Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hollywood Asst: P.I.

When you first start to work in Hollywood, people tell you that you'll be doing things like, "fetching coffee" all the time, or getting your boss's dry cleaning, or answering the phones...etc. That's not entirely accurate.

I've worked several jobs. I've never picked up dry cleaning, walked a dog, and have only made a run for coffee a couple times (and usually got something for myself while I was at it). What working in this town is really about is getting access to people.

When your boss is a really big and important person, you have everyone's number, and if you don't it takes two seconds to get it. You call someone, they call you back right away. Most people don't have a boss who's that big a deal, and if you did, that boss is likely a nightmare in some other way.

For most of us, it's about getting someone on the phone with someone who can help them in some way to pursue their agenda. Big time agent is calling the big studio head. Producers are calling the big time agent to get a script to their clients. Everyone is getting called by some random person from somewhere out in the world because they have a "great idea for a screenplay".

Since everyone wants something, there's a disincentive to putting your information out in the world where people can find it. Some businesses can't help it, and so their stuff is out there for people who know how to look. But a lot of others don't.

I'd say a fairly large part of my job is trying to find contact information for people we need to talk to, but for some reason don't have their info on file. With the technological advance of cell phones, a lot of these people don't need to have an office number, they just use their cell. But their cell is a personal line. An assistant who gives out personal information gets fired.

So you have to become like a bounty hunter tracking people down. Maybe this is why there are so many cop shows, lots of writers worked assistant jobs and therefore know how to find someone who doesn't want to be found.

Assistants develop resources to find the normally difficult-to-find. They form networks and pool their resources. They spend their meager earnings taking each other out for drinks so that when the time comes that they need a number, they can get it with a wink and a nudge and a "you didn't hear this from me but..."

A lot of the time you come up against someone who just straight up does not want to give anything, and won't even be civil about it. Those people are like talking to a brick wall. You either need to find a way around them, or in some cases, blatantly mislead someone. Once when I said a boss's name the PA on the other end of the line mistakenly thought it was someone who worked at the studio, and so the call was put through. All I had to do was not correct him.

I remain fairly honest for the most part, but there are those of us who do not. And the thing is, we get rewarded for it. We come up with some kind of brilliant/shady way of getting what we want, and it's one of the few times our bosses might say we did a good job.

Really we're just conditioning a town full of idealistic entertainment-lovers to become immoral, backstabbing, selfish pricks. And people wonder why Hollywood gets such a bad reputation sometimes.

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