Hollywood filmmakers abuse lowly production staff

Thu Apr 8, 2010 7:01am EDT
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By David Robb

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - They are Hollywood's migrant workers, the gofers, the errand boys, the Girls Friday.

They are Hollywood's production assistants, the lowest-paid workers on the set -- if paid at all -- and the only ones without a union, the only ones no union even wants to bother with. In Hollywood's caste system, they are the untouchables.

These PAs work in nearly every phase of production and postproduction, and sometimes their employers break the law by not even paying them.

There are transportation production assistants (the Teamsters don't want them); camera PAs (the Photographers Guild doesn't want them); costume PAs (the Costumers Local doesn't want them); office PAs (the Office Workers Local doesn't want them); and art department PAs (the Art Directors union doesn't want them, either).

Production assistants have five things in common: They're young, they're multitaskers, they're trying to break into show business, they wear earpieces on the set so they can be yelled at from afar -- and they all have stories of abuse.

At any given time, there are probably hundreds of such people in Hollywood that fit the PA description. One production assistant tells of being ordered to run into a burning building to deliver scripts -- a real building that actually was on fire! Another tells of being screamed at because she didn't bring back enough chips from the lunch run to a Mexican restaurant. "How f---ing stupid are you?" the production coordinator shrieked.

Sexual abuse is not uncommon, either. Last year, ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips was fired after it was revealed that he had an affair with a 22-year-old production assistant. The PA, natch, was fired, too.

Most PAs work for $10 an hour or less and often at minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. But some low-budget producers think they don't have to pay their production assistants at all. Craigslist and Mandy.com, a jobs board for the entertainment industry, are full of ads seeking production assistants who will work for nothing.   Continued...