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I WAS A PA FOR MTV

by Erin McMaster, guest contributor.  [April 17, 2006]

 


 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  I was a film school graduate with one non-student film on my resume; I knew I needed to get some more experience under my belt. I also knew that this experience was most likely going to be of the unpaid variety. Sure, I wasn't thrilled with that idea, but my family really wasn't too keen on it.

My first film job had prepared me with the idea of just how unglamorous these jobs would be, too. So with an eager attitude, I set out and joined every listserv dealing with filmmaking in Austin that I could find. I figured receiving newsletters about jobs would be a head start to get some experience.


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A few of these jobs panned out enough that I worked on them. Certainly far from the ultimate ideal, these jobs gave me more hands-on experience to learn more -- more about what I liked or didn't like doing as well as learning more about how to do things.  So even though none of these jobs were something to brag about, they definitely were what I needed straight out of film school.

These jobs also were a good first step in the world of networking myself. On each set I met new people. Sometimes these new people and I would click and keep in touch long after production. These were the people that came in handy for that next level of job searching. When they heard of upcoming jobs, they would call me just as I would call them about other jobs.

That networking is how I got my first job for a company anyone had heard of -- MTV. While MTV's Room Raiders is not the television I watch, it was my first official paying gig. Plus, it was MTV and who, at my level of experience, would turn down that opportunity?

So what is being a PA for an MTV reality dating show like?  "Hurry up and wait" is a good way to think of it.  I had always heard this phrase in relation to working in this industry, but hadn't yet experienced what exactly it meant.  Until working for MTV, that is.

To record the number of episodes they wanted in the time given, there were four crews taping an episode each weekend.  Yes, they tape four episodes in a weekend.  There were about a dozen people in each crew, three of whom were PAs.  PA basically meant driver most of the time.

Our call times were generally around 4:30 in the morning. We'd finish the day close to midnight. The PAs would load up the cars with the equipment (cameras, sound, lighting, craft services) before the rest of the crew had their call time. After this, each PA's role varied slightly. I drove the black Suburban and we were off to pick up our "raider." Then we would raid the three mates' rooms. I would drive the Suburban up and sit there while they shot the raider leaving the vehicle. Then I was the "talent wrangler" and basically babysat the owner of the room so they couldn't see who it was that was raiding their room and that the raider couldn't see what the mates looked like.

 

 

It really wasn't that bad. I either sat in the Suburban talking all day or got to eat lunch with the talent.  Other times I would have to run errands to buy things we needed or pick up lunch for the crew. My group's Unit Production Manager had me help her with the petty cash receipts to turn in to accounting.

While it wasn't bad, it still was far from entertaining. Working well over a 14 hour day most weekends, there was plenty of time for there to be absolutely nothing to do. I like to feel like I am being productive, so the sitting around waiting to have something to do didn't really work for me. It made me feel lazy and like I wasn't doing a good job.

But it did give me plenty of time to reflect on the whole concept of reality television. While some shots certainly were real, they would make them repeat the same thing three or four times, so who knows if the take shown in the show is the real one or not. Sometimes the director would tell the people what to say or what sort of reaction to have. Some of the people on the show signed up because they felt it would be their ticket to being the next discovered star.

The most entertaining parts of working on the show were things that will never be aired. One of the groups went into the wrong bedroom and ended up terrifying the kid's grandmother instead -- she was horrified as to why some young man in a jumpsuit was shaking her and yelling at her in bed. Of course, on the show they always think everyone else is just the hottest thing to grace the face of the earth, but that isn't always how they really feel. One weekend the three guys all joked about how the girl walked like an apish linebacker.

Working on reality television ruined the idea of watching it for me, but it was a good experience. I was able to put MTV on my resume and work with some pretty cool people from around the country.
 

Erin McMaster is a Texas-based freelance filmmaker.

She also writes articles on pop culture for Blogcritics.org, and can be contacted at: indemnification@gmail.com.

Copyright 2006 by Erin McMaster.

 

 

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