See the woman in red? She’s a production assistant. My job was in no way like this.
Guess who just got back from a business trip. Me! Can you imagine? I’ve been casting a wide net, telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I’m looking for work. Because people are awesome, a few friends have actually contacted me with potential opportunities. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working very part-time on a writing and social media project for some friends. I’ve also signed on with a contract attorney/legal temp agency which is hard at work looking for legal gigs for me.
But, anyway, about that business trip…a couple weeks ago, a friend in the entertainment industry sent me a job listing seeking a production assistant on a shoot in Atlanta for the Discovery Channel. She actually wrote, “This may be below your pay grade, but…” which made me fall on the floor laughing. I composed myself and responded that my current pay grade is zero dollars, so unless I had to pay them to work on the show, I was in.
So she passed along my contact info and I received a call from a producer the next day. It turned out that the shoot was in Macon, which is about an hour and a half from Atlanta, but they’d put me up in a hotel there so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth. I immediately called Ad Man to see if we could work out the dates and he reminded me he was scheduled to go to Dallas or Houston or somewhere that week. As you can imagine, I was extremely disappointed and convinced I’d never work again if I had to maneuver around his ridiculous schedule.
After a mini-breakdown, we figured out a way for me to work the whole shoot. It merely took changing Ad Man’s flight to Texas, having me drive home one night so I could get Biggie and Smalls on the bus the next morning, finding a neighbor who could get the girls off the bus that day and hiring a babysitter who would take them until Ad Man got home from the airport that night. Easy, right?
Amazingly, I found a helpful neighbor, scheduled a babysitter, and the call times for the shoot worked out perfectly. Apparently, the production schedule gods were looking out for me. So, at this point, I was all ready to go, but nervous as hell. It had been a while since I was on a set and there were absolutely no guarantees I’d have any idea what I was doing! Plus, I was convinced that I’d arrive to find that the entire crew was a bunch of tight-skinned, 20-somethings horrified to see that they had The World’s Oldest PA working on their shoot.
Ad Man and I talked to the girls over dinner. We told them about my “great opportunity” and walked them through the schedule. With the exception of his one day out of town, Ad Man would greet them when they got off the bus and work from home for the afternoon. The girls were not at all happy. I generally leave home without them maybe twice a year for a weekend and this job just happened to fall a week after I’d spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale with my best law school friends.
“Mommy, do you have to go? Did you sign up for this job or did someone just call you?” Clearly, they were trying to figure out who to blame for this untenable situation. The discussion continued, culminating at bedtime when Smalls had a complete nervous breakdown, sobbing, clinging to me and whining, “Mommy, I don’t want you to goooooooo!” Meanwhile, I was going over my packing list in my head because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to make it to Macon for an 8 am call time and was not in the slightest bit prepared.
Rural Georgia is an interesting place. And, no, that doesn’t say beer cooler.
Cut to the following morning (See how I did that? So Hollywood). It was pitch black out and I was so tired, I really should have been kept away from heavy equipment. I rolled into the closest coffee shop drive-thru and pulled out my phone while I waited. I was searching for directions to the hotel in Macon when I realized I already had a text from the Associate Producer. Change of plans! We were actually going to shoot in Augusta that day, 120 miles away from Macon. Unless I was already close to the hotel (ha!), I should head to Augusta instead. The rest of the crew would meet me there in 2 ½ hours. If I got there before they did, I was to grab some menus from restaurants in the area for lunch…in particular, barbecue joints. Excellent. Put the vegetarian in charge of finding the best BBQ in town.
Despite the last minute craziness, I kept calm and managed to arrive in Augusta unscathed. It was shortly after 9 am, so of course, there were no restaurants open from which to gather menus. Instead, I drove to the location and sat in my car madly texting about barbecue with friends who grew up in the area. I didn’t take this task lightly. I was well aware, from being a producer on shoots, that the PA’s most important job is to not fuck up lunch. A PA lives and dies depending on whether or not there are grilled onions on the director’s burger. This is not an exaggeration.
When a black van pulled up to the location, and people and equipment started spilling out, I was relieved to see that everyone in the crew (a small one, admittedly) was at least in their early 30s. No one there was young enough to be my child. One big hurdle cleared. Now, I just had to hope they wouldn’t ask me to do something about which I had absolutely no knowledge. I met the crew and everyone was very friendly. It turned out, we were from all over the country…a couple people from Boston, one from D.C., someone from San Francisco, and me, currently residing in Atlanta. I still can’t get myself to say that I’m “from Georgia.”
We were shooting in a beautiful, lightly renovated Victorian house in a gentrifying neighborhood in Augusta. A flag for the Master’s golf tournament was proudly waving on the porch. Augusta is famous for being the host of the Master’s, which was only weeks away at this point. The azaleas were in bloom and there was a distinct buzz about town.
I should say, at this point, I had absolutely no clue what kind of project we’d be working on. All I knew was that we were shooting for a show that was part of Discovery Channel’s “Investigation Discovery” lineup. So, I just jumped into unloading equipment, laying out cables and hanging blackout plastic on windows while dangling precariously from a wobbly ladder. It occurred to me that Ad Man and I haven’t taken out life insurance on me.
There was a small crisis when the Director of Photography realized that they’d forgotten to buy sand for the sandbags used to steady camera and lighting equipment. Where the hell does one buy sand at 10 am on a Sunday in the Bible Belt? Never fear though…my mom-skills kicked in and I had a plan! With one quick search on my phone, I determined that there was a Toys R Us in the area which did, in fact, carry play sand. I was off in a flash to pick up 100 lbs. of sand and save the day. See? I’m a problem-solver. Stay-at-home parenting hasn’t left me void of any skills after all. Need sand? I’m your gal! Need to rearrange the schedules of three interviewees in two different states? No problem! Someone accidentally got Sharpie on a set piece? Before you can blink, that stain will be my bitch!
Just an excerpt from my mileage notes.
I’ll spare you all the details, but I essentially spent the day moving heavy things around and then guarding very expensive things outside the house while the rest of the crew was inside interviewing the lovely young lawyer and owner of the home about I knew not what. Luckily, I remembered to pack sunscreen. I also bought new insoles for my Vans slipons and stocked up on Icy Hot for the screaming backache I was sure I’d develop before the end of the shoot. One must prep for all potential calamities when one is The World’s Oldest PA.
After the interview, the whole crew and the interviewee and her husband (also a young lawyer and also lovely) went out for lunch together. I kept my curiosity in check and managed not to ask any dumb questions about the topic of the episode. It’s a damn good thing, too because the woman we interviewed turned out to be a close friend of the victim. Hmm…victim. That meant we we’re dealing with a murder. Good to know.
Following lunch, we hit the road for a 2 ½ hour drive back to the crew hotel. For those of you keeping count at home, that was a total of 4 hours on the road for me that day. I spent the whole drive from Augusta to Macon trying to figure out how to set the cruise control on the car we’ve had for nine years because I had a butt cramp from driving. I am, indeed, the picture of fitness and vitality.
Stay tuned for The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 2, in which you’ll learn what the hell we were filming, the identity of the victim, whodunnit, and whether or not I got through the shoot without making an ass of myself.