October 16, 2019

Pay Up Hollywood: The Fight for Fair Assistant Wages Has Begun

The hashtag #PayUpHollywood is sweeping across Twitter as assistants share their stories and fight for livable wages. Is this the next big battle in Hollywood? 

As someone who came to Hollywood with a dream and worked that dream into a humble reality via the assistant pool, this topic comes near and dear to me. Surviving in the industry is one thing, but making $600 a week work in the second most expensive city in America is a steep task for a twenty-something without rich parents. 

When Twitter posed the question about assistant pay, I wasn't even sure how to respond. The California minimum wage is $12 an hour, but as the cost of living in Los Angeles gets higher and higher the unsung heroes of Hollywood, the assistants, are looking for help. 

Twitter was blazing with stories of the assistant ladder, with users marking their tweets with #PayUpHollywood to talk about the current climate within Hollywood. We saw the #MeToo movement change the way the business handles sexual assault and accusers, will assistant pay stagnation be next? 

I hope so because as I look back at the credit card debt and anxiety it took for me to "make it" working for someone else...I wouldn't want any generation to have to deal with those leaps and bounds. 

Pay Up Hollywood: The Fight for Fair Assistant Wages Has Begun 

Let's start with the good news, people are paying attention. 

After the hashtag went viral a number of higher powered writers and executives tweeted their support. John August and Craig Mazin covered the topic on their podcast and there was a general consensus online that assistants did deserve more. 

What is the pay scale? 

Hollywood assistants typically work 60+ hours a week. While salaries varied, many cited between $500 and $1000 a week, with little to no benefits. 

At my best assistant salary, I was making $650 a week -- but I had my cell phone and health insurance paid for, which was awesome because I was losing $300 a month in student loans and around $1000 a month in rent. That was five years ago. And if you want to feel worse, that's also what people were making in the 1990s. 

https://twitter.com/amandapendo/status/1183808213847703552?s=20

What's the problem? 

For many, they see cutting your teeth on minuscule pay as part of proving you can make it in this business. While that fantasy has deep-seated issues, it's something people fall back on. The "it's always been this way" crowd is focused on inaction rather than innovation. 

That has to stop. 

The people being hurt are the poor, the less economically privileged, diverse backgrounds, men, women, gay, straight, that don't want to sacrifice economic stability or may not even be able to afford to be here without working multiple jobs. It took my selling a screenplay to pay off the debt accrued as an assistant. 

And that doesn't happen for most people. 

Why hasn't pay gone up? 

Unfortunately, there's no easy answer besides greed. Movies and TV are expensive and the easiest places to cut costs without retribution is at the bottom. That's left assistant jobs open for kids whose parents can financially help them out or people who aren't opposed to hurting their credit score to take a shot at the big leagues. 

Executives wear those problems like a badge of honor, and it's created a mentality that "surviving" the assistant slog proves your worth when it probably is just detrimental to your health and life. 

Can we unionize? 

While there have been talks of an assistant union, the various roles across the industry make that hard to coordinate and rally. IATSE currently covers a lot of assistants within the television landscape, but not the people at production companies or who work for independent producers. writers, directors, etc. 

Where is the battle going? 

Right now, this is just a story about a trending hashtag, but it's also a challenge to anyone hiring an assistant. John August and Craig Mazin talk about accountability. As a showrunner or executive, you need to be on the assistant's side when it comes to getting them a livable salary. 

Loyalty goes both ways and that show of solidarity can only help the relationship in the long run. 

Also, Hollywood, a place that claims to be a woke haven for woke people, needs to loosen its grip on capitalism for a bit and make sure those profits get shared down the totem pole to the people on the bottom. 

While it's hard to believe there will be a uniform expectation across the industry, there needs to be some help. Agencies like CAA, WME, ICM, and UTA all need to be pressured to pay the people who work there something fair. 

Otherwise, we'll lose a generation of voices and stories. And we'll be poorer for it. 

What's next? The Hollywood Assistant Survival Guide

Chances are if you’re reading No Film School, you've contemplated moving to Hollywood at some point in your life. If you want to write, direct, or edit, Hollywood is full of opportunities for you. It’s where most people get their foot in the door, and where the lucky few build lasting careers.

Whatever the case may be, when you come to this town, there’s a good chance you’ll start at the bottom. That means working your way up as one of the many tenacious, heroic, and completely underpaid Hollywood assistants.

Click to learn!      

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