Behind the Scenes: The Life of an MTV VMAs PA
Sweaty and my heart racing, I ran up the third flight of stairs to hand deliver a thirteen-cup Starbucks order to my coworkers— the executive producers of MTV and Miley Cyrus. That was just a regular day at my summer job— a job that I never even dared to dream of. But, lo and behold, I found myself working on the set of MTV’s 2019 Video Music Awards. I can easily say it’s been my favorite summer job; and I’ll explain why.
As soon as I walked through the door of the loading dock, I became a moving part in the VMA machine. People were bustling around, pushing boxes, moving props, setting up offices; it was pure organized chaos. Even though I did not meet anyone yet or had the chance to put down my backpack, I already felt like I was meant to be there. Everyone had a purpose and everyone was important in their own way.
As a production assistant (PA), it was our job to be the glue that holds the production together, mainly in the little, but important ways. We made sure food and drinks were available; we kept the office organized; we made countless runs to stores to keep the production well stocked. Essentially, we had to make sure that everyone at this production had what they needed to get the show up and running.
One of the scariest, yet humbling memories as PA was when I was reassigned. My first reaction was to panic because I thought I was doing something wrong, but I was way off. My reassignment was to PA for the executives of the production— which basically meant I was getting moved up.
On my first day, I tread up to their station right next to the main stage with my legs shaking, palms sweating, and stuttering through my introduction. My nerves were very obvious, but the table of intimidating executives simply smiled and said “get busy waiting.” My tasks for the executives changed from day to day. Some days I was running to and from Starbucks for hours or hunting down lunch orders. Other days, I would get to watch rehearsals of Missy Elliot and Lizzo or sit in on their meetings with Miley Cyrus or Lil Nas X. Every day was a surprise.
Even though all my experiences on set were memorable,, show day at the VMAs was a day I will never forget. On the morning of, set felt like the calm before the storm; the lights were dark, the cameras were asleep, a few stage hands were drinking coffee by the props area. But, in the blink of an eye, people were running to and fro, speakers were blaring, lights were flashing— we were ready to start our long day.
I was all over the place that afternoon; one minute I was getting coffee for twenty executives, the next minute I was hand delivering tickets to the head of YouTube’s music department, and a moment later I was helping Lil Nas X find his way backstage. Finally, I heard on the hundreds of speakers throughout the venue, “3, 2, 1, and we’re live!” It was showtime! I was lucky enough to be stationed on the floor in front of the stage and just take a step back to watch our work well done. It was breathtaking to hear the cheers and the live music, but, ironically, it was even better when the show wrapped.
The stage was hazy, the audience was exiting the building, crew was already packing up, but the production team was ready to begin wrap celebrations. Wrapping was my favorite part about showday. Of course meeting celebrities and working with “important” people had me awestruck but, the feeling of comradery and accomplishment was better. Honestly, I was more awestruck when everyone— no matter their title or position in the production— congratulated each other. Finally, the show day ended with a bittersweet celebration and one thought running through my head: how will my next summer job beat this one?