If you’re active in the film and TV world or at least trying to be, you may have heard of the hashtag “Pay Up Hollywood.” This hashtag and movement advocates for livable wages and better working conditions for assistants working in the entertainment industry. The topic of assistants in Hollywood has been talked about all over the internet with the hashtag Pay Up Hollywood, with people sharing horror stories about their experiences as an assistant in the industry.
Now, if you truly don’t know what being an assistant is like, whether it’s at an agency or a Production Assistant, let me paint the beautiful picture that is being an assistant in the Lala Land machine looks like:
Assistants usually work long hours - sometimes between 50-70 hours a week, for close to minimum wage, requiring them to use their car for work in order to complete their daily tasks, needing to be flexible around a variety of schedules in order to take their lunch and start and end their day, will probably work overnight and weekends sometimes, sometimes even doing personal assistant duties, with no real benefits. On top of that, they’re probably doing a long commute to work to afford LA rent, doing way more than their job duties entail, have a degree or two, AND it might take years to step up from that position into a better higher-paying one. AND depending if they work on a show or movie, they’re hopping from different shows every few months with no true stability. Yikes.
So why do people put themselves through this?? Assistants have a dream and are the future producers, directors, cinematographers, designers, and editors of the film industry. We all want to be a part of making something great and aspire to be our bosses and our boss’ bosses. So we’re willing to go through some pretty crazy circumstances if that means there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
And for the most part, most people in the industry think that it’s a right of passage, but as some people in the Pay Up Hollywood movement have pointed out, the passage one person may have taken 20 years ago looks a lot different for someone going through it now. Wages have been stagnant for a long time while rent, insurance, and student debt continue to increase.
And to be honest, more assistants don’t complain about a lot of this because they know that in many circumstances they’re seen as replaceable. Since LA is full of aspiring filmmakers just waiting to get into the industry, there are many others out there willing to take their Executive Producer’s dog to the groomers if you don’t.
So if you haven’t taken a look at the #PayUpHollywood, I encourage you to do so. The podcast “Scriptnotes” created an episode called “Assistants Aren’t Paid Nearly Enough” where they talk about some of these horror stories and point out the hypocrisy of the heavily democratic industry to put people through these unfair situations and criteria to even get an entry-level job in the industry. They’ve done a few follow-up episodes about the topic as well.
But since not many companies are jumping on board and revolutionizing the world of Hollywood assistants just yet (Verve was the first (and probably only at this point) company to do so), let’s talk about what is the best way to tackle living in LA on an assistant wage - and what does an assistant wage look like and what is the potential wage once you move up.
There’s this awesome FB Group called “Women Working in Reality TV.” Not all of the data is from Reality TV but yes, they are all women. This group has a great Google spreadsheet where a lot of women have anonymously shared their wages and position details - which is super interesting info!
One person said they are an Unscripted Assistant and they make $850 a week and work about 50-60 hours a week. She’s been at the company for less than a year but has 5-6 years of experience in the industry. They negotiated for this rate, and they are 31-35 years old.
We often assume most assistants in Hollywood are 18-25 years old, single and able to live on lower wages than older people with families and more bills to pay, but this is an example of someone in their 30’s making about $14.17 as an assistant.
Another person on the spreadsheets said she’s a Production Assistant and makes $186/day for a 12 hours day, and has been working for this company and in the industry for less than a year. She’s under 20 years old and did not negotiate this rate.
I’ve personally worked jobs where I’ve made $140/day - $250/day. The higher-end was working on a commercial - commercials tend to pay best FYI.
On these wages, I can’t imagine living alone in a nice apartment, being able to afford all the luxuries like food and water you once did in your home state. Finding a roommate, a cheap place and making some budgeting sacrifices pairs nicely with these assistant paystubs.
Moving up the ladder is very promising for your bank account. A Production Coordinator on this spreadsheet said she makes $1850/weekly, 65 hours a week, has been at the company for 3-4 years and has been in the industry for 5-6 years. She’s 31-35 years old, and she did not negotiate her rate. A Producer working on a scripted show makes $70,000/year, works 50 hours a week, she’s been working there for 1-2 years and has been in the industry for 4-5 years. She’s 26-30 years old and she negotiated this rate. Lastly, an Assistant Editor works $2,552/week (not negotiated), 50 hours/week, has worked there for 3-4 years, has been in the industry for 11-15 years, she’s 31-35 years old and she’s union.
There is a ton of responses to that sheet, you can find almost every position there and wages from $600/week to many many thousands a week.
There’s also a really interesting survey by the #PayUpHollywood peeps that shows statistics like “67.58% of respondents reported having to work a second job to make ends meet while working as an assistant”. Unfortunately, it’s tough out here in LA for those just trying to make their dream come true. So here is my small but useful list of how to be more frugal, and not go so broke your first year that you have to move back in with mom and dad -
As aforementioned, find a roommate as fast as you can! Depending on the area that you want to move to, a 1-bedroom apartment can cost between $1,400-$2,200. That’s almost impossible with such low wages. I was lucky enough to move with my boyfriend and we split all the things in half. Our lazy dog never pitches in.
If you have a car (and I pray that you do) look into switching your car insurance to a cheaper rate. When I moved out to California my car insurance provider wasn’t available in California, so I had to switch to Progressive which was like $150 more expensive than what I was paying in AZ. But they finally became available in CA, and I switched back. Check out Root Insurance. I only pay $88 a month and it’s taken a huge burden off my bank account.
Keep track of your expenses and income. I have a Google Sheet of my monthly expenses and of my monthly income (especially when I was freelancing). It helps you make sense of your cash flow and stay disciplined. I also use the Mint App, which is a great personal finance tool to keep track of your bank accounts, credit score, debt, expenses, and cash flow.
Understand your credit score. One thing that I really love about the Mint App is that it makes understanding your credit a lot easier. It provides you the 6 factors affecting your TransUnion Vantage Score credit score and makes it very easy to understand how to increase your credit - which is important for applying to apartments, buying a car, refinancing debt, you know grown-up stuff!
Speaking of owing people money, if you have student loans, consider looking into your student loans repayment plan. Income-driven repayment plans are usually available through your provider, you just have to mail them proof of your income. In the long run, it’ll take you longer to pay off your loans, but if you’re strapped for cash, you can reduce your payments until your income is in a better position.
Learn to cook. I feel silly having to say this, but I’m always alarmed at how many people eat out every day rather than save $20 and cook a homemade meal. Seriously, save yourself money and make some spaghetti at home.
If you go to the movies a lot (and are trying to stay in the know for your job) and live near an AMC, I highly recommend signing up for AMC A-list. You’ll be saving large sums of cash money.
Coming to LA to pursue film and TV can be a financial burden at first and it’s always good to know what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time. Whether you’re now thinking of a savings account or reassessing your entire career path, I hope this has helped you in one way or another!