How to Become a Production Assistant

A production assistant can have a very flexible role in any production team. It's as much an administrative role, with some elements of personal assistant work, as involved in actual production. In some cases the production assistant isn't directly involved in actual production at all, in others there may be work which is directly or indirectly related to the media production process.

Education and training

It should be understood that a "production assistant" can be a very broad description of the job. Production assistants may perform many quite different roles in media productions. Depending on the nature of the job, a production assistant may require training or qualifications in the following fields. This is a basic list of education, training and how they apply to production assistant roles:

  • Media production: Technical assistant.

  • Legal or paralegal qualifications and experience: Relates to contract or administration regulatory issues.

  • Business administration: This is production company's business end, conducting daily business.

  • Accountancy qualifications: Payroll, expenses, audit, contract payments, etc.

  • Forklift or machinery license: Required by law when operating them.

  • Dangerous goods license: Handling explosives, chemicals, etc. for special effects.

  • Electronics qualifications: Technical production team.

  • IT systems qualifications: Computer based production.

  • Electrical trades license: Technical and computer production, on set production, lighting, cameras.

Being a production assistant

Production assistants perform essential work for their teams. If you want to work in media, you need to be motivated, and you need to be good at what you do. Work can be erratic, and as a production assistant you can be a hybridized gopher and mule, in terms of workloads. This is all work, despite the connotations of working in media. Media production is a nomadic profession. The working environment may be terrific, or on location, you can be working in a desert, a jungle or an urban setting. If you want to work in production, learn to adapt to the different environments and how to handle constant movement.

The career environment

Your skills in your role are valued according to your qualifications, very much as they would be in other lines of work. The big difference in production is that the media experience, having worked in production, counts for a lot and is an entry point to higher roles in production. It's one of the few true myths of Hollywood and TV that some people have entered the industries as production assistants and wound up owning production companies.

In media production, the production assistant experience is the equivalent of an entry level internship. It's an essential form of career experience, learning the trade. Like an internship in business, who you've worked with in production is always an element in career advancement in media. In any form of media production, your work is your portfolio. In movies, the simple fact of having worked on major productions is a guaranteed passport to more work.

Producers want experienced people with proven abilities, and they're prepared to pay for production assistants with good references. Salaries are respectable, around $24-$30,000 per year as an average figure as a starting salary. Salaries usually increase for specific qualifications and certifications.