Recap: Location & Set PA Fundamentals with DGC Ontario

The Ottawa Film Office was pleased to support a full day of training presented by the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) Ontario on November 26. Held at Algonquin College, the Guild offered condensed versions of two of its courses – Location Fundamentals and Set PA Fundamentals.

Amber Munro (left) and Michelle Michals from DGC Ontario

Michelle Michals, DGC Ontario’s Director of Member Services, kicked off the morning with welcoming remarks and introduced Amber Munro, Apprenticeship, Outreach, and Equity Manager. Amber provided an overview of the Guild, the departments it represents, the benefits of joining, and some of the tools it offers current and future members. Both Amber and Michelle encouraged participants to email the DGC if they have any questions or to schedule a one-on-one session with a DGC representative.

Location Fundamentals course instructors Coralie Nott (left) and Kelsey Dawe

Assistant Location Managers Coralie Nott and Kelsey Dawe then presented the Location Fundamentals course. The instructors reviewed the positions found in the Locations department and each of their responsibilities: Location Manager (LM), Assistant Location Manager (ALM) / Scout, Location Production Assistant (PA), and Location Support Personnel (LSP). Stressing the realities of working in locations, they touched on the long hours and non-glamourous nature of their work. As they’re part of the pre-call, locations personnel are usually the first people to arrive on set and the last ones to leave; this means you can often expect a 14-16-hour day. The instructors also went through a typical day in their department, film lingo, and the different types of paperwork they work with.

Local Location Manager Matt Cassidy joined via Zoom for the panel discussion

Following the course, Michelle moderated a panel discussion with Coralie, Kelsey, and Ottawa-based Location Manager Matt Cassidy who joined via Zoom. The panelists shared how they started in the industry, what aspect of their job they enjoy the most, the best career advice they’ve received, and advice for those wanting to join the Location department. They all suggested that aspiring and current locations personnel should reach out directly to LMs and ALMs to inquire about work opportunities, but to not get discouraged if they don’t hear back right away since the person they contacted could be busy working on a show or may not need a PA at that time. As they’re likely to refer to the last emails they received when they are hiring, emailing them every 4-6 weeks to provide a brief update on your availability and continued interest is encouraged; if they’re not hiring, they may also share your email and contact info with another Location Manager.

The panelists agreed that there are several skills that are transferable to their department, such as customer service experience that’s often acquired in retail and restaurants. As Location Managers are the liaisons between production and the “real-world” (business owners, residents, and government officials), excellent interpersonal skills are also essential. When applying for a position, keep your email brief and if sending a resume, make sure it’s under two pages and only includes relevant information, including any transferable skills you possess. Matt encouraged aspiring Locations personnel to email him directly at [email protected] to inquire about positions.

The instructors from both courses mentioned the DGC’s hotlist as an excellent tool to see what’s filming in Ontario and contact details for productions; the DGC website also lists daily and weekly job postings as well as contact information for its members.

Set PA Fundamentals instructors Lize van der Bijl (left) and Dani Gadishaw

After a break for lunch, 1st Assistant Director Lize van der Bijl and 3rd Assistant Director Dani Gadishaw took the floor to teach the Set PA Fundamentals course. They went through the roles of the 1st AD, 2nd AD, 3rd AD, 4th AD (sometimes referred to as Trailer Assistant Director or TAD), and Set PA. They explained that an AD is the producer’s on-set representative, which means they have a lot of responsibilities and pressure; finding ways to deal with the stress, such as breathing techniques or counting to ten before reacting, is helpful. The AD department is also the conduit through which vital information is shared with the rest of the crew. Lize and Dani went through some of the paperwork their department is responsible for, such as the shooting schedules, one-liners, and call sheets.  

As for the characteristics that make for a good AD and Set PA, the ability to solve challenges quickly and efficiently is a must; Assistant Directors must often make last-minute decisions to ensure that productions run smoothly. The instructors also mentioned that it’s okay to make mistakes, especially when you’re new, but you must be able to own up to them and learn from the experience. You also shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, just don’t ask the exact same question every week, and make sure to check the call sheet first as the answer is often there. Good observational skills are also necessary in order to keep track of where cast members are and to know what equipment is lying around that could pose a safety hazard. As the producer’s representative, the 1st AD is responsible for ensuring a safe set, which includes conducting on-set safety meetings with the crew.  

Instructors from both courses highlighted the importance of having a thick skin to succeed in the industry, as well as resourcefulness and being a self-starter.

DGC Ontario’s Michelle Michals moderated a panel discussion with local 1st AD Shawna Steele, Dani, local 1st AD and Algonquin College instructor Joseph Gillanders, and Lize

Once the course was over, Michelle moderated a panel discussion with the instructors and local 1st ADs Shawna Steele and Joseph Gillanders, the latter also being an instructor in Algonquin College’s film program. Given the high-stress nature of the AD department, the panelists spent some time discussing the importance of self-care in maintaining good mental health and shared some of their techniques; these ranged from meditation and playing video games, to taking much needed time off to travel and unplug. In addition to consulting the hotlist to see what’s filming and production contact information, Joseph suggested that those wanting to work in the industry sign up as a background actor, such as with Smyth Casting, as that’s a good way to meet ADs and see first-hand how a set works.

Despite the long day, several attendees stuck around once the panel wrapped to speak with the instructors and panelists. We’re so thankful to DGC Ontario and its members who shared their experiences, entertaining anecdotes, and valuable advice for those looking to work in the film industry. We’re also grateful to Algonquin College for providing the space, and to the attendees who chose to spend their Saturday learning about the Location and AD departments. The Ottawa Film Office will be working with DGC Ontario and other partners throughout 2023 to continue delivering training and professional development opportunities. Be sure to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up-to-date.