Nine simple rules to being the greatest Hollywood assistant ever
by Jason Benoit, Esq.
Congratulations on getting your first job in Hollywood. It’s pretty exhilarating isn’t it? You cold-called about fifty… thousand different companies until someone finally said go ahead and send us your resume. And then after countless interviews, lots of hand wringing, and a few brushes with L.A. traffic almost rendering you late for your interview… you finally did it. You got that coveted job as the receptionist/assistant/office manager/intern coordinator at such and such production company.
This is worth celebrating… and then immediately knock that crap off because it’s time to get down to business. If you want to be someone – and who doesn’t – in this town then you need to shed the “green” label as quickly as possible and get on the path to becoming an invaluable asset of said company/town/industry.
So, I’m going to provide a slight cheat sheet for all the neophytes out there. A few quick tips/rules that I have gathered over my years of having worked in “the town”.
1. “Rolling calls” – It’s pretty simple.
This is where your boss is too lazy/too busy to dial his/her own phone calls. Or to read the phone sheet. Instead, she will holler out names they want you to dial for them. In many instances, he’ll actually be looking directly at the phone sheet but will be unable to actually lift his fingers to dial these numbers in sequential order on their phone and that’s where you come in. You have hands with incredible dexterity (you put that on your resume, correct?). Therefore, you should be able to dial these phones while blind, while doing fifty other things at once, and with the soothing voice of a yoga instructor.
Oddly enough, the only time your boss may actually attempt to dial calls on his/her own is also the one time it’d be helpful to have someone do it for them — while he/she is driving. Don’t try to rationalize any of this – it just is what it is.
2. Lunch is at 1pm unless otherwise noted.
So, if you’re setting up a “lunch” for your boss, don’t ask what time because you just look like an amateur. And the only place where amateur is cool is in the porn industry. While you may have many tasks at your new job that blur the two lines, you are, in fact, most assuredly not in the porn industry. Therefore, lunch is at an understood 1pm. Also, don’t be that guy/girl who tries to pick a lunch location a week ahead of time. Your gung-ho-ness is appreciated but also annoying to all the assistants who are pretty certain their boss is going to cancel his lunch with your boss the morning of their “lunch” date.
As an assistant, lunch is a luxury. Sure, the state mandates that you get at least a half-hour lunch break so you don’t snap, break into hives, and go crazy. But, the truth is, pack your lunch or order in because it’s not guaranteed you’re leaving that desk to get lunch today (or any day soon). Why? Because that’s the one hour of time when you’ll be left alone to, you know, actually get your work done because your boss is out of the office. Time management skills, people.
Don’t worry, there will come a time where you are good enough and quick enough at your job that you can multi-task and prioritize, but your first job will not be that time.
3. If you have to cancel a meeting that your boss doesn’t want to reschedule, and never really wanted to do in the first place, there is a system by which assistants manage these things.
It’s an understanding as assistants that you can’t just come out and say, “Hey, my boss thinks your boss is a turd nobody and therefore doesn’t want to dine with them in public”. But you can’t just say that. Because the truth hurts. And this town is also incredibly small and the nobody today may be a somebody tomorrow. Instead, we go through this whole song and dance where we come up with fake excuses about why my boss can’t do lunch/coffee/meeting today with your boss, be it he or she is unprepared, hungover, or just too damn lazy to care. My favorite go-to’s are “His kid has a doctor’s appointment today” or “The studio just bumped up their meeting and it’s going to run through lunch now, I’ll get back to you when I have a clearer sense of his schedule and we can reset.”
4. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever received was from my days as a fraternity pledge.
The saying went, “Early is on time, on time is late, and if you’re late don’t bother showing up.” I have amended this for Hollywood assistants: Show up on time and leave only after the boss is gone.
5. This is maybe the toughest rule, and one that I encourage you to incorporate because it sets boundaries, and everyone – even Hollywood big wig nobodies – need boundaries.
Your time is your time. After work hours, the weekend, this is your personal time. Treat it as something that is valuable because the rest of the waking hours of the day you are working for someone else. Respect your personal time and, in turn, you’ll be surprised how much your boss respects your personal time as well.
In other words, be available but don’t be desperate.
This is probably good dating advice as well – but now that you work in Hollywood, you won’t really be dating. Instead, you’ll just be going on a lot of “work drinks” which is basically like going on a blind date every night of the week. You’ll sit across from some girl or guy who you’ve only ever emailed or talked to briefly over the phone and you’ll feel completely and totally awkward… just like a blind first date.
As one close friend of mine (also a Hollywood assistant) told me about work drinks, “Thirty minutes into every work drinks I decide if it’s a date or not.” This may not work as well for guys, as it does for cute girls.
6. Read everything.
Listen to everything. Information is commerce.
Be “in the know.” People with knowledge hold power. Also, it’ll help you to get the jump on that next document, script or phone call that your boss is bound to ask for next. You’ll impress them when you are on your toes and one step ahead of them… until they get so used to you doing all of this that they start to take it for granted. At which point I bring you Rule #7…
7. Be good, but don’t be the best assistant.
You should be really damn good at your job. Like, one of the best assistants they’ve ever had. But no one wants to be the best. Why? Because being the best assistant makes you someone they feel is indispensable and while some days you may feel like your boss’ world will implode without you, the truth is, it won’t. So, every once in a while, fuck up something minor. I’m not saying deliberate sabotage. I’m just saying, it’s not the end of the world if/when you do. It’ll be helpful when you finally decide to move on from your current job and/or if you ever get promoted, it might also help cut the cord from the role your boss has always seen you as: his assistant (aka his bitch).
8. Even with the advent of GPS machines in every Lexus and Prius you see on the roads today, your boss will inevitably still never know where he/she is going.
This is where you, Google Maps God of all things driving, comes into play. Why? Because you will print directions for your boss for every place he/she must go. Every screening, coffee, meeting. Even if it just becomes environmental shredding material at the floor of the car. Also, you’ll have SigAlert bookmarked and ready at a moment’s notice, along with alternative routes for your boss to take should he get stuck in traffic (which is a daily occurrence). Might I suggest you sneakily download the Waze app onto his/her phone.
9. Last but not least, when in doubt – ask questions.
I cannot stress this enough. One of the chief reasons you are an assistant and your boss is the boss is because he/she has experience. So, if you’re not quite sure of the task you’ve been assigned, don’t necessarily just “hope to figure it out”. That’s where you get into real trouble. Instead, suck up humility for a moment and just ask for clarification. A truly genuine boss will recognize your need for clarification, instead of just dismissing you as a dumb twit. Also, he/she will be way more pissed if you don’t ask and end up emailing the wrong Stein with those highly confidential documents.
Unless you really are just a dumb twit – in which case how the hell did you get this job in the first place? You must be really pretty. Or your daddy is Bono.
That’s it. Nine simple, easy rules to rule at your new assistant job.
Good luck and don’t go screwing it all up.Tags: Breaking into Hollywood, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Hollywood assistant, Jason Benoit