Production assistants, the lifeblood of any film or TV set, are in charge of the majority of menial jobs, tasks, and coffee orders for the rest of the set. Dead last in the hierarchy of filmmaking, PAs often get shafted with absurd demands, which results in on-set PA horror stories.
Behind-the-scenes drama from film sets is merely a day in the life for a production assistant. From difficult actors to unreasonable assistant directors, all sorts of external factors play into the worst PA experiences imaginable.
While you complain about staff meetings and expense reports, there's a PA out there right now carrying four Starbucks carriers back to set all while coaxing a drug-addled actor out of their trailer.
A Sickly Situation
Normally I do AC/Grip, but a friend hooked me up with a well-paid PA gig on a television pilot for a major network that was shooting in a city close to mine. The day went dandy until about the 12-hour mark, when I witnessed the most unprofessional behavior I've ever seen, from the second assistant director (2nd AD), no less.
Three extras had been asked to stay late because the production wanted to use their cars in a scene. One of the extras became dehydrated (this was stated by the medic); she vomited several times and almost passed out. She waited around for a bit and regained her composure and then was peer pressured by a few members of the production into staying. Needless to say, I had an eyebrow raised.
I was instructed to drive her car for her during the scene since she said she was still feeling a little ill, but no longer vomiting. On the way to the location for the scene, I asked her if she really wanted to do this. I told her she could back out at any minute and no one would think less of her. I told her, after being as sick as she was, that she should probably leave. I could tell she was nervous and didn't want to let the 'big-shot TV people down,' So she insisted on staying.
Once we arrived at the location, she became ill again and was on her knees vomiting outside the car. I gave her a hair tie, tissues, and called the medic on the walkie and asked the medic to come to the location. I was cut-off by the 2nd AD and instructed to 'send her home.' I said 'She can't drive, she's on her knees vomiting, she needs the medic!' The 2nd walked over to me and got in my face. Keep in mind, this guy is about 40+ years older than me (I'm 26). I tried to explain that I didn't know the way back to the base-camp because we had followed a caravan over to the location and that she was very ill and now covered in puke and needed the medic ASAP. He began to scream at me, then he literally plugged his ears and said 'Blah, blah, blah! I don't give a flying f*ck! She drove herself here, she can drive herself home!'
I was stunned. F*cking STUNNED. I helped the girl put her vomit-covered shoes back in the car and I again took the driver's seat. We eventually made it back to base-camp after a few phone calls to friends on the production crew. The medic took care of her and I apologized to her like crazy on behalf of the way the 2nd AD acted and assured her that this is not how productions are suppose to be. The medic saw to her and her family came to pick her up, because she was far too ill to drive.
This is hands the down worst experience I've ever had on set and it's hands down the largest production I've been a part of. This was for a major network. Can you believe that sh*t? You know what's ironic? That 2nd AD is one who gave the safety meeting at the beginning of the day. If I had done what he said and made her drive herself home, she could have passed out and crashed. If someone's safety is on the line, stand your ground, no matter what. Don't be intimidated, you know right from wrong. Even if you're a PA being yelled at by some off-his-rocker 2nd AD. Never bend, not for anyone.
I left the production and shook hands with everyone at the end of the night, except for him. He didn't even look my way. I hope that d*ckhead never gets another gig. I'm thinking seriously about calling that major network and informing them of this d*ckhead's negligence. But here's where things get hairy... Will they care? Will they believe me (there was witnesses)? Will I get blacklisted?"
Up In Arms
A protégé, who is now an established first assistant director (first AD) with credits on a major TV series, once described one of her first jobs as Directors Guild of America trainee. She was to stand in the parking spot of the First AD. He would get out of his car and lift his arms - at which point she was to put his walkie on him and put a call sheet in his pocket. When he wrapped, he would return to the spot, lift his arms, and she was to take the walkie off of him and open his car door. Bless her, she does NOT treat her DGA trainees in this manner.
A Barnyard Budget
I once was a PA on a film that never got finished in Kentucky. This was my first PA gig and it was crazy, really low budget, not enough help, and I was working for free (never do that, by the way).
Anyway, I was told to lock-up a side of the house we were shooting in. We had mobile toilets literally on the other side of the house. Before a we started shooting, the lead actress (who is on a popular Syfy TV show) was nowhere to be found. I went to my area to look for her and there she was, pants off, taking a piss right then and there... and we made eye contact. You would think that was the worst part, right? Nope.
The night before, after shooting, I had to clean the trash around that side of the house and found toilet paper on the ground in that area. I didn't think about it at the time... but yeah. It was super weird and we never talked the rest of the month of shooting.
On A Roll
I once drove for five hours from set to city and back to get the director sushi after shooting.