I’ve been watching the conversation around assistants in Hollywood and the #payuphollywood movement from a distance over the last few months. If you want to get caught up, these posts on JohnAugust.com and this podcast episode are good places to start.
I have a few reasons for finally chiming in:
- I’m a film & TV producer who has had assistants and often hires assistants for one-off projects.
- I pay assistants a living wage
- I have a solution, not just complaints about the situation.
The largest argument around #payuphollywood is, from what I can tell, centered around compensation. I believe that stems from a deeper desire to feel appreciated, noticed, to be considered equal and seen, but we can focus on both.
Many current assistants in Los Angeles and throughout the film industry report making ~$15 an hour. If you work full time, 40 hours a week, that works out to about $30,000 for the year.
Most assistants, however, work 50-60 hours a week, so they end up making more than that, but are also expected to pay for things that many, including myself, don’t think they should have to pay for out of pocket — covering tips on meals, transportation and gas expenses, a specific attire for working in that company, etc.
The frustration comes from the fact that many of these assistants are working for incredibly profitable companies. Paying assistants $1,000 a week and paying for the expenses on a company card and providing them with a car and gas money would not affect the company’s bottom line in a negative way. If anything, they’d be able to get more and better assistants.
To further the issue, it has become near impossible to work as an assistant unless you have another form of financial support. Many who strive to enter the industry as an assistant simply cannot afford to live in LA, where the cost of living is 48% above the country’s average. Unless you have parental support or some other form of income, you’re pretty hosed.
Enough preamble. Here’s my solution:
No More Assistants
Easy, right? Problem solved. We just do away with the idea of assistants.
Furthermore, let’s do away with the concept of hierarchy in the film industry. If you’re a 1st AD, you aren’t a more valuable person than a production assistant. You simply have more experience and more responsibility.
By doing away with assistants, we remove the false and limiting belief that there are people “below us” there only to serve our every whim.
Say it with me! NO MORE ASSISTANTS! NO MORE ASSISTANTS!
I propose we hire apprentices.
An apprentice is much, much different from an assistant, starting with how we see them as people. They aren’t a pee-on, they’re there to learn, to grow, and to contribute to the project and the company.
An apprentice is someone who is there to learn a trade from a skilled employer. That implies that the employer takes on the role of a teacher and a leader, not someone inherently better than the apprentice, but someone who is concerned with and invested in the progress and the education of this apprentice.
By reframing assistants as apprentices, we would completely shift the landscape and the perspective about who these apprentices are, what they’re there to do, and the value that they inherently have.
Too many people see assistants as replaceable if they “aren’t working out”. An apprentice, on the other hand, is someone you’ve invested time and money and education into, and you are responsible for their advancement and success.
Imagine if an apprentice had the ability to go into a post-production house and learn from the editors, rather than being seen as merely someone to fetch coffee?
Imagine if, rather than running errands to get an executive’s dry cleaning, they were given an opportunity to understand why decisions are made in regards to what projects to green-light, who to hire, and how the project makes it’s money back.
Imagine if we actually opened up the opportunity to anyone with the desire, curiosity, integrity, and work ethic to become an apprentice by paying them a living wage. In LA the median wage is a little more than $54,000 a year. You could even round down and pay them $1,000 a week plus overtime. And take care of their expenses. And treat them like a human being.
It can be done. I pay my assistants between $1,000 and $1,250 a week in PROVO, UT, where the cost of living is 17% LOWER than the national average.
How? It’s about seeing assistants – no, apprentices – as people, as having a value outside of running errands for you, and giving them an opportunity to enter this industry, provide for themselves and their young families, and feel that they are contributing in a significant way.
They aren’t just there to run errands for me. I make sure I budget time each week, whether we’re in production or just in the office, to teach – how to produce a shoot. How to break down a script. How to get location releases. How to work with the crew to get equipment ordered. How to budget a project and still have profit for the company. It goes on and on. If I don’t have the time on a project to teach someone, then I don’t hire an apprentice for that project.
So, who’s with me now? Let’s do away with assistants. Banish the word and the concept of a low-level, replaceable staffer. Rather, let’s hire and mentor apprentices, driven, hard-working, intentional people we are investing our time and money and resources into.
We can help shape the future of the industry if we start treating apprentices with respect, and value, and invest in them the same way we wish people would invest in us.
If you feel so inclined, I’d love for you to help signal-boost this post by sharing on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to use the hashtag #payuphollywood. Thanks!
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