I’m convinced that working in Hollywood is the most effective and efficient way to teach people how to work.
You have to work well under constant pressure. You have to be responsible for more things than anyone should have to be responsible for. And you have to be cunning. I’ve worked in the development and production of major motion pictures and television, then switched over to working in content at an advertising agency, and now work as a creative director at a media company, but in all my travels, the most incredible workers were those who got their start in the film & television biz. When I think about the things that make me good at my job, I can trace them back to what I learned being at the bottom of the food chain in Hollywood and fighting my way up. Here’s what I learned:
There is no other option. If you aren’t good with your time and you can’t stay organized, you’ll never make it in this town. It’s too fast, there’s too much happening, and it’s too demanding. You are in the office before your boss and stay long after. You are the manager and keeper of every aspect of their life — their schedule, their calls, their projects, their meetings, and yes, their personal stuff. I had a boss who expected me to make sure their car was always filled with gas. If they ever left the studio and didn’t have enough gas to get where they were going, it was my fault (I had to occasionally ask for their keys, go to their studio spot, turn on their car, check for the levels, and drive to the gas station if it was low and pray I didn’t crash the car). I knew another assistant who had to always drive their boss to a waxing appointment because they wanted to take a Xanax. Another had to take their boss’s online traffic school for them when they got a ticket. You are their keeper (of their lives and their secrets). And because you’re busy managing their lives, your life takes a backseat. I would forget things like friends’ birthdays or to pay bills. On top of that, I also read every incoming script, so I’d get in an additional two hours early to make sure I could knock two out before I even started my regular day.
I suffered in my first Hollywood assistant gig because everything took me longer than the other assistants at the studio. I pride myself at being an organized person, but I didn’t grasp the kind of organized my boss needed me to be — it was their office, not mine. Not only is there just so much to do and keep track of, you need to learn to do it their way. I tried all sorts of methods to help this boss stay organized until we finally came to the conclusion that maybe we just weren’t a match. Our personalities were too different and I was too far down the spiral to be able to pick myself up and come back; I felt defeated. It was heartbreaking. I had always been reliable, smart, efficient, and well, wanted. And here I was, a lowly assistant whose duties I thought I should be able to easily master, questioning my work ethic. But it did make me better. I was more prepared to deal with job #2. It was a fresh start and I went in eyes open on learning how to work with a specific kind of personality, how to deliver on unique expectations, and how to stop negative thinking from affecting my work. I was a machine at my next job and while that one had a new set of challenges, I am still astounded at how much I got done each day.
When I moved into other roles at adjacent industries, I was SHOCKED to see such poor follow through. Great ideas flowed, but the hustle and accountability lacked. When you’re dealing with the desperation and starvation when it comes to Hollywood dreams, people will do whatever it takes to get those dreams actualized. I learned that I was the only one responsible for making things happen and no one was going to do that but me. By climbing the ladder of success, producing a film, or getting a project off the ground, I realized the ability to just get things done was an invaluable skill.
You have to constantly make decisions and quickly and not fuck up. Should I interrupt Boss in their current meeting that they told me not to interrupt them for, but if I don’t, they’ll lose out on this script? High Profile Celebrity is scheduled for a dinner with Boss and when you confirmed the reservation the restaurant didn’t have it and now what? Should I tell Boss they have some personal messages on the answering machine when there’s a very graphic one a friend sent and if I tell them, we’ll both know I heard it, but if I don’t will they not get it? Every day. Constantly. Exhaustively. There are choices to be made, some important, some not so much, except in Hollywood, it’s all important. Because when you fuck up in Hollywood, it makes your life so much more miserable than any other industry because there’s no room for mistakes. They are unforgivable.
The irony: The only way to learn how not to fuck up IS to fuck up. But you also make other decisions a lot faster — about yourself. While your peers dawdle for months or years figuring out what they’re good at or what they love, the pressure cooker of Hollywood speeds up that process for you. Because you’re constantly fucking up, you figure out quickly how to not fuck up. Since you’re feeling the wrath of fucking up all the time, you learn about what kind of boss you want to be in the future (or in my case, what kind of boss I absolutely didn’t want to be). And because you figure out what you do and no not want to put up with, you make choices about the career you want, the work that interests you, and the things in your life that matter a lot faster. I once got my dream job… or rather what I thought was my dream job; except, I was in tears every night because my boss at the time was such an awful human and made my life miserable. But that misery taught me a lot, the biggest is that I now have a “no asshole” policy. It doesn’t matter the work or the job, I now only work with people I enjoy spending time with and for bosses I like and respect.
You have to learn every agent’s name and the names of their assistant of the week. You need to know who the current hot writers are, their entire body of work, and you better have read it all too. You need to remember who “the people” are of the celebrities you work with (managers, agents, PR reps, etc.), their kids’ names, their birthdays, and their blood type. You need to know everyone’s name on set and have their contact information at the ready. The point is, you need to remember volumes and volumes of information. And I don’t mean just have Google at the ready — YOU need to be ready. When your boss asks you, you have less than a second to respond. No time for you to go digging through your phone or notebook; you just have to know. And you know what? You get pretty good at it. I did. I became a sponge. I learned all those names and kept track of who was moving to other agencies or studios. When I worked on sets, I made a mini version of the crew list and callsheets, laminated them, and kept them on a key ring around my neck. I was always ready for whatever information I needed to conjure up in a moment. And I still have a reputation for being a steel trap. I trained my brain to be like that and it’s served me incredibly well.
Because of the pace of life (the pressure cooker, the harsh hours, the personalities), you learn to be detailed and get to the point. Boss can’t be expected to remember everything (that’s your job — see previous point) and has better things to do than talk to you, so you are always detailed in your communication. You don’t just say, “your 1 p.m. is here” (the standard time for a Hollywood lunch). You say, “your 1pm lunch with High Profile Celebrity is just pulling up to the lot, so they’re about five minutes out and I’ve laid out lunch in the conference room (and yes, no mayo).” You don’t just say you’re almost done with script coverage. You say you’re almost done with “X script that came in Tuesday by Big Writer and Y script by Lesser Known Writer that came in today and everyone is talking about it, so they’ll have coverage for both by 8 p.m.” There is no room for follow-up questions that will annoy Boss or for speeches. And if they’re asking about something? You’ve already failed. You fucked up. I had a boss that would tell me five times a day “constant updates” and I have their voice in my head to this day. They wanted to know exactly what was happening with everything throughout the day and if they had to ask, they were pissed. I needed to be on the ready and find the moments throughout the day to proactively update them.
Speaking of being proactive, it’s the game changer in all of this. On my first internship, I watched in awe as efficient assistants would organize something because they saw a need for it, on top of their mountains of work, without being asked. I know that sounds pretty basic, but it was a great lesson to learn so young. You weren’t going to get anywhere by doing just what’s asked of you — you need to step it up. Because this is Hollywood and we’re all starving. So be better than the person next to you, be indispensable, and be proactive when it comes to making your boss and everyone else at the company’s lives better. See what needs fixing and just FIX IT. I apply the same skills in a senior role when it comes to growing a team, growing a business, and making things better and more efficient. It’s also the only way you’re going to get promoted out of that assistant role — the only thing that matters.
You’ll put up with screamers, manipulators, phonies, people that get away with shit that makes you look around incredulously at everyone else that’s allowing them to act that way, people that only want to be friends with you because of where you work, celebrities you need to function around even if they’re your heroes, and people treating you and hitting on you in ways that would be deemed incredibly unprofessional and liable in any other industry. You let it all roll off you. You have to. Because you tell yourself if you’re miserable for just this one year, this one job, the payoff will be big.
So you endure. Because it’s all a game, the most difficult game on the planet. In Hollywood, he who lasts the longest, makes it. And you realize the fucking up, the crazies, the long hours, and the immense effort it all takes…that’s what makes you better; the best. Because the biggest thing it teaches you is to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep getting better, keep learning.