If you've ever wondered what it's really like to work on a big TV or movie set, we've got you covered. We recently asked the former production assistants (aka PAs) of the BuzzFeed Community to share their experiences with us. Their stories ranged from interesting to shocking to downright horrifying. Here's what they had to say:
Heads-up: Some of the following stories include racist behavior.
1."Just to dash everyone's dreams: it's nothing like you imagine. It's incredibly hard work that you won't be appreciated for, and the majority of people are just there to get a paycheck. Also, yeah, it's possible your favorite celeb is super nice, but bet on them being just 'okay' and nothing special. There's entirely the possibility that they're actually a massive jerk. A lot of the industry is just straight-up egos and people thinking they're God's gift to the world."
2."I've worked with several A-list celebrities. I've had 99.9% positive experiences with them, and most were extremely down-to-earth. However, there is one actor who I will NEVER work with again. He was extremely dismissive, condescending, rude, and arrogant. Even his publicist had to tell him, 'Okay, that's enough.' Once, he had to walk in the direction of a group of approximately 80–100 of his fans. He looked at me and said, 'Take me another way. I'm not walking past those people.' To this day, I cannot watch anything that he's in."
3."I wasn't a PA exactly, but I was a writer's assistant on The Cat and the Hat. Mike Myers (who was fantastic) and a few other A-listers spent months working on rewrites for the film and, somehow, I managed to get a single line into the script. As we shot the scene the next day, I stood at the back and watched Sean Hayes read the line I had written for his character. It was the first line I'd ever gotten into a film. After the director called cut, I walked slowly toward the exit to call my wife. Just before I got to the door, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Sean Hayes standing there. 'Thanks for that,' he said. 'It was really funny.' It made me feel 10-feet tall. I'll never forget it, and I will be a Sean Hayes fan forever."
4."I worked on set for a network TV pilot and was one of the only Asian people out of the 400-person crew. The amount of emotional abuse and microaggressions that I had to go through was HORRIBLE. When they asked for my non-Anglo-Saxon name, they couldn't remember it (even though it was literally two syllables), so they decided to give me a one-syllable, demeaning nickname for the rest of the shoot. One time during lunch, some of the crew was watching a music video. When I asked what they were watching, one of them looked at me and said I 'wouldn't get it, because it's not K-pop' (I'm not Korean, by the way). After the first day, I went home crying and wanted to quit so badly, but decided that I was gonna fight for my worth. I started ignoring their petty comments and insults, finished the shoot, and did so well that I got asked to come back for the next episode, but said, 'HELL NO. NEVER AGAIN.' Hollywood is all show."
5."I was sent on a coffee run for the cast of a TV show and had to go to three different coffee shops because the cast members all preferred different places for their caffeine fix."
6."I worked on a big charity TV show in the UK a few years back. There were loads of famous actors, comedians, and musicians involved, most of whom were delightful and full of energy and enthusiasm. It was intense and hard work, but there was an amazing buzz in the studio. However, there was one guy who was a major exception. He was completely unprofessional, threw hissy fits if his whims weren’t catered to, and literally screamed at the staff lower than him who were just trying to keep this colossal live broadcast running smoothly. It’s never a good idea to be an asshole to junior staff, as they tend to rise up the ranks, and they won’t forget how you treat people. I mean, seriously, there’s no need to be a dick. I’m not sure this guy has changed over the years if his recent behavior in a New York City restaurant is anything to go by…"
7."I was a PA on one of those 'famous chef remodels your failing business in a few days' reality shows a few years ago. These shows are usually set up so the viewer is led to believe that every decision and every change made was a stroke of genius from the host. In actuality, the majority of what's going on is basic cleaning, a coat of paint that is often still wet during the grand reveal, several runs to IKEA, and generally just grinding from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. We would only touch about 10%–15% of the property and the rest would be up to the business owner to resolve on their own. Ultimately, a week's worth of work and a few thousand dollars in furniture and paint was not going to save most businesses, and a good percentage wouldn't even survive long after the crew left. That being said, I did enjoy the work (and having a famous TV chef as a boss) despite how exhausting those 12-hour days were. Being a PA can open the door to a multitude of possibilities."
8."I spent several days working as a PA for a reality show that threw parties. The 'elite party planner' behind the show missed her new puppy so much that she had it flown over 2,300 miles to her. The puppy was taken directly from the airport to the set, which was full of candy and people the morning of the party. Not surprisingly, the puppy threw up — be it from the flight, the excitement of being around a fawning crowd of strangers, or from finding a bit of candy on the floor. And so instead of actually getting to see the party (and my efforts) get filmed, I spent the rest of the day in the waiting room of an emergency vet clinic, where I had the privilege of expensing a bill that was more than I made from the gig. The puppy's diagnosis? Upset tummy."
9."Since you're at the bottom, people treat you like a servant. You're given little to no respect, but it's the most tiring and hardest position. You're the first one on set and the last one to leave in a 12–14 hour work day — that's on top of going on so many runs to pick people up, get craft services, equipment, rentals, etc. You also have very little downtime. You don't get the same breaks as the rest of production on small indie films because when everyone is eating, you're the one feeding them. So, you need to find your own time to eat and hope that you're not the only PA on set so someone else can cover for you."
10."I'm sure most people know reality TV is fake, but even I was surprised at how deep it goes. For one show I worked on, the whole bit was how alike the two people were. But when the cameras stopped rolling, the smiles faded, they changed clothes, and went their separate ways. Good for them for making a living like this, but it must be tiring to pretend."
11."I was in college (film school) when an opportunity to work on a scripted TV show became available. I was told by my school to show up the following day. When I approached the set the next morning, it felt like being 20 or 30 rows back at a concert with all the crew they had. I quietly asked where to go, and was pointed toward the second assistant director. He said, 'You see those bushes over there? Run and go jump over them, then squat down.' They were filming at a hotel on the beach, and there was a three-foot tall line of shrubs with a wall behind the hotel. I asked, 'Really?" and he yelled at me, 'GO, NOW!' So I ran right across the set, leaped over the bushes, and crashed into the wall. That left quite the bruise on my shoulder. Suddenly, I heard, 'Who the hell just ran across my set?!' The next day, that second assistant director was fired, but I still had a job."
12."In all honesty, most of it is pretty boring. You do 12- to 16-hour shifts, and the overwhelming majority of that is spent standing around between brief periods of being told to carry something or go pick up the lunch catering. I spent a lot of days standing outside of doors making sure people didn’t go in. It is, of course, very cool to meet people, and it’s cool to make movies. I once walked into the break room of a pre-production office and almost ran right into Lisa Kudrow. But like most jobs, the overwhelming majority of the day-in, day-out stuff isn’t worth writing home about."
13."I was working as a PA in a small Midwestern town on a big-budget commercial for a popular brand. A scene called for hundreds of extras to walk down the street in an epic wide shot. The excited locals showed up in droves for their 15 minutes of fame. Hours later, when they were all still sitting around a huge empty room in folding chairs waiting to be called to the set, the once cheery crowd had turned into an angry, shouting, swearing mob that the PAs were assigned to manage. I love it when non-production people find out that TV/movie making is the opposite of glamorous, and nothing but sitting around and waiting!"
14."Despite popular opinion, I found actors way easier to deal with than producers, directors, and showrunners. The biggest divas are the people who have actual power. Just because somebody is talented doesn't make them a great boss. Your heroes may get ruined for you if you work for them. You have to understand that you might end up hating people you idolized, and that's okay. Also, people come into being a PA expecting that they can slip a powerful person a script or a short film and immediately get discovered. That isn't how it works. You have to play the long game, make friends with people, and be helpful. Acting like you're hot shit is the easiest way to get bounced out. It is an extremely small industry, and your sins will get aired to the people who might fire you. You HAVE to be on your best behavior everywhere because it isn't just superiors who are watching."
15.And finally: "The short answer is that it’s sometimes hell. Many times, PAs are underpaid for all the work they do. Not to mention they're the lowest position on a film set, so they get tossed around easily. But that’s not to say all film sets are the same. There were also times when I felt truly appreciated for the work I did on set."
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity. Some specific details and names were omitted for privacy.