x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Don't fool yourself - your assistant isn't the one assisting

Who needs an assistant? In Hollywood, like in most places, everyone does just to keep themselves motivated.

I once had a young writer on staff and we were talking about when, exactly, we could expect her to turn in the first draft of a script.

"I'm not sure," she said. "I'll have to figure that out with my assistant."

As I said, she was a young writer. And like all people in their 20s, she was utterly convinced that her job - which was, essentially, to take orders from me - was beneath her. People under 30 are perpetually baffled by the stupidity of their bosses and overlords.

And this one, apparently, had an assistant herself. I remember thinking to myself: "Assistant? How can she afford that?"

I spent a few moments mentally calculating this writer's episode and script fees, and wondering how someone making such a decent but not extravagant salary justified spending even what was probably a minuscule portion of it on an assistant.

What did this assistant assist with?

At the time, I was one of the executive producers of a network television comedy. And I had a writer's assistant - we had two of them, as a matter of fact - but these are pretty important and busy jobs. They have to make script and story notes, sit during rewrites and get all of the changes into the script. They were busy. They didn't really work for me exclusively. Or even non-exclusively. They worked for the show.

So when the young writer said, with a noticeable hauteur, "I'll have to figure it out with my assistant", I guess I was nonplussed.

It must have showed on my face. So the writer explained that the assistant was there to help with all sorts of things the writer was too busy for - what those things were was unspecified - and that, besides, it was a great way to break into show business, running to the local drugstore or stocking the printer with paper.

Assistants - the useful kind and the not so much - are a staple of the entertainment industry. Everyone here knows that when you talk to your agent or manager on the telephone, it's highly likely that his or her assistant is listening in on the call. They're supposed to, actually. It's considered a perk, for some reason - a way to learn really how the entertainment business is conducted, a form of on-the-job training. Although it would seem to me that a day spent listening to phone calls between agents and clients and agents and studios couldn't possibly encourage anyone to get into show business, apparently I'm wrong.

I'm working on a show right now, and I was told by the studio finance executive that there was money in the production budget for a personal assistant, should I want one. And I said, without thinking: "Good Lord! What would I have that person do?"

And then I thought, "Wait." It seemed to me that I was missing an opportunity. Maybe I do need an assistant. I mean, everyone in Hollywood has one. The entire industry operates with a complex web of personal assistants - a network of young people in their 20s who listen in on every single phone call that takes place. And they all know each other, and Facebook each other, gathering valuable intelligence to bring back to the office.

I thought to myself: "I'm sure I can find something for this person to do, right?"

"On second thought," I said to the guy from studio finance, "get me an assistant."

He arrived last week. He is smart and capable and I'm sure bored out of his mind at my general lack of things for him to do. I feel like I'm letting him down, like he only took the job because he thought there would be important stuff to do and juicy phone calls to listen in on, when in reality most of my day is spent sitting in a room with the writers and staring out of the window. I can feel him, just outside my office door, quietly judging me. I can hear his thoughts: "This guy is going nowhere."

So yesterday, when my agent called me to tell me that someone had asked if I'd help out on a project, I immediately said yes, despite the fact that I'm already busy and late for everything and kind of stressed out.

I said yes because I thought I owed it to my assistant to be really busy and overcommitted.

Maybe that's why anything gets done here in the entertainment industry. Maybe it's not that we're all involved in passion projects, all motivated by a restless artistic energy. Maybe we're all just trying to look important to our assistants, trying to keep them busy.

I suppose there are worse reasons to get down to work.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood