That's the question I'm asked every time I'm on a new set. Sometimes it's 'why would you do this to yourself?' The short answer is that I'd rather be on set than doing anything else. The longer answer is this...
PA: Production Assistant. It's your entry level crew position. The tasks for a PA range drastically, depending on the type of project you're working on, size of the crew, etc. You could be strictly a driver for a day, taking out garbage, running errands, going on coffee runs, helping with craft services. You could also be an assistant camera, grip, boom op, talent wrangler, paperwork filer. You never know what's going to happen. (And believe me, there are about 200 other options for this job that I've left off, as well).
Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE being a director and producer. Love it. But when I'm in between my own shoots and I have some free days, I'd rather fill it with a PA position if it lines up with my schedule. It's nice to not have to worry at all, and instead just roll up to a set for a day or two and just do whatever the director or producer needs me to do.
I've been very fortunate to be a PA on some really fun shoots with a great crew every time. Being that fortunate is not lost on me either. I always go into the PA days looking forward to who I'm going to meet, what stories I'll hear, what I can learn new, and what new takeaways I can get. There's always a learning opportunity in every set you're on (good or bad) and how could I pass up more learning?
As a director and producer, it's also nice to be able to experience what other crew members are doing on set. Just like I took a myriad of acting classes to understand working with actors better, I find it beneficial to also be in different crew positions to understand their job as well. This is not me saying I'm out here pretending to be a DP - Director of Photography - or a sound mixer or anything I'm really not qualified at, and thus the production would suffer because of my lack of skill. My point is that, in being a PA, I'm really getting a well rounded account of various positions within the crew.
On one shoot as a PA, I worked with the DP, essentially as a gaffer. Did I learn more about lighting those few days on set? Absolutely. (Although I'm still terrible with wrapping cables, and honestly it's been a decade of being terrible at it and I fear I'll never get better at this point and it's mildly embarrassing).
Another shoot I was an AC (assistant camera), but again asked to come to set to be a PA, but that was where they needed me for the shoot. That was a lot of fun. We had great pacing in our lens changes and I didn't even need to go to the gym that day from all the walking around all day.
And some days I'm just what you would assume a PA does: doing lunch runs, cleaning up, moving equipment. And that's fine too. Because now I have that perspective of what I've asked some of my PAs to do before.
All of this has been wonderful to experience, and I'll continue to do so. I think it's helped me become a more conscientious director and producer in the process. I always want to make sure that everyone on my set feels comfortable, supported, and appreciated. It's always a team effort, and if any part of that team isn't bringing their best because they don't feel like they can in the space given, then the whole team suffers, as does the project. And let's be honest... no one wants to be associated with a bad project.
So while I'm gearing up for a whole bunch of projects as director, if there's some time in there between, you better believe I'll be on set as a PA.