In just the two years since she graduated from the University, Julie Fassnacht, ’16, has worked in four kinds of production assistant roles in Los Angeles, where her responsibilities have ranged from organizing costumes to making sure the set runs smoothly. In a phone interview, she spoke with The Daily about her experience at the University, taking advantage of the alumni network, the challenges of being a PA and her involvement with “On My Block,” the new Netflix comedy from “Awkward” creator Lauren Iungerich being praised for its breakout cast and refreshing portrayal of inner-city life.
The Michigan Daily: How did you spend your time at the University? Was college when you first became interested in working in TV and film?
Julie Fassnacht: My first two years there, I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I started taking a film class the second semester of my sophomore year and ended up majoring in Screen Arts and Cultures (SAC). I took as many production classes as I could, and was involved with WOLV-TV, where I was on the board my senior year. I was originally involved with theater and thought maybe I wanted to do acting, and at first, I was pretty against going “behind the scenes.” But after my first year at Michigan, I didn’t feel like the things I originally wanted to do were working out, so I decided to give it a chance and loved it.
TMD: After graduation, what made you decide to move out to Los Angeles?
JF: I wanted to go to New York, but thought there would be more opportunities in Los Angeles, so I decided to move out to Los Angeles in Sept. of 2016. I moved out with another UM SAC alum — we still live together — and basically got work through meeting with alumni and other people. There was a SAC alum who had graduated the year ahead of me who got me my first production assistant gig, and another girl I knew through WOLV-TV actually got me my first real job, and from there, I kept networking to keep getting jobs. I really used that Michigan connection to get where I am; I really owe the UM community.
TMD: What’s it like being a Midwesterner in L.A.? Is there anything you miss about being at Michigan?
JF: I am not used to the heat at all. Everybody brags about L.A. weather, but I find it super boring. It’s always sunny! I’m used to some weird storm all of the time, and we never get any excitement here. Mich. weather always kept me on my toes. It’s amazing what an awesome community there is at Michigan, and you can have all of that within a square mile. But when you go to L.A., you kind of miss being able to walk over to a friend’s house. The traffic is really as bad as everyone says.
TMD: You’ve worked as a production assistant in several different capacities for various departments. What sorts of responsibilities do PAs have?
JF: It varies a little bit, but it almost always involves getting lunch and restocking the La Croix! Most of the time, you’re just on hand to help with whatever needs to be done; if a producer needs something, you’re there, ready to go or handle whatever comes up. It can be emotionally wearing because you can have long days where you’re always going. And the hours are really long. Sometimes I’d work a 14-hour day, but almost every day is at least 12 hours. Getting sleep is a hard thing to do.
TMD: How did you end up being an office production assistant for on “On My Block”?
JF: One of my friends from Michigan got me a job on “Lopez,” a scripted comedy. I was a post-production assistant on that, and at the end of that show, I was running some paperwork to a producer’s house to get him to sign it. I learned he was moving to a Netflix comedy show, and I really loved comedy, so I sent him an email, wildly hoping he would look at it, and asked if he needed production assistants on that show. He said, “Oh, you’re a little late. But I’ll send it around.” And I was hired as an office production assistant for what is now “On My Block.” It was a really small show, so I got to take on more responsibility in the office, and I got to learn a lot about what it takes to financially make a show and deal with a bunch of moving parts. Our office was located where the sets were, so I also got to know a lot of people on set, and it was a great learning experience.
TMD: Have you been surprised by the reaction the show has gotten?
JF: I was scared that it wouldn’t get the love that it deserved, so I’m really excited by how people are responding to it. I think it still has a long way to go, and a lot of people don’t know about it, but if they do, they love it.
TMD: So many fans have fallen in love with “On My Block” because of how fun, young and diverse the story and characters are. Was the show the same way behind the scenes?
JF: Sets are usually fast-paced, but on this one there was a lot of joking, there were a lot of smiles and it was a pretty fun and youthful environment. The showrunner and creator really tried to make a diverse writers room so the story was honest to real stories and experiences of different races and genders. I think that’s pretty rare right now, even though it shouldn’t be. So I was very proud to work with people who saw the importance of that. I’m friends with one of the story people, and she was telling me about the different stories from her life that were made into characters and scenes in the show — I thought that was awesome.
TMD: Everyone’s dying to know — is there going to be a season 2?
JF: I don’t know yet! I’ve been bugging everybody I know to see if Netflix has told anyone, but I encourage everyone to tell Netflix that they want a season 2 because that always helps.