Starting a Career as an Assistant

Greetings from a Los Angeles Unicorn.

Now, you may be saying:
“Hey, pretty sure there’s no such thing as unicorns.”
“Wow, this girl thinks a lot of herself.”
“This girl is definitely weird.”

To which I say,
“Uh, check again kids; no, I really don’t it’s a metaphor; and yes. Yes I am.”

So, what makes a Los Angeles Unicorn?

Well, for one, I was born and raised here. In a city where so many originate from elsewhere, admitting that your origin story actually begins in the City of Angels can summon some surprised looks from strangers.

For another, as happens in places the world over, I’m going into the family business. That family business just happens to be the entertainment industry. And, okay, I’ll stop myself here and say that I definitely know that there are plenty of people out there who have the exact same story as me. We just never seem to run into each other at parties.

So, returning to me thinking a lot of myself (supposedly). Erica asked me to write on how to succeed once you’re in at an assistant level. And, while I’ve been working consistently for a year, with experiences that vary from feature work (Safe Haven) to network TV (Gang Related, FOX) to cable TV (The Newsroom, HBO Season 3), I feel a little weird about talking like I’m some kind of expert. But, what I can do is pass on some of the bits of wisdom that have helped me along the way. Paying forward the knowledge that I gained simply by showing up to dinner and listening to stories of a day’s work.


This is pretty self explanatory, but then again, all of these will be: if someone asks something of you, say yes. For one, it’s your job and they’re paying you to do this so if you don’t want to do a given task, then you should probably give a little more thought to your career choice. More than that, there will be moments that come out of the blue, where someone will want to give you a chance to do something. It’s not always easy to see those moments coming, so even if what someone’s asking doesn’t seem like a big deal, just go with it, you never know what a favor can lead to.

Of course, as the parentheses indicate, there are limits to this. This isn’t a free pass to just say no when you feel like it. This is when you have to think about what you’re capable of and who you’re working for. There are people out there in this business (I haven’t encountered them personally, though I’ve heard stories), who will try to take advantage of you. Protect yourself people (though do know that you probably will need to protect yourself while looking for a new job).

More importantly for your current job, if you don’t have the skills, don’t agree to do something you aren’t qualified for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about learning on the job, but at least warn someone that you don’t know how to do something before trying to take it on. As someone starting out, there should be no shame in admitting that you don’t know something, so long as you pick it up quickly and didn’t spend any time trying to convince your coworkers otherwise. Time is precious, especially in this business, so don’t waste other people’s and you’ll be fine. Speaking of time:


A descriptor you’ll often hear of this industry is, “Hurry up and wait.” There’s probably going to be some days where it seems like there’s nothing to do. Where you try to stretch tasks out to be as long as possible. When asked to perform a task, it’ll sometimes seem like you have more than enough time to get it done, especially since the day’s been so light so far. Let’s just be honest here, though: the moment you approach things like that is always going to be the day that everything blows up at once and you find yourself swamped. And that little task that you assumed you’d have plenty of time for? Yeah, that’s now just one more thing you have to do. Basically, if you’re doing nothing else and you’re assigned a task? Start on it.

Of course, no matter how ahead you feel you are, there will always, ALWAYS, be days of craziness. On those days, you might not be able to start on a new task right away. But here’s where you get to prove your worth, because hey, look out, you’re suddenly an ER doc and this is now a triage situation (Confession: all I know of triage I learned from House, MD and Grey’s Anatomy so…just go with it). Now’s when you prioritize. The priority might be whatever your superiors are yelling about the most. But sometimes it isn’t, and it’s up to you to not only know that, but also defend your choices. The defense might not always work and you might have to switch gears mid stream, but they’re the boss for a reason guys, no matter what your opinion may be. And now that we’re at knowledge and attitude:


Look, you were hired for a reason. Whoever did the hiring saw something in you that they thought could help their team or their project. It’s up to you to own that. If you can help someone else out due to something you know, do so. If they’re smart, they’ll be happy for the help and will definitely take note of the fact that you’re willing to pitch in.

That being said: do not rub this in people’s faces. Personally, I have the tendency to be a little bit of a know it all. Not something I’m proud of, but just a fact of life at this point. Unfortunately, as I learned long ago, no one really cares how much you know about any given subject. If you’re helping out, great, but don’t be a jerk about it. More importantly, copping attitude opens you up to a greater fall. If you knew everything right now, you wouldn’t be an assistant. And even if you do know everything (to which I call bull) the way this industry has always worked is people coming up through the ranks. And everyone likes to feel like they’re passing something on. So let yourself be told stories, be taught. Because, chances are, they’ll explain things better than you ever would have understood on your own.

So, there we go. The three (well, six) tips I can pass from my dining room table to your computer screens. I could definitely babble on about initiating and anticipating but I think I’ll leave you with this: simple advice for a sometimes not so simple business. It may be a tad vague, but I have confidence you guys can adapt my ramblings to work for you. Good luck!