Los Angeles programs help young people break into the industry

By Monica Maeng, 16, Van Nuys HS
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Production assistant Pedro Huerta (left), 25, poses on a set with Streetlights founder Dorothy Thompson. Huerta, a Roosevelt High School graduate, participated in a Streetlights program where he learned to be a P.A.
Photo courtesy of Streetlights

What I wouldn’t do to see my name on a director’s chair. What I wouldn’t give to see my name up on the big screen. I am what you would call a film buff, a TV fanatic, an entertainment lover. I don’t just watch television shows—I analyze them. I don’t just see a movie once—I see it four, five or six times. Maybe I’m just crazy, or maybe I’m really cut out for the entertainment business. So just imagine the excitement I felt when I found out that there’s an organization that could help me get my foot in the door of this competitive field.

Streetlights is a non-profit organization in Hollywood that helps minorities and other economically or socially disadvantaged people gain a foothold in the entertainment industry by showing them how to be production assistants. A production assistant, or P.A., is the person who does anything and everything needed on the set of a film or TV show—it could be taking a script to an actor’s house, helping with payroll, buying equipment or even bringing someone a hot cup of coffee.

The free program has a rigorous application process. To apply, you need two letters of recommendation, and you must be at least 20 years old and have a car. Though some applicants have college degrees, neither a college nor a high school diploma is required. You must write a letter explaining why you want the position along with the application. Then you are called in for an interview. Once you have been accepted into the program, you must attend an orientation and take in-class training for four weeks and on-the-job training for two additional weeks prior to starting work. There is another two-week waiting period until you receive your first paycheck for the day(s) you have worked.

"It’s a P.A. boot camp. It prepares people to get into entertainment who wouldn’t have the chance otherwise," said one participant, Tiffany Moore, 23, a graduate of Downey High and Azusa Pacific University. "It’s a pretty tedious process, but it’s well worth it."

20-hour days?

A day in the life of a production assistant tends to be very unpredictable. A typical day might start at 8 in the morning and last for a minimum of 12-13 hours, but it can go up to 16-20 hours depending on the day.

"Every day is different. I get on the set in the morning on time and ready to go. The P.A. is the first one there, the first to set up where the directors, the clients, the crew and the agencies are going to sit and to just be there in case any help is needed. At the end of the day, you wrap everything up and get ready for the next day," said Pedro Huerta, 25, a graduate of Roosevelt High School.

A production assistant job is essentially "freelance" work; it’s not a steady 40-hour-a-week, 9-to-5 gig, so P.A.s earn from $75-$200 a day depending on the production. Low-budget films might pay $100-$150 a day. A commercial lasting one to three days might pay $200 a day.

"Music videos last one day. Features would be about six months, and a television show is for about one year," Tiffany said.

Being a production assistant may seem glamorous or just plain fun, but that’s not always the case.

"I already knew that P.A. work would be a humbling job. I didn’t quite expect to clean the refrigerator, but I volunteered to do it anyway. You always have to do something, stay busy and stay looking good. If someone asks you to blow their nose, you have to do it … It only makes you stronger," said Tiffany.

Although it is difficult at times, the job can also be very rewarding.

"I’ve gone to places where I thought I would never go or didn’t even think existed: different beaches in California and famous people’s houses. The traveling part and getting to see different places is the most fun and exciting," said Pedro.

"Knowing that you’re working toward a goal with a group of people is the most fun about the job. The unity when they say ‘Wrap’ and clocking out at the same time, it’s tight," Tiffany said.

Working long hours and running around the set have brought Pedro and Tiffany great experiences; the kind of experiences that would make an entertainment maniac like me green with envy.

"On my first feature, Biker Boyz, I was a prop P.A., so I would have to get the props ready and have them right there for the actors. I didn’t work really long, long hours, and I became friends with the actors. I was blessed," said Tiffany. "But my first internship in New York was my biggest perk. They needed some help and promoted me to P.A. I was still in college, and it was over Christmas break. They paid for everything, and we stayed in the number one hotel. I’ve been pretty spoiled with my experiences in film."

However, a job in the entertainment industry is something you have to work for; it’s not something that gets handed to you. You have to take the initiative and get noticed.

"A P.A. is at the bottom of the pole. If you stick around and do your job, you can go up but it’s the bottom of the pole. You can’t be lazy. You have to at least look like you’re keeping busy. I’ve had producers who I didn’t even talk to on the set, call me to be on their next job because they saw me working," said Pedro.

Advice for those who want to pursue a career in entertainment:

"Be patient and get ready for rejection because you will get rejected. Keep persevering. So many people give up so quickly. Keep going and don’t give up. Somebody will hire you," Tiffany said.

"Make connections, meet people, and have the willingness to start at the bottom. In the entertainment industry, you end up being a director or producer if you meet the right people. It’s not how much you know, it’s who you know. You can start out as a P.A. and go on to do whatever you want to do," Pedro said.

Most production assistants have a goal in mind, something that they would like to achieve. It seems like a P.A. job could lead to anything.

"Most P.A.s want to direct; it’s everybody’s dream. Anybody can do it, but it’s really hard. You have to put a lot of time into it. It’s something I would like to do in the long run, but short term, I want to get into a union and be a gaffer, which is the top guy for the electricians," said Pedro.

Tiffany and Pedro said they were glad to be part of Streetlights.

"They invest a lot of time without asking for anything in return. They don’t charge anything, and they don’t ask for anything but our best at work and that’s it," Pedro said.

"It’s so genuine and sincere in trying to get the people in production. I guess they feel joy in knowing that they brought them the successful people in the industry. You can’t put a price on that. It’s priceless," Tiffany said.


The free Production Assistant Program provides six weeks of classes and paid on-site training for people ages 20 and over. It also provides job placement and career counseling. (323) 960-4540 or www.streetlights.org.