What if I don’t want to start as a PA?

Martin E
Martin E.

Hello Everyone, I emailed Janet last night with one of my major concerns and she asked me to post it on Yammer, so here it is:

Dear Janet, I feel the need to be honest with you about something that I know has been holding me back.

I’ve been too embarrased to admit it because I didn’t want you to come down hard on me, or think I’m being arrogant or egotistical. Most people who know me would tell you I’m not. But this issue is a matter of pride.

I know I’m still a nobody in the industry. Sure, I went to film school — which I know nobody in the industry cares about. I haven’t directed a feature film or a big studio film yet. I’ve only directed short student films. (Even George Lucas and Martin Scorcese started out directing student short films.)

However, I busted my ass to make those films. To the best of my ability, I treated my productions as if they were professional sets, not student sets. I spent $20K on my thesis film alone, and paid all my crew so that I could hire professionals. I didn’t want my films to look like student films.

Directing is my passion. I know it’s my life’s calling. After having directed and produced my own films, it’s difficult for me now to step back and just be a PA. I feel like I’m regressing. I’ve had some bad experiences volunteering as a PA and being treated like crap, even by line producers.

Starting over again by working for free as a PA is a big blow to my self-esteem after all my years of hard work. It makes me feel unvalued and underappreciated. Again, not that I think I’m better than anyone else. But I really just thought I was past this point. Guess I’m not because I’m still here struggling.

I know I need to learn to be humble. I don’t like thinking/feeling this way. I know it’s all victim mentality crap that I need to get over. And I do WANT to get over it. That’s why I joined your program… I just had to be honest with you about my struggle.

I hope you can address this issue. There’s a stubborn part of me that’s really resisting this, and I need to know how to deal with it.


I totally understand and have strong feelings about this question.

When we have put our heart and soul into building our films and we feel like we’ve done so much work and even used our own money, we feel that there should be some reward for that right now. And it’s true. what you have done is incredible and you have gotten many gifts from it because you did it!

It was hard, it was challenging, it was creative and you did it!

In fact, if your goal is to be a director, you will be doing projects like these for the rest of your career!

I work with many directors that still have to fund their own projects! When they work, they get paid good money, but it’s tremendous competition out there and they may work a few days a year at $10,000/day and then have no work for months. This is why I say it’s very smart to be a director AND a production designer, a director AND a DP, for example.

The next question is how to get going in the film industry so you start meeting people to make a career out of this.

You were seeing other people get into production assistant jobs but also the higher paid next jobs like Jake T, like Goran, like Alicia P, like Ashley J. They all do the higher paid next jobs as well as the production assistant jobs while they make the transition.

You already know that the directors you will work with as a PA started themselves as a PA.

There is no way to meet everybody in the film industry without working with them.

And as you already know, nobody is looking for directors, you develop all those relationships working together on set. I know you know this which is why you started this program and you understand that’s the way it works, but still what you’re asking for is the way to look at this mentally so that you can be successful!

So the way that I looked at it is I just wanted an exciting life, I just want to be involved in film and be around these people and make my living doing that.

As long as that was happening, I was moving towards my dreams, because you are moving towards your dreams when you are working on different film shoots all the freaking time.

You’re always developing and meeting new people with every single shoot and you can do 10 shoots in a month that means adding 1500 new connections every single month.

Without working in the film industry and trying to get discovered you’re going to make how many new connections in a month?

So I would start to focus on the excitement of being on professional sets and learning from them.

As a filmmaker, I would think that you are very turned on by creating amazing shots, with great acting, and figuring out this entire puzzle of filmmaking and seeing how it is done over and over when it’s not your ass that is on the line.

Your ass will be on the line in as soon as a few years, and you need to prepare yourself for that.

Look at it as your training ground, and you are serious about it.

I’ve worked with production assistants who think that they are the bottom job, and therefore they do the job that way and they get nowhere.

Why did they get nowhere? Because nobody wants to work with people that see themselves as bottom or low end.

That means that everybody wants to work with people that see themselves as winners, excited about everything, turned onto meet new people, and learn learn learn!

That’s the kind of energy people want to work with, that is the energy that’s going to attract all of the future work, and you can develop that right now.

That is exactly what you want anyway, you want to feel alive and contributing and learning! You want all that, you want to grow beyond who you are today and you’ve got the perfect landscape to do it.

In this program and every day the most important thing out of all of this is rewiring your brain to have that excited, forward moving energy that attracts money… That is money! Do you realize how much that is money?

You have the opportunity to wire that part of yourself and even though you may say that’s not me, yes it is! It is you! It’s the future you and it is the current you that you are just bringing out!!

I’m very excited to have you in this program and I’m also very happy that you have been so bold and honest to have this conversation.

Amber B.

Congrats to you for producing already! Really cool!

I think you are putting yourself below a line in your imagination. PA doesn’t mean bottom of the food chain. Sometimes you have to take a position that is left in order to get on a set. And if it’s a PA don’t look at that as if your a freshman again. Take it. And rock it. If they see you are amazing then they know you done this before. Your not a newbie. Your amazing. And they want to work with you again.

You want the best on your team. Use it to get in the door. With you already producing I’m sure it’s not gonna be long before you move to a different position.

You’re starting to network. This is how it goes. Film school didn’t teach you that. Or you would know a ton of people by now. It’s a temporary position. Not permanent. Own it. They will be amazed on how much you know about sets.

But don’t be that PA that acts better than everyone.

We all start somewhere my friend. And now that you are a FIFer, you are too! PA is how we start the snowball. Now go do it!

Jessica P.

100% agree with Amber!

To add on to that: I have many connections that are Directors, Producers, Audio Techs, Coordinators, Managers, Cam Ops, etc..and ALL of them will still work as a PA if they feel its necessary or as a favor to another friend!

I had someone ask me “How long do you want to be a PA” and my response was” I’ll PA for as long as I need to”. They literally praised me for that answer because so many PA’s don’t have that mentality!

The modules and our calls are meant to get your mindset in the positive state to be able to vector your way out of the PA role and into your niche!! You will be able to meet so many other directors and producers and 90% of the time they will ask you what you want to do in the industry which is your window to speak up about your goals!!

Lauren B.

Martin, I relate to a lot of what you’re saying. I also went to film school and I’ve written and directed two short films. I put my own money into them and didn’t make any money from them. I felt the same way a couple of years ago. I approached production companies saying that I was a writer and director. I didn’t get hired.

You have to change your mindset from being the bottom of the totem pole to being excited to be on major film sets and meet directors and producers–people you will emulate and learn from.

I am currently working on making a feature film–filming a promotional trailer in two weeks–and the majority of my crew members will be people that I met while working as a PA. They were PAs too! My DP was the first PA I met and worked with in Milwaukee. And everyone is excited to work on my project because they are go-getters and they want to move up in the industry. And they’re all so professional because they work on professional sets all the time.

It’s really clear to me when I work with PAs that feel like they’re at the bottom and they don’t take the job seriously and they don’t care about doing it well. I don’t want to work with them and I really don’t see them going very far. Everyone has to pay their dues and almost everyone starts as a PA.

It’s also obvious when someone at the top did not work as a PA. I was recently working on a commercial where we were already in overtime and the art director told me to help her start cleaning something up. She mumbled to me that the director told her not to put it away yet, “but we’re not going to use it and he gets to leave the second he calls wrap.” She had a point. Directors who didn’t start at the bottom don’t think about the fact that the rest of the crew has to arrive before they do and stay to load out and clean up after they leave.

I have learned so much about grip equipment, cameras, art department, what good directors/producers do, what bad directors/producers do, all from being on professional sets working as a PA. You will become a much better director and producer by working as a PA on pro sets.

As for the indie/student producers that treated you poorly when you were a PA for them. They are incredibly insecure and think they have to treat people who are below them like that to look important. They’re not going anywhere fast in this industry. Shake it off, don’t take it personally, and strive to work with better people. Very soon, you will get there, Friend.

Amber B.

Awesome reply.

Shows that even if you are a writer or director you can still PA. It’s not taking a step back. But going back to basics about helping out, learning, networking, and making everything a level 10!!!!

Martin E
Martin E.

Thank you to everyone who replied to my post last week about being a PA! Especially for your words of wisdom and helping me re-frame how I think about it. It certainly did help.

I wish the fears and doubts could instantly go away, but it may take time to readjust my mental wiring. Meanwhile, other fears and doubts keep nagging me. I feel like I’m being neurotic about this, but I emailed Janet Urban again and she wanted me to post it on Yammer, so here it is:

Dear Janet, I want to thank you once again for helping me start getting a new perspective about starting out as a PA. I know gratitude is a big part of success and happiness, so I’m really trying to be more aware of that. As you say, I need to re-wire my brain. Your video on depression was also very helpful.


My fears and doubts are still tormenting me. I start thinking “Is this really what I want?” I’m certain that I love directing. But what if it never happens? Will I get stuck being a PA, or some other job in the industry that doesn’t fulfill me? Will I ever be valued and appreciated for my true passion? Will I be too old by the time I finally am able to direct?

Will I ever be able to relax if I’m constantly worried about and hustling to find my next job? Do I have the mental and physical stamina to endure potentially years of working my way up in the industry before I can direct? Working 12-14+ hours per day can be grueling and physically exhausting. Especially when you have to work 6-7 days per week, and sometimes get little sleep.

I can get overwhelmed by it all. It can put me in a negative, irritable mood, which repels people and opportunities. It has already started taking a toll on me. I’ve had health issues and ended up in the hospital last year. These are very real physiological issues that not only affect me physically but have a big impact on my mood and energy levels.

I start thinking, maybe I should find a “safer” line of work that’s less demanding, more stable and not so uncertain. People have told me I’d be a great teacher. I must admit it would be rewarding to inspire and mentor kids. Could I get the same sense of fulfillment from the film industry? It seems like trying to get into the film industry would only be serving my own ego.

I was thinking, maybe I should just try this filmmaking thing for a little while longer and if it’s not working out, or if it starts taking a toll on my physical and mental health, I’ll give up on my dreams and become a teacher. But then I would just be a dabbler if I don’t “go all in.” And if I did become teacher, how would I inspire kids to pursue their own dreams if I give up on mine? I feel like I’ve been unable to live my authentic self. I don’t want to end up haunted by regrets.


You know, I would continue forward and make your goal to enjoy yourself… Take all the pressure off of yourself, accomplishing anything major, and just see what happens and enjoy yourself!

That is the way to rewire your brain from all of your concerns and worries that are constantly coming up in affecting your health, and you may find that it is very refreshing!

All you need to do is start to develop the fun and free part of you and as I always say that’s the part that attracts opportunities.

You can give yourself six months or even a year to try out this way of thinking, and see what happens… I suspect that what happens is going to be incredible!

You have a pattern of letting your concerns and worries appear so real to you that they make you sick!

It affects your state in a huge way, so you are not coming across who you truly are so how would you like to feel? Maybe take the goal session from yesterday and focus entirely on how you want to feel, how you want to work on yourself, all personal stuff without any film industry or any other goals.

The sentence to remember this week and for the rest of your life: “You’ve got to KNOW you’re going to be successful!”

Lauren B.

I understand your concern because I worried about the same thing when I started and realized how much work it would be to build a career as a PA. I wondered if I could work as a PA and work on my own films. I realized that my lower self was pulling me down and telling me that I couldn’t do both and that I should wait to make my films and just PA for a while. That’s ridiculous! I can definitely do both. I’m too ambitious not to. It all starts with your attitude; you have to approach it knowing that, no matter what, you will make time to build your directing career.

Sparkman C.

You won’t know the answers to any of the questions swimming around in your head until you jump in and try it.

When I say that I’ve thought every single thing you’ve written, I’m not kidding. I have literally agonized over every single one for hours and hours on end. A lot of people in this program and out there starting their film careers (or struggling in them) feel the same way.

To repeat what Janet Urban told me when I expressed these fears: They’re not unique. They don’t single you out. They don’t give you a special burden that other people don’t have.

Everyone feels them.

Every single successful person I’ve worked with has felt them. The director I assisted on a multi million dollar movie with top IMDB stars felt them for 7 years.

Of course your doubts and fears won’t go away over night. Of course they will come back. You don’t just decide ,”I’m going to roll differently now” and poof, you’re fearless, that takes time.

It took me MONTHS of feeling that way and forcing myself through the modules and hustling and being exhausted and running at my limit until FINALLY I woke up and felt like I had arrived. Finally I felt like I had officially started my career. Finally I felt like I could relax and had my confidence back and had my inspiration rush back to me.

Artists go through pain and slumps sometimes. The most successful ones out there do too. EVERYONE DOES. How you move forward despite those feels is up to you.

This time last year I wrote Janet Urban a similar email about how I was “paralyzed by fear and doubts.” She told me that by saying that, I gave all of my power to my fears and doubts. No, I did not immediately say, “OH I get it now!” And poof, no more fears and doubts. That took another 4 months.

I am not intending for this to sound daunting or like it is a never ending hopeless journey. It’s not. It is absolutely something you can work through, come out the other side from and grow into someone who is tough as nails because of it.

I am so proud of how far I’ve come and how I pulled myself through despite the long list of fears and questions I had (incase you’re wondering what they were, read the post you just wrote. Because that’s exactly it).

And I still have fears and doubts. But I’m getting better at silencing them and focusing on my empowering questions. I’m getting better at empowering myself.

If I can get through what I described as a “crippling depression” so can you. I don’t give my disorders and family history of mental health power anymore. I tell it to fuck itself because I’m going to get what I want.

Everyone has a different way of overcoming their fears. For me, the dragon inside of my soul wakes up and destroys them with a fire rage of fury. (That’s how I’m wonderful and happy and full of sunshine on set. All of my anger go towards telling my fears and “who is me” to shut their whore mouth.)

It’s re-wiring your brain in a way that works for you. You will get there in your own way. It will be hard, it won’t happen over night, but if you want your questions answered, you need to take action. And don’t be ashamed of how long it might take you. It was 8 months after starting this program before I broke into Union TV shows, 10 before I got my first feature, and for some people that takes longer or shorter. How long it takes does not matter. Going out there and doing it, or sitting back being passive does. Does this make sense?

Regarding the back-up plan to teach, at one point in January earlier this year, I decided I was better suited to be an art teacher for children. I actually went out and got that job at an art school in my neighborhood. I lasted one day.

Teaching will, literally, always be there. Seriously. Take a shot at what you actually want!