I asked assistants currently working in the entertainment industry to share their stories. Here’s what they had to say about working in the Hollywood trenches.
1. The agency assistant who’s been working through seven years of “pain and suffering”:
The weirdest request her boss ever made:
“I need you to buy my birthday cake and find the best one, but it can’t be expensive, but I want it to be expensive. Also, please follow me around for my birthday party the whole time and collect all of the gifts and do not leave my side.”
The dumbest thing she had to do on the job:
Watch my boss’s child. On repeat. For weeks on end. Without being asked.
Advice to aspiring assistants:
Don’t be a fucking dick. Cause that shit gets around and you will burn your bridges faster than you think.
Screaming obscenities at your boss will not cost you your job. In fact, it makes them like you more and then when you want to get fired…they won’t do it.
2. The TV assistant who’s been working for five years:
Questions he answered in the interview process:
What is your “guilty pleasure”? Are there more gays in San Francisco than there are here? Do you have any party planning experience? Do you think it’s beneath you to change lightbulbs or clean carpets?
The most bizarre request his boss ever made:
Find out what the best ice cream cake is in San Diego, order it to be made fresh, and hand-delivered (requiring an ice box situation) to my boss’s ailing grandmother in the hospital during visiting hours.
His least favorite work task:
Cancelling important meetings so my boss can fit in a facial.
An assistant secret:
We keep a list of “bad assistants” at our office: people who have bad attitudes, are disorganized, too slow, rude, etc. Everyone knows who they are, and these lists are everywhere. DON’T GET ON THE LIST!!!!
3. The TV production assistant who’s been at it for three years:
The weirdest request her boss ever made:
One of my old bosses had me make all the arrangements for her daughter to go to summer camp. I knew nothing about her daughter, so every five seconds I’d be asking, “What size does your daughter wear?” “Would she prefer to participate in an afternoon class on poetry or female authors of the 1900s?” “Does she want to do any sports?” All the while thinking, IT’S YOUR CHILD, YOU DO IT. People in this industry should not be parents.
The worst part of the job:
ALL of my bosses have asked me technology-related questions. They’ve wanted me to set up in-office networks, fix their broken laptops, sync all their Mac accounts, etc. I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT TECHNOLOGY. If the network is down, it’s down. Why on earth would I know how to get it back up and running when I barely know how to turn on my OWN laptop? I’m an aspiring writer, not a former computer engineering major.
What’s crucial to being an assistant:
A great industry assistant is someone who has a positive attitude and plenty of energy. The people you’re working for are usually exhausted and more stressed than you can comprehend, and all they need is for someone to make their lives a little easier and their days a little brighter. Even if it just means that you’re handing them a warm cup of coffee when they step in the door. It’s all about personality and attitude.
4. The film production assistant who’s been doing this for six years:
The grossest thing she’s ever done:
One boss, several years ago, had me schedule his vasectomy, which is actually three meetings: a consultation, the procedure, and a follow-up. When I called to confirm meeting #2, the procedure, the nurse told me to tell my boss to, “Remember to trim the hair around his scrotum, but don’t shave it!, they will shave his scrotum when he gets there.” I was choking so hard from laughter, it took about 5 minutes to make coherent-enough sentences to relay the message.
Advice for up-and-comers:
Don’t be afraid of being blamed for things. Half your job is to provide deniability to your boss…So, even if it’s not your fault, you’ll probably have to jump on a grenade or two.
Qualities an assistant should have:
Someone who’s nice, personable, funny, takes their job seriously, and isn’t a dickbag. I really can’t stress enough how important it is to not be a dickbag.
Unique perks of the job:
Sitting on a boat, drinking a beer, watching the sunset with several of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive. For work. For serious.
5. The talent agency assistant with three years of experience:
How she got her job:
The HR lady looked at my resume and said (and this is almost verbatim, 5 years later), “Look, this job is terrible. It’s terrible. I don’t know why we do this to young people and for so little money. But you’re obviously a very smart girl, so you know this is what you need to do to do anything else in this town. So really think about it, think about if you want to do this, and if you do, email me the first Monday you can start.” And then she thanked me for coming in and I left and TOTALLY EMAILED HER IMMEDIATELY THAT I WANTED TO DO IT! Mindgames!
Things you have to accept as an assistant:
I have worked for ladies who feel fat when they eat alone. So if there are office cupcakes, we both have to eat them. If she is getting a fatty coffee drink, I must also get a fatty coffee drink. It’s like being a girlfriend-for-hire.
What sucks most about the job:
I hate doing my boss’s dishes with a fiery burning passion. Also, I had to do her son’s homework.
6. The aspiring TV exec with six years’ experience:
The worst thing he had to do for his boss:
I had to do to drive to the airport during rush hour to pick up his boyfriend because — despite making hundreds of thousands of dollars — he was too cheap to pay for a car service.
He also asked me to go buy his boyfriend an iPhone. Even though his boyfriend lived in New York. Then flipped out when doing so disrupted his boyfriend’s current cell service — even though I had warned him about that happening — and sent an email to his boyfriend about how he wanted to fire me over it. (To the boyfriend’s credit, he was completely chill about it).
What you need to know to stay in the biz:
Never ever give anyone a reason to say a bad thing about you; you can dislike anyone as much as you want, but they should never know how you feel about them.
7. The acquisitions assistant who’s a three-year veteran:
The worst part of her job:
The returns. Constant returns on behalf of a boss with an online spending habit.
On the plus side:
One of my bosses is female, and wears the same size as me. So I get a lot of her eBay purchases she decides she doesn’t like.
It helps to learn how to boss your boss around. Bosses don’t always want to do what they are supposed to. I have had to walk into my boss’s office and unplug the TV in order to make him/her go to a meeting on time.
8. The 5-year post-production assistant:
The strangest point in her career:
I had to put a condom on a microphone pack in order to prevent the anonymous celebrity dancer from ruining the mic pack.
The worst parts of the job:
I’ve been asked to fire voiceover actors and reject assistant editors.
The most surreal moment in her career:
I once worked on a reality show filming at Disneyland. We got to go behind the scenes. I will forever be scared by seeing the queen from Snow White with her head piece off…she was a man smoking a cigarette.
Move up as fast as you can. Seriously. Don’t get stuck. Take risks. Don’t be too ballsy, though, with your boss. Just be confident in your decisions and get out and up somewhere else before it’s too late!
9. The late night TV production assistant with 2 years’ experience:
How he got the job:
At Conan I was asked if I get starstruck. I knew if I said yes I wouldn’t have gotten the job, so I failed to see the point of the question, but maybe other applicants were stupid.
What the job entailed:
My job was to get lunch and coffee basically. But after just coming out of grad school this very duty caused in me an existential crisis. I couldn’t have felt like I was wasting more time.
Why the job’s worth the hassle:
With all the negative things I had to say about being an assistant, there is something very cool about being part of a team that is putting out TV every day or every week. You can see the results of your work and the work of the people you are assisting. Sure, you may work 70 hours a week, making 500 bucks and break even on rent and bills every month. But if you love TV/Film and you managed to get a job in the industry then you’ve won half the battle.
10. The film production assistant:
The one part of the job he hates:
Handling receipts. Being reminded that she spends 100 dollars on lunch (and is reimbursed for it!) and I can hardly spend 100 bucks a week on all my meals combined.
The strangest request his boss ever made:
Having me spy on other executives within our own company.
The most tedious task:
Do I ever want to read this script that your wife’s best friend’s dentist handed to you because he’s an aspiring screenwriter on the side?
An assistant confession:
I steal paper towels and toilet paper from the office, because an assistant salary isn’t enough to cover it on my own.
11. The former TV agent assistant with 5 years experience:
Advice to assistants:
Take as much shit as you possibly can, then take a little more. When you hit your limit, start throwing it back. Tactfully.
What makes a great assistant:
Lie like a rug. Pay for drinks even if you can’t. Sleep up the ladder if you can. Never open a door until you know why it was closed…if you can’t find out why, find another way in. Pay attention to your fucking appearance, that shit matters. Stay quiet and practice looking smart; they’ll think you own the place. Learn to drink.
What happened during the WMA/Endeavor merger:
Or as we called it in the WMA TV Dept, the Endeavor takeover, several of us assistants kept whiskey in our drawers and used those white WMA coffee cups. Tip: brown liquor passes for coffee when it needs to. During the merger, it had to.
A few months before the merger, a great WMA agent let all the TV assistants go out for an unsupervised ‘mixer’ at a Bev Hills hotel. There was apparently established a $500 limit to this extravaganza. Someone had gotten axed that day. In two hours we ran up a $3500 liquor bill and put it on someone’s company card. The next day was not pleasant for anyone.