How can I break in as a producer’s assistant? Do you know what the trajectory is to become a full-fledged film producer? I’ve been trying to figure out what other careers are out there with my skill set and want to do something in TV or film (TV might be more steady). I’m also looking for an entry level career that pays more than 35k starting salary. What do you think?
When I first joined the rank & file of Hollywood employees, I couldn’t tell the difference between an agent and a producer. Nevermind what the trajectory of either looked like.
One time, I asked, “what’s a mensch?”
“Wow. You’re green,” was someone’s response.
But if you genuinely don’t know, you have to start somewhere.
(My series, How Hollywood Works: TV, is a great place to start.)
But your questions trigger the Spidey-sense of anyone who’s worked in Hollywood for longer than a week. We’re seeing so many red flags it’s like red panty night came early.
I asked how other Hollywood assistants would respond to your question. Here’s what some had to say:
I’m going to answer your question, but first, I want to show you:
- What’s wrong with this question?
- The problem with this question?
- What questions should you ask
How to get help and guidance from experts for free
Your questions reveal you’re too focused on goals:
- How do I break-in as a producer’s assistant? (Goal: job)
- How do I become a producer? (Goal: title)
- Where can I earn $35K to start? (Goal: salary)
Goals are important. But at this stage, your focus — and, therefore, your questions — should be 100% centered on “How do I break in?”
In other words, you should focus on the process, not the goal.
It’s like, you’re standing atop a mountain, ready to ski for the first time. And you ask “what whiskey do they serve down at the lodge” when you should ask, “how do I turn in these things?”
Here’s what 3 questions could look like:
- I’m interested in becoming X. I’ve read The Mailroom and the Producer’s Handbook, and it seems the best places to start might be A, B, and C. I’m leaning towards B. What do you think?
- What skills can I work on now, that’d make me a no-brainer hire when I got to Hollywood?
- I know I gotta work hard to make the big bucks in Hollywood. However, I’m curious because well, a girl’s has to eat: How much should I expect to earn at an entry-level job? Is $35K/year unreasonable?
Dude, if someone asked me these questions, I’d think: “Wow — you’re ready.”
These questions show:
- They’ve done their research
- They have the right expectations
- They have the drive
And I’d do everything I could to help them.
What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting salary?
Time to get off my soapbox. Let’s tackle the biggest question:
“What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting?”
Three things to tackle to understand the answer to this question:
1. Think about your compensation as weekly salary, NOT yearly salary
Here’s a chart I created to help other assistants negotiate their salaries:
You see that to earn $35K (gross, in other words, pre-tax) you need to make $675 per week.
2. Jobs that pay $675 starting are rare
Thus, these jobs are very competitive.
We’re talking about jobs like:
- Well-paid production assistant jobs
- Jobs at the big studios (e.g. Disney, Paramount, NBC-Universal, Sony, Warner Bros)
Most places will start you at either:
- $10 – $12.75 per hour OR
- $600 – $650 per week
3. It’s your job to fast track increases to your salary and earnings
Nobody’s gonna hand you a 3% annual raise. Here’s how you earn it:
- Like Arestia Rosenberg points out, become invaluable by reading your boss’s mind and a living, breathing Wikipedia of what they need to know
- Understand your value and negotiate aggressively
- Pick up a side gig
Is this still what you want?
It’s OK to be uncertain about whether or not this path is for you. It’s okay to ask about the money or to find out if there’s a specific trajectory that most people go through. Like I said, you have to start asking questions.
Now you know that you can’t expect job security or a minimum salary of $35K a year when you’re breaking into Hollywood. So, my question is: Is this still what you want?
Photo Credit: Andrew Quentin