How does the Production Office on a UK feature film work?
The production office is the switchboard of a feature film; all logistics, communications, hires, rentals, deals and costs are run via the production team. Production staff wade through a tremendous workload over the course of pre-production, pushing the production forward and making sure the producer, director, cast and crew have everything in place for the shoot.
During pre-production, which can be anywhere from four months to four weeks, the production office will be responsible for the office hire, studio/stage hire, location hire and all contractual framework for cast and crew. Once inside the office key members of the team (UPM, production supervisor and coordinator) will arrange for the hire and installation of the office infrastructure, such as the computer network, laptops, production copiers, copier paper and toner, stationery, fax machine (still used), printers and phone lines (with extensions) so departments can call through to each other. Telecommunications extend to hiring, logging and distributing mobile phones for foreign crew and HoDs (Heads of Department).
Depending on the budget, numbers of staff in the office can vary. A low budget independent film can run with two or three key production members; larger budgets create a larger workforce who take over studio complexes and warehouse space. The UPM and supervisor make arrangements for following departments to have access to workspace within the office on one of these bigger budget features:
The ADs Department. The 2nd AD prepares the call sheets and liaises with the Transport, Costume and Hair/Makeup Departments to set call times for the next day's shot. They also prepare the sides, which are distributed each morning.
The Location Department prepare contracts and a movement order for each location. They are responsible for the set, unit base electrical & water requirements and oversee the unit base facilities.
The Transport Department are responsible for the dining bus, departmental trucks, unit cars, minibuses, and any additional vehicles required for the location such as 4x4’s, gaiters with trailers, golf carts.
Stunt coordinator. The stunt team can be rehearsing with the actors through pre-production, especially if any fight scenes that need to be choreographed.
Director of photography. The DoP is involved at different stages of pre-production. This can mean a visit a week to look at sets, locations, etc. Sometimes they are not present at all as they are working on another production.
Unit publicity and the casting director will be assigned a hot desk if they come into the office.
Once the production team are installed in the office, key members of the team will help other departments settle in their studio space, providing phones, keys, kettles, fridges, water coolers & the internet. The other departments working during production that need their own space are:
Wardrobe, including extra talent changing area.
Hair and Makeup Department.
Editorial. The editing team, not to be confused with TV editorial who perform a very separate role. Some productions opt to have the edit run alongside principle photography in a nearby location.
Production meeting room used for weekly pre-production production meetings with all HoDs, and often used for conference calls to the studio.
Rehearsal rooms. Space will need to be arranged for cast rehearsal or stunts.
Stores for props, set dressing, costume, and production (printer boxes, paper, supplies etc)
Camera storeroom for film stock and often for camera boxes that can’t fit on the camera truck. If filming happens nearby, this is also used for charging batteries.
The amount of paperwork the production office generate during pre-production is vast. One of the first jobs is to compile (and update as production advances) the unit list and phone list with the crew's contact information, a suppliers list with all the relevant companies involved with the production also needs to be created and maintained. Scripts will need to be watermarked, copied and distributed along with the schedule, weekly diary and storyboards. Other paperwork the production office will be sending out and filing upon return are:
Distribution and signature of Deal Memos, crew contracts and daily time sheets.
The writing, distribution and filing of Purchase Orders.
Collection and logging of relevant data for accounts including passport and drivers licences of all crew.
Updating the insurers of any relevant notes that concern the production policy.
Organising and providing catering for interdepartmental production and studio meetings.
Distribution and collection on signature of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDS)
While creating the legal infrastructure for the production, the production office is responsible for sorting out the travel and accommodation for cast and crew while filming on location, if filming overseas logistics can become quite detailed with freight containers housing equipment, costumes and sundries travelling by air, road and sea. The coordinator will also be booking any required vaccinations for crew going abroad and medicals for the director, DoP and lead actors for insurance purposes.
Moving closer to principal photography the coordinator will be pencilling (booking in provisional dates) rentals & hire including camera, sound, DIT, grips and lighting. Pencilling in vehicles including tech trucks, private hire cars, unit base vehicles and departmental runarounds and arranging ID badges and parking for all ‘new starters’. Working closely with the location team the production office will also be coordinating the technical recces for the HoDs.
While all eyes are turned to set during principal photography the production office will be dealing with any changes to the schedule and trying to stay one step ahead of the shooting schedule. The office shows no sign of slowing down once in production, each evening after wrap, paperwork is collated and processed. The AD report, camera report sheets, script supervisors progress report, marked up scripts, sound reports, DIT (digital reports) and extra chits will be amongst them. The production coordinator will use the above to create the wrap report, which is distributed to relevant parties such as the studio, financial controller, producers and editors. The production office is the primary source of communication between the studio or production company, who can require daily progress updates at any time. These become especially detailed if the day is packed with stunts, large background scenes, aerial shots or explosions.
Working in conjunction with the ADs and Locations Department, the production office will be generating ongoing information such as the callsheets and movement orders, which are distributed each evening so the cast and crew know where and what they are filming the following day. Included are the weather reports, sunrise/sunset times, and if working by the coast - the tide timetable. Each morning the production office runner will be printing copies of the sides, which are either prepared by the assistant directors on wrap the previous day or before the cast arrive at unit base in the morning. They are never distributed until the day of filming. Any amendments to distributed paperwork are usually printed on paper of another colour to avoid confusion. For this reason, the production office will require an ample stock of coloured paper that will have a designated sequential order. During production the office will also be looking after:
Purchase of film stock or drives. The raw film stock will be monitored daily by the production coordinator, who will liaise with members of the Camera Department to make sure they have enough of what they need. The daily progress report requires a detailed account of the short ends, raw and exposed stock. Often productions donate the short ends to young filmmakers at the end of a production.
New cast members or ‘daily’ crew are brought onto the production which necessitates new contracts along with travel and sometimes accommodation arrangements. They will be added to the various production lists such as quick dial phone list, unit list or cast list to be included in production distribution.
Location prep or strike.
Risk assessments. The production office is responsible for collecting and distributing risk assessments to the insurance company, studio, cast and crew. These are sent via email and made available at unit base.
Making specialist appointments such as medical/dental appointments.
Claims. Keeping on top of medical insurance claims for example.
Distributing, collecting and collating NDAs from any freelancers or extra talent (Non-Disclosure Agreements which are a feature of most large budget productions).
Once the film has completed shooting, and any pick-up days or reshoots have taken place, the production team have a few weeks to wrap up operations and hand over to the studio/production company. The post-production supervisor continues to work with editorial, whose team will push the film through the post-production process to completion.
WHAT ARE THE ENTRY LEVEL POSITIONS IF I WANT TO WORK IN THE PRODUCTION OFFICE?
Work experience and internships can be found in the production office at the discretion of the production coordinator, but competition for these places are fierce and unlikely to be advertised. Look to MFJF opportunities and ask friends or friends of friends if they know any coordinators who are taking on work experience. If you gain a placement use those valuable days or weeks to promote yourself to members of the production team, this could offer you the opportunity to work full time on the next production if you show them how hard working and diligent you are.
While working as a floor runner can seem like the more exciting runner position, working in the production office can offer a new entrant many lessons in the world of filmmaking. If you are considering a career in production, then this is the place to be! Production runners and office PAs (which are similar in remit but less tea and coffee making duties) can be found helping with a variety of tasks and are the linchpin between the office, the departments and the set. If you wanted to gain a greater understanding of how the process works on set, it would be worth looking out for floor runner also known as set PA positions.
WHO WORKS IN THE PRODUCTION OFFICE?
Some producers will remain within the office for the majority of the shoot; others will be on set behind a bank of monitors. The other key players in the production office are:
Producer. What happens in the production office is the overall responsibility of the producer. They work closely with the main senior members of the production team to keep the production running smoothly and the books balanced. They can be found working closely with the casting director, sealing the deals and liaising with the actor's agents.
UPM. The unit production manager takes responsibility for the crew, overseeing the budget spend and negotiating contracts with freelance crew.
Production supervisor. Helps the UPM manage the workload and organise the office facilities.
Production office coordinator. Acting as the office manager and taking responsibility for logistics and coordination of cast and crew.
Assistant production coordinator. The production coordinators right hand, often taking on the roles of travel and accommodation on smaller productions.
Production secretary. Assists the assistant production coordinator by collating the information to create lists such as quick dial telephone list, unit list, and cast list. They also send crew start paperwork and ensure they have an ID card and car pass.
Office PA. There are many shared responsibilities between the production runner and office PA, whose role is more commonly found on big budget productions.
Directors assistant. Not to be mistaken as part of the ADs Department, the director’s assistant makes sure the director is always comfortable and happy. This can mean providing tea/coffee/lunch, dealing with their schedule, filing all their production paperwork and running personal errands.
Producers assistant. The same as the above for the producer.
Cast assistants. The same as the above but for individual members of the cast, who may or may not bring their assistants with them.
Accounting staff. Monitoring and amending the budget, creating a cost report, paying suppliers and the cast and crews wages.
WHAT OTHER AREAS OF THE INDUSTRY CAN I FIND WORK IN AS A PA/RUNNER?
Runners are in demand all over the industry, and you will never be short of work if you are diligent, take direction, use your initiative and enjoy being a part of the process. As a runner you can find work in:
Music videos (in-house)
Corporate videos (in-house)
TV drama (production office)
Short films (production office)
Animation (production office)
WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF the production RUNNER?
Rest assured you will indeed be running in this job, especially if all the departments have been scattered around the surrounding area. Some of the responsibilities of the production runner will be:
Buying food for the kitchen.
There will often be a list where members of the office make requests, so when you go out on ‘runs’ make sure to check for any new additions. Your kitchen duties can also involve taking out the rubbish and collecting cups and plates for the dishwasher, or if you’re slumming it, the washing up bowl. Make sure the fridges are filled with drinks, and there is milk in the fridge each morning.
Make sure the paper and toner for the photocopier never runs out.
Answering the phone.
Always find out what the caller wants before passing them on. If they are fishing for information about the production or asking to come on set, take their details and pass them onto the unit publicist straight away. Similarly, if an actor's agent is on the phone pass them to the 2nd AD as soon as you can, especially if they're enquiring about the schedule. Do not give out information even if it’s on the schedule right in front of you. Often the 2nd AD knows if a revised schedule is on the way, they will also know about sensitive details that might not be shared with junior members of staff and affect the date or time of the cast’s next appearance or appointment. Confidentiality is essential when you are on the phone.
Collecting and delivering post.
You may be sent out with a bag of mail and called upon to distribute any incoming mail as one of your first tasks of the day.
Check the office answer phone for messages.
Making sure the recipient receives an email detailing call time, name and number.
If there is a reception area, most probably your desk.
Going on 'runs'.
This can be anything from collecting props (depending on the type of film you are working on) to collecting dry cleaning.
Photocopying and emailing.
Scripts, call sheets, unit lists, schedules and DOODs (day out of days) to distribute to the crew. Always check with the 2nd AD before distributing anything to the cast. The photocopier is your friend for the duration of the production, make sure you know how it works.
Making travel arrangements.
Booking cars for HoDs if they are attending meetings.
Managing a float.
If you are making purchases, you will be assigned a float. Keep it separate from your money and make sure you have enough cash on you when you leave the office. Never pay for anything from your own pocket, especially if it's a large purchase. Production will refund you the money, but it may take time to clear, which isn’t always useful when living on runner wages.
Meeting room prep.
If there is a meeting room where senior members of production or HoDs meet, it will be your job to prep the room with water, glasses, any documents required or setting up a speakerphone or AV equipment if necessary.
ID and passes.
Production runners can be asked to oversee the ID passes and car passes for the crew upon arrival in the morning.
WHAT IS THE PRODUCTION OFFICE LIKE TO WORK IN?
While you’re out in your car for the eighth time that day on deliveries and collections, it would be easy to lose sight of how much your work is valued by the production office. Hard working production runners get noticed and go far quickly, try and keep this in mind while you are ferrying around dry cleaning. The hours will be long, the production office is up and running an hour before call, and remains at least an hour after wrap so don’t expect too much of a social life whilst you're working.
Traditionally runners and office PAs answer to the production coordinator, who will schedule their duties and workdays. However, there may be an occasion where you are given five separate tasks from five different people, each of whom has prefixed said task with ‘urgent’! It’s not uncommon for others to think they have the right to use the production runner, although they do know they need to ask the production coordinator first. Agree to whatever they ask and then always run it quietly past the co-ordinator. They will be aware of any impending tasks that you're not, which would mean you are not available to do a favour. The coordinator will re-assign the task or suggest another option for the request to be completed.
If you're allocated a desk it's very important you keep it extremely tidy and in order. When the cast and crew visit the production office, your desk is the first thing they will see, first impressions always count. Treat it like a front of house desk and be prepared for various people to open your drawers to look for items that have been left in your possession, such as keys or passes - so don't keep anything too personal in there.
WHAT IS THE CAREER PATH IF I WORK AS A PRODUCTION RUNNER?
Production runners who are busy working on a variety of projects can gain experience very quickly. Being a great runner can work against you in some circumstances, your skills in the production office will be highly valued so making the jump up when you're swamped with work offers for running positions takes courage. The next logical move is to office PA and when you have amassed two to three years of experience - production secretary. From here you can move your way up the career ladder to assistant production coordinator, production coordinator, production supervisor and UPM.
WHAT ARE THE KEY SKILLS FOR WORKING AS A PRODUCTION RUNNER/PA?
Highlighting skills in your CV is a must when starting out as a production runner. If you look at any job advert, you will notice that skills or a list of aptitudes are always present, and can offer candidates a great insight into what the company are looking for. Film production is no different, except the skills, attitudes and aptitudes are unlikely to be advertised. Use your experience in the industry to determine what skills a good production runner needs, list them on your CV and give examples of how you have used them in your previous experience. If you are still following stage 1 of your career plan and your CV is looking thin, think about the other activities you have been engaged in such as part time-work, voluntary or community activities. Some of the essentail skills to show examples of in your CV are:
Prioritising: You are going to be asked (told) to do a lot of things when you’re a runner by many different people who think you exist to fulfil their tasks alone. Unless someone looks you dead in the eyes and tells you the whole production hinges on this one email being sent, work through the jobs methodically and ask the production coordinator if you are unsure.
Enthusiasm: It sounds obvious, but you should act as though you want to be there, don't continuously check your phone or ask when you can go for lunch. If time allows ask questions, and get to know who is working in the other departments.
Be confident: Especially when talking to colleagues or anyone who comes into the office, this is the best time for networking and making contacts. If you're introduced to anyone make sure your handshake is firm and try and remember the person's name, even if that means writing it down.
Adaptability: Situations can change at a moment's notice in the film industry, something may come up that needs all hands to the pump, or you may find yourself in a hire car with a producer travelling to a meeting at the other end of the country. Take it all in your stride; this is life in the industry not just as a runner.
Attention to detail is a must. Production coordinators are methodical and rigorous when going through paperwork, they will expect you to do the same, make sure your CV and covering letter are spell checked and grammatically correct.
HOW DO I FIND a job as a PRODUCTION RUNNER/OFFICE PA?
Production coordinators are always in need of production runners and office PAs, many coordinators will hire a few seasoned runners and some who are new to the industry. If you want to work in the production office, with designs on working your way through the production route, you're going to be sending out lots of CVs to coordinators. To be in the running for the bigger budget features your CV needs to demonstrate relevant work experience, gaining that experience is going to be a mix of short films, micro-budget and low budget features over the course of a few years. If you are coming into the film industry as a career change, you need to know your initial experiences are not going to be well paid as a runner.
If you're at stage one, ie., right at the beginning of your career, you can look at short films, student productions (such as the NFTS who attract many professional crew and adopt best industry practice) and micro-budget features to gain some well-needed experience. Most likely these positions will not be well paid, and some (such as short films) may not be paid at all, which is why you need to be sure you're working on a well-run production with members of the industry helming the project. Rest assured you will not be the only one working for very little, you may find experienced broadcast lighting cameramen and sound recordists working for free to add drama experience to their CVs. Many short films are shot over a weekend, at the most a few days, so if you find yourself working full time, short films over a weekend can enable you to build on your CV while taking home a living wage.
As the film industry is fiercely competitive, you need to use all resources available to you. Alongside the opportunities we list here on MFJF, you can also look to our resources section to see what other options are available. University websites have noticeboards or areas of their website that are dedicated to collaborations or swaps. If you are living in a town with a university that has an MA film course, keep checking to see if they are crewing up or needed any extra help.
Although we do recommend collaborations, do your research first to find out who is going to be working on the production. Student films will be backed by the university so you know a budget has been agreed upon and insurance will be taken care of. If you're working on a short film with people you don’t know make sure to check the producer's track record and back catalogue of work, you want to know they're following best industry practice and will be running the production properly. This means the production will be insured, catering (or at least some form of feeding the crew) has been devised, there is a schedule that is realistic with location, transport and travel plans considered. If it’s a friend you’re helping out then obviously you will be less rigorous in assessing these things, everyone likes helping out their friends if they can.
The likelihood is you will be working for expenses, but make sure that’s the case and talk money before you agree. So, although you may not be financially remunerated you need to be certain you can walk away from the production with what you need; which is experience of working on a properly run shoot, knowledge of how the production office works, making some contacts who are working in the industry and adding a credit to your CV. Although you should never pass on an opportunity, if your gut feeling is you’re not going to get these things (you will know within the first five minutes) you could decide to say thanks but no thanks and look for the next opportunity.
Once you have amassed some credits in the production office, you want to be looking for work on feature films; these will most likely be the lower budget variety that are shot in a few weeks rather than a few months. You may find there will be gaps between employment; this is where flexible jobs come in handy to supplement your income. It might feel it's a backwards step, but it won't always be this way if you're a proactive, diligent production runner the regularity of work offers should come your way. The production office like having people they know around, who are familiar with they systems and ways of working. The production coordinator will no doubt have a list of go-to runners and PAs.
When preparing your CV for paid positions check it (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the CV advice and CV builder to help create a CV and covering letter, and you can check your CV against our example CVs to see it includes all the relevant information. You're going to want to keep your CV short and to the point, as coordinators will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, keep it down to one page if you can.
Finding work and applying for positions can be a full-time job in itself. Some people will get lucky, finding work almost instantaneously after graduation. Some may have put in the hours on short films or found work experience placements while they are studying allowing them to create a network; some people might just be in the right place at the right time. In whatever situation you find yourself, the resounding advice from professionals working in the film industry is be persistent; persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your chosen career. Keep applying for positions, sending emails, and keep an eye on the British Film Council, Facebook’s UK Production News and The Knowledge noticeboards to see what is going into production.
What is going to help you at the first stage of your career is having an idea of what your final destination is, do you want to be a producer? Great, then get to know how a film is made from initial concept through to distribution and look at production companies as another avenue of employment. Do you want to be a production manager? Then you're going to need to immerse yourself in the production office and watch how they operate while picking up some serious Excel skills. Be honest with yourself about what you want to do, research your options and plot your course accordingly.
Alongside researching the onset roles and non-production roles, and knowing back to front the work of the production office - you might find its time to hit the library. Here are a few books to get you started:
You also need to become familiar with all the terms used in the production office, making sure you are computer literate and are familiar with both Mac and PC operating systems. Make sure you can use Excel exceptionally well.
The network you build alongside your developing CV will enable you to branch out to look for work elsewhere in the industry. If you've worked with other runners ask them to keep you in mind for when they are unavailable for jobs, referrals to members of the production team are an excellent way to get your foot in the door. Keep in contact with everyone you meet, send the odd email, social media is a great way to stay in touch. Use your time to create opportunities, don’t wait for them to come to you!
Being able to work in other areas such as TV drama, or working within a production company or commercials company (both can take on in-house runners on short contracts when they get busy) significantly increase your chance of finding regular employment. You will also need all the experience you can get, the coordinator will have a stack of CVs on his/her desk for crewing up, you need to make sure yours is going to stand out.
Personality and Attitude
Determination is essential when sending out those CVs. In some cases, you may have to grin and bear it while you are working behind a bar, waiting tables, or pouring coffee. Needs must, and your pay is comparable to that of the production office at junior level. Your pay is most likely going to be low for the first few years of your career, so if you have no additional source of income, you may wish to consider saving up before you embark on your career plan.
Although you may not think it, the skills you are developing while waiting tables could serve you well and can be the attributes employers are looking for to fill the positions. You will be on your feet, working long hours, need to be adaptable and always have a smile on your face. Waiting tables and bar work give you the flexibility to take leave when an opportunity arises for a few weeks work on a feature, being able to return at a later date. Be warned, if you have just finished a degree with visions of stepping straight into a production office on a major feature, you might get a shock. Although this is possible, people who manage this are in the minority or have existing relationships in the industry. Use your holiday time well, be proactive about getting experience outside of campus.
At points it could feel all too depressing when you’re not getting the roles you want, keep in mind the advice on being relentless and go back to your CV, think about what you can do to make it better, what experience could you gain in another capacity to start ticking boxes for potential employers. Reflect on the reasons your CV is not being chosen for roles; it could be a lack of experience, the way your CV is presented or if you’re sending in generic CVs and covering letters - you should give yourself the best possible chance by tailoring each one to each job role or production.
Although the industry is incredibly flexible when it comes to changing career, if you’re applying for positions in another area of the industry you will need to be clear why you want to make the change, and give examples of what you have been doing to facilitate the move.
Ask US FOR ADVICE
Looking for some advice or have a question on careers in this area? Then please get in touch, we are here to help!
WILL I NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS TO WORK AS A PA/RUNNER IN THE PRODUCTION OFFICE?
The role of production runner will not require any formal academic qualifications, although GCSEs, A-Levels or a degree in film or any other subject can offer the production coordinator an idea of your aptitude for written work and offer you a solid educational grounding and some life experience. A degree also provides you options later on, especially if you decide to leave the industry. If choosing a film or media degree look closely at the modules the course is offering, does it offer:
Practical modules with industry recognised equipment.
Lecturers (full time or guest) who are working in the industry.
Affiliations with industry recognised institutions.
A chance to meet alumni or industry members.
It would be advantageous to have a good grasp of IT, especially Excel, administrative skills and a great deal of common sense. Having a driving licence is a must, as individual productions may require you to drive a hire car or van. You will also need passion, drive and determination to work in the film industry. These qualities are prized throughout the departments and should get you where you want to go.
WHAT PAPERWORK SHOULD I BE FAMILIAR WITH IF I WORK AS AN OFFICE PA/RUNNER?
The myriad of paperwork you will be exposed to can initially be quite disarming for a new entrant, but you will soon become familiar with the running of the office and the systems that the UPM, supervisor and coordinator wish to implement. Items of daily paperwork that you will be working with are:
DOODs (Day out of Days) which display each cast member and when they are working
Crew & unit lists
Movement orders & maps when working on location.
Travel movement orders, often filming happens in more than one location/country, this document will give the cast or crew the reference numbers and timing.
Scripts/script pages attached to the sides or handed out if any amendments are being made as production advances.
Strike notices. When filming on a set has finished, and the rushes have been checked, a strike notice is issued so that Construction and Art Department can dismantle the set.
Phone/internet dongle issue memo, which is usually generated by the runner/PA
The daily to-do list. Many productions will have a daily sheet of office maintenance tasks that can be ticked off over the course of the day.
Sides: A miniature call sheet and break down of the scenes that need to be shot during the day. It will be your job to photocopy the required amount, and the floor runner's to distribute them to the crew first thing in the morning.
Purchase orders or POs, which will be generated for every spend, you will be expected to file all POs from each department.
Invoices. Crew invoices may come your way, make sure to pass it on to the Accounts Department.
10 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR NEW ENTRANTS WORKING IN A PRODUCTION OFFICE
If you don’t have a driving licence, make arrangements to get one, as this can provide a real barrier to finding work. If you have a licence and a car invest in a headset as the office will be calling when you are out and about, or better still get into the habit of pulling over when convenient.
First Aid Certificate.
Having a first aid certificate can be very useful for runners and PAs on and off the set.
Don’t be dressed too casually in the office environment, senior members of production may not like it. Choose your clothes carefully and please don’t arrive in flip flops, you will see the production coordinator roll their eyes and sigh. Even though you're not working on set you have no idea what the day has in store for you, so keep footwear sensible, and don’t become a health and safety hazard.
"Well, I'm actually a producer".
Production coordinators are looking for runners who want to be excellent runners and use their experience to progress up the ladder. Although it’s good to show ambition, do the job you are employed to do and don’t quote the cliched lines that veterans of the industry hear time and again.
It can be difficult to balance people’s needs so make sure you are polite and try not to get stressed, especially when dealing with pressurised situations. If in doubt speak to the coordinator.
Are you good with computer systems?
If you come from a technical background or have the least bit of technical sense, then display it. This applies when dealing with the office equipment, if you have an affinity with computers, and the production is on a smaller scale, your knowledge can be very valuable if there are any office problems.
Know who all the Heads of Department are on set, and know what they do. If you are asked to deliver something you stand a better chance finding them amongst the many people who are milling around.
Remember how people take their tea and coffee by keeping a little list hidden in the kitchen, this saves time and makes you look good.
Program relevant crew members numbers into your phone so you know who’s calling, and if you're out and about you have easy access to the office phone (program that one to speed dial).
Returning to base.
If you’re out delivering or collecting something call the co-ordinator to let them know you’re heading back, there may be something else they need you to do before you return.
PHRASES EVERY ENTRANT SHOULD BE FAMILIAR WITH.
Base camp/Unit base. An area near location where the trucks and trailers are parked. This will be your home.
Call sheet. The most important document during principal photography. You will learn their layout quickly enough as you'll be photocopying the call sheet every day, every week.
Call time. Different departments and members of cast have different call times which are all marked on the call sheet.
Pre call time. Some departments, depending on the day they have in store, can have a pre call time for unloading.
Turnaround. A minimum of 11 hours rest period or ‘turnaround’ should be taken between working days. If not possible a penalty should be paid. Note: not all productions adhere to this rule, it depends on the type of production you are working on and whether the overtime is cheaper than another day shooting.
Honey Wagon. Toilet.
3-Way or 2-Way. Artist trailers.
Set. Where filming is.
Tech. The tech trucks like camera, grip and lighting.
APOC. Assistant production coordinator
How much will I earn if I work in the production office?
You will most likely be working as an employee (PAYE) for the production during the term of your contract; most productions pay weekly. BECTU are currently in the process of redefining the rates for runners/PAs in the UK, visit their site and search for their recommended rates here.
Although work may be sporadic and the majority of the film industry is self-employed, the role of the trainee/runner/assistant is not currently recognised by HMRC as a ‘grade’ for self-employment. If you’re working on features films for weeks or months, the production will pay you weekly using the PAYE pay structure, meaning they will deduct your tax and national insurance at source, providing you with a P45 and P60 at the end of the engagement. However, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, potentially on dailies, this presents complications.
Fortunately, HMRC is aware of the infrequency of work in the film and television industry especially in the entry level roles, so they use a seven-day rule. If an engagement is less than seven days, PAYE does not need to be applied, but the production company will still deduct your national insurance. This is to stop you being over taxed or emergency taxed, which could leave you with a very small pay packet indeed. Make sure you are meticulous with your record keeping, filing all documentation such as your P45 and P60’s, you may need them for reference at the end of the tax year.
If you have been in the film industry for 12 months and worked for multiple companies on short term contracts, you can be eligible to apply to HMRC for the Lorimer or LP10 Letter. The Lorimer Letter is a Letter of Authority that is valid for three years and can be applied to engagements of 10 days or less. To apply for this, you have to demonstrate that you are in business on your own account so that individual short-term engagements which would otherwise be treated as employment are seen as part of an overall business set-up. So, even though you are not one the approved ‘grades’ listed by HMRC you will be invoicing the production for the full sum - but you will need to generate your own invoicing, file your own tax return as self-employed and be responsible for paying your Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance.
Please make sure to set up your invoicing structure in a way that will enable you to be consistent with your numbering. For example, if you're John Smith you may decide to structure your invoicing as JS01. Try not to change your formats too much, when it comes to the end of the tax year (April 5th); you’re going to want to keep things as simple as possible.
What hours will I work in the production office?
During pre-production the office hours will most likely be regular, but as it gets closer to the shoot the hours will get longer. BECTU state that all off-set personnel should work a 10 hr day with 1 hour designated for lunch, in reality, however, this very rarely happens. A runner should always make sure everyone else is fed before they grab lunch. They will be told when they are expected to arrive at work and will be informed when they can leave.
What are the industry bodies for runners/office PAs working in production?
Being a member of the production team affords you a wealth of information from governing bodies such as:
What should I take with me on my first day as a production runner?
In the pre-production stage, you are likely to carry messages to the other departments and be sent out on a variety of jobs. Despite being in the office environment you may well be on your feet all day - so keep this in mind when you are considering your attire and footwear.
Stationery should be the one thing that you will have at your disposal, but you may want to bring your own notebook and pen if you prefer to have something that fits snugly into your back pocket - and if you have a laptop take that with you too.
What's the difference between the production office and production company?
When looking for work as a runner, please make sure you read the job descriptions carefully and find out where the placement is. A production office will exist for the duration of the film and house the key players involved in bringing a project to fruition. Your engagement may only be a few months, but you will be heavily involved in the process of pre-production and principal photography.
If you work for a production company this is more likely to be an in-house role that can see you progress within the company. The lynch pin between the two is the role of the producer, so if you would like to work across both then becoming a producers PA would be a good stepping stone.
thank you's ...
My First Job in Film would like to thank Arabella Gilbert and Peter Boothby for sharing their experience and giving up their time to offer advice for this career guide.