How I went from PA to VA…
The job description for production assistants was the longest of all those in the BBC. It began:
“The aim of the job is to assist the producer or director in the planning, research, execution and accounting associated with a programme and it’s supporting materials, by undertaking the detailed administrative work of the office; by being the focal point of reference, liaison and communication throughout the production cycle; by undertaking specialist production duties when filming on location, or OBs, or in the studio; and by providing a high-class secretarial service throughout the production and beyond its duration.”
It’s long; it needs reading several times but basically it pretty much sums up the job. Anything that needs to be done within the framework of the production can and does fall to the PA, and any task that doesn’t get done, the PA will probably get blamed for!
It’s been hard to make the transition from television to working in other genres simply because people envisage television to be glamorous and that I’d be bored working for them, that simply isn’t true. During my 18 years in TV I’ve slept in the office because I’ve not finished until 3am and am needed on set at 5am so just not worth going home. I’ve missed birthdays – my own, my families and friends, weddings, funerals and other celebrations. Television is not glamorous it is hard work and you need to be dedicated and put everything behind the job – that comes first. Nearly every holiday I’ve had I’ve been phoned for a work matter – either where is the file or could you just give me a phone number or when are you back because you need to start on this project.
Is a production manager different to a project manager? Both facilitate a project so that it gets made smoothly, efficiently, properly, on budget and within schedule. A PM ensures that everything from budgeting, hiring the team right through to delivery of the finished product is a problem-free as possible. To get this done you will need to think on your feet, change plans, be adaptable, tactful and anticipate possible problems and their solutions before they happen – I call it the ‘what if’ factor.
The job can be broken down into three parts pre-production, production and post-production. All three are just as important as the other any hold ups will affect the schedule and the final delivery or finish date. Any over-runs will invariably impact on budget as well as availability of the team not to mention the reputation of the company you’re working for.
This is the reason I went from PA to VA when I left television, I have so many skills to offer that just don’t quite fit neatly into an administrator/secretary or office manager only role. I like being able to put different hats when working with my clients and using experience in other fields is an advantage to suggest an improvement or slight move in another directions that ultimately boosts productivity.
The training I’ve had from television and learning from the jobs I’ve done never quite leaves you and there are things you do now automatically which other people might not think matters or would do but you know it counts and do it. That’s what makes me as a VA stand out from the crowd, doing the job no frills no fancies just get on and do it. A recent associate said I was a go-getter, she knew that when she arrived in the office I’d already be working on tasks and didn’t have to worry that I’d be sat around waiting to be told what to do.