The Human Traffic Cone
So you want to enter the amazing and luxurious world of entertainment? You went to film school and now consider yourself a filmmaker? Well guess again! I’m here to break down the horrors of the fascinating world of Film and Television production, as seen through the eyes of someone who’s lived it.
You’re probably wondering what exactly a HUMAN TRAFFIC CONE is. Well if you’re currently a BC Film Industry worker then you already know that the correct term would be an On Set Production Assistant. The term Human Traffic Cone came from the older generation of Production Assistants or PA’s. In the film industry there is a hierarchy known as Above The Line and Below The Line crew, PA’s don’t even come close to the below the line measurements. We are the gofers, the cheap labour, we are replaceable and expendable. I’m going to start from the top and if you still decide that this is what you want to do with your life, then I wish you all the luck in the world.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the Unions and Guilds of the industry. The only guild that a PA needs is The Directors Guild of Canada or The DGC BC. This is where you get all your information on rates, regulations and laws when working in the industry. Your first step is requiring a LOG BOOK. This is part of the DGC Permitee Program. Every person who applies to the DGC has to go through this program. To be eligible you must work a total of 30 On Set days as a PA Helper as well as acquire all necessary certifications such as S.H.A.P.E, Film Orientation with WHIMIS, and Traffic Control. You also can use your days in film school to supplement the required 30 days on set. Once you have all of your days and certificates you can now apply to the DGC Permitee Program. There you will be given an exam on your knowledge of working on set. If you fail you are not allowed to re-test for another 6 months. If you pass however, you are assigned a Logbook specific to you, where you accumulate a total of 150 days of on set or office PA work. Once you have acquired all your necessary days you can apply for Associate Membership to the DGC. This is where the real fun beings. Once you’ve paid your membership fees (usually around $1500/year) you are given Associate Membership. With this comes no benefits, no extra pay, NO NOTHING! Really exciting hun? Wait it gets better!
Now you know what happens in the administrative part of the glamorous PA world, but now I’m going to take you to where all the magic happens, ON SET. I’m not going to lie to you, this will be one of the most degrading horrible jobs you will ever do. When you become a PA you are considered dirt and are treated as such. Producers, Directors, Production Managers, Grips and Gaffers all see you as less than human, don’t take it personal. Although at times, its hard not to. A production assistant day is usually around the 15 to 18 hour mark, you are the first people to arrive on set and the last to leave. For example if crew call is 07:00 your call will usually start around 05:00 and say they call wrap around 20:00 (or 8pm) you won’t leave until around 22:00.
Now for the daily tasks that you are required to perform: Butt Sweeping and cleaning out the trash bins, or making sure that the lunch is set up with chairs and tables as well as nice and cozy warm with working heaters so that the crew can have a nice warm place to eat while you stand out in the pouring rain trying to eat your lunch that they are not even responsible to provide for you. PA`s get what is called a “working lunch”, which simply means you don’t get a break while working. A lot of PA’s think this work is below them. You have no idea how many VFS students show up on set with their black VFS backpacks and refuse to take out the garbage because they’re “filmmakers” not garbage men/women. There are also such awesome tasks like cleaning up dog crap and human vomit (two of my personal favorites).
If you decide to take up employment on a film set then I suggest you get yourself some great weather gear such as rain proof jackets and pants, comfortable water proof shoes and boots as well extra socks, hats and umbrellas. You don’t need to bring your own safety gear because such equipment will be supplied to you on set if needed.
So, you now know what jobs are required, clothing that is needed, but you don’t have a clue as to how to get onto set? Well you need to contact the Assistant Location Managers (ALM) of the production. This information if available on the DGC BC website under Film Production List. The list is updated every Friday afternoon with the most up to date information on all the productions going on in Vancouver. One of my top pieces of advice when contacting the ALM is: DO NOT CALL THE PRODUCTION OFFICE. EVER!!!! It annoys the hell out of the production staff especially if the list says specifically to EMAIL ONLY. Be prepared to be hung up on. I know because I’m one of those people who will hang up on you if you call.
If I haven’t scared you away yet then I’m sure you’ll be great! Just make sure that you have a thick skin because this industry can make a person extremely bitter… hence this article. Although the work may be horrible, the payoff in the end could be great! All the luck to you in your chosen field!
We wonder what kind of mood Jacquelyn was in when she wrote this? Have you shared similar experiences? Perhaps your time as a P.A. has been completely the opposite. We want to know what the worst day on set was like for you. We also want to know what the best day on set was, too. Share your stories in a comment below or by connecting with us on Facebook and on Twitter. If you’d like to contribute an article or blog post to this series, then we’d love to hear from you as well. Be sure to connect with Jacquelyn on Twitter as well. Follow @JacquelynERoth