Why I Made a Web Series about Women Working Behind the Scenes

By Jaime Ryan

Thank you to the summer of 2017 for making me fall in love with movie magic, and for inspiring the best project of my career thus far.

I was just about to graduate high school, scrambling for a job, when an opportunity came swooping in. The man who became my first director reached out to me: “I’ve heard great things about you as the stage manager and president of the drama club. Come be my assistant director.” I gladly accepted and, when his producer and director of photography heard that I had never been on a film set before, was promptly demoted to Production Assistant. A big dive from assisting the director to making lunch runs, but I loved every second of it nonetheless. Working with artists and storytellers, being a part of the creative community, was a blessing enough for me.

After watching closely, asking questions, and making myself useful in any way I could, the producer and director of photography invited me on another short film they were making. This led me to work on four more films as a PA that summer, all with the same producer and director of photography. One film, Reconcile, was submitted to the I Heart New York film festival. Because of this project, I had an IMDb page before I started college. I am so grateful to all the filmmakers who let me tag along and get my hands on real productions. These artists gave me so many opportunities, and I learned so much about set culture and etiquette all summer long. However, I also learned about life as a PA, which was often a tough lesson.

Some of the tasks either I or a fellow PA performed on set were feeding parking meters for multiple vehicles every two hours on a twelve-hour shoot day; fire-watching equipment that is in a locked car alone, outside, and at night while the rest of the crew shot an indoor scene for three hours; and sleeping in a car because not enough motel rooms were booked for the crew. I could go on. These bottom-of-the-ladder experiences have been great stories to tell, and I figured I could tell them with the art form I love. These stories became my web series, ON SET.

Another motivation for me to tell these stories: the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. I started creating ON SET in March of 2018, only a couple weeks after the Oscars. I remember watching the red carpet, seeing interviews with Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, all the Time’s Up pins on the lapels of stars, and I was so proud. The worst of Hollywood is being snuffed, and I felt compelled to contribute work to the cause by creating a show starring women working hard and getting nothing for it. This revolution has taught me that the way to change the status quo is to get up and make a change, so I took a look at my film experiences and showed them to the world, saying ‘this is what I want to change.’

Directing ON SET also gave me the opportunity to put that change into practice. The entertainment industry has set a precedent of cyclical mistreatment: “I had to do this when I started out, so the new guys should do it too.” Instead of treating the next generation as industry leaders wish they were treated when they started out, executives and other authority figures perpetuate the worst things about their experiences. As director of ON SET, I looked at my PA experiences as a jumping off point for improving the set culture for my crew. I treated my PAs how I wish I was treated: with encouragement, enthusiasm, and the opportunity to learn about all the different facets of a shoot from load-in to strike.

I hope that ON SET can make people smile, shine a light on the hardworking PAs out there in the world, and inspire fellow creators to improve set culture for every artist. The film world is changing for the better, and I’m excited to keep up the momentum.

ON SET is available here on Vimeo.

Writer, Director, and Producer Jaime Ryan began her career in 2017 in the NYC short film scene. She relocated to Boston to study Media and Screen Studies at Northeastern University. Jaime filmed ON SET on Northeastern’s campus and around the greater Boston area. She has returned to NYC to work in digital media content creation at Red Summit Productions.