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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Assistant Files

I actually really like many parts of being an assistant. It's uncool, but I basically have the kind of '50s-housewife personality that is quite happy to bring people coffee and roll their calls.

However. There are a few things I really, really dislike about being an assistant, and this is one of them:

Assistant Call-Rolling Power Struggles

The following is all hypothetical and did not happen to me recently. Or anything like that.

Say your boss ("Boss") is pretty important. Say there's an executive ("Executive") who Boss deals with a lot and who feels that he, Executive, is a pretty big deal. Say that Boss does not necessarily agree. In fact, say that Boss and Executive basically dislike each other a lot, but are forced to work together because they're both on the same project.

So that's the backstory. Now, say that while Boss was in a meeting, Executive called and left word.

Hours pass. Boss doesn't return the call because Boss will always try to get out of calling Executive, no matter how often you say "Hey, Boss, we owe Executive a call." Eventually, Boss gets one of those jerk emails from Executive that reads "CALL ME." Boss swears creatively and yells out, can you please get Executive on the phone? You call Executive's office: "I have Boss returning Executive's call."

A pause. Executive's assistant says "Let me check." A minute passes. Executive's assistant gets back on.

"Okay, you put Boss on the phone and as soon as Executive can jump off the call he's on--"

"I'm not going to do that," you say. You don't want to put Boss on the phone because you suspect that Executive is mad at him, and will make him hold for more than the 15 seconds that's about the max Boss can handle before yelling at you that you shouldn't have put him on the phone if they weren't ready. "I can hold for Executive, though."

"...just put Boss on," the assistant says. For her part, she doesn't want me to hold for Executive because it means that her Executive will have to hold for my Boss, even if it's just for the few seconds between "Hi! Still me, sorry." and Boss getting on. (Confused yet?)

And just like that, the other assistant and I are now in the midst of an epic power struggle about whose boss is more important. (This is something I would not have believed if you'd told me about it when I first moved to LA.)

"Nope," I say.

"But Executive can't hold for Boss--"

"Are you kidding? You really think I'm going to make Boss get on the phone and listen to your hold music for five minutes just so Executive doesn't have to stay on hold for the time it takes me to push the hold button and tell Boss that he's on the line? Really? Really?!?"

"Just put Boss on the line to hold, it won't be for all that long--"

"No. We'll leave word. Thank you."



Basically it's a game of Hold Chicken, and it's stupid. As soon as I got off the phone, I was both very irritated that someone had dared play King Of The Phone Mountain with us and equally embarrassed that I cared about this even a little bit. I went into Boss' office, fuming. "What," Boss said. "I left word," I grumbled. "Also, Executive is such a jerk! His assistant tried to make you hold for him!!!"

"...," Boss said.

People in the industry often act like being an assistant qualifies you to eventually work your way up and have your boss' job. I disagree. You know what being an assistant qualifies you to do? Be a wife. In the '50s or early '60s. With a bunch of petty concerns, and sublimating your own power struggles into those of your boss/ersatz husband and obsessing over how people take their coffee and trying to anticipate their's very Mad Men.


Andy Sachs

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Seth Fortin said...

That's hilarious, and it reminds me of when I was a PA early in life and working on a movie with a Very Big Star and a Not So Big Star. Now, it's kind of customary that the bigger the star, the later they come to set. That is, junior actors come to the set first, while your Mel Gibsons and Julia Robertses aren't called until the last possible moment.

Well, at a certain point Not So Big Star got it into his head that he wanted to be on an equal footing with Very Big Star. And therefore he didn't want to got to set first and wait for Very Big Star -- he wanted to come down at the same time. Very Big Star soon figured this out, of course, and he damned sure wasn't going to come down to set until Not So Big was already there.

So just as you describe here, a sort of mini-war emerged in which Not So Big and Very Big would sit in their trailers, literally for hours some days, each waiting for the other to emerge so as not to be first down to the set. It actually stopped production several times. We literally had nothing to do until they decided to come out. Believe me when I tell you there is something very wrong if the PAs are playing Frisbee during a working day.

Julie Gray said...

lol, I have a Val Kilmer story straight from the set of the Salton Sea which I witnessed. FIVE HOURS in his trailer due to a hissy fit. Talk about playing frisbee. The crew was throwing dice for awhile there. Ridiculous.

Because I know assistants (I don't know if anybody has yet realized that Andy Sachs is a composite persona) and have one, I am constantly amazed by their fortitude, loyalty and smarts. I couldn't do without Chaia. I feel as loyal to her as she does to me because she's so hard working and loyal. That word is so important. There's so much trust in an assistant relationship.

But - my original point was going to be, all this stuff, all these little games, it seems not to matter to Joe Writer but it does, because this is the landscape into which your script is entering. That's why the Assistant Files are important for Rouge Wavers to read.

Joe Public said...

I don't work for an entertainment company, but I do feel your pain.

A few years ago I was peddling a script and wanted a particular actor very, very, badly. I found out who represented him, called the company, called the agent his snot nosed, weird, sniveling, little animal sitting on Jabba the Hutt like weasel assistant.

And I should have learned the rules of the biz before getting adventurous...unless I was an agent myself I shouldn't be calling. What left me wanting to reach through the phone and hold onto this guy's neck for dear life, was his tone. "If so and so doesn't know you, he has no business with you." "Bye now."

The good news is the actor left that firm and went to another. I called them...and they sent a release.

Bad news is the script was awful, but at the time I thought it was wonderful. So the owner's assistant called me and politely said they wouldn't be using it.

She was wonderful.

So I guess it's the luck of the draw with which assistant type you get.

Anthony Peterson said...

OMG - this is so infantile. I feel sorry for these people. My 11 year old daughter was nominated for school captain. I told her she should be the first to pick up the rubbish on the playground. First on - last off. And do it when no one is looking. I sat her down and made her watch Obama's election speech on You Tube to inspire her to write her own. She kicked butt.