Ode to the Gopher

The building my office is in also houses the state’s film bureau, an office set up by state government to promote making films in Connecticut, and draw some of that tax revenue (and job base) out of New York. It seems to work pretty well, judging by the noisy and ubiquitous film crews always present in the building. Because of it, there is a caterer located downstairs with a nice lunch menu where most of their crews – and mine – get lunch each day, which gives us a chance to talk to each other.

One afternoon recently, I was talking to a harried-looking young man whose tag read “Production Assistant”. I was reminiscing to a time when the cost of labor allowed us in the staging industry to employ more of them on commercial shows – only we called the role “Gopher”.

But, for us (and for the film industry) the term was not a pejorative one. A good Gopher was often the most resourceful person on the team, somebody who was capable of seeing a situation developing that might hold up the show and taking the initiative to resolve it quickly. A PA was somebody to whom you could shout “I need a Segway and a trampoline right away” and know that they would, without further prompting, figure out how to get them for you. Somebody who made sure we had access to buildings, the phone number of the house electrician, and transportation to and from the hotel. And somebody who was capable of “holding the client’s hand” to allow the crew to accomplish work or solve technical problems.

Unfortunately, budgets in the staging industry seem to have eliminated the job from most shows – and it’s a shame. Because we have lost our appreciation for a lost art form, and a position held by people whose chief skill was the ability to think on their feet. And who could teach the rest of the crew (when we were watching) how to get things done.

I may just form a “Save the Gopher” society….