I wish I could say that getting my first Hollywood assistant gig was a piece of cake, or maybe a half-priced happy hour cocktail, but it was a pain in the ass. College taught me the ins and outs of film production and writing, but it did very little in terms of prepping me for real-world experience. When I got out to L.A., I knew next to nothing.
I also had an incredibly difficult time finding a job in the industry. Part of that was the hesitancy of not knowing what to apply for in terms of what would be beneficial for me as a writer. The other part was that I moved out to Los Angeles a couple of years after the big WGA strike. At the time, I reached out to Jessica Butler from HollywoodU, who explained to me that the strike cut the amount of PA (production assistant) jobs considerably, and those numbers never really recovered after it ended. Basically, there were less jobs in Hollywood. So, it wasn’t just me struggling; It was everyone.
If you’re interested in how much money Hollywood assistants make, check out this post.
One of the most helpful resources in my job search was The Anonymous Production Assistant’s Blog. I read it religiously in college, which was how I learned all about production assistant life. I really wanted to be an on set PA, but without an industry “in,” I started applying for other assistant jobs (desk jobs) at production companies, management offices, and agencies. Every week TAPA would post the UTA Joblist, which is how I got my first internship. I kept applying for entry-level desk jobs, most of which wanted 1-2 years of experience for some reason (I specifically was only interested in literary at the time). I also worked really odd jobs on the side to make cash and hoped my internship would lead to something.
When it became clear it wasn’t going to, I turned back to the UTA Joblist posted on TAPA’s website as well as a few resources like Entertainment Careers and applied to everything under the sun rather than just what I wanted to specifically do. I went on a bunch of interviews, eventually getting a receptionist job at a boutique talent agency. I hustled my way into covering desks while people were out sick and on vacation.
Then, during pilot season, I asked to help out in the talent department. The talent agent I helped became the person who vouched for me when I applied to another talent agency for a full-time assistant position, and that was how I got my gig. It was basically a two-year process, and it doesn’t have to be that hard, but you should know it CAN be that hard, especially if you hesitate in any capacity.
I have friends who flew into CAA, ICM, or WME right off the bat and friends who landed in the arms of hit shows right out of school (a lot of right place, right time, talking to the right person & having a clear goal). I also know writers who couldn’t get those jobs and had to find their way doing other things. It’s so incredibly different for everyone. It’s going to be unique to you too.
If I could do it all over again:
- Not wasting time, or holding out, for your dream job. GET A JOB. Any job. Because you’ll hold out and hold out and hold out, then a year will have gone by that you could have been working and building your resume, but you were worried about getting stuck somewhere you didn’t want to be. Don’t worry. Take, for instance, Erin Conley, who was an executive assistant on a reality agent’s desk and now works in television as a showrunner’s assistant. You can make the jumps you need to make.
- Apply to the top agencies (CAA, WME, UTA, APA, Gersh, ICM, Paradigm) for the mailroom or any department. You can always switch departments after time. The networks at these places are large enough for you to meet a ton of people. Los Angeles is a town that’s all about who you know. Plus, the HR departments can take half-a-year to a year to get back to you and schedule an interview, so do it asap.
- Wherever you are, use your time wisely. I wish I had networked more as a receptionist. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough or as “cool” as the other assistants. Status is usually b.s. There are always going to be people who think that they’re better than you. There are always people who have better jobs than you. But for you to worry about them judging you is a waste of time. Those aren’t your people anyway. Concentrate on making genuine long-term relationships and keep writing.
And if you need help making your resume stand out, Angela and Cindy at Hollywood Resumes are pros!