedly afraid of water — be the one to step up and kill the shark? Not the lifelong shark hunter, not the academic shark expert, but instead an urban Sheriff who came to find that moving his family to a sleepy little town could be more terrifying than New York City?

A Writer should always be looking for the climax and resolution that makes sense for the story and characters, and sometimes that means going against what they think the audience wants. For instance, Rhett doesn’t stay with Scarlett. R.P. McMurphy never escapes the psychiatric ward. Jack dies before he and Rose can be rescued. They’re all bittersweet yet ultimately satisfying endings precisely because they adhere to the way the final climax was executed.

Additional Script Writing Reminders

Sometimes it can feel like Writers are creating in a void, which is why it’s essential to find trusted individuals from whom to get feedback. For some Writers, that means joining a writing group. For others, it’s finding one or two objective colleagues who agree to read their material. But whatever the relationship, having someone to read drafts is critical before a Writer tries to submit to a contest, fellowship or development professional.

Having even one other person to read their script and give notes can help a Writer know if they’re adhering to all of the above tenets of good script writing. While screenwriting is a highly subjective craft, it always helps to get the opinion of a trusted individual — especially if their feedback falls short of expectations. From there, a Writer can evaluate those notes and see if it makes sense to incorporate them into their work.

Finally, Writers should remember that excellent script writing is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time, persistence and energy to hone the skills that will make for a great read. It’s not uncommon for Writers to get the attention of a Manager or have a script optioned only after they’ve written a dozen or more other stories that never see the light of day. Just as with any other trade, practice and patience are key. But with a dedication to evolving and improving their script writing, any aspiring Screenwriter can stand out from the pack.

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Who Does What on a Film Crew?

Who Does What on a Film Crew?

On a movie set, the film crew keeps the machine we call production running smoothly. The crew is a well-oiled machine that follows traditions as old as cinema itself, and for a newcomer, it might be hard to distinguish who all these people are and where one might fit in. Examining the credits at the end of a film helps, but it doesn’t necessarily explain it all.

Though everyone may not be familiar with the terms “above the line” and “below the line,” most people are definitely more familiarized with the “above the line” crew – the Writer, the Director, the Producer, the Actors…. But the busy factory of a movie set is made up of so many more important people that have been categorized as “below the line.” Though the term may suggest that “below the line” may be less important, that is the farthest thing from the truth. A film set can’t run without everyone you see running around and everyone down to the PA is important.

Understanding what makes up a film crew can help you not only figure out where you might fit in at the start of your career but even as a filmmaker, it will help you understand the team you will need to execute your vision. Let’s break down the departments to help you understand more.

A film crew consists of:

  1. Production Office
  2. Assistant Director(s)
  3. Art Department
  4. Camera Department
  5. Grip and Electric
  6. Sound
  7. Costume Department
  8. Editorial

Production Office

Let’s start with the production office. The ruler of the roost in the production office is the Line Producer. Under the Line Producer, you have the Unit Production Manager (UPM), who works with a Production Coordinator (POC) and the Assistant Production Coordinator (APOC) to make sure that the production runs smoothly. The Line Producer is the “on the ground” Producer who manages the budget, while the UPM, the POC, and the APOC are administrative positions that get the job done. There are other positions in the production office, but these folks are the backbone.

Assistant Director (The AD)

The Assistant Director is probably the most misnamed crew member. Though the AD does “assist” the Director, the real role of the AD is to run the set. The AD has the responsibility to keep the crew on task and on schedule and is the link between the Producers and the Director. “Making the day” or completing everything that’s on the schedule falls on the AD. The AD is also very much a part of creating the schedule and is the one in charge of getting call sheets out and wrangling all departments. You need something from the Director during production? You’ll have to go through the AD to get to her!

Safety is also a top priority for the AD, so if there is a safety hazard on set, the AD should know about it. Luckily the AD has a team to get the job done. Depending on the size of the production, there is a Second or Third AD (sometimes called the 2nd 2nd) as well as PAs. The First PA that many PAs report to is usually poised to be an AD, himself. It’s an intense gig.

Art Department

The Art Department is in charge of all the set design and dressing. The head of the department is the Production Designer, who collaborates with the Director and the DP to fulfill the Director’s vision of what the sets will be and how they will be decorated. The Art Director is the person who is in charge of executing this plan like a Contractor, and the Set Decorator is the one who takes either the built set or the location set and adds all the necessary set dressing, from furniture down to the details of the story, such as tossed clothes in a messy room or the aftermath of a crazy party. Think about that hotel room in The Hangover!

Another member of this department is props. The Prop Master is in charge of all the props in the script – a gun, fake wine, or even jewelry if it is crucial to the story. The Prop Master has a team to both construct them and keep track of them during production. The Art Department must work closely with the Camera Department; Camera communicates to Art what they are actually going to be getting in a shot, because if the camera isn’t going to point somewhere, no need to decorate that space.

The Assistant Director is probably the most misnamed crew member. Though the AD does “assist” the Director, the real role of the AD is to run the set. The AD has the responsibility to keep the crew on task and on schedule and is the link between the Producers and the Director.

Camera Department

In the Camera Department, you have the Director of Photography (DP) who works with the Director to establish the look of the film and how it will be shot.

The Camera Operator operates the camera under the DP’s guidance, actually getting the shots, while the 1st Assistant Camera (1st AC) pulls focus. The 1st AC also runs the department. He works with a 2nd AC who keeps track of the footage, recording things in camera reports and slating each take, as well as swapping out the camera cards. A Data Wrangler is in charge of offloading and backing up the footage. In some cases, this is done by a Data Image Technician (DIT), who will color the footage to the DP’s specs so it can be viewed on set. Sometimes, the Director and DP will want shots with a Steadicam. This requires a Steadicam Operator, who operates the camera with a special rig. This particular rig allows the Camera Operator to move the camera smoothly – almost like a dolly. Most Steadicam Operators come with their own rig, unlike other camera or lighting equipment.

Grip and Electric
Within the Camera Department is the Grip and Electric Department (G & E). This is the crew that lights the set and harnesses the electricity to run those lights – this can be hard wired or through a generator. The Gaffer is the head electrician that is in charge of lighting design under the direction of the DP. The Gaffer’s Key Grip executes the lighting design and the Best Boy assists. The Dolly Grip is the one who attaches the camera to the dolly (and pushes it) and a Swing can bounce between Camera and Electric.

Script Supervisor
The Script Supervisor appears to be a lone wolf, but he is part of the Camera Department. The Script Supervisor, endearingly known as “ the Scripty” has a huge responsibility. During pre-production, he will make sure there are no inconsistencies in the script as well as give estimates of the film’s timing. During the shoot, the Script Supervisor is still keeping track of timing but is also keeping track of coverage — ensuring that there are enough pieces to cut the film together, making sure there is continuity between takes, and keeping track of stage direction, all while taking copious notes and generating daily reports.

Most of what the Scripty does is for the Editorial Department. Because the Editor is not on set, the Script Supervisor is the one who communicates all the details from the day to the Editorial Department — what the Director intended or any problems that arose while shooting (bad sound, etc). It’s all about keeping the Editor in the loop. For example, large scenes are often covered in more than one day, so the Scripty makes sure the Editor knows that more footage is coming so he doesn’t start cutting without all the material.

A supportive PA is every department’s dream. Many people often get a general PA position right off the bat, but if you want to move up the ladder, it’s a good idea to target a department that strikes your fancy.

Sound

The Sound Mixer records all the sounds from a scene, the obvious being the dialog. However, every production sound needs to be recorded – the door opening, the engine of a car starting, the glass slammed down on a bar, etc. A Sound Mixer will put microphones on the Actors and a Boom Operator will hold a microphone above the Actors’ heads as they speak. They record wild lines and room tone, which are are useful tools for post-production.

Costume Department

The Costume Designer is a department head, like the Production Designer, who is brought onto a project early on. She works closely with the Director and the Production Designer to design the costumes and has them made or purchased. On set, there is usually a Wardrobe Supervisor who has a crew that keeps track of the costumes and has them ready and organized for each Actor and each scene.

Editorial

Tucked away in a dark room, usually far away from set, you will find the Editor and her team. At the very least there will be an Editor and Assistant Editor. The more footage and the tighter the deadline, the bigger the team is. The Assistant Editor organizes the notes from the Script Supervisor as well as the footage in the editing system, making sure that all the scenes shot have made it into the project (which includes checking a lot of paperwork). As soon as the footage is ready, the Editor starts editing, making sure everything the production team is getting is working.

Finding Your Home on a Set

With all these people on set operating in a military fashion to keep the production on track, film crews always feel like they never have enough time or people to get the job done. A supportive PA is every department’s dream. Many people often get a general PA position right off the bat, but if you want to move up the ladder, it’s a good idea to target a department that strikes your fancy. If you get to a department and you don’t like it, stay positive, do a good job and try another one on the next gig. If you do a good job, people are happy to refer you.

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How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

How to Fit the Production Assistant Job Description & Land a Film Crew Gig

Most of us have a strong desire to perform in an above-the-line role on film and TV sets. Those roles range from Producer to Director to Director of Photography. Many of us even desire below-the-line roles like Unit Production Manager, Assistant Director, or Gaffer. However, the film and television industry is still very much a blue-collar, apprenticeship-oriented vocation and it is very reluctant to let newbies and recent film graduates to just slide into one of those positions – and with good reason. Film school teaches you the basics in a student-level environment and until you work in the film and TV field, on professionally run sets, then you still have a lot to learn. That’s why Production Assistants – the often unsung, but extremely important – heroes of production are a necessary part of any film, video, or TV shoot.

So let’s dive into what it means to be a Production Assistant by explaining:

  1. Production Assistant job description
  2. What makes a great Production Assistant?
  3. Targeting the best department as a Production Assistant
  4. Finding work as a Production Assistant

Production Assistant Job Description

A Production Assistant or PA is a role that is far more important than most people know outside of the film and TV industry. A PA is often thought of as an assistant, and while this is true to some degree, this “Assistant” role is far-reaching and encompassing of several skills and abilities. A PA can exist in nearly every department including producing, production management, the writing department, casting, the camera department, the art department, locations, and even the wardrobe department.

What makes a great Production Assistant?

Attitude and gumption are everything as a PA. Here are the defining traits of an excellent Production Assistant.

Have a Fantastic Attitude: There is a lot of grunt work that accompanies almost any PA job. It’s difficult and PAs are pulled in several directions by department heads, Coordinators, and other production industry employees in lead roles. On any given day, regardless of the department, you may be asked to make copies, make and deliver coffee, label and distribute walkies, attend meetings and take comprehensive notes, take lunch orders and make sure they are correct, organize files, handle phone calls, and take out the trash. It is so important to roll with the punches and have a great attitude while accomplishing goals. Don’t take anything personally.

Be an Amazing Listener: A great PA keeps both ears open and listens carefully to direction. Producers, Directors, Production Managers, Production Coordinators, and various department leads are busy during pre-production, production, and post-production. They don’t have time to repeat directions, so pay close attention.

Write Comprehensive Notes: A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad. I take notes on my phone, however, it’s important to keep in mind that writing notes on your phone may seem like you’re texting or distracted, so writing in a note pad sends a clear message that you’re writing tasks down. Then, email yourself those notes just in case you misplace your phone.

When in Doubt, Ask Questions: Yes, you should be paying attention and writing down notes, but sometimes, something doesn’t make sense when someone gives you a task. It’s ok to think about it for a moment and then ask clear questions that help clarify. A Producer would rather you understand the direction instead of just trying to wing it and get the task wrong.

Stop Obviously Competing: Some new PAs come off as competitive, trying to do everything in spite of the other PAs who are available to help with the workload. They jump on every task and never admit when they are overwhelmed. It comes off as desperate. Stop it and be a team player. Share the work and don’t bite off more than you can chew. It doesn’t mean don’t work hard – it just means don’t be too anxious and frenetic.

Anticipate Needs: After a while, a smart PA will anticipate the needs of his or her department. A PA will start to develop the ability to think 2 to 3 steps ahead, realizing when someone wants coffee, when lunch orders need to be taken, when script copies will be needed, and when an office will need to be set up for an incoming executive or new employee. The PA who can see what’s coming is invaluable and in demand.

A successful PA takes comprehensive notes to make sure he or she doesn’t miss something. Write notes on a pad and then photograph your notes just in case you lose your note pad.

Targeting the Best Department as a Production Assistant

Early in your career, you should have some indication of what you’re drawn to in the film and television industry. Therefore, you should be thinking about the type of PA job you want. Do you want to be a Producer or work in the Art Department? Do you want to get your hands on camera gear or learn the nuts and bolts in production management? Whichever department is most attractive, don’t be hesitant to seek out those roles and don’t be shy when asked, “What department do you want to work in?” Too many first time PAs jump into whatever role is available, and that may be OK. Sometimes, you just want to get your foot in the door and if all the production has is a Craft Services PA, then go for it. However, if they ask you about a specific PA role, go for the position that gets you as close to the department you eventually want to work in.

You should also be thinking about whether you want to work in the office or on set. Here are some basic departments to consider:

  • Office: Production, Post-production, Casting, Development, Writing
  • Set: Assistant Directing, Camera, Grip, Electric, Locations, Costuming, Craft Services

Here are some resources to find work as a Production Assistant:

If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand.

Should I Work for Free?

The short answer? No. However, there are exceptions. If you have zero experience as a PA, then perhaps volunteering on an independent production like a short film or webisode may be an option to gain some experience. Here’s what you should be wary of: job postings that promise an award-winning Director, name talent, and working with a professional crew. When I read that, my first question is: if they are so advanced, then why can’t they pay their crew? It sounds like nonsense to me. However, if you really need some experience, then perhaps volunteering on at most three free gigs will help build your resume. At least make sure they have insurance so that if you get hurt on the job, you can be covered. After three free gigs, stop working for free!

Tips on Rates

What should a Production Assistant be paid? Depending on the market, you should be paid at least minimum wage in your area. In Los Angeles, the general rule of thumb is $186.50 for a 12-hour day. That takes into consideration 8 hours of straight time plus 4 hours of overtime. After that, you should be paid overtime for the next 4 hours and then it goes up from there based on local labor laws.

The general rate for experienced PAs is $200 for a 12 hour day. The highest would be $250/12 to $300/12 for a Key PA or really seasoned PA, depending on the department.

How Long to PA

One to three years tops. After that, you should be looking into APOC (Assistant Production Office Coordinator), PC (Production Coordinator), or different types of Assistant roles like AC (Assistant Camera), AP (Associate Producer), 2nd AD (2nd Assistant Director), or Wardrobe Assistant roles. After three years, it’s time to advocate for advancement in your career. You can’t PA forever and you shouldn’t PA forever.

Learn While You Earn

Being a Production Assistant gives you insight into how productions and sets are really run and you will be able to learn while you earn. If you work hard, show up 15 minutes early every day, listen, take notes, pay attention, and anticipate needs, you will be wanted by everyone who has worked with you. A strong PA is indispensable and in high-demand. So, get out there and assist productions like a pro!

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