My visit to the set of "The Connecticut Kid" last week filled me with a profound sense of relief that I no longer work in the film industry, which I did for 2`BD years. I moved to Seattle in 1997 to learn how to make documentaries and ended up first an intern and then as a production assistant in the fine art of making commercials, where there is more money.

A production assistant, or "P.A.," is the very bottom rung of the film world. Even as an intern, I was pitching ideas for shows and helping with bids for jobs. But production assistants get paid a minimum of $175 a day - enough to merit quitting my job moonlighting as a waitress at "La Cocina."

It was a deal with the devil, but at least the work was always changing: different crews, different locations, different bosses, different tasks. Basically, the PA's job is to do whatever anyone tells you to do as fast as possible.

My first job as a PA involved directing traffic at Microsoft. Another PA and I were given walkie talkies and told to hold traffic until we heard, "Release traffic." After the first shot, I heard "Release traffic" and waved the stopped cars through. Unfortunately, so did the other PA, and there was nearly a major pileup as a result. The tongue lashing we received was not the last.

Often, verbal abuse arose over problems with coffee orders. Working long hours in the land of Starbucks meant daily "latte runs." I would sometimes have 15 or 20 detailed coffee orders, including one of my regular employer's favorites: decaf mocha latte with whipped cream and a straw. I once had a director of photography scream at me because an electrician had accidentally taken her decaf soy cappuccino, and I was back in the car headed to Starbucks.

Driving was a big part of the job, whether it was shuttling actors and crew members to and from the airport in a 15-passenger van, speeding film to the lab at night after the shoot ("go to the bathroom now because you cannot stop for anything!"), or running errands. That meant PAs needed electronic leashes so they could be reached if the producer needed a pack of cigarettes, for example, or uncarbonated water with essence of lemon. My pager would go off on the highway, and I'd have to quickly pull off and find a pay phone - fearful of some catastrophe - and be told, "Oh, we just wanted to check where you were. When will you be back with lunch?"

Sometimes I would "drive the directions," which involved driving the fastest way from the production office or out-of-town crew's hotel to the filming location and writing down every turn's odometer reading. The next day usually meant starting work an hour before everyone else so that I could leave fluorescent signs with arrows along the drive to the location, in case large type directions with specific distances weren't simple enough. This was the scariest part of the job, since I often found myself jumping out of my car at a red light to tape an arrow to it before the light changed or swerving off a twisty off-ramp to place a sign, praying no one would rear end me when I reentered traffic at the blind curve.

Once I was in charge of driving a female producer's warm breast milk from the set to the hotel where a nanny would feed it to the infant. Later the nanny arrived at the set with the sick baby, who threw up some breast milk in the office/motorhome. You better believe that it wasn't the nanny or producer who got on her knees to blot up the regurgitation.

During these sorts of incidents, I would recall the revenge tactics of more experienced PAs. One took great delight in spitting in the food of a cruel executive producer every day: "It was hard to disguise the lugey in a wrap, but Chinese food was a piece of cake!" Another confided that she had peed (when she was well-hydrated, of course) in the water bottle of a nasty director.

There were parts of the job that were less degrading and vaguely interesting. On an overnight shoot for a grocery store commercial, I was assigned to help the food prepper. She and I would spray poison on fruit and pies to make them look shiny and appetizing. Later, I would have to document everything we'd used so that the store could charge us for the ruined food.

Another time, I was working on the set of a bad movie called "Ten Things I Hate About You." One of my jobs was getting breakfast for the teen-aged stars and escorting them to and from the set. After a few days, I learned there were two sisters, probably 7 and 9 years old, who were huge fans of teen heartthrob Joseph Gordon-Levitt. They had come to the set hoping for a glimpse and maybe an autograph from the young star. I told him about the adorable pair and asked if he would take a minute to sign an autograph for them, and he told me, "I don't believe in fans." That's one way I learned that child actors are usually socially maladjusted.

Another job included stacking 50-pound sandbags in a dirty, downtown Seattle alley to create a flooded corridor and then clutching the soaked and soiled sandbags to my chest as I loaded them into a truck. (I was then told to dump them near train tracks or somewhere "they wouldn't be noticed.")

Once it was established that I could be trusted, a common job was returning clothes that actors had worn, or props, to stores for a refund. Of course, we could never admit they had been used, and I'd feel guilty as I took back Chinese fans to a mom and pop store in the International District or $1,000 worth of clothes to Urban Outfitters.

But like I said, the money was good, and it took longer than it should've for me to realize I needed to get out. I was wandering around a public beach at sunset, asking couples to leave so that we could shoot a phone book commercial, when I realized how ticked off I would be if someone did that to me.

After that, I announced that I was moving to Taiwan to try a new career: teaching English. It wasn't a good fit either, but, as Michael Ende wrote, that's another story for another time.

- Jen Reeder



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