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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Assistant Files: You Can't Handle the Truth

Hollywood Truth #1: There is no truth in Hollywood, only versions of the truth.

As an assistant you are expected to lie effectively on behalf of your boss. It's not so much malicious or destructive lying, or spreading totally false gossip (usually). It's more like misdirection to soften a blow or buy time. It's part of maintaining your boss's relationships with the people in his life: colleagues, the big boss, the talent, even his significant other and his mom.

It's also a good idea to lie to your boss when necessary. You know, like when he tells you to get him a dinner reservation at that hot new restaurant, but the maitre d' has NO IDEA who your boss is (or he isn't important enough and the maitre d' just doesn't care). There's no point in relaying that information back to your boss. Just assure him you'll get it done, then figure out a way – again, I suggest lying – and your boss will be SUPER IMPRESSED. Okay, not really. But he will definitely be the opposite of super impressed if you aren't able to get the reservation.

So, what if you're inexperienced with lying, or just plain no good at it? Not to worry! In Hollywood, the role models abound.

Pay attention and you'll learn how to:

*Fake having read that script!
*Get out of meetings and lunches with people who are a waste of time!
*Avoid your superiors while giving the impression you're actually working and probably deserve a promotion and/or raise!
*Compliment someone's work when really it kind of made you wonder if they'd recently gone off some heavy meds!
*Talk to people without giving them any concrete answers or useful information!

Is it disheartening to realize that every word spoken to you has to be analyzed for content? Sure. It's also why everyone in Hollywood is neurotic and paranoid. Well, maybe not the ONLY reason, but it's undoubtedly a contributing factor.

Which brings me to my real point… In your writing career you'll often have to suss out the true parts of what you're hearing. There will definitely be times when you think, "Wait, didn't you just tell me you LOVED my script? Then why are you giving me sixteen pages of things I need to change?!"

My advice? Find some allies who will help interpret the meaning of the messages. Just like in the dating game when you're trying to figure out why that guy who told you how awesome you are hasn't called you for three weeks, and your best friend explains you're overlooking the part where he said, "…but I don't think we should see each other again." Your friends often have perspective you don't, because they're not as in the middle of the situation as you are. So figure out who those people are for you. Keep them on speed dial under the category Truth Brain Trust.

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Kirkland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirkland said...

I hang with a small group of writers. We meet just about everyday and we rarely talk about business. Well, except when we're really frustrated and pissed off. Which, as it turns out, is every miserable day that one of has just left a meeting with some nitwit (This is a term of endearment. wou;d this face lie? Seriously. No. Really. It is.) from a studio.

Long ago, separately and independently, and in all likelihood quite by accident or by divine intervention, depending on what who you believe, we came to the same conclusions about studio nitwits (See? I said it again. I must really love those guys. Which I assure you is the absolute truth. Truth being a relative term.), which is this:

1. Shake hands. exchanged the usual pseudo pleasantries.

2. Once you're in the room, sit down carefully, (watching for blood of others who went before you), take out a yellow legal pad...

3. Listen to what they say. Pay enough attention to what they're saying and nod often as they rip your script apart.

4. Pretend to take careful notes.

5. If you're the emotional sort, try not to kill them--it does not look good on your resume. Just smile and nod.

6. At the end of the meeting, when you're heart is broken and they've ripped you to shreds, try staying positive and upbeat and offer the same bullshit pleasantries you started the meeting with.

7. Then, as soon as you leave the meeting--making sure no one is watching--head to the nearest washroom and clean off your hands and rid yourself of all parasite residue.

8. Exit the building, get in your car, grab that yellow legal pad and toss it on the back seat without ever looking at it.

9. Go home and delouse yourself.

10. Go meet your friends for lunch and get shit-faced, because this process will repeat itself over and over again each time with some other nitwit (Seriously, I do love those guys) and odds are everything on that legal pad will be the opposite of what the new nitwit will say.

And--because I follow this advice religiously--that's why I continue to be a working writer in this town.

E.C. Henry said...

Great advice, Julie. But doesn't Andy Sachs usually do this column? What'd ya do with Andy? And don't lie now...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Anonymous said...

e.c.-- I guess you're paying attention!

Andy here, and yes I did write up that post, but forgot to sign it. Yikes, how embarrassing. Especially since we assistants like to pride ourselves on attention to detail.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Andy. We are definitely living parallel lives. Your words are so very validating...more than you know.