So, what’s a Hollywood hopeful to do with this information?
- Recognize just how competitive this industry is. Hundreds of people are applying for jobs that barely even cover rent because they want to work in Hollywood so badly. This means you need to stand out during the application process and make sure you deliver when you’ve got your desk, since you’re easily replaceable.
- Understand where you stand in salary negotiations. The industry rate is pretty standard. That doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate, but it does mean you have to be careful when and how you do. If you need $40k to make your lifestyle work, you shouldn’t apply for an agent’s assistant job, because those rates are locked in. You’re better off trying your hand at an assistant job at a large production company, where there might be more room to tack on an extra $5k or bonuses. It’s best not to talk about salary expectations in an interview until your employer brings it up, and from their cadence, you can see if there’s room to negotiate.
- Don’t be afraid to turn down an opportunity that’s really out of your range. True story: An opportunity once came up where the employer said, “The job is $20k a year. Non-negotiable. If you can’t make that work, don’t come in for the interview.” For a first foot in the door, you may consider that opportunity if the company is a really great fit, but after a couple of years as an assistant, you can hold out for something better.
- Look into a side hustle. If you're struggling to pay the bills, consider driving for uber on the weekends, holding down a server job, or freelancing as a script reader. Many assistants have more than one job (and the ones who don't probably have rich parents). But know yourself and your boss. If you have the kind of boss who calls you over the weekend or expects you to cover five scripts by Mondaymorning, you may not have the capacity for a side gig, and that’s okay. Your assistant job should take priority, because the better you perform there, the more likely you are to get promoted, a raise, or recommended for another job.
- Make friends in the industry. This is important for all sorts of reasons, but especially when it comes to money. Your college friends may be pursuing immediately lucrative careers, and it’s easy to get caught up in their spending habits or feel sorry for yourself when you see them post pictures of their Croatian vacations on Instagram, and you can’t even afford to eat at the new Croatian restaurant in the valley. But your industry friends will understand when you have to order a soda at “drinks” or have to pass on the penthouse bachelor party suite. Watch the Friends episode “The One with Five Steaks an Eggplant” and embrace the Phoebes, Joeys, and Rachels in your life.