One of the best pieces of advice for succeeding as an assistant in Hollywood is to never say no. But unfortunately, this can-do attitude can sometimes lead to a warped perception of where your boundaries should be that can carry over into the later stages of your career. Overstepped boundaries will inevitably lead to burnout and dissatisfaction, so it’s really important to know where your lines are and how to establish them. Entertainment, like any competitive, passion-driven career, should bring you joy, but if you hate your job because you’re too overworked and pushed down, you might find yourself fantasizing about a more lucrative, more stable, more boring career. Not that there’s anything wrong with leaving entertainment, but before you do, consider these strategies to make your dream career your dream job by setting boundaries:
Say no to abuse. There is no reason anyone should get physically or verbally aggressive with you ever, and certainly not in the workplace. Yet, there are plenty of people in Hollywood who are toxic and will take liberties with your safety because they’ve been enabled in the past. This isn’t okay, and the culture is shifting to allow more room for people to walk away from these environments without consequences. If you work at a company with an HR department, document any abusive behaviors by writing down the date, time, and circumstances of the occurrence, and share that with your HR team. If you work at a smaller firm, your only option may be to confront your boss. If your boss isn't the perpetrator, you can report the perpetrator in the same manner you would with a formal HR department. But if your boss is the one being abusive, you may have to quit. They may threaten that you’ll never work in this town again, but that kind of threat doesn’t hold weight – for one thing, this abusive person would never have been a good reference for you anyway, because they are selfish and narcissistic. But also, there are plenty of communities within entertainment that rally around people who have escaped toxic environments. Tell your friends and network what happened. You may not be able to report to HR, but you can report to the wider community. Anyone who thinks you should have stayed and suffered is not a good person and not someone you want to work with in the future, so do not give their terrible opinion any weight at all.
Know what parts of a project you control, and what parts you don’t. Making movies and TV shows is really fun and creatively rewarding…most of the time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in wanting to put absolutely amazing art into the world, especially if your name is going to be on the project. But at the end of the day, you can only work with what you have. If the network isn’t giving you the budget to make the director’s vision come to life in the absolute perfect way, and you’ve already clearly explained the situation to the people above you and proposed a creative alternative solution, that’s all you can do. You don’t deserve to be screamed at for not making it work, you don’t need to work longer hours to get the shoot done, and you don’t need to take money from your pocket to make it work. It’s okay if the project isn’t perfect. Remember that you are being paid to spend your time – whether that’s 40 hours a week, 60 hours a week, or 10-12 hours a day on set – utilizing a specific set of skills. If someone commands you to work unpaid overtime or at a level above your title “or else the project will suffer,” it’s up to that same someone to decide whether they want to pay (you, or additional personnel) to get the results they want, or if they want to conserve money/resources and get a different result.
Communicate clearly and stay firm. Once you’ve assessed that a situation crosses one of your boundaries, you have to communicate that you will not move forward. The best way to do this is to be extremely clear. Don’t try to soften your language or leave someone thinking you maybe sorta kinda can get the project done. Instead, be firm. For example, if your boss consistently waits until 6pm to give you notes on cuts and expects same-day turnaround, you can say something like, “I’ve noticed that every time a cut is due, you wait until the evening to give me the first set of notes, which means I’m forced to pull an all-nighter to make the edits. I’m unable to continue pulling all-nighters. Can you make sure to get me notes during working hours, so I can finalize the cuts to meet our deadlines within working hours?” You have to advocate for yourself, and you can’t assume people are mind readers who can guess your boundaries, even if they seem perfectly normal and obvious to you. Otherwise, you will continue to be taken advantage of.
We know this isn’t always easy, and you might ruffle some feathers along the way. But your happiness matters. How you spend your days matters. If your work is getting in the way of you living your life happily, it’s unsustainable. So when someone pushes back or tells you you aren’t good enough, committed enough, or thick-skinned enough to hack it, remember that the more you cave, the sooner you will burn out, which will put you even further away from realizing your dreams.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you're a college student seeking an internship, or a recent grad (congratulations!) seeking your first post-college job, you're probably overwhelmed by all the competing resume advice out there. One of the reasons we founded Hollywood Resumes was because we had so few resources at our disposal when we first broke into the industry. College career centers aren't always equipped to guide students on the specifics of the entertainment industry, and most resume writing advice is tailored to professionals further along in their careers. But we've got you covered -- here are the top 5 things you should know about your entry-level resume:
1. Education belongs at the top, 99% of the time. Your resume tells your story, and like all good stories, it establishes context through character and setting. If you're looking for an internship, your story is that you are a current student looking to grow your career. The fact that you're in school and the things you're accomplishing there (coursework, leadership activities) are the most important anchors to your candidacy, and any jobs you've held are made all the more impressive with the context that you were simultaneously completing coursework. This holds true for recent grads as well, and it's important for employers to know that this is your first foray into the full-time workforce. There are some times when recent grads might include education at the bottom of their resumes, like if you've worked full-time while completing your degree, or if you're on your second career, but these are rare.
2. Context is critical! When you're in college, it's easy to get swallowed by the bubble of campus life and forget that the outside world has no idea what goes on at your university. Most hiring managers won't recognize the names of your programs or awards (even if they are prestigious!), and unless a club name is super obvious (think: UCLA Screenwriting Society), they won't know what it is. Your tenure with a campus improv troupe is very relevant if you're pursuing a career in comedy, but listing that you were president of Duck Duck Moose on your resume is pretty silly without the context that it's an improv troupe. Make sure you explain anything that an outsider wouldn't know, either with a bullet point establishing context or an added clause, like "Recipient of Jane Doe Award for outstanding campus leadership" instead of just "Jane Doe Award."
3. Your experience doesn't all have to be paid or professional! It's perfectly normal not to have much professional experience while you're a student. And your experience is valuable, even if it wasn't paid or professional. Leadership activities, volunteering, internships, and practicum courses can all be relevant, and may be included in the experience section of your resume. Don't fall into the trap of separating your experience into "relevant experience" and "other experience" -- any experience on your resume should be relevant. If you were involved in a club that isn't really relevant -- like intramural fencing -- you can list it as an activity in the education section. But if you were captain of your intramural fencing team and don't have too much other experience, feel free to list it as a job and highlight all the logistical and leadership elements of that role.
4. Consider what skills entry-level Hollywood roles require. This is a little different for internships and assistant jobs. Internship hiring managers are looking for people who are eager, leaders, good at research, organized, and willing to learn. It's a good idea to lean into impressive achievements from your work, past internships, extracurricular activities, and coursework. On the other hand, hiring managers who are looking for an assistant want someone who can answer phones and handle scheduling, is humble enough to do administrative work, and is resourceful. If your resume showcases only major achievements but doesn't indicate any administrative abilities, it likely won't connect with the hiring team. Unlike most fields that want to hire the best of the best out of school and train them to grow, Hollywood is all about whether you are capable of doing the very basic administrative tasks. You probably can, but make sure that's clear to the hiring team. It can be hard to let go of some of your bigger achievements, especially if your peers applying in other fields are showboating on their resumes, but it's worth it, and you can always save those achievements for interview anecdotes!
5. Student films are great, but not professional. Similar to the above, you don't want to oversell your student films. It's wonderful if you had the opportunity to produce and direct films as part of your coursework! But a resume filled with the title "Producer/Director" is going to confuse hiring managers. They'll either think your resume got lost in the wrong pile, or that you don't have the humility to work your way up the ladder. If your student projects won festival awards, list that as an achievement, or if you can pull skills for PA roles from your time on set, list them as jobs with the clear indication that they were student projects. However, if you're not applying for roles on set, and your projects didn't break out of the school circuit, you may want to minimize them on your resume. You should also consider whether the project is your best work. If the first film you did as a freshman is on your resume and searchable on Vimeo, you can bet the hiring manager can find it and assume that your touting the project is an indication of your skills and taste. The whole point of student films is to practice and refine your skills, so there's no shame if your project isn't perfect -- but it's also not necessarily relevant beyond your overall coursework.
Finally, remember that you can get and do deserve your dream job! And with a great resume, you'll be sure to stand out from the crowd. Good luck!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
When you first start out in Hollywood, chances are you’re an assistant of some sort, whether that’s supporting an executive on a desk or supporting a production. And being an assistant is a great way to get your foot in the door! But too many people get caught with one foot through the threshold and that’s it…stuck in Hollywood assistant-dom for years with no real advancement.
We don’t want that for you! Your Hollywood dream job lies beyond the admin stuff, and we want to help you get there. Our latest e-book, The Hollywood Assistant Guide: How to Roll Calls, Manage Calendars, Write Script Coverage and Maintain Organization on a Busy Entertainment Desk, will help you become a great assistant. And once you master the art of being a great assistant, you can hone your skills further to get that well-earned promotion. Here’s how:
Showcase your taste. When you’ve got a strong understanding of the basics -- phones, scheduling, tracking -- you’ll have earned the right to engage with your boss on larger creative conversations. A good boss will want to give you opportunities to weigh in with script notes, take the first stab at a treatment, make initial talent selects, pitch a joke or two in the writers’ room, or suggest a workaround for an issue on set. Take advantage of these opportunities, politely and humbly, and consider asking for more chances to expand your creative input. Maybe you can hip pocket a client, bring monthly suggestions of books for potential acquisition, or simply join higher-level meetings.
Initiate solutions. There are a million things that are backlogged in every office. Consider what processes you can improve or what tasks you can take off your boss’s plate. Take initiative to make things better and more efficient. For example, if your boss has been meaning to expand their list of writers of historically underrepresented groups but doesn’t have a minute to do the required research, offer to take that project on by curating a list of scripts from contests, fellowships, or peer recommendations. If your production office has a sloppy crew database because no one’s had the time to update it for the last few production cycles, create an easily-maintainable system.
Talk to your boss. Very few bosses have the capacity to remember to advocate for you – which means you have to advocate for yourself. Your boss may not be keeping a close eye on the calendar the way you are and has no idea your year on their desk is almost up. Make a list of your achievements and added responsibilities since you first started and ask your boss to have a discussion about your future. Explain to your boss what your goals are and ask for a promotion and/or growth plan. If you’re on a show or movie, talk to the line producer about how you’d love to be considered for coordinator positions on their next project, and mention this to other crew members in your department as well. The answer might be “no” if you ask, but it’s almost definitely “no” if you don’t ask.
Move on if you can’t move up. It’s possible there’s no room for growth at your current company, or that your boss will refuse to promote you (and even gets upset by the ask). If this happens, it’s time to get out! You don’t owe anyone loyalty but yourself. It’s understood that people won’t stay assistants forever, so you should feel completely comfortable and qualm-free about looking elsewhere to level up. There are some higher-ups who will consider it a personal affront that you dared to leave their desk, but trust us from experience – they’re not worth your time. These people will not help you down the line, and they will only hold you back. You’ve done a great job as their assistant, which was the maximum you owed them, even if they tell you otherwise. Tell your contacts you’re looking for a new role at a higher level, and adapt your materials to highlight the more advanced skills you took on in your role.
Be patient. There are more assistant roles in Hollywood than higher-level roles, and as you level up throughout your career, you’ll notice things thin out at the top. Not everyone can be CEO. It’s perfectly natural to have a longer job search when you’re looking for a more competitive position than when you were trying to get your foot in the door at whatever agency mailroom had an opening. Accept this and remain confident in your job search. If you’re strategic – targeting specific roles and specific companies, leaning into your network to generate new connections and referrals to jobs, tailoring your materials to each open position – you will get there, even if it takes a little while.
You can get and do deserve your Hollywood dream job and to move beyond the desk or past PA roles. Put in the effort to be the best you can be in your current role, build on that, and take control of your career so you can make it to the next step. And we’re here to support you every step of the way.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
If you're a Hollywood assistant, the expectation from your boss will be that you’re “young and hungry,” with a no-task-is-too-small attitude, and that you’ll be able to meet her every need. And when asked to do menial tasks, you should be able to accomplish them without too much effort and with a positive attitude. If you scoff at a simple administrative request, you can kiss your Hollywood career goodbye—if you’re not willing to pay your dues, you’re never going to be able to move up the ladder. In fact, one of the most important things to remember about all the random things your boss asks you to do: The answer is (almost always) "yes." Do whatever you can to fulfill your boss's requests -- aside from learning tons of new things along the way, it will help you advance in your career much more quickly. You'll be trusted with bigger projects once you've proven that you're capable of accomplishing smaller tasks.
But what about the requests that aren’t so simple? When your boss asks you to get a random New York-based PR person who she’s never met and does not have contact information for on the phone at 10pm ET on a Friday, how on earth can you be expected to succeed? You may have no idea how to accomplish this task, but don't immediately say "No, that's not possible." Instead, respond with “Let me see what I can do,” and spend the next hour searching Google and your network of assistant contacts for someone who can get that person’s cell phone number for you. If you can be resourceful, you might actually be able to do it (pro tip: Google searches will save your life no less than a million times while you’re an assistant). This is why being a Hollywood assistant is one of the most insane learning experiences you can have—you’ll realize that you have the power to accomplish things you never thought possible. And again, it's these moments of going above and beyond that will get you opportunities to try your hand at higher-level projects.
Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll fail. There are some requests that will be beyond your control, like when your boss needs a last minute flight, only wants to fly on the Alaska Airlines red eye from LAX to JFK, and refuses to sit in a non-premium non-window seat, but they're all sold out. If your boss isn't powerful enough for a private jet, they're not powerful enough to rearrange seating on a commercial airline, but they might not see it that way. Still, don't say no outright. Take the time to present an alternative. Is there a similar flight on a different airline? A flight leaving from Burbank instead of LAX or that gets in at LaGuardia instead of JFK? Think about what's driving your boss's very specific desires and try to find a solution that meets the underlying causes. If you can present viable alternatives or try to get ahead of problems, you'll impress your boss.
Sometimes, you’ll have a difficult boss who will berate you for not having the perfect solution or for not fulfilling a crazy demand quickly enough. Or, they may ask you to do something illegal or unethical. Any of these things are awful, and if they happen, you should consider finding another job. You do not have to suffer workplace abuse.
Regardless of the situation, do your best to stay calm and solution-oriented in the moment. Your can-do attitude will be noticed by the other people in your office and external contacts, and that will help you build your reputation as someone competent and pleasant. That’s the type of attitude that’s going to get you ahead in this business.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan