Hey, Anonymous Hollywood Assistant: Get Over It

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Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 1.37.41 PMIllustrated By Ly Ngo.
Dear Anonymous,

Last night, the internet boiled over with curiosity about the subject of your post on The Cut, titled "I Was A Hollywood Personal Assistant." Your piece detailed a stint doing tasks both strange and outrageous for your famous boss before quitting when she uninvited you to a film festival. I'm sorry, that sucks. But, you should have seen it coming.

Once upon a time, I too was a personal assistant for a big name. In fact, I spent most of my twenties fetching and carrying for famous people (and slightly less famous people). It's the mandatory gig for a film-school graduate with no marketable skills besides critical film analysis and a working knowledge of Final Draft. You get to be up close and personal with the industry and, if you're lucky, you might get to be a part of a film production. If not, well, at least you have a job. That's still pretty lucky.

Like anyone who's brushed up against Hollywood, I wasn't quite as outraged as I'd hoped to be by your travail. "I broke up with a very prominent actor boyfriend of hers." Sure, that's ridiculous. But: "I would get there at five in the morning to go over the daily routine with her, get her tea, her food, all her vitamins." That's not such an unreasonable scenario for a high-level personal assistant. In fact, there are millions of other people in this country getting to work at five in the morning to pick up garbage, clean homes and offices, or process the food you prepared for your wackadoo boss.

And, there's more than one wackadoo in this picture, friend. You say, "I would go pick up her medicine for her...I was like, Oh my God, I know exactly what she has now. I realized I needed to warn whoever was with her about certain STDs." No, you didn't. You needed to do your job and drop off the prescriptions. You didn't need to assume she hadn't "warned" them already. Imagine being the guy on the other end of the phone, wondering why his ex-girlfriend's assistant was calling to inform him that he has an STD. Your boss may have been a handful, she's still an adult woman with a right to privacy in her sex life. That kind of tattle-tailing speaks a lot more to your own childishness than hers.

I'm sorry, Anonymous. Not to be a one-upper, but yours is not the worst Hollywood assistant gig that even I, in my snapshot of experience, have encountered. I once interviewed for a position with a high-level producer, which carried (along with a similarly sleepless schedule) the following job requirements:

  • No taking the subway, lest you be unreachable for the length of your commute.
  • No turning your phone off (or silent) at any time.
  • Bringing your passport to work every day, should you need to accompany your boss overseas for an indeterminate amount of time.
  • For that same reason, no standing appointments or commitments.
  • Understanding that said boss may throw items from his/her desk, and that, as you have been warned, it is not the company's responsibility if you are injured.
  • "Being able to find a Diet Coke in the Gobi desert."
  • Understanding that you may be fired and re-hired on the same day, from time to time.

It should be noted that I was applying to be the fifth assistant on the team. The bloodshot fourth assistant interviewing me asked if I had any questions. "Is it...Is it worth it?" I asked. He paused and answered, "Well, it's only for six months, and then you quit or get fired. So, it's not forever!" I didn't take the job.

This is the bargain we strike as assistants in the big time. You do a semi-demeaning, often unreasonable, sometimes traumatic job and, in exchange, you are paid in menial wages and stories you can dine out on for five to seven years. During one of my last assistant jobs, I worked with a truly impaired and addicted actress who sent me a box full of paperwork and her used vibrator. She later threatened to prostitute herself (again) when her mother wouldn't give her money to buy a dress. (Note: this was an adult woman with a full-time television job.)

That's what it took for me to learn the lesson. That lesson being, for every inch of glamour, there is a mile of crazy and ugly and vapid. And, just because you took a lot of hits for this ugly, crazy, vapid person doesn't mean we should feel sorry for you. Maybe for you the lesson is that you don't want to do it anymore. And, that's your choice — aren't you lucky?

Sorry you didn't get to go to the film festival.