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