October 25, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

It's All Your Fault: How to Make It as A Hollywood Assistant

Current Status
In Season
Ceridwen Morris, Bill Robinson
Nonfiction, Movies

Preview an industry tell-all

Note: From the forthcoming book It’s All Your Fault by Bill Robinson and Ceridwen Morris. Copyright (c) 2001 by Bill Robinson and Ceridwen Morris. To be published by Simon and Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc.


The job of the Hollywood assistant is not just about getting coffee at 9 a.m., it’s also about getting Forest Whitaker a Quarter Pounder at 3 a.m. There are serious hazards in the workplace as well. Just ask Naomi Campbell’s assistant, who got smashed in the head with a cell phone hurled by the leggy beauty during a temper tantrum. One producer cut his assistant’s tie off with a pair of scissors because he didn’t like it. There’s much more to being a Hollywood assistant than just… scheduling meetings, although, as you’ll see, the complexity of those tasks alone has led many back to Kansas.

Terminology, geography, and pecking order are just a few of the things they don’t teach in film classes…. For example, putting Harvey Weinstein on hold, or xeroxing Steven Zaillian’s latest screenplay incorrectly, can cost you your career. Try assuming your boss doesn’t mind you giving out his home number. Or perhaps you didn’t know that Sharon Stone will never sit sideways to the door of a restaurant. Make just one of these mistakes and you may find out how quickly you can be replaced by one of the thousands of eager young assistant wannabes who are all too happy to work for six bucks an hour.

Some reassurance: Many of today’s industry success stories, from Mike Ovitz on down, were kicking copiers and making lunch reservations just yesterday.


Not only are you able to read and help find material, but you are also involved in all aspects of making a movie from beginning to end. Whether it’s sitting in casting sessions or traveling to exotic locations, the director’s assistant is allowed the ultimate backstage pass to moviemaking…. There are tremendous advantages to working on the set…. You can develop more relationships than if you are confined to an office all day, and you’ll learn how to behave on the set. We will refer to this behavior as ”settiquette.” Here are the 10 primary rules of settiquette:

1. Don’t speak unless spoken to.
2. Knock loudly on trailer doors before entering.
3. Never talk to nosy neighbors on location.
4. Never criticize the food.
5. Don’t offer opinions on script, performances, or direction.
6. Don’t sit down unless invited.
7. Never walk onto a ”hot” set (i.e., being used that day).
8. Never ask for haircuts or makeup.
9. Don’t predict how the project will do.
10. Never ask for autographs.


So you want to work in a hostile, tense, fluorescently lit environment with long hours and low pay? Have we got a job for you! As an assistant to an agent or manager you will be in the nerve center of the biz: the dealmaking, the scripts, the thousands of phone calls to everyone in the 310 or 212 area code.

Perhaps the hardest part… is not only the responsibility of keeping track of your boss’ schedule, calls, meetings, meals, etc., while maintaining a people-pleasing demeanor that would impress even the world’s best stewardess. You might have to call that flaky writer or that drug-addled actor the week before, the day before, the hour before his next meeting. Then you have to tell him who it’s with, what it’s about, and give him directions. All the while you must continue juggling your boss’ agenda, which, whether he/she is successful or not, will be crammed full of schmooze sessions separated by rapid-fire meetings. You’ve seen it in the movies: ”Get me my agent!!” The agent is the link to everyone’s next job, so these assistants are mostly dealing with extremely worried people.


Here’s a sample day for a producer’s assistant, ripped from her legal pad:

Bawl out the gardener for not being able to find the right size pots for the banana trees.
Schedule a drinks meeting with [a no-name director] who’s attached to [a star].
Stalk the AirTouch Cellular rep to get boss the ”hands free” phone. (Day 20 of this task)
Find out what time he wants his massage. Raphael can only come after four on Saturday or before six on Sunday.
Get the right pots for the banana trees.
Schedule a meeting with [a magazine editor].
Schedule [a writer] to come in for a pitch.
Check smarterliving.com for weekend vacation deals.
Check his stocks.
Write and send pass letters for William Morris submissions.
Research every kind of computer that has an internal editing capacity. Cross-reference and call every computer dealer in Los Angeles area.
Call the gardener again to tell him I tracked down the right pots.
Look up all blond actresses from the ’50s for a joke in the script.
Order a chain, a black collar, biscuits, bones, and chew toys from the Drs. Foster & Smith dog-supply catalog.
Arrange for bulk purchasing of antidepressants through Walgreens.


Here’s a test to see if you’ve got what it takes for this job. If you can look in the mirror and say the following sentences without flinching, you’re a natural:

”Robin, Christmas just wouldn’t have been the same without Patch Adams.”
”You know, it’s really refreshing to see a movie like Booty Call.”
”Welcome aboard, Calista, I’m sure you’re exactly what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
”That’s what makes HBO different, Sinbad, we’ll put you in a Western.”
”…cut to Sandy Bullock on a Vespa.”
”Okay, are you sitting down, Mr. Eisner?… Air Bud: Golden Receiver.”
”Come on, Sylvester Stallone trapped in a tunnel for two hours, it’s brilliant!”
”Geena Davis as a pirate? Now, that’s a film I can get behind.”

If you didn’t do well on the test, not to worry. For extra credit, just pad your score, blame someone else, and pretend it never happened. After all, that’s what an aspiring studio exec would do!


Who’s Who…and Who Isn’t:
Figure out the pecking order…. But don’t just kiss up to the big shots; it is the little people who will end up covering your back. Not to mention, everyone gets fired and promoted.

Panic Attack on Line Two:
Now you’re answering the phones and… you will have memorized everyone in your boss’ life, from Ziva the masseuse to Lenny the business manager. However, should you be caught off guard by a new name, we will teach you how to figure it out in 60 seconds or less. Every assistant should have:

Hollywood Creative Directory (it lists the current staff and contact information for all of the major studios, management, and production companies)
Agents & Managers Directory (similar, but extensively covering the agencies)
IMDb (Internet Movie Database, an online service for researching movie credits)
The Writers and Directors Guild directories (listings of writers and directors and their representatives: lawyers, managers, agents, and their credits)
A meticulously updated Rolodex, preferably on computer for speed
VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever (no conversation takes place in Hollywood without at least one ”What’d they do again?”)
Agency client lists (agencies really protect these but there are some floating around, and if you can dupe a copy, you’ll be in good with your boss, who will then have a shortcut to anticipating every agency’s packaging scheme)
Old phone logs (hugely important, because your boss will suddenly remember someone he once talked to and now needs, but he’ll have no idea where the person works, or even lives)
Your boss’ Filofax (at least, a recent Xerox of it)

Remember, time is of the essence on all phone calls, so you should be prepared to check all of the above simultaneously… and without moving.

Your Master’s in Telecommunication:
Numerous pitfalls await you if you do not master things like the mute button, the headset, the speed dial, the Amtel, conference calling, transfer, and voice-mail options. And, of course, God forbid you lose a message. People have been killed for less…. Once you’ve mastered the technology, you need to learn the nuances of dealing with the people on the other end of the phone.

Hollywood 911: When to Use the Word Urgent:
Many callers will announce their call as ”urgent” as a means to get by you. After all, you’re the bouncer with the list at the velvet rope. Take heed, and run each of these pronouncements through your ”urgency filter” before pulling your boss out of a ”production meeting” (Latin for ”high colonic”).

The Oath of Office: How to Lie Comfortably in An Uncomfortable Headset: In addition to the… ”cellular canyon” lie and the ”in a production meeting” excuse, there are several more Clintonian phrases that it would behoove any assistant to memorize:

”He’s on the set with his phone off.”
”He’s locked in an editing room.”
”He’s on a looping stage, trying to get Patrick Swayze to lose his accent.”
”He’s stuck in a last-minute production rewrite meeting with a hostile writer.”
”He’s in an all-day read-through.”
”He’s been on the phone with Washington all morning, begging for a PG-13.”
”I know he’s anxious to speak to you.”

Again, we’re not encouraging dishonesty in the workplace, but your boss undoubtedly will, so it’s best to be prepared.

If you’re playing rock & roll, you definitely aren’t interested in taking advice. They’re not really married at the hip, those two things: If you were willing to take advice, you wouldn’t be doing it to begin with.
— Jakob Dylan, singer, the Wallflowers

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