How to Survive 80 Hours a Week as a Hollywood Assistant – Part Two

career, personal stories, quitting, zen assistant
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In the last post, I wrote about Bobby’s Shitty Assistant Job (SAJ), and what he could do to reduce the number of hours he worked.

Today, I’ll cover the second part of Bobby’s question: what if your boss is unable to lessen hours and you’re being paid less than minimum wage?

(Although Bobby doesn’t say it, I’m going to work off the assumption that either: there’s no room for growth at the company, or he doesn’t want to grow within the company.)

That, by definition, is a SAJ. And there’s something so debilitating about feeling stuck in an SAJ that it just saps all the energy out from you, and makes you start questioning your contributions to society:

  • Is this all I’m good for?
  • Am I stuck here forever?
  • What would my parents and friends think?
  • I thought I’d be a millionaire by now — how’d this happen?

These questions send us into a downward spiral of blame and shame. It can take years to realize you’re stuck in a “sick system” (which Todd A eloquently expands upon here), where the only solution is quitting.

I covered quitting thoroughly in Fighting Broke. Today I’ll drill deeper into exactly what to do before you quit an SAJ.

First, though, I want to highlight someone’s downward spiral of blame and shame: my own.

Rock Bottom: Watching Pokemon Battles for 8 Hours a Day

In 2012, I bombed out of an internship for a Multi-Channel Network after a week. The day-to-day involved watching Youtube videos all day, which sounded cool…

Until you watched 62 Pokemon battles and 37 “card unboxing’s” (this is a 7-minute-video of someone buying a packet of cards, ripping open the tin foil, and showing the camera what’s inside).

I thought quitting this internship would be the best feeling in the world.

But it left me feeling worse. At least with that internship, I could tell people I had forward momentum (even if it was a lie). Now, not only was I lonely and broke, but I was aimless, too, like a 5-year-old spun in too many circles before swinging at the pinata.

I went back to the restaurant where I got my second job in LA waiting tables. It was Saturday morning when I walked in, and servers were taking down chairs and wiping tables. I asked the manager if she was looking for help.

“Why, who’s looking for a job?” she asked. “You?’

“Actually, yes,” I said.

“Oh. Okay. I’ll put you back on the schedule next week.”

On one hand, this was a major relief. There are a number of other reasons for taking a shitty job. Paying rent and eating are two. Others, depending on where you are financially, emotionally, and in your career include:

  • “The economy’s bad. I’m just happy to take any job”
  • “I’m willing to start from the bottom and work my way up”
  • “This is a good stepping stone to get where I really want to be”

Besides, we reason with ourselves, many people found massive success only after massive failures.

  • Steve Jobs was fired from his own company.
  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury published Harry Potter.
  • A personal example from my life: before my father built 3 successful restaurants, he sold 2 failing ones.

Aspiration Is Great, But It’s Not Actionable

But on the other hand… it’s hard to shake off the feeling of failure in the moment, when you’re headlong into the downward spiral. The game feels rigged, like a backwater carnival game.

Thinking about people who’ve succeeded after failure is great for aspiration, except it’s not actionable. It doesn’t haul you out of your depression. It doesn’t slap any sense into you, or tell you what to do next.

Instead of aspiration, I’d rather someone tell me EXACTLY what to do next. What’s the first step to make TODAY?

To bring it back to Bobby:

What are his options? If he wants to quit, what can he start doing today?

Fortunately, there are ways to test this:

How to Discover How Employable You are Today

1. Create a list of skills people will pay you money for (1 hour)

Note: this isn’t a list of your passions. These aren’t ideas that will turn you into a millionaire by the time you’re 30.

These are skills that people will you money for TODAY.

For example, while my friend Michael was an assistant, he earned a side income doing graphic design, bouncing at clubs, and as a personal trainer — all jobs he found on Craigslist. Today, his personal training business pays more than his assistant salary did.

I know another assistant who supplements her assistant income by driving a Lyft car on weekends.

Do not discount anything: waiting tables, bartending, catering. If there’s a reasonable expectation that someone else will pay you money to perform some service, include it in your list.

(Disclosure: if your reservations against this include:

  • I’m too good for that kind of work
  • I didn’t get a college degree to do THAT
  • Fine, I’ll do it, but I’ll have a shitty attitude about it because this is just a stepping stone for me

…then honestly, anything else I ever write probably isn’t going to be for you, and there are other blogs you should go read.)

This list isn’t about forever. It’s not about why you moved to Los Angeles, or what you’re going to be doing 10 years from now. It’s about paying rent — this month. Eating dinner — this week.

Here’s some other places to start for inspiration:

Dig DEEP into what value you can provide, and come up with, at a bare minimum, 10 things you can do to earn money.

2: Use Craigslist to aggregate job results (1 hour)

Using Craigslist to search for jobs based upon these skills. Instead of constantly revisiting the site, however, create an RSS feed that’ll aggregate your desired jobs and have it feed into your reader of choice (read here for how to create an RSS feed from Craigslist).

Now, instead of combing through CL ads everyday, you can open your reader and jobs that match your skill sets will automatically appear.

Which brings us to the last step:

3. Apply for these jobs — going direct whenever possible (3 hours / week)

Do they have an office? Drop off the resume in person.

Option between a phone call and email? Pick up the phone.

Move down the list of jobs that you’re both interested in + have the skill set for, and apply in the most direct manner possible.

At this level, when you’re looking for work to hold you over and don’t have a strong network to rely on yet, there’s no magic bullet or elegant solution. It’s a matter of brute force, and kicking open as many doors as possible.

Yeah, this can be really hard. The excitement about having back my old job of waiting tables lasted until I returned to my apartment. Then my heart started racing as I realized I had just taken a step back — TWO WHOLE YEARS.

I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I holed up in my room, had a difficult conversation with my girlfriend Amy about moving back to New York, and was ready to quit. But step by step, shitty tips after shitty tips, I was able to rebuild, and get traction again…

I’m not saying, “it gets better.”

I am saying, “you can make it better.”

Go see exactly how employable you are. Build a inch of traction — and go from there.

Still to come, I’ll cover part 3 of Bobby’s question: freeing up more money when you’re a Hollywood assistant.


Photo Credit: Evil Erin

How to Survive 80 Hours a Week as a Hollywood Assistant – Part One

career, zen assistant

Bobby writes:

What if you are working 80 hours a week as an assistant and you don’t have enough time to pursue you’re own creative endeavors? I’ve tried talking to my boss about less hours but he says he’s unable to lessen the hours. I get paid less than minimum wage and can barely afford rent let alone save money for the equipment I need to buy. Any advice?

Bobby’s question is written as one problem, which I will eloquently sum up as:

I have a Shitty Assistant Job (SAJ). What can I do about it?

Bobby’s question is written as one problem, but if we examine it, we see he’s actually conflating three separate problems. To find a solution, we need to untangle the problems. It’s like trying to fix an “unlikable character” in a script — you can’t just add a Save the Cat moment, you have to find the root of what makes him unlikable.

In this post, I’m going to break down the three problems I see Bobby’s having, and give tips on how to tackle the first problem. [click to continue…]

Here’s What Shapes Your Brand as a Writer


Last week I asked what happens to a writer who’s given the benefit of the doubt.

What happens when a writer spends time not just on the work, but the packaging around the work?

The work is the screenplay, the treatment, the body. It’s the art that was commissioned, or created on spec.

The packaging is the person behind it, and everything they bring to the table. [click to continue…]

Does Your Writing Speak For Itself?


“Just write quality work. That’s the only secret to success.”

“Let your writing speak for itself.”

“The cream always rises.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

If your screenplay, your treatment, and your craft was judged purely on merit. If the executives or agents reading your material saw the work for precisely what it was. That those commissioned to do rewrites or hired on staff earned their position because of their ability to write that story.

Of course, it doesn’t work this way.

Perfect, meticulously crafted pitches don’t always sell.

Meanwhile, kernels of an idea hastily molded into outlines don’t either… but sometimes they do.

When they do, it’s because the pitch (or the script, the treatment, the logline, the bible) came from someone who’s been given the benefit of the doubt. When you’re given this gift, then merit is read into your work.

So a large part of our work as creatives and writers is to create the environment in which we’re given the benefit of the doubt. Creating that environment takes you away from new projects or honing your craft — high value, high opportunity cost activities.

But creating that environment is worth it.


Photo Credit: jesuscm

Inspired by Seth Godin’s The Benefit of the Doubt

4 More Tax Lessons Learned in 2014

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Some predictions I got horribly wrong:

  • Selling APPL stock in 2008
  • Selling AMZN stock 2009
  • The demise of this whole “smart-phone-craze” thing

Finally, though, I got something right:

You gotta keep learning about your taxes.

Here are 4 more lessons I learned… as I filed my 2013 taxes: [click to continue…]