My glamorous Hollywood career… and why I gave it up
by Jennifer Brody
I drove up the pitch-black canyon roads en route to Marilyn Manson’s Hollywood Hills mansion, my headlights wending their way around the near 180 curves in the road. My newly purchased cell phone rang every few seconds from the passenger seat with my boss’ number flashing on the caller ID.
The panic started to set in — I didn’t dare answer it. I was new to L.A. and hopelessly lost in a time before cars with GPS and Google Maps. My boss, a movie producer with a famous temper, was going to murder me. Worse yet, he might even fire me. I’d only been on the job a few weeks. Failure wasn’t an option, not with my bank account balance hovering around zero.
My age: Twenty-one and naïve as hell.
My salary: Five hundred measly bucks a week before taxes.
My mission: To retrieve new music for our horror movie’s teaser trailer.
By the time I located the shock rocker’s house, accepted a single burned disc from a scantily-clad Dita Von Teese (Manson’s girlfriend at the time), extricated myself from the warren of canyon roads, and delivered the music to my boss’ house, it was after midnight. I was exhausted. Now I had to stumble home to my tiny shared apartment and try to get some sleep, before I had to return to the office and do it all over again.
When I first started working in Hollywood as an assistant, I was fresh out of Harvard and ready to devote myself to my dream career. Marriage and family were the furthest things from my mind. My parents and teachers had drilled into my head from a young age that I could have it all.
Hadn’t I ascended to the top of my high school class believing in this notion? And then enrolled in one of the most elite universities in the country? And moved to L.A. to work in one of the most cutthroat businesses in the world, certain that it would come together for me one day if I just worked hard enough?
At first, I had no regrets about the time that I spent at the office. Normal hours were nine to seven. I often worked much longer, as the hefty overtime paychecks I accrued will attest. This didn’t include the hours spent at night and on the weekends reading scripts and writing notes. Or going to the theater to see as many movies as possible. Or meeting other Hollywood assistants, agents, and executives for breakfast/coffee/lunch/drinks (fill in the blank) to network almost every single day of the week — and on the weekends too.
How much time was leftover?
Unlike many of my contemporaries, I was fortunate enough to be in a long distance relationship that I’d nurtured through college. It was already on solid ground. He was in law school (demanding) and on his way to becoming a litigator at a big law firm (even more demanding). Our schedules conformed to each other. In fact, he often worked longer hours than I did. So somehow, I was able to have it all.
For a time.
As I accumulated a series of promotions, I began to think more about the work-life balance. Or rather, the lack thereof. I rose to the rank of Vice President — a title that many of my friends envied — and started actually producing movies and receiving credit on them. This was my dream, wasn’t it? I’d just turned twenty-seven. I should have been happy-thrilled-over the moon with joy!
But I wasn’t.
And I didn’t entirely know why.
The puppy conundrum
My boyfriend was now an attorney, and we lived together in an idyllic cottage nestled in those same Hollywood Hills where I’d first gotten lost, though we both spent more time at our respective jobs than inside its rustic walls. Though I’d grown up with a house full of pets and desperately missed having furry companions, I couldn’t even contemplate getting a puppy. That’s how much I worked. As my thirties loomed over the horizon, marriage was at last on my mind — and its usual accompaniment, children.
Nagging questions started to bubble up through my overworked, fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain. If I couldn’t fathom getting a puppy because I considered it neglectful to leave it home alone all day, how could I consider starting a family? Was leaving my hypothetical children at home with a nanny or in daycare all day, while my husband and I both worked long hours, neglectful too? Would I be comfortable with such a compromise?
In 2008, the economy crashed, taking my start-up company with it. My whole department was shuttered. On the upside, I was paid out of my contract and received unemployment benefits. I went from working sixty-plus-hours a week to passing the interminable daytime hours on the sofa, my eyes glued to the 24-hour news cycle: Bear Stearns’ collapse, Lehman’s bankruptcy, the stock market’s suicidal plunge off a cliff.
It was like driving past a fatal car wreck, when the traffic slows in front of you and the flashing red lights hit your windshield — I couldn’t look away. I did search for work, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. The entertainment business was irrevocably changing before my eyes. It was becoming harder to have a sustainable career. I couldn’t stomach the thought of sacrificing most of my time to a demanding and unrelenting job anymore. I wanted a husband. I wanted a puppy. I wanted to have it all.
So I made some sacrifices. I decided to make changes. I decided to become a writer. Writing had everything that I loved about working in film development — creativity, telling stories, collaborating with talented people — without many of the downsides. This way, I’d actually own my ideas, not give them away to my company and other writers. Better yet, I would be able to set my own schedule and have more control over what I wanted to work on. And I could still be in involved with the entertainment industry, albeit from a different angle.
I could get that puppy (and I did — the Adorable Monster). And down the road, I could see myself both writing and raising a family.
It’s not all sunshine and roses
Sure, I still miss my old job sometimes. I had dinner with a friend who is still in the Hollywood trenches the other night, and her stories about meeting famous writers and flying all over the world to work on film sets made me feel more than a little nostalgic for my glory days.
And for a second, I found myself thinking: I could go back to Hollywood. I have a great resume — I know a lot of people. And I still love movies. I could always go back.
But she also talked about her long hours, about not having time for dating, about having to cancel plans and stay at the office until 3 A.M. the night before. Because of the demands of her job, I hadn’t seen her for more months than I could count. And this is not to say that it’s not worth it for her. She adores her job more than anything. She lights up when she talks about her work.
We all make choices. We all make compromises. We all travel down different paths.
I made my choice — I chose balance over career success.
Was it worth it?
Yes, I’d have to say, yes.
But ask me again in a few years.Tags: Climbing the Hollywood ladder, Dita Von Teese, Entertainment industry, Film and TV business, Film and TV executive, Hollywood, Hollywood assistant, Jennifer Brody, Marilyn Manson, Work-life balance