Within minutes, I saw my cue, as [different PA] pulled up in his 15 passenger van, returning from a run. With a quick wave and nod, I accelerated and zipped over to my location. Suddenly my walkie crackled. It was the coordinator. Screaming.
"Where are you?!"
"Uh, sitting in the cargo van on the other dock? Like you told me."
"I told you to wait for [different PA]!"
"I DID! He arrived and I took off!"
Then, over the walkie, came a sound I can only describe as the plaintive howl of a wounded animal.
"NO! I TOLD YOU TO WAIT FOR HIM TO GET BACK AND THEN YOU BOTH WOULD GO IN ONE VAN!"
What he had said to me earlier was, "Wait for [different PA] to get back, then you go to the other dock." You - plural. I had inferred it as the singular.
I was already on my 12th hour of my 9th day, and I knew it was all downhill from here.
The other PA arrived without a hitch, catching a ride in another outbound passenger van on a run. We were told we were to just load some large gas cylinders into the cargo van. But these were not on the dock. No, they were still where they had been during shooting. On a tiny barge out in the harbor. So a harbormaster had to take us out in a tiny boat to the tiny barge.
The fun was just beginning.
The cylinders were mounted and ratchet-strapped into deep recesses on the barge. And they were the big, 100lb ones. We wrestled these to the harbormaster's boat... and he refuses to take them. Because there are no safety caps. And that would be against regulations.
I find no fault with this. But what came next was a good hour of just sitting on the barge trying to describe these safety caps over the walkie so someone could find them and bring them to us.
Then we gave up. The only alternative was to let the gas out. About $1,000 of non-renewable helium went up in the air.
We stood there in silence surrounded by the deafening hiss of a week's worth of PA wages. The other PA, shook his head in disgust. "You know what it is? It's fucking amateur hour with these guys." These words would be echoed when I related the tale to a friend of mine (who, by the way, I had gotten hired by the production earlier that week. He left after 3 days. Couldn't take it I guess.).
The hissing finally died down, commencing a half hour of wrestling these damn things onto the boat, then onto the dock, then into the van. Only to arrive just as another PA showed up with the safety caps. Art Department had them.
I grabbed two breakfast burritos that had been set up for the morning wrap crew that had just begun to trickle in. Wolfing them down in the solitude of my car, I reflected on the day's events.
See, the initial order was not that bad; had these cylinders been already been at the dock ready to go - as it had originally been stated - loading them would have been no problem.
But to have PAs put in a potentially dangerous situation - to collect hazardous set dressings that, by the way, our professional stunt riggers had SET UP - was just uncool.
It hit me just then.
The act of making PAs do the work of higher paid professionals.
It's a practice so commonplace I didn't even think about it until just that moment.
I've come onto productions as a lowly PA only to end up gripping, slating, or driving 3-ton trucks....for PA pay.
I, for one, would not have collected the vast majority of skills and knowledge I have if it hadn't been for these exploitative jobs. Every case of "make the PA do it" surely also has opportunity written all over it? How do I express my interest to advance beyond PA work if I don't just shrug and jump in? I can't just very well say, "You know, I could hand you that C-Stand...but you'll have to pay me as a grip for the day."
So what's the line? How far do you let it go?