John Carney is an accomplished background production assistant and key set production assistant who has worked on the Golden Globe-winning TV series "Ray Donovan" and the Emmy-nominated and award-winning TV series "Bosch," as well as "Dear White People," "Masters of Sex," and "Life and Pieces." His film credits include the 2016 comedy "Mother's Day" and this year's musical drama "The High Note" starring Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross.
A background production assistant works in the AD department. Their main focus is to organize and oversee the background actors, or extras, on set.
A background pa works with the 2nd AD to prepare for the shoot day. They’ll organize vouchers for the extras and study the shooting schedule, script, and location maps. They will need to know where departments and bathrooms are, where extras will check-in, and where to hold extras as they wait to go on set. The bg pa will also plan for extra help from other PAs to control large crowds if needed.
Each day, the bg pa arrives early to get ready for extras. They will set up a visible check-in spot for extras, communicate with the 2nd AD as they arrive, and then guide them to hair, makeup, and wardrobe. The bg pa remains in communication with the 2nd AD about how long it is taking for extras to get ready, making any casting adjustments necessary to keep the shoot on schedule and the bg count as the director and 1st AD planned. Afterward, the bg pa will direct extras to holding until they are ready to be taken to set. On-set, the bg pa works closely with the 2nd 2nd AD to place the background actors in the scene, providing extras with the information needed to perform well.
At the end of the day, the background pa will ensure that extras properly sign out and will arrange transportation for them if needed. They are responsible for making sure the set and location are clean and help prepare the BG Breakdown for the production report.
Communication: The background pa will need to communicate directly and clearly with the AD team and background actors. This requires patience and the ability to listen to or anticipate the needs of the production.
Multi-tasker: Set moves fast and a lot of unexpected challenges can come up when you’re managing a crowd of 100 extras. A bg pa needs to remain calm as they communicate with their team and manage background actors.
Set-Etiquette: Understand set etiquette for professional sets in order to communicate with extras about how to conduct themselves on set.
Attention to detail: The bg pa helps place the background so that it meets the director’s vision. This requires a keen eye for detail regarding the performances of background actors and the overall look of a scene in regards to bg.
Organization: To guide background actors effectively, a background pa needs to prep well so they know what to expect on the day of a shoot and keep paperwork in order during long, hectic days on-set.
2nd 2nd AD
Start out as a set production assistant and get a well-rounded experience in the AD department.
There is no PA union, at least in America. The closest we have are DGA trainees. Typical rates are:
Feature Films | $200 - $250/day (12 hours)
Television Show | $200 - $250/day (12 hours)
Commercials | $200 - $250/day (12 hours)
Indie Films | $100 - $200/day (12 hours)
Music Videos | $150 - $200/day (12 hours)
You’ll notice how the rates are for 12 hour days, and that’s the standard length of a professional film shoot. Your rate is based around 8 hours at ‘standard time’, with 4 hours at ‘time and a half’.
This means you make 100% of your rate for 8 hours, 150% for 4 hours, and then 200% of the rate for any time after that — called ‘double time’.
The standard production assistant salary breaks down like this:
Your rate per hour will come in slightly above $14, but for this example, we're going to use round numbers to illustrate the point.
So when you add them together:
If the production goes into actual overtime (after 12 hours), your rate will bump to double time, meaning it will be $28 per hour ($14 x 2).
Each hour after that will add $28 until you’ve reached 16 hours on set.
These are standard federal employment rules. Now, if you’ve accepted a deal where you’re paid a flat rate, the amount of time on set can go as long as needed, and you will be paid $200 regardless if you wrap 7 hours into the shoot, or stayed for 16 hours.
The basics of a background pa’s kit box include pens, highlighters, vouchers (for shows that pay extras with a voucher), organizers for paperwork, etc.
Kit box rate: $0 per day
Principles: Actors with speaking roles in the film and TV show.
Background: A non-speaking role that is predominately placed in the background of a scene to enhance the space for the principal actors. They keep the set action moving in a scene by crossing in front of the camera, from edge of frame to edge of frame, and even in still positions in frame. Essential to a scene as a whole, but not meant to distract a viewer from the principal actors.
Vouchers: Form of payment for each background actor whether union or non-union. It is a document that contains all personal information of each bg performer, as well as in and out times, any pay bumps received, lunch times, etc.
Skins: A document that lists names of all the background for that day’s work, including non-union or union statues, rates, roles, and call times.
Wrap Out: Duties that must be completed after shooting ends for the day.
Holding: An area designated by locations where background artists wait to be “flown in,” or taken, to set.
Marks: Marks are pieces of colored tape that are laid on the floor to show where actors stand in order for The Director of Photography to achieve the desired frame for a shot. “To hit your mark” means to stand on that tape, which is in the proper place for lighting and camera placement in the scene.
BG Breakdown: A report that details the background count for each category of union and non-union, and categorizes them by their rates, bumps, adjustments, etc.
Production Report: Also referred to as the “PR,” a production report is a form completed daily by the 2nd 2nd AD to summarize who was working on set, what their times are, how many scenes were shot, what was and wasn't completed, the time for lunch, any production delays, any accidents, etc. This form is used to track the production’s progress from day-to-day.
Learn more about John Carney: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4818243/
Learn more about Alisha East: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5716406/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Film Crew 101: Certification is an extension of the free Podcast series "Film Crew 101" (available on apple, spotify, and wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts). Each episode pulls back the curtain on all the different roles that go into making a film or TV show from Gaffer's to Best Boy's and First Assistant Director's to Second Second Assistant Director's.
If you have ever dreamt about working in film and television but don’t know where to start, we invite you to get certified with Film Crew 101.