When the assistant directors of Laughing Out Loud asked their PAs to find more people to help out with the film, Ideene told them she had two friends – a guy and a girl. They said: get the girl. At the time however, only Kirk was available. I was two states and one great lake away in Wisconsin. Ideene pleaded with her superiors to give “the guy” a chance. Kirk worked unpaid for two days before they decided to put him on the books.

The ratio of men to women on set is about 100 to 1. Females have cleavage. Sorry, I mean leverage. Especially pretty ones.

A week passed after Ideene first called. I made it back to Michigan and waited more tables. I sulked, bemoaning the foul circumstances that had unfolded, leaving me yet again serving fancy pasta for crappy tips. I was happy for Kirk but envious at the same time, knowing his job would have been mine had I been in the right place at the right time.

There was a possibility that I could work a day for free to gain the experience, but Kirk was hesitant. The truth is Kirk didn’t want me to do it.  After experiencing a week on set for himself, he was worried I wouldn’t handle it well. A PA must be on his toes, quick with the punch and fast with the retort. (To be fair, I do often respond to proposed tasks with a deer-in-headlights reaction). He also told me that some of the crew were just plain callous. Stepping into their spheres of malice wouldn’t be pretty, nor would it be avoidable. He wanted to protect me from the bullshit, which is only a thing someone who loves you would care to do.

I agreed, disagreed, then balked. A day became available that I could have skipped my restaurant shift and tagged along for experience’s sake, but I let it pass. Then I swiftly kicked myself. Come on, I thought, you can’t just not try. A couple days later, once more Kirk said I could come on set if I wanted. OK, done.

It was Saturday morning at 5:20AM. Riding in the car on the way to Detroit, Kirk filled me in on the basics of being a PA. There’s a walkie-talkie language to master, an ever-at-the-ready way to act, and personal feelings to promptly throw out the window.

“Now, let’s go over the lingo again. I, Kirk, want to talk to you, Lauren, on the walkie. So I say, ‘Kirk, go for Lauren.’ And you respond…”

“Go for Lauren.”

“Right. Now, most of the stuff that we PAs talk about isn’t important enough to keep talking on channel one. By default everyone’s walkies are set to channel one, so the entire crew can hear what you say. Ninety-nine percent of the time we should switch to channel two. So I would say, ‘Lauren, switch to two.’ And you say?”

“Switching.”

“Yes, then once you are on two, you need to say, ‘On two’ or else the person who is trying to talk to you will just hang there in airspace, waiting for you when you’re already there.”

“…eh, okaay.”

“You’ll get the hang of it. And… always, always, always say ‘copy that’. Whenever you are asked to do something, you say ‘copy that’.”

“OK…I mean, copy that.

“Alright. If I wanted to say that Miley is walking from breakfast to her trailer, I would say ‘Number one is traveling from catering to basecamp.'”

“So very covert-op.”

“Exactly. If someone is arriving at a certain place, they are…”

“Landing.”

“And if someone is in the bathroom, they are?”

“10-1.”

“Good.”

“Why do we always seem to be talking about where other people are?”

“Cause they get lost.”

“What do you mean ‘they get lost’. We just lose actors?”

“All the time. They’re constantly running away to get snacks or go to the bathroom, text on their cell phones and who knows what else. It’s one big game for them.”

“Sounds stupid. They should just stay where they are.”

“They’re actors. They think they can do whatever they want.”

An hour later we arrived landed at basecamp just as the sun was coming up. A bunch of huge white trucks and trailers lined both sides of a long dusty drive. Standing at one end and looking down to the other, I felt like a modern cowgirl entering the main street of movie town, with day old call sheets tumbling past my feet. My heart rate jumped a few dozen beats per minute. This was it. After some nice-to-meet-you-probably-won’t-see-you-again introductions with the rest of the AD department, I was handed a walkie and told to get some breakfast. Alright, no big deal. I wasn’t actually that worried about impressing anyone or chasing a big break. All I wanted was to finish the day without messing anything up.

Ideene and I walked to the catering truck. Breakfast was cook-to-order. Care for a spinach egg-white omelette or perhaps a stack of golden pancakes with a side of turkey bacon? Chef Eric conjured your wish in his skillet. Most of the crew stopped by the catering truck to grab some food before the busy day began. Ideene introduced me to everyone that showed up, and she knew all their names. I met Loretta from wardrobe, Nick of locations, Zoe the producer’s assistant, Peter the still photographer, Ross the key grip, Al of the transpo team, and many more. After I had scarfed some bacon, Bruce from electric introduced himself. “And you are?” he asked. “Bacon hands,” I said, indicating my reluctance to shake on it.

“John to Lauren.” Abruptly, the meet & greet ended.

“Hey, that’s for you on the walkie,” said Ideene.

Fumbling for the talk button and three long seconds later, I managed, “Go for Lauren.

Lauren, switch to two.” I looked down at the dial, switch! OK, now, press the little button again and…

I’m on two.”

Lauren I have something for you to deliver at basecamp.”

“…uh, OK…10-4.”

Great. ’10-4′?! I’m not a Tennessee truck driver. It’s copy that. Copy that! I silently scolded myself.

At basecamp I was given my first mission:  deliver a folder of paper to the script supervisor, an individual affectionately called ‘Andy Scripty’. One of the assistant directors told me I’d find him on set.

Off with a brisk pace, I wondered how I’d find this Scripty character who I’d never met on a set that I had never been to. Think, think. I had my eyes down, hot on the trail. Suddenly, someone stopped me, mid-Scripty hunt. “Excuse me, you’re a PA, right?”

He was wearing cowboy boots, faded boot-leg jeans, and a white collared shirt with black swirly embroidery. He had a demeanor that declared something like: just because I look good, doesn’t mean I’m not a badass. This guy effused cool. “Yes, I’m a PA. Can I do something for you?”

He handed me a red binder. “Will you make sure this gets to Jim Powers?”

“Sure, absolutely.”

“Thank you.” He turned to walk away, then turned back to me. “Do you know who Jim Powers is?”

“No, but I’ll find out.”

He looked at me, smiled, then stretched out his hand. “John Corser. I’m the UPM. You are?”

“Lauren. Schroeder. New PA.” I smiled back.

The morning progressed smoothly. Shooting was taking place at Grosse Pointe High School, a campus made of red brick, neat sidewalks and trimmed landscaping. The scenes for they day included lots of student extras walking back and forth through the courtyard, simulating a high school passing period. I was fortunate enough to hang out on set, guarding a door so no one would pass through while we were rolling. I met the 1st AD, a very nice guy with salt and pepper hair and the ability to chat with the director in French, speak English to his wife on his cell phone and bark commands to the AD department in his headset – simultaneously.

Later on, I was still standing guard at my courtyard door. Jolian, the 2nd AD approached me, clipboard in hand. “Lauren, what’s your last name?”

My heart did a little summersault. “Schroeder. Why do you ask?” But I already knew. There’s only one reason why anyone on set would need to know a last name.

“Someone wants you to get paid. Congratulations.”

Score. It didn’t take rocket science to figure out who I needed to thank. Movie money is controlled by producers and doled out to the unit production managers. Who had I met? Mr. Smooth Cowboy, Unit Production Manager. The man who signs the checks. Now, whether it was my go-get-em attitude, winning smile or the fact that I was a “1” in the 100 to 1 ratio, I will never know. In any case, I was myself, and myself got me a job.