Confessions Of A (Former) Hollywood Assistant

Lydia Whitlock, Hollywood assistantBy Lydia Whitlock

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 Job
I 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.

More: 9 Ex-Assistants Tell All About Their Rich And Powerful Bosses

What Hollywood Assistants Do
The 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 Stuff
Though 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.

More: Can The Boss Fire You For Badmouthing Him On Facebook?

The Importance of Food
Sometimes 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 Blog
In 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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plastirama2020

Gosh, all of this blo by blo might actually speak for all the bad quality film productions. Ladies, Please try to convince your bosses that their industry survives upon mediocrity. They need to be more intune with film makers.They need to be more intune with what audiences think of the product. Maaaan, I sure hope I've said enough

August 21 2013 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lucyrose222

As some comments mentioned you have to take the good with the bad and there are definitely some great perks with these jobs. I had worked as an assistant and one family was amazing. I was a human being who they would pay to help them out. Another position I had was were I was nothing. It was kind of disgusting how some people would treat me and others. This is why to this day I hate the word celebrity. None of them are God and none of them are even that special. I think I would only let Lucille Ball treat me like crap, cause she is as close to a deity as they can get. But I have no idea how people put up with some crap. Once I'm treated as nothing, then there will be nothing I can do for you.

May 10 2013 at 10:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
brawlinbetty99

I can't imagine what makes these 'assistants' want that job, and how they don't quit over some of it amazes me. But if you need a paycheck, I guess you do what you have to...

May 01 2013 at 10:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
toddisit

The title of that job should be rear end kisser!

April 30 2013 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kaysings

I've worked in the film industry off and on, both in front of and behind the camera, and I can identify with all of this. I've observed PAs from a distance and dealt with a few of them personally, and I can attest to the fact that many of them are grossly underpaid and ridiculously overworked. With the rare exception, celebs are among the most annoying, demanding, petty, spoiled characters on the planet. Fame and money do the worst things to people.

April 30 2013 at 9:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
haxlily

Yale should have been the only place you paid your "dues" And your climb shouldnt have been interning and mail room then PA I hope you get to where you want to be and when you do still remember what it was like and act kinder than your predecessors ever did to the poor assistant. Seriously f that job. I think the only PA's who have it good are Kathy Griffins and George Clooney. Both no kids and George bought his PA a house near his. Kathy just based on her show and how her assistant is.

April 30 2013 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Skye Hawk

Honey, try nursing. The patients now a days I hear all think they are prima-donna's and entitled to 'whatever they want" from what my best friend tells me. She gets barked orders, things thrown at her, and cussed at on a daily basis. And because it is all customer satisfaction and the $$$ her bosses don't defend the staff at all. Better to tick off a nurse and spend thousands to recruit and hire and train one to take her place and be half as experienced as the one you as a manager let get run off. Doesn't make sense how spoiled some folk are! SMH

April 30 2013 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Skye Hawk's comment
haxlily

Are you kidding. Every time I've been in a hospital check up or staying for myself or kids I practically kiss the nurses behinds just so they will be nice. I try my best humor, empathize with the demands of their jobs, request as little as possible.mind my pints and quarts, because I know they are the front line and I may see a doctor once maybe twice but a nurse is always there I need them more. it is a hit and miss event, some are nice and some are awful. I guess just like every place and person it is a mixed bag.

April 30 2013 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yawcah

Was interested to read your post Lydia. I was a personal assistant a number of times in my life but MANY years ago (1978 worked for someone who is now a major celebrity but then was an executive in the industry). Then was an assistant to a major executive for 10 years As much as things have changed (technology), they have also remained the same in terms of the personal tasks. I can relate with taking "samples" to a doctor...trying to find a toy when they were sold out in every store in Los Angeles (eventually found it in San Diego and got someone in the office to drive down and pick it up). There were few laws in the old days to protect employees and some things went on that would have people arrested now. Still, I had a lot of fun and some good memories (or maybe I'm so old now I can't remember the bad). But I was happy to be out of those jobs and never had a desire to go back. Meeting celebrities is fun for 5 minutes, then a pain the @#$ if they get demanding and rude.

April 30 2013 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mpleasantsoul

I wouldn't have lasted a second. I'd rather suck farts out of bus cushions for spare change than to humble myself before some putz who would dare to scream at me about anything, much less butter. I hope whomever you wrote that about reads this, recognizes themself, and is ashamed.

April 26 2013 at 10:58 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Tracey L. McNeel

I can totally relate to the assistants in this article...I went through the same bull crap, but I did not work for Famous or high executives such as within Hollywood, emphasized in this article. Word of Advice; I would write a book about your experiences and make money off of all those "I''m better than you are, or I am more important than you; You're nothing, but a PEON"...(Silent implications ) who mistreated your life, your services as well as had rotten attitudes and demeanor toward you, a lower end worker. Having a college degree, does eventually pay-off somehow; think about all those years of writing courses...make use of them.

April 26 2013 at 10:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tracey L. McNeel's comment
nancycshack

agreed.

May 01 2013 at 7:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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