A TV or Film runner (also commonly referred to as production runner or production assistant) is basically the production’s overall handyman. And I’ll tell you this right away: it is not a position suited for prideful and/or lazy people.
That’s because, as a film runner, you receive many orders - that can be quite extravagant in some cases - from many people that have little to no patience in getting results. In a way, you can be that one person responsible for the whole production not falling apart every single day… And still, many people on the set wouldn’t even know your name.
But hey, that’s the magic of cinema.
All joking aside, the PA (or simply runner) is an entry-level position that still manages to hold a big level of responsibility. You’ll certainly be looking at long work hours, and going through holidays and weekends trying to solve whatever it is that needs solving for the production to run smoothly.
We’ll get into more detail in a bit, but… You’d basically be Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. Except that Meryl Streep’s character is actually Martin Scorsese in a movie set. That should get you an idea.
These guys (and gals) can be responsible for the non-collapse of many key sectors of a film or TV production. Most commonly, the tasks that runners have to accomplish during their work hours are:
● Deliver important messages between crew members. Communication is key to make sure everybody’s on the same page regarding the scenes that must be filmed each day. However, a movie set can be quite big, and important people of the crew don’t have the time to run through it to deliver messages to other important people. That’s the job of the runner.
● Drive cast and crew members from one location to the other. When I say this position requires a broadly skilled person, I mean it. And calming some actors’ nerves in this driving around process can also be a required task. People can get
stressed out way too easily during production, especially during long shoots.
● Take lunch, breakfast and coffee orders from the crew. You’ve probably seen this scene by now. While watching some movie that depicted a film set, the director shouted for coffee and a bagel to some guy or girl using headphones and a clipboard. That, without a shadow of a doubt, was the production runner he yelled at.
● Answering important calls. Many times on behalf of other people, runners have to answer phone calls in which the production’s progress depends on.
● Copy paperwork and distribute it to the crew. This paperwork can include copies of the film’s script, call sheets, safety notices, etc.
● Moving filming equipment and preparing the set. Film runners can often find themselves moving (by hand or with a car) shooting equipment from one location to the other. Positioning minor things on a set, as well as making sure it’s properly cleaned, can also be a responsibility.
Well, technically, they don’t need any. Of course, a film or art-related degree or specialized course would help build up your image, but what people really want when they’re looking for a production runner is simply a hard working person.
This position is often searched for by people with little to no experience in the industry, that don’t mind putting in quite a great effort on an entry-level job. But, of course, they all expect something in return for their hard work.
In a position like this, you could be low on the hierarchy on a superficial level, but you’d be constantly in touch with influential figures of the business, whose acquaintance could benefit you in awesome ways in the future. If you manage to get on friendly terms with consolidated actors, directors or producers, this would help you immensely on your way up the industry ladder.
Of course, being able to cultivate such relations is not easy and will require a lot of hard work and charm from your end. However, just by working in such a position, the tools are definitely at your disposal.
There are many Hollywood A-list directors, producers, and even actors out there that started out as PAs in the film industry. We can mention people like Paul Thomas Anderson, Bill Hader and Kathleen Kennedy (producer responsible for films like E.T. and Gremlins) as some examples.
● Ability to work well under pressure. There’s basically no such thing as fair deadlines or not-rushed assignments given to runners. They simply MUST be people that have no trouble in receiving orders from often not-so-patient people that need things done, and done quickly.
● Being great at multitasking. Tasks can often be given at the same time or one right after the other. Being able to administer several activities at the same time, while still obtaining positive results in each one of them is also essential.
● Having basic knowledge of cinema and being passionate about it. As we’ve said before, no qualifications are necessary for being a PA. However, it’s preferable that you have basic knowledge about the filmmaking process and key crew members’ responsibilities, as well as being passionate about the area itself.
● Being an excellent communicator and listener. Orders can be given in a rushed and not-so-polished manner on many occasions, so a sharp ear is needed. Great communication skills are also key, helping you to manage expectations (and egos), getting the harder stuff done, and maybe extending a deadline of two.
Microsoft Office domain. Specifically Microsoft Word and Excel. They tend to help a lot when it comes to writing reports, spreadsheets, letters, etc.
It’s best to make sure you have a couple of things at your disposal once you get on a set to work as a runner and have no intention to be any more miserable or stressed out than you actually have to be.
● Comfortable clothing and shoes. The position’s title is not merely illustrative. You’ll probably do a lot of running around. So make sure you're comfortable to do so. Also, just try to dress nicely, too. You’re in a film set after all.
● Notepad and pen. You’ll have to make tons of notes. It’s always good to keep a record of people’s instructions, tips, and also crew members’ names and respective responsibilities. Obviously, you can trade the pad and pen for a phone if you feel comfortable in doing so.
● Earpiece for your walkie. Walkies are usually always provided on movie sets to facilitate communication between specific crew members, but the earpieces for them often aren’t. But the thing is: no one likes a loud walkie on set. It’s distracting and people can get ticked off. So make sure you have your earpiece ready once you get to the set.
● Phone charger. A phone with no battery while working as a PA shouldn’t even cross your mind, my friend. Make sure that thing is always on, and when it’s charging, be close to it, just in case.
Runners are essentially freelancers. Salary numbers directly depend on the amount of work they can get done within a year’s time, as well as years of experience in the industry, and overall size of the productions they’ve managed to work on.
As of 2022, the average per year salary of a production runner is of U$38,480 (in the U.S.) and £20,457 (in the U.K.).
Numbers can vary with beginner PAs managing to obtain about U$20,000-U$25,000 per year, and highly experienced runners getting up to U$42,000-U$47,000 per year.
Well, the post production runners are exactly what the name suggests they are. Runners, but for the post production demands. They tend to work real close to the editing team; that is the film editors, sound editors and mixers and sometimes, ADR team.
They usually have more technical skills as well. Most post runners are acquainted with one or more film editing softwares. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you what they need these skills for.
When it comes to skills required, what will be asked from the post runners is essentially what’s asked from the usual runners. Just trade the Microsoft Office domain for film editing software domain and you’re good to go.
And regarding the tasks solicited to this particular position, the main ones include:
● Arrange tea, coffee and meals for crew members. May you be the usual runner or a post runner, you’ll probably still be doing that.
● Label video and sound files, as well as continuity notes. The need for the post runner also being an entry-level editor starts here. They must be familiar with the cinematic editing language in order to identify things such as continuity errors and properly label sound and video files.
● Transferring footage between HDs.
● Make small editing adjustments. Other than identifying errors that can go unnoticed by the editors, post runners can also help to fix them. Editors can pass along instructions for (usually simple) things that should be changed in the material for the runners to execute.
The production runner position is often looked at as an efficient start in working your way up the industry. Is not the position with the highest pay rates or even the fairest working hours, but is certainly a job where you get to learn in the most practical ways about filmmaking.
Most people that start as runners, certainly don’t end their careers as runners. Many go on and use this obtained knowledge to build important relations and work on ideas that can eventually become big projects. Other options include using the money they got working as PAs to invest in specialization courses or degrees in the filmmaking or business areas.