Confessions Of A (Former) Hollywood Assistant
I spent the last five years working as a Hollywood assistant. When I meet people outside the film industry and tell them that, they almost always say, "Oh, like in Devil Wears Prada?" and I say, "Just like that, but without any of the free designer clothes." And my hair is way less shiny than Anne Hathaway's, but I don't have to say that out loud. They can already tell.
I'm no longer a Hollywood assistant, but I'm still working within the film industry, so I'm not going to name any names. But I will tell you about some of the strange, stressful, and ridiculous things that come with the job.
How/Why I Got the JobI moved to Los Angeles right after college, knowing I wanted to work in film but unsure of what exactly I wanted to do. I applied for a number of entry-level assistant positions, but it turned out that those positions were actually reserved for people with connections or job experience. So I got an unpaid internship and spent three months making runs to Whole Foods to pick up outrageously expensive ice cream for a writer/director, before finally getting a paying gig in the mail room of a talent management company. There I sorted mail, delivered packages, covered for assistants when they were on vacation or out sick, and was finally promoted to be an assistant myself.
What Hollywood Assistants DoThe basics are phones, scheduling, general administrative work and rolling calls, which is when you call a series of people for your boss until you reach someone he or she wants to speak to. You also lie pretty much constantly on the behalf of your boss, getting them out of meetings, dodging calls and -- for expense reports -- picking random names out of the address book to assign to "business" meals that your boss ate by himself in the office.
Except for the lying, most of these skills become useless once you're no longer an assistant, and some bosses go out of their way to never use them again. I once asked my boss for advice on scheduling a big meeting. "I don't know," she said, "I don't schedule anymore," and walked away.
The Personal StuffThough the administrative work could be tedious and stressful, it was the personal stuff that really got to me. One week, I spent hours searching for the perfect shade of periwinkle napkins for a baby shower, and then on Sunday picked up and delivered a massive cake emblazoned with pictures of the expectant couple, which I found quite creepy. I once had to go over to one of my boss's condos at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to wait for the cable guy, because she didn't want to stay inside her own home for four hours. I've picked up sensitive prescriptions, heard way too much about toddler potty-training and problems with spouses, and sourced expensive cologne from Asia.
But really, I didn't even have it that bad. One of my assistant friends once had to pick up a stool sample from her boss's dog and deliver it to the vet.
The Importance of FoodSometimes I was responsible for all three meals of the day for my bosses, either ordering them from restaurants, or sometimes actually making them from scratch in office kitchens. It was easy when my bosses knew exactly what they wanted to eat, but that was a rare occasion. In the 90 minutes before lunchtime, I would turn into a talking menu book, listing names of different restaurants and various dishes that my bosses liked until they finally made a decision.
And even when my bosses knew exactly what they wanted to eat, the situation remained tricky. I was once screamed at by my boss because the butter that arrived with his side of bread was too melted. "You need to check this before you give it to me!" he yelled, which is how I found myself gingerly squeezing individually-wrapped tablespoons of butter on a near-daily basis to make sure they were the correct temperature.
The BlogIn the end, if you want to learn about the film industry and figure out which part of the business you want to work in, if any, being an assistant is not a bad way to start.
But I wouldn't really recommend starting an anonymous blog about your bosses as any kind of a career strategy. You can just read mine instead.
Lydia Whitlock graduated from Yale in 2008 with a degree in Film Studies and moved to L.A. with the hopes of making it big in show biz. Instead, she found herself a Hollywood assistant, where her experiences inspired her to create the popular blog To My Assistant, and then turn it into a book. She can be found on Twitter and Facebook as well.
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