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