Thursday, December 18, 2014

Life as a Production Assistant | Under the Ash Tree

Friends, I'm psyched to introduce you to Ashley from Under the Ash Tree! She and I met up recently for a blog consultation at a coffee shop right here in Brooklyn, and let me tell you, we had a blast and a half. Actually, more like a blast and a whole. It was pretty much a mega blast.

Not only are Ashley and I neighbors, but we also have quite a few things in common. For instance, she works as a production assistant (or a PA, if you're into acronyms), which is the very same job title I held a while back. I asked her today to come on this here blog and divulge what it's like to work as a PA here in NYC. Check her out. She's boss.


Hey Avoiding Atrophy readers! I’m Ashley and I write over at Under The Ash Tree. I'm so excited today to tell you a little bit about my life. I'm a Brooklyn resident, I've lived here for six years, and I am a production assistant.


For those who don’t know, a production assistant, or “PA,” is essentially the backbone to any major television or movie production. PAs are hired to do everything and anything, from running to get coffee, to setting up lights, to managing extras or mic’ing up talent. Some of my friends who also work in the industry have done things like walking an “A-list” celebrity’s dog or working on the field at the Superbowl. I’ve worked at places like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where I had to pick out a tie for Steve Martin, and the Colbert Report, where I had to find a pirate costume for a taxidermic squirrel and go to Washington DC to work The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.


It’s a challenging job with long hours, but in New York where there is so much production work going on, you can constantly find jobs on a variety of projects, so it can be very exciting! My situation is a little different than a traditional PA as I have a full-time job with benefits, paid vacation and personal days. Full-time PA jobs are fairly uncommon, as most productions are freelance, but I work on a television show called NHL Live, a two-hour daily pre-game show on NHL Network, the National Hockey League’s TV Channel. I’ve worked here since after the NHL lockout in February 2011 and it’s been a busy and interesting ride. Hockey is a seasonal sport, but our “production season” runs from September, the start of the teams' training camps, all the way through “Free Agency Day” on July 1st. During the season, I work 50 to 70 hours per week and 5 to 7 days a week which is exhausting, but also a lot of fun. I get to go cover all the major hockey events with the show, like the Winter Classic, the All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup Finals, which is overwhelming yet wonderful to say the least.


My days vary depending on the time of year and whether or not I am on the road for work. But on a normal weekday during the season, my day is fairly straight forward. I arrive at 9am, check my email and will usually have a list of things I can start working on given to me by the producers. I went to New York University for Video Editing so I am often asked to use that skill by preparing B-rolls, which are essentially highlights from the previous night’s games.


Everyday at 10:30 we have a morning meeting, where the crew, five PA’s, a producer, a director and a graphics coordinator discuss the rundown of what is going to happen that day. We find out what guests we'll have on the show, what team reports there are, or which NHL players had a good night the previous evening. We get to present ideas for segments, and go over important events happening in the next few weeks. After the meeting, I have a list of what to work on and then I get going on those items until 2pm, when I head into the control room. In the Control Room, I run a machine called the “GrassValley Stratus,” where I am in charge of making sure all the footage the producers want for the show has been edited by the editors. It’s kind of complicated, but the way I can explain it is this: let’s say our talent–the hosts of the show–are talking about Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL. I would cue up video of Crosby scoring goals, and then would play that on TV while the hosts talk about so the viewers can see examples of how good of a player he is. Here is an example of an NHL Live montage I edited that opened the block on former player Mark Messier :

Most people who are production assistants use the skills they learn to move up in the production world. One day, I would love to be a producer on a live television show, but I am still a few years and few levels away from that right now. However I'm still pretty happy with my job and where I am at. Yes, I wish I had more free time, but the benefits far outweigh the exhaustion!

Thanks Christy for letting me take over your blog today! If you want to connect with me or ask me any more questions, check out my "professional website" or my twitter page!


  1. What a cool job!!! i love the Colbert Report too--- Going to miss him!

  2. What a busy job! I've wondered what PAs do before. Sounds interesting and full of possibility.


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