The average salary in the U.S. for a production assistant is $32,149 per year. Salaries in this role can vary widely, depending on experience, education, additional skills, and certifications. Those who are paid at an hourly rate typically earn between $15 and $16 per hour. The lowest 10% of those surveyed earned $14 per hour, while the top 90% of those surveyed earned $17 per hour.
According to research performed, production assistants working for NBCUniversal earn an average of $14.07 per hour. Indeed’s salary data reports that production assistants make around $13.91 per hour. A production intern makes slightly less than the average production assistant, with the average salary coming in at $13.74 per hour.
Day Rate vs. Weekly Rate
The term of the project you’re working on will impact whether you’re paid a daily or weekly rate. Short-term projects often pay day rates for production assistants, and no overtime is offered. Long-term jobs may also offer day rates, although overtime usually kicks in within the film industry after 14 hours. Some production assistants are paid by the week, and the amount offered will usually be fixed, regardless of the number of hours worked.
Music Video Rates for Production Assistants
If you are a production assistant working on a music video, your pay rate depends on the project and the studio handling the work. A music video shoot can typically be completed in a day or two, so you will usually be paid a daily rate.
Reality TV Rates for Production Assistants
If you’re working in reality TV, the typical daily rate is between $125 and $150 per day.
Movies/Scripted TV Rates for Production Assistants
Movies and scripted TV shows often have larger budgets than music videos and reality TV shows, but that doesn’t always translate to higher pay for production assistants. In fact, some PAs report earning less on movie and TV show sets than on other sets because of the longer days and long-term nature of the projects.
Commercial Rates for Production Assistants
For production assistants, commercials tend to offer the highest pay rates for several reasons. The first is that the hours are more manageable, as most can be shot within a shorter period of time and don’t require weeks of working 14-plus hours per day. Commercial studios also tend to pay higher rates, sometimes up to $200 per day.
Can I Survive on a PA Salary?
If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in the film industry, you will likely need to start near the bottom and work your way up. A production assistant role is an entry-level option, which is reflected in the average salary. You can survive on this salary in most cases, although you will usually have to make some sacrifices. Many production assistants live with multiple roommates to keep their housing costs low, especially when living in Los Angeles or New York City.
If you live in a city with a lower cost of living, the area may not have as many production companies or studios hiring assistants, so the jobs tend to be more competitive. You may also have to work in this role longer before you gain the experience needed to work your way up.
Taxation for a production assistant depends on how you are paid. If you’re a W2 employee, your employer is responsible for taking out all applicable taxes before issuing your paycheck. If you’re working in a freelance or contractor role, also known as a W9 or 1099 worker, you’re not an employee so the company doesn’t deduct your taxes and you’re responsible for paying taxes on your income.
What Does a Production Assistant Do?
Now that you know how much a production assistant typically earns, it’s helpful to understand what you might be doing in this role. Production assistants are generally responsible for ensuring the production quality on the set of a film, TV show, music video, or commercial. They coordinate and schedule the aspects of production needed, adhere to deadlines, and assist with any other tasks as needed on the set. PAs often help by setting up equipment and handling control room duties. Some PAs assist with equipment and system operations, including audio consoles and teleprompters.
Production assistants are responsible for handling many of the behind-the-scenes tasks associated with creating a film or other media production. They are also in charge of the administrative tasks, aiding directors, producers, and other higher-level individuals on the set with their needs. On a TV talk show, a production assistant might research potential guests to invite, reaching out to and booking guests, and creating the direction for the interview with each individual guest.
Production assistants work with members of nearly every department on set and make sure that everyone has what they need to take care of their tasks. Additional administrative duties may include printing and distributing scripts, recording meeting notes, managing production schedules, fact-checking, and even ensuring that the cast and crew have access to food and beverages while they work. They may be responsible for transporting cast members to various locations or responding to requests from anyone involved in the production.
Education, Training, and Certification
Most production assistant roles do not have minimum education requirements, although a degree in film can provide a number of benefits as you start your career. Pursuing a degree in a related field will give you insights into what is involved in the filmmaking process, as well as help you figure out which area of the set you’re most interested in working on as you move up in your career. Production assistants typically must have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED.
PA Skills and Competencies
Certain skills and competencies are also important when working as a production assistant. Good listening skills are a must, as people on the set don’t want to have to repeat themselves when requesting assistance or equipment. You also need to be extremely dependable and responsible so that people can count on you.
Work diligently to learn all you can about the different areas of filmmaking, as this hands-on experience can benefit you greatly. It’s also important to be patient, as some production assistants work in their roles for years before moving up. Learning how to review a budget, read a call sheet, and communicate effectively can also benefit you as you look for work.
Career Path for Production Assistant
A production assistant can often use the experience and knowledge they gain in this role to work in other departments of film and TV production. The first step up often involves becoming the key PA on a set, which is the highest position on the non-union side of the staff. Some go on to work as camera and recording equipment operators, while others pursue opportunities as directors, cinematographers, and editors.
The goal of most production assistants is to work enough hours on a union production to be able to join the Director’s Guild of America. When a PA has the experience needed to join this particular union, they can earn more and even work their way toward becoming an assistant director or second AD or take on another higher-level role on the set.
This organization also sets minimum earning requirements for its members. For example, an assistant director in the guild earns at least $69,000 per episode of a primetime TV show. The Director’s Guild of America offers opportunities to earn certifications that can help you move up in your career.
Similar job opportunities include:
- Video production
- Media assistant
- Multimedia specialist
- Production control clerk
- Production coordinator
- Production control manager
- Media production manager
- Print production manager
- Print production coordinator
- Assistant production manager
- Unit production manager
- Line producer
You can learn more about the role of a production assistant and how you can improve your skills by applying to the Nashville Film Institute here.