TV Production Assistant Jobs: How to Get Them and What to Expect

tv production assistant jobs labelling tapes

Production Assistant jobs aren’t always glamorous, but they are an incredibly important stepping stone for TV careers

Anyone that wants to work in television should go back and watch The Newsroom on HBO.

I originally resisted, fearful I’d be annoyed by some over-scripted and over-dramatized representation of my adult life.

Season one came and went, despite pleading from many of my television cohorts that it was relatively on point and worthy of an hour a week.

But alas, I was broken by the start of season two, and was immediately hooked.

Yeah it’s all the bad things I listed above, and it takes a few technical liberties, but the majority of the show represents life in television pretty well and it’s damn entertaining (even if I have to rewind it a few times here and there to fully comprehend what is going on).

TV life, just like on The Newsroom, is fast. It’s urgent. It’s decisive. And it’s unrelenting…all in a good way.

How to get TV production assistant jobs and what to expect when you do #tvjobs Click To Tweet

One thing they don’t spend enough time on, and I really wish they did, is the entry level staff. The real grunts fresh out of school, finding their way, working long hours and trying really hard not to mess things up.

You got it, the Production Assistants (PA).

TV Production Assistant jobs are the gateway to glory on the content side of television, the starting point of many great TV careers, and a proving ground position that many never get past. Every great Executive Producer began as a Production Assistant learning the ropes, because college can’t possibly prepare you for what you’re about to endure.

Excited yet?

You should be, because as I look back at my career, being a Production Assistant, fresh out of college, was some of the most fun I’ve had.

The Skills Necessary for TV Production Assistant Jobs

TV Production Assistant jobs require a variety of skills, and every day tends to be different from the last so don’t expect consistency. Heck, the very job title is vague – assisting the production of TV, well that narrows it down, thanks.

Bottom line, the more flexible you can be, the better your chance at success. But there are a few key skills for TV Production Assistant jobs that if you don’t have, you aren’t getting a call back on your resume:

  • You must know non-linear editing (NLE). One of the core expectations of any production assistant job is to be able to edit video. Most networks or stations will train you on their system, whether it’s Avid, Quantel, Final Cut Pro, Sony or some other NLE, but you should be familiar with the techniques and have a reel of your prior work at the ready.
  • Camera operation. The best Production Assistants are versatile, morphing into any role that is needed. If you know how to shoot video you are a more valuable asset to your network and will be noticed in the resume screening process. Early in my career there was a need for someone to run camera on a shoot, I didn’t know camera, one of my co-workers did. I spent the rest of the day kicking myself and the rest of the year learning.
  • Communication skills (talk about vague). Production Assistant jobs are multifaceted, one day you may help out answering phones, another working on the assignment desk; all these responsibilities demand articulate communication and attention to detail. If you can’t communicate clearly in the TV business, you get left behind.
  • Complete multiple internships. You need a differentiator on your resume to stand out amongst the stack. Don’t rely on GPA or some campus club you were the president of, get out there and get real experience. I got my first job as a production assistant at CNN because of the skills I learned on my internships. Try to intern at a local station and a larger regional or national network, maybe even throw in a production house if you desire to work in more long-form programming or documentaries.
  • Intimate knowledge of your television path. If you want a TV Production Assistant job in sports, expect to take a sports quiz and prove you know your stuff. If you want to work in news, expect to be grilled on politics and how to pass a bill. You have to know your industry, so study up.
Production Assistant jobs are the gateway to glory on the content side of TV #tvjobs Click To Tweet

How does it feel to be on the bottom of the Totem Pole?

tv production assistant jobs

Every day is different for a Production Assistant; some days you’ll be editing the lead story, others running teleprompter (photo courtesy: ESPNFrontRow)

If you expected to graduate college and be thrust right into a position, sitting in the big conference room, making decisions about the layout of the show, think again.

You will probably run teleprompter, grab scripts for the anchors, label tapes, hand out rundowns to the control room staff, and scrounge up some hot tea for the anchor with a dry throat on set.

But on other occasions you will edit the lead story for that nights show, or sit in on a brainstorming meeting, or go out with a reporter on a breaking news story.

The thrill will be there.

The Key to Advancement

To really make it as a Production Assistant and climb the career ladder, you have to run teleprompter with as much detail and enthusiasm as rushing out to cover the day’s big event.

Every part of your role is important, not just the glory ones.

When I was a News Director, I noticed the Production Assistants who were consistent performers and brought their “A” game to every task, not just the high-profile ones. The PA’s that did a sloppy work while performing daily tasks, but perked up every time something big happened, drove me nuts.

To be a successful PA you have to run prompter w as much enthusiasm as covering big news Click To Tweet

The Career Path for TV Production Assistant Jobs

It depends on the organization, but at larger networks if you do well and prove yourself, you may not spend much time as a Production Assistant.

Networks like to reward the best Production Assistants by advancing them to Associate Producer roles rather quickly, because they know PA’s burn out if there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The career path for TV Production Assistant jobs looks something like this:

  • Production Assistant
  • Associate Producer
  • Line Producer (or show producer, or just producer – every station is different)
  • Senior Producer
  • Coordinating Producer
  • News Director
  • Executive Producer

Of course, every network arranges and titles things differently, but you can see the basics here.

Early in your career as a Production Assistant the goal is simple; prove to your managers you are willing to learn, you can take on all challenges and you’ll put your all into every task.

If you can do those things, the sky is the limit.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. Hi this veena I am experienced in the tv entertainment industry from 3 years I am trying to work with you people but I am not that much lucky I didn’t got chance to travel abroad.

  2. Taylor Lundgren says:

    Thank you for all of this information! I am a current digital film student aspiring to become a producer someday. I’ll be starting out as a PA soon and all of these facts just solidified my reason to follow my dreams in the industry! Thanks again!

  3. Thanks, I am joining a local television station to begin my career in television. My role would be a PA. Thanks for the info

  4. Arman Hovsepian says:

    Hey Brain,

    Is there any particular website I can check to find PA jobs? What can I do to land a job as a PA at a respectable company that shows promise?

    Thanks,

    -Arman

  5. Golam Nabu says:

    Thanks sir. I am experienced in the tv talkshow from 2 years. I am trying to work but I am very hopeless. Just I want 2 know do I am?

  6. Hey Brian,

    I am a final year TV & Film Production student due to start my internship in 4 months. I am hoping to get a position as Production Assi ant Intern. As part of my college studies I have learnt to prepare Shooting Schedules, Location Requests, Calls Sheets, Production Budgets, Daily Production Reports and Continuity Logs as well as the basics of TV & Film Production ofcorse (writing, directing, editing, camera, lighting). Do you have any tips on how I can prepare my portfolio to display all these skills besides just having a showreel?

    • Noncedo – what a great question. Outside of your show reel, I think the best way to show what you have done is to focus on results instead of responsibilities. Explain how preparing shooting schedules positively impacted production, how you stayed 13% under budget on all productions you managed, how your dailyproduction reports led to greater efficieny things of that nature. It’s a start! – Brian

  7. Hi Brian

    I am a current journalism student aspiring to become line producer in US.

    As a foreigner and without experience wouldn’t it be better to start as intern ?

  8. This is not tbe bottom… The botyom is taking work as sn extra trying to be a PA! Now I know many talented people better than tbe mistreating PA’s that are iut tbete right niw! Trust me! I am an extra mysrlf snd know! I could do a movie, documentary, etc on t e subject snd use REAL people! So no PA may be tbe bottom from some.

  9. I recently graduated, majoring in Video production Technology. Locationike you were saying, school can’t prepare you for the real world, I want to gain more experience before putting myself out there, but the thing I’m wondering about is if I should intern with a TV station. I am not really interested in working in television, I’m more so interested in producing music Videos so should I maybe intern with a record company instead?

Trackbacks

  1. […] TV Production Assistant Jobs: How to get Them and What to Expect: In Television, the gateway to glory position is as a production assistant, your entry point into the frenetic pace and urgency that is television. Find out what skills you need to get hired and what to expect when you are on the job. […]

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  3. […] I started my career as a Production Assistant at CNN, I still feel a deep connection to this role (to be honest, being a PA may have been my […]

  4. […] materialized yet, you need to change your approach. I was lucky to be hired by CNN as a Production Assistant about 2-3 months after graduating, but you better believe if that job hadn’t come soon I […]

  5. […] and structural control over an entire program and support staff including editors, writers, production assistants and […]

  6. […] terms of furthering your career prospects, it’s up to you – being a PA is often on a freelance basis, so the more you can network, make a good impression […]

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