Personal Assistant

A FOCAL special offer to encourage young Swiss fiction film directors to seek training with foreign filmmakers.

After completing their first major short film, young filmmakers tend to look for traineeships in the making of feature films, hoping to glean concrete experience in the realm of professional fiction film production. Upon contacting different productions and film directors, they usually meet with proposals for internships in film directing or the position of 3rd assistant director.

It is this very sort of position that promises to deprive them of a chance to fulfil their ambitions — positions that render them dependent on the 1st or 2nd assistant film director rather than the film director him- or herself. As such, they will be more involved with the film extras than with the actual work of a film director.

The experience will no doubt stand them in good stead, and even invite their enthusiasm, but there is little chance of its contributing to their actual understanding of the nitty gritty of their job goal, namely that of directing feature films.

On the other hand, a position does exist that offers emerging filmmakers a grasp of the profession's full artistic span, a chance to understand the stakes and to participate actively in the process — namely, that of a personal assistant.

Non-existent on the Swiss film production scene, the job of personal assistant only comes into question for film projects with large enough budgets (in the 3 mio Euros or more range).

As the job title itself makes clear, a personal assistant depends directly on the filmmaker. According to the latter and to the film project itself, his or her duties can vary enormously. These can include:

  • accompanying the film director all through the preparatory stage, the shooting and sometimes the post-production stage — thus obtaining an overview of the project,
  • acting as secretary to the film director, handling his or her correspondence and schedule, and at times acting as chauffeur — thus gaining knowledge of all the details,
  • joining in on all the preparatory meetings with the other department heads, where most of the artistic choices are debated — thus learning how a particular vision is developed by group debate,
  • being present at the casting, the search for locations and the technical testing — thus seeing the film take shape under his or her very eyes,
  • keeping in close touch with the 1st assistant director and the production crew, or sometimes even with the film producer — thus getting the inside story on the constraints the process imposes.

Although the above description of what may be expected of personal assistants on larger-budget films is non-exhaustive, it does convey the extent to which such a position can afford young film directors a full picture of what film directing entails. It is in fact the only position that brings the prospective film director right to the heart of the matter, providing invaluable insight into the career of his or her choice.

It is FOCAL's intention to help young Swiss feature film directors obtain a position as personal assistant with a foreign filmmaker by providing a grant of 8,000 Euro.

The grants are to be paid in two installments: 80% at the start of the film project, and 20% upon receipt of the candidate's activity report.

So far, the Personal Assistant grants were assigned to:

In 2010: to Gilles Monnat, graduated from ECAL (Ecole Cantonale d'Art de Lausanne), for his work on Delphine Gleize's film La permission de minuit, with Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos. Read his report (PDF, French) written like a screenplay.

In 2011: to Ivana Lalovic, graduated from ZHdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste), for her work on the Swedish film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence by Roy Andersson. Read her report (PDF).

In 2012: to Anouk Dominguez Degen, gratuated from HEAD (Haute Ecole d'Art et de Design), for her work on the Brazilian film depois de chuva by Claudio Marques & Marilia Hughes. Read her report (PDF, French).

In 2013: to Boris Kish for his work on the pre-production of the Belgian film Through love through love by Harry Cleven. The project has been dropped before shooting. Read his report (PDF).

In 2014: to Camille Morend for her work on the Chilian film una mujer fantastica by Sébastiàn Lelio. Read her report (PDF, French).

In 2015: to Adrien Kuenzy for his work on the French film madame hyde by Serge Bozon, with Isabelle Huppert, Romain Duris and José Garcia. Read his report (PDF).

In 2016: to Mauro Mueller for his work on the American film Kodachrome by Mark Raso, with Ed Harris. Read his report (PDF) on the shooting in Toronto.


Application Requirements for FOCAL Personal Assistant Grants

  1. The candidate should be a Swiss citizen or a resident of Switzerland.
  2. He/she is to have directed a fiction short film on professional terms, produced independently or in a film school (enclose a DVD).
  3. He/she is expected to contact a director or producer on his/her own, to apply for the position of personal assistant for a minimum period of 4 months.
  4. Generally speaking, both director and producer should be foreign. Co-productions where Swiss nationals are in the minority and the director is of a foreign nationality are also acceptable.
  5. The director for whom the candidate is to work must have directed at least one fiction film.
  6. The film on which he/she will be working must be intended for movie house distribution.
  7. The candidate him/herself is to submit the application form.
  8. The application form must include:
    • a synopsis of the film,
    • the dates and production stages that the candidate will be following as a personal assistant (minimum 4 months),
    • a personal assistant job description,
    • the candidate's cover letter,
    • the candidate's CV,
    • a written letter by the director validating the personal assistant position,
    • the director's filmography or CV,
    • a written declaration by the producer promising to integrate the candidate into the film team with the status of a personal assistant to the director if he/she obtains a FOCAL grant. This declaration should stipulate how the candidate and the production intend to use the sum of money provided by the grant (salary and expenses) and whether the production will be adding a contribution of its own. It is also incumbent on the producer to cover the candidate's civil liability insurance in connection with said candidate's activity on the film project.
    • a filmography of the production,
    • the film or films by the candidate on DVD.
  9. FOCAL reserves the right to enquire with the producer to find out whether the work experience of the recipient of the grant runs according to the agreements and the application dossier.
  10. At the end of his/her employment, the winner of the grant is expected to provide a full report on his/her activity as a personal assistant.

The deadline for all applications is 1st December 2017 (date of receipt).

Please send your application (in triplicate) to FOCAL, Av. de la Rasude 2,
CH-1006 Lausanne

Kindly address any questions about this grant to info@focal.ch.