duCOtiOl BY KAREN BRADDOM
istants PHOTO BY BARRY SCHWARTZ, OREGON STATE U.
VER DREAM OF WORKING SIDE BY
side with Martin Scorsese? Can
you imagine Quentin Tarantino
asking your advice on whether to
leave in the ear-slicing scene?
Would you be willing to risk an ulcer
to give stardom a chance?
If you're one of the risk-takers,
chances are you're heading toward your
first position: production assistant -
a.k.a. the glorified, underpaid, under-
appreciated, catch-all position that
thousands of college students and
recent grads pour into each year.
At the bottom of the totem pole, PAs often find
themselves working 16-hour days, making average
pay and submitting to a lot of psychological abuse.
"All the pressure trickles down to the PAs," says
SaraJane Bos, a '95 graduate of Western Michigan
U. and a PA for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers:
The Movie. "If you don't have thick skin, you'll
Rubbing elbows with Hollywood moguls for a
living sounds like fun, but not when you're every-
one's keeper. Getting actors on the set at the right
time is easier said than done.
"When the actors wouldn't listen to me telling
them they were needed on the set, I'd get reamed,"
Bradley Ross, a
graduate of the U. of
Missouri who has
PA-ed on the sets of
On Deadly Ground,
Maverick and Little
Giants, says he didn't
like being treated like
a subhuman species.
"I almost got fired
once for not checking
to see if there was
sour cream on one of
the lunches I was sent
to pick up."
New York U. film
student Jordan Wanna be the win
Montminy, who has Be a production a
spent a few semesters
working as a PA for Iron Fist Productions and sev-
eral student films, remembers driving more than an
hour to a location to find he was the only one there.
"The crew hadn't bothered to tell me that they
wouldn't be filming that day," he says. "There's no
place for pride in the PA position."
Cleaning the set down to the last cigarette butt
is just another demeaning experience for PAs, but
it's a blessing compared with other tasks. "I've
known PAs who have had to search for hours for a
certain kind of cigarette, and one who was ordered
by an actor to buy condoms," Ross says.
The highs are real high, but the lows are real low
for PAs, says Donald Cager II, a graduate of the U.
of Southern California who has PA-ed for Hag-
mann/Landau Films and recently worked on the set
of the upcoming movie Eye for an Eye. Cager recalls
one of his worst days as a PA: "A two-ton generator
that took 12 men to push it around rolled onto the
tip of my big toe. I yanked my foot away just in
time but limped around the rest of the day."
How do PAs cope with the psychological war-
fare? "No matter what
somebody else yells at
you about, you cannot
say anything back," says
Bos, who once was
accused of lying to the
first assistant director
and could say nothing
in her defense.
"It helps to have a
team of PAs to vent to,"
she says. "When we all
came together at the
end of the day to wait
for the OK to go home,
it would quickly turn
into a PA support
Without other PAs
to console him, Ross
agrees, "I just had to
suck it up."
Despite the grunt
work and humiliation
of the humbling, pay-
being a PA does expose
you to the action.
id beneath a Power Ranger's hair?
"Once when the Power Rangers were shooting
pick-up shots for their movie," Bos says, "I got to
wave a piece of cardboard to create a breeze in one
of the Ranger's hair."
The highlight of Ross' career as a PA was being
on the set of Little Giants with executive producer
Steven Spielberg. After watching him give direction
in the movie, Ross was determined to speak to him.
"I asked him if he wanted a water. He said no,"
"In between my PA duties, I once got to hang
out with Sugar Ray Leonard's son, who had accom-
panied his father to the set for a home video boxing
game commercial," Cager says.
"Kid from Kid 'n Play came over to one of my
friends and started rapping with him," says Tim
Kelly, a '95 graduate of the U. of Southern Califor-
nia who has on-set experience working for Galaxy
Films and for student productions. "A month into
it and you're no longer star struck."
Mark LaFontant, a graduate of Michigan State
U. who wants to write feature films, paid his dues
working as a PA for Rescue 911. The pain is worth
the price, says LaFontant: "Unless you have other
connections, this is really the only way into the
Catherine Schwenn, a U. of Arizona graduate
who worked as a PA for the movie IQ and is now an
assistant to the executive producer on the set of
Birds of a Feather, has seen PAs crying on the set.
Besides just enduring the pressure, learn all you can
by absorbing everything everybody tells you,
"Take your job seriously, no matter how
demeaning it is," Ross says. "There are thousands of
PAs out there with attitudes, so you have to auto-
matically prove yourself. Double and triple check
people's lunch orders because that's your existence."
"Use the job as a stepping stone," LaFontant
says. Which is exactly what he did. By the end of
LaFontant's three-year stint at Rescue 911, running
for bagels turned into producing the second half of
the segments aired on television.
Working as a PA does get you on the sets of major
motion pictures, but it isn't as glamorous as it may
seem. You have to start at the fish-food end of the Hol-
lywood food chain before you get to rule the jungle.
Karen Braddom, a '95 graduate of Manhattan College
in New York, would kill for a plebe position in the
August/September 1995 * U. Magazine 19