Judith Jones describes her training to be a Production Assistant

So the role as a production assistant, it’s always a problem because it gets shortened to PA, and people always think of it as secretarial. It’s basically the organiser of the programme, and one of the good things about being a production assistant is that you are involved in the programme from the pre-production and the organisation of it, right to the programme itself and then to post-production. So clearing, making sure that everybody is paid after the programme. Obviously, it differs depending on the type of the programme, whether it’s drama, documentary, live programmes, etc. but when you started training, and essentially what I was going to be doing in Liverpool was studio programmes, you start on something called ‘promotions’, and they were 30-second promotion videos that they used to put in between programmes. So it was, “Later tonight, you can see Coronation Street followed by whatever.” So, it was a 30-second script with some short VT (videotape) inserts into it. So, it was very straightforward, but it taught you as a PA about how to count through that 30 seconds and count the presenter into their words and then out, and then count through the VT. So basically taught you how to use your stopwatch, and how to count, and how to communicate with everybody else in the studio. And to know when to talk and when to not talk, and to get to know what the responsibilities of sound racks, director etc., vision mixer.

So, from promos, you’d move on to very simple programmes, and you always had a mentor or somebody who trained you. So I had people like Ursula Coburn, or Sue Wild, a more senior PA. So then you would work on something simple like This is Your Right, which was a short consumer affairs programme. Fairly straightforward, pre-recorded, a mixture of presenters talking to camera, video or film inserts, and interviews. So it was fairly straightforward. It was kind of like a mini-Granada Reports although it wasn’t live. Another programme that you do would be What the Papers Say. Again, because that was a studio programme, if there were any problems or issues you could stop and start again. And because for both This is Your Right and What the Papers Say, in addition to working in studio, you would also be typing up and preparing the running order and the script, and then you’d be responsible for making sure if you’d used any film that wasn’t Granada, or any photos or any presenters that needed paying, that was the PA’s responsibility. And it was also the PA’s responsibility to make sure that all the exact details of the programme were typed upon to the VT sheet, so that when it was transmitted they knew exactly how long it ran. It had to be precise to the second, because of the schedules and the fact that they sold advertising space. And you also have to make a note, if there was anything that was going to… either if you used somebody who might be in an advert, or if you had something in your programme about, I don’t know, mis-selling pensions and then there was going to be an advert coming up about pensions, it was important that transmission control knew about that. And then the final bit of training for me at that stage was to do Granada Reports. 

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