firetruckingawesomeness asked: I'm very interested in the production side of TV and I was wondering: to become a PA, do you have to do any schooling? If so, what kind of classes would you suggest? And if you want to get into directing, is it better to be a PA first?
No, you don’t need any schooling per se. I didn’t have any. I sort of talked my way into becoming a PA. Although, there definitely is a defined path in place if you choose to pursue it. How realistic it is, is entirely debatable. But I suppose so is going to medical school, then residency, then becoming a doctor.
The path goes something like this: go to college for arts, or communications, or for something technical like design or animation, then parley that into a production assistant job, which can either be as easy as answering an ad, having a friend recommend you, or can be completely closed off and impossible. This part seems random. I myself stumbled into it by meeting a writer/producer who was in the process of pitching her pilot, and offered me the job. Then once you’ve got a single toe in the massive door, you can go after the long and arduous quest of the Director’s Guild. By having something like 1,000 days on set as a PA, you can become a DGA trainee. After a set amount of time in that role, you become a 2nd 2nd Assistant Director, then a 2nd Assistant Director, then an Assistant Director, and then theoretically an industry director. But not only would this path take twenty years, it also doesn’t even seem to work. I can’t think of a single filmmaker I admire who went this route. But sadly, their stories are all similarly vague. Meet the right person. Write the right script. The stars aligned. All that stuff. Which is both disheartening and exciting. It seems becoming a filmmaker is as possible as you can make it. Especially with digital filmmaking as simplified and open as it has become. Before you needed to be a full on gear head to know how to film. Now with an iPhone you can pretty much make a decent short film.
So I guess the answer is, as far as I can tell seeing as how I’m also slogging through the swamp you’re asking about, there really isn’t a right way. Being a PA and becoming a DGA trainee and going down that road may or may not make directing easier. It certainly seems like great experience being on film sets and seeing how things work. But on the other hand, I don’t feel like production assistant is necessarily a step in the direction of making your own films. But, even if you’re not necessarily on the path to your dreams, PA’s and DGA trainees get paid pretty well. And you’ll be able to support yourself living modestly in Los Angeles. And you’ll be on set, with movie stars, and mixed up in the world of filmmaking. So whether or not that’s the beginning of a story that ends at making movies, it can’t hurt. And it makes for great stories.