Before I moved to LA I crazily searched the internet for blogs about Hollywood assistants. It was such an unknown world, but one that had quite the reputation. Everything I read said it would be hard, demeaning, demanding, and that the pay would be terrible. I was told to expect to be screamed at, to be ready to dodge office supplies that may be thrown in my direction, and be prepared to sort M&Ms so only the “right” colors were left in the bowl.
My experience? Pretty different from that, though I can see how those stories got started. Also I do know people personally who have had all of those things happen. It’s allowed, you can put up with it or find a new job, but I definitely would not say it’s the norm.
I moved to LA during my last semester of college, because my school had a satellite program out here. I got two amazing internships, one working for a very famous actor’s production company (this made my friends/family back home VERY excited, and to this day is probably the closest they have ever come to understand what it is I DO here). And another internship working for a guy who directed/EP’ed one of my all time favorite shows. It was a great semester (work wise, personally I was a bit of a mess. Luckily this is something LA welcomes). After graduating, I went to London from the summer before officially moving back to LA. From there, one of my old internship supervisors put my resume in for a job at an agency, and I was hired within ten days of job hunting. This is NOT the norm, as I knew in theory and would later find out in practice.
Jobs at agencies are notorious. Hollywood bootcamp, where you earn your stripes. This is where the screaming happens. It’s fast paced, you wear fancy business clothes and heels, and you feel very important. You also drink at work a surprising amount. I started in the mailroom, within another ten days was covering for the CFO while her assistant went on her honeymoon, and during that time, a desk opened in TV lit, where all aspiring TV writers want to be. To back up, why, as an aspiring TV writer, was I at an agency? Agencies are corporate, and they are about the money. That said, a year on an agency desk is required for so many jobs, and is a bonus at the others. It means you can hack it in a fast paced environment. It means you have “thick skin” and can “deal with personalities,” meaning you won’t cry (at least in public) if someone yells at you, and you’ve trained yourself to seem unflappable even if you’re freaking out on the inside. You’ve survived boot camp and earned your stripes.
That said my roommate never worked at an agency. She came in, got a job as an office PA in production on a GREAT show, stayed there for a few years, and is now the assistant to a big TV director. Agencies aren’t necessary.
However, I wouldn’t trade my time at an agency for anything. It’s where I met all my friends–it really is its own form of grad school. Lots of young twentysomethings all doing the same super stressful job leads to instant bonding and tons of nights out after work getting drinks. I also learned so, so much about the industry. How it works business wise, who everyone is, etc. My friends who haven’t ever assistant a person (compared to a show or movie), have said they feel like their knowledge is really isolated. They know how things work on their production, and that’s it.
Anyway, back to that open desk. After my few weeks at this agency, I realized this was the ONLY desk I wanted in TV Lit, which meant it was the only desk I wanted in the whole company. I had heard the horror stories, and the agent whose desk was open seemed like someone who wouldn’t throw a stapler at me, and he didn’t seem like a yeller. Apparently the desk was all but promised to this guy he knew personally who was in the mailroom, but I interviewed anyway and it went really well, and I got the job. My boss became one of my best friends in LA during the year and a half I worked for him. He knew most things about my (at the time) disastrous personal life, and when he got married last year I was only of only a few dozen guests at his wedding. And I was right, he wasn’t a thrower or a yeller. We very much became a team and when I made mistakes (like forgetting to put a meeting in his calendar and having the person show up while he was halfway through a different meeting, or accidentally DOUBLE BOOKING a client for two projects going on at the same time) he rolled with them completely. I did get yelled at a few times. Also for zero reason and without apology (obviously) but other people at the company. But, if you have a good boss, you’re pretty protected, and though this does help you grow that thick skin, it really doesn’t impact you at all.
I left that job for a few reasons. I didn’t want to be an agent, and I think if I had stayed any longer it would have just happened by accident. It’s an addictive world–the phone rings constantly–and I mean constantly. I would go home for the night at 8 and come in at 9 with hundreds of new emails. My boss didn’t care about contracts or money so I dealt with that end of things, which was hard and scary and also made me feel super capable. The first few months on that job I was in a constant panic, and by the end I felt really confident and capable. It really transformed my self worth in a positive way, which is not usual for work at an agency. But not as unusual as people think. It really ALL depends on your boss.
But they were giving me more and more responsibility, and I was pretty forced to take it. My boss and I had worked together long enough that when he was mad at me about something, I would get just as annoyed with him, because it probably wasn’t my fault and it was dumb he was mad. This is SO insanely not an aspect of my professional personality. I am such a different person at work. It takes so long for my personality to come out at all, and the thought of a superior being mad or annoyed with me is enough that just writing that sentence is making me feel anxious. It was kind of great to not feel so nervous about his opinion, but also probably meant I was too comfortable.
Also, as a side note, that pay at an agency is terrible. It’s the lowest I’ve been paid as an adult, and when I look back I honestly don’t know how I lived in LA on such a wage. I was making, after taxes a little UNDER $500 a week. This went up after I hit my year mark, and my boss gave me a very generous Christmas bonus, but the pay still super sucked.
Our department was also changing a lot in ways I didn’t love, my friends were leaving, and I didn’t feel very interested in helping them reorganize when I wasn’t trying to stay at the company long term. So I started job hunting and ironically the girl who sat next to me and I both got jobs on the same show. Me as writers PA, her as the showrunner’s assistant.
This show was kind of a mess and though it ended around when it was meant to, everyone kind of mutually agreed to stop, and the show was canceled before it was shot. This was a weird point in my life because the freedom of not being an agency assistant was AMAZING. Being a writers’ PA can vary WILDLY with what you’re actually doing. Sometimes you can sit in the writers room, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes, as we’ll see, you can PITCH in the writers room. This show was not that. Only writers were allowed in the room, but my job duties were SO basic–grocery shop, handle the room budget, and sometimes go on a coffee run/make a smoothie. That was it. So I spent a lot of the time just hanging out, figuring out how to earn airline miles, and planning round the world trips I wanted to one day take. It was SO different from the agency where I’d get maybe a few minutes of breaks throughout the day. That said, it was also kind of boring and not the best show environment, and was a confusing time trying to figure out what the future looked like. That said, this was also the job I was paid the most on. I was making nearly double of what I made at the agency, and it reinforced that Network TV is where the money is at.
So the show ended, I went into a total panic because I was jobless. It’s funny because the other assistants on the show who had been through this before were so chill, and I could not related to that at all. Now I’m the same way. You realize you’ll find a new job eventually, even if it takes a few months, and you’ll be okay.
When the show ended I went back to visit London, where I hadn’t been since graduating college. I reconnected with old friends and also fell in love with Gareth, which was pretty cool. While there I got put up for a Netflix show by one of the writers on my last show–her girlfriend was EPing it. I had a skype interview and was hired from London. Amazing.
That show was the best. The hours were a dream, I had the same duties as on my last show but was allowed to sit in the room. The showrunner kept encouraging me to sit in and speak up on occasion, which I sometimes did but I think bothered other people, so it was a bit of a balancing act. At one point, everyone was off on script and the staff writer was breaking his episode (to then present to the higher level writers), and he let me and the other assistants help break it. It was the best.
(Pay was a little under my network job.)
When that show ended, I interviewed for another job, this time as a specific writer’s assistant. I was asked back for a second interview, and all signs pointed towards me getting hired, but I declined and move to London for the summer instead. I lived with Gareth for a few months, and other than constantly freaking out about money and finding a job, it was a dream. I came back for my old boss’s wedding, and then proceeded to job hunt. And hunt. And hunt. It took me about four months to get a job. It was horrible. I was so broke. I couldn’t afford a very active social life, and had also been gone for a few months and had fallen out of touch with a lot of people. I missed Gareth and London, and hated not having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I spent a lot of time at the library, and tried to casually write about how much unemployment sucks here.
Then I got hired as the writer’s PA on the show I’m on now. It was great, I was working on a critically acclaimed show on a cable channel, run by one of my childhood idols. At this point, I was sick of PAing, but was obviously happy and grateful for whatever I could get. It was also really nice to be on a show that wasn’t in its first season, as things run a bit more smoothly that way. This was the lowest paid job I had since leaving the agency, but after a few months, one of the EP’s assistants got staffed, and I was offered her job. I casually mentioned I was promoted on here, but this was a pretty big deal and is a MUCH better job. So now I’m a writer’s assistant (not to be confused with the kind of writers’ assistant who sits in the room and takes the notes), and it’s amazing. It’s such a great job, and I feel so lucky to be on a show that so heavily values promoting from within. From the first season until now, most assistant, from the first PA on, has made it to staff. It’s amazing, and such a great environment. I also got a big raise, and now make only a bit less than what I made on my first network show.
So, that’s my Hollywood story. At some point I might break down the three different jobs, their duties, how to try to get them, and any advice I have.