Advice for Photo Assistants: Getting in with Production Companies

- - Assistants

by Demetrius Fordham

In my first post on photo assisting, one of my biggest pieces of advice for photo assistants was to get in with production companies. And though I touched briefly on why, I got a lot of emails and comments asking for more details on how to better get on the radar of production companies, and what producers expect from photo assistants in terms of knowledge and prior experience. Being a photo assistant myself, I can only speak pretty generally to these questions, so I sat down with my longtime friend Josh Marianelli, a producer and studio director at the California-based Corey Rich Productions to get the lowdown on how to get hired at a major production company and what producers are looking for.

First things first. How can a photo assistant get on the radar of a production company, and ultimately, get hired?

Word of mouth works well – being recommended by another assistant or producer goes a long way, so try to make as many connections as you can on any job you work on. (Obviously, while also being respectful of the existing relationships on the job, and not selling yourself too hard). Use social media channels to stay connected with producers and always be ready to share your work history or up-to-date portfolio with any production company looking to hire. Getting hired is also about being the right match for the production company. For example, at Corey Rich Productions we do a ton of physically intense outdoor shoots. So, depending on the job we’re tasked to shoot, we’re looking for assistants who have the right capabilities beyond camera and lighting knowledge – assistants who can climb mountains, cross glaciers, have the strength to be on the road for multiple weeks, confidently travel through Pakistan and hike into the Karakoram. It always helps, in my experience, to have a unique skill set that might be advantageous to the types of productions you’ll be working on.

Also, once you’re hired by a production company, do your job well. We don’t turn and burn assistants – once we find a qualified assistant, someone with the right attitude, who works hard and plays hard, we’ll work with them over and over again.

What kind of general knowledge do producers expect from photo assistants, aside from equipment mastery and lighting/tech skills?

Beyond camera, lighting and tech skills, our expectations have more to do with attitude than with added knowledge. We want our assistants to be engaged, completely aware of their surroundings, and to be independent-minded and self-sustaining. This means thinking on his or her own about what needs to happen throughout the day, project and set. We also expect assistants to respect the work environment and be aware that they’re part of a bigger team that includes everyone involved within the project, at any level or any capacity. We expect them to be respectful of the client, especially if there is one on set. Leave your ego at the door, show up and be passionate about what we’re doing – and enjoy yourself while working with us!

Does a photo assistant’s professional background or experience ever factor into your decision to hire them on a job?

Most definitely. I mentioned this earlier, but most of the time we don’t just hire for photography or technical skills, we’re also looking at personal skill sets and backgrounds and unique knowledge dependent on any particular assignment, whether it’s operating certain machines and equipment, to knowing how to navigate a certain city or corner of the globe, or having certain language skills and organizational skills. We are looking for assistants who can basically add to the abilities of our team.

Anything assistants shouldn’t do when trying to get a job with a production company?

Absolutely don’t embellish or fabricate any of your abilities or experience. When it comes down to it, those capabilities you sold us on will be tested, particularly with the types of shoots we do. We expect you to confidently show up and perform at the level that you sold us on – not just when it comes to cameras or lights. For example, if you can tell us you can ski, you’d better be able to ski! No matter how large or small the task seems, we rely on our team’s ability to hold their own and contribute to the end goal of successfully and safely wrapping a production. Of course, you can never completely avoid an accident – that’s part of production – but if you approach every job with an honest assessment of your experience, you can help to eliminate costly mistakes and safely contribute to completing the job. For instance, if you’ve never worked with lighting equipment around water, and don’t know how to safely use or connect a ground-fault circuit interrupter or safely set up and secure lights of any size, don’t tell us you have – the risk is too high.

Any additional tips for photo assistants trying to get in with production companies, or just succeed at their profession in general?

The industry and environment that we work in has changed dramatically over the past decade, and we’re no longer just shooting still photos. Moving picture and audio work make up at least 50% of the jobs we do today. Increased knowledge, specifically related to operating and working with video and audio equipment, technology and software, will increase an assistants’ chances of securing more jobs. Whether it’s in a corporate office environment or a far-off remote location, an assistant who can confidently handle and operate all the gear associated with still and video productions, including audio, will be able to sell themselves to a larger number projects. Having an assistant who can smoothly transition from still to video to audio and switch back and forth between all equipment on any set, is a huge asset to any size production but particularly small crews that share multiple responsibilities and wear many hats. When it all comes down to it though, make sure you enjoy what you do! At Corey Rich Productions, we want our crew to have fun and not take themselves too seriously – and hope anyone we work with can do the same.

If you have any more tips or questions on getting hired or working with production companies (or getting hired as a photo assistant in general) feel free to comment below or get discussion flowing on the Photo Assistants’ Association Facebook page.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

    • And I thought everyone was ditching their huge DSLRs for MFT and other mirrorless. All the viral marketing says they’re as good or better, at a fraction of the weight.

  1. Jake Hawkes

    Were you able to see anything on the monitor at the end of the jib?
    Nice article!

  2. Knowing audio is very good advice. It’s so different from image capture, but just as important (if you’re going with sound anyway). You need strong shoulders to hold a boom pole all day, but even if you know just a little about professional sound, you’re skills won’t go unused or unnoticed, even if it’s not in the spotlight like the image part of the production is.

  3. For those of us who are less enlightened, other than a label of perception, what’s the difference betwen a production company and a busy shooter with a lot of support staff?

  4. Only six comments?! What?! I think I read that article twice over just to soak all that information in. It’s gold! Thanks for taking the time to educate us and keep us eager for more. I’ll be sending a resume in soon!