22 Hollywood Assistants Dish on Biggest Triumphs, Lowest Moments and Craziest Tales

7:00 AM 12/9/2016

by Bryn Elise Sandberg

Current and former aides talk about what they do for industry heavyweights — from Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Seth Rogen — as they lean on one another, plot their ascensions and argue (with humor) that they don't just fetch coffee: "Don't be ignorant. There are lunch orders, too."

Christopher Patey

Mike Judge's assistant and David Wain's assistant walk into a comedy show … no, it's not the setup for a Hollywood joke. It was the start of a friendship that now has grown to include a community of 50 women — all assistants to industry hotshots — who get together every six weeks for breakfast, often cramming into one of the members' apartments on a weekend morning. "So often, women are portrayed as being catty or backstabbing or bitchy," says Sarah Casolaro, who works with Role Models director Wain. "We pull each other up, create a place where women feel supported, and drink mimosas."

Not only have group members traded jobs, helped one another rise through the ranks and offered advice on which gigs not to take, they also attend women's comedy festivals together and share inspiration via Facebook. "We'll post articles like the one with the guys who directed Jurassic World who were like, 'Women can't direct action movies,'" says Hannah Settle, who has moved on from assisting Judge to become an associate producer on Veep. "We were all like, 'Boo!'"

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    Rachel Leavitt, 26

    Assistant to Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    I've learned to predict my boss' lunch orders.

    Lowest moment I overcame
    I've learned to predict my boss' lunch orders.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    Don't be ignorant. There are lunch orders, too.

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    Morgan Dameron, 27

    Director, 'Different Flowers' (former executive assistant to J.J. Abrams)

    Coolest thing I've seen on the job
    All the little girls dressed up as Rey while doing press for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The joy, hope and excitement in their eyes knowing there's a character they can look up to is something I'll never forget.

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    There is a solidarity among the brilliant women and men in the assistant world, and that support and friendship is invaluable. It's true what they say — all boats rise together.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    Don't underestimate the person who answers the phone. That assistant getting coffee has likely memorized each person on their team's favorite order, answered 12 timely emails while in line, navigated L.A. traffic without spilling a drop (always put the trays on the floor!) and convinced the dry-cleaner to do a rush order on no notice — and those are by far the least complex tasks they'll complete before they even get to the office for the day.

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    Carrie Topiel, 26

    Assistant to Lauren Miller Rogen

    Lowest moment I overcame
    When my boss met the first dogs of the United States (FDOTUS) and I couldn't apparate myself to the White House. #BoAndSonny #TimeTravelPlease

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    Always own up to mistakes straightaway and the world won't implode over a typo in an email (even if it feels like it will).

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    Well, it is. But being an assistant hopefully means getting coffee for someone you greatly admire and from whom you will learn so much.

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    Veronica Rodriguez, 25

    Assistant to Mike Farah, CEO of Funny or Die

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Supporting my boss through the closing of the Funny or Die/AMC Networks partnership deal. I'm responsible for the signatures, so, you know, the deal probably wouldn't have happened without me.

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    The biggest lesson I've learned is that every moment is a producible moment. No matter what the task is, there is a smart, efficient and effective way to get it done.

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    Hannah Kole, 23

    Staff writer at 7ate9, former assistant to producer Art Spigel

    Lowest moment I overcame
    At points, I was really worried my life would become work. I'm still trying to find a life/work balance, but I think as an assistant it's more difficult to set those boundaries since I felt the need to be "on" and available all the time. When I wasn't "on," I felt guilty.

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    No experience is a bad experience. If your mind is open, you can learn and grow from absolutely anything. When an experience is not the best, you're still learning more about yourself.

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    Annabel Seymour, 30

    Assistant to Rob Corddry

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Making my boss laugh.

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    Melissa Wall, 29

    Former assistant to Bill Simmons

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    Always, always be nice to everyone. Even if you have to go home at night and scream or curse someone out to yourself. Always bite your tongue and stay one step classier because this is a very small town.

    Craziest assistant tale I've heard
    I knew an assistant whose boss (a woman) was the president of production at a movie studio. She hired a male to be an executive vice president in her department working under her. Come to find out, the male she hired was her old boss years ago for which she was the assistant.

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    Kelci Parker, 27

    Coordinator, development and original programming at Comedy Central/assistant to Kent Alterman

    Craziest assistant tale I've heard
    An assistant I know is really allergic to almonds. They ate some and rubbed them all over their face to trigger a reaction so that they could leave work for a midday interview with a rival company.

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Being on the team that picked up a show I feel passionately about. Calling the talent to let them know their show was going to series was one of the best moments of my career and reinforced my desire to be a development executive. A close second would be finding my boss’s misplaced cell phone at LAX on a Saturday afternoon while he was on a flight.

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    The calendar is your diary and saving grace, make sure it’s as detailed as possible.

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    Marissa Ziets, 24

    Assistant to comedian Paul Scheer

    Biggest lesson I've learned

    Be ready for anything. I end most days by thinking, "I didn't think I would do that today."

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    Eleanor Morrison, 33

    Assistant to David Mandel

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    Women are often other women's best advocates. Every opportunity I've gotten in this business has been thanks to the support of a woman. I won't be surprised if my first writing job happens the same way.

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    Sarah Casolaro, 30

    Assistant to David Wain

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Successfully negotiating my salary. Generally, assistants and PAs are where the belt is tightened. My boss really advocated for me. Fighting for my value taught me a lot, namely that you have to know what you're worth and you have to demand equal pay. No one is going to hand it to you.

    Craziest assistant tale I've heard
    My friend was an assistant to an actress about a million years ago. She got completely torn apart because she purchased name-brand birth control for her boss instead of generic and it cost $30 more. She got in so much trouble, even though it was an honest and easily fixed mistake.

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    Taryn Thordarson, 25

    Assistant to Johnny Knoxville

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    At the end of the day, whether the coffee was cold or you shattered an entire bottle of fancy scotch on the driveway, nobody died. There will be mistakes and bad days, but your job is to help someone entertain the world, and hopefully you made your audience (or co-workers) laugh a little along the way.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    They trust us with everything and look to us for input on just about everything, so we hold a lot more power than many people realize.

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    Loreli Alba, 26

    Assistant to Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver at Point Grey Pictures

    Lowest moment I overcame
    It's not usually a mistake that gets me down. It's more often pesky feelings of self-doubt. Because there's no magic path to stop being an assistant, it takes a good amount of mental and emotional strength to believe in yourself and make things happen.

    Coolest thing I’ve seen on the job
    Being on set for Neighbors 2 watching Seth, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron improvise at the highest level and inhabit these characters that I loved before I even had anything to do with Point Grey was like watching a magic trick every day for two months. The sense of awe never wore off.

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    Alyssa Litman, 25

    Assistant to Nahnatchka Khan

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    Don't walk into the writers room in the middle of a pitch and ask if you're allowed to order dinner.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    There's a drive-thru Coffee Bean on Sepulveda and the Fox lot has its own dry-cleaning service.

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    Devon Albert-Stone, 23

    Assistant to Michael Showalter

    Craziest assistant tale I've heard
    A guy was told to get a specific fancy rice cooker, but it had to be second-hand. He had 24 hours … but he got it done! What a champ.

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Finding the confidence to voice my honest opinion, even when I disagree with my boss. I'm very fortunate in the fact that I wasn't hired to be a human echo chamber.

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    Don't take it personally. Try to see the good in everyone.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    They have no clue how this industry works.

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    Annalise Tahran, 22

    Assistant to actor Jason Mantzoukas

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    An assistant job is what you make it. If you ask questions and go the extra mile, there will always be something to learn.

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    Caroline Barrett, 23

    Assistant to Liz Meriwether

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    F— you. No, I can't say that. It's like you're in a relationship with this person, but even more like you're the other half of their brain. Coffee is 5 percent of it.

    Coolest thing I’ve seen on the job
    Rami Malek winning an Emmy. I guess I technically wasn't at work when that happened, but I don't think I've ever screamed so loudly in the comfort of my own home.

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Pitching ideas in a writers room that actually ended up working.

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    Hannah Settle, 28

    Associate producer on HBO’s 'Veep' (former assistant to Mike Judge)

    Biggest lesson I’ve learned
    The more you communicate, the fewer problems occur.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    You couldn't be more wrong. The best way I can describe it is your boss can make every creative decision on a project: casting, script, location, costumes, props, art department, editing, music, press, awards, etc. An assistant is the one who juggles all that information and takes on the chaos.

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    Angela Beevers, 26

    Assistant to Mike Judge

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    There's always a solution to your problem. You just have to stay calm, open-minded and creative.

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    Selena Lane, 26

    Former assistant to Alan Yang

    Craziest assistant tale I've heard
    Let's just say I've heard of an assistant driving 40 miles in four hours to save her boss about eight minutes — and no, the task was not particularly important.

    Biggest lesson I’ve learned
    Figure out ways to learn and impress from the small, mundane tasks. Also, my golden rule: When in doubt, clarify.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    Don't worry, the good bosses will buy you a coffee, too.

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    Halee Bernard, 25

    Assistant to Mr. Robot executive producer Chad Hamilton

    Biggest triumph at work this year
    Access to compelling material, new drafts and notes calls has improved my understanding of story and character. It's also increased my confidence in sharing my creative opinions and finding my own voice.

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    Cole Quirk, 31

    Assistant to producer Aaron Zelman

    Biggest lesson I've learned
    No matter how successful someone gets, everyone still carries insecurities.

    When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say
    It's being a therapist to someone who probably already has a therapist. It's also about building a level of trust so when you hear sensitive information you're going to zip those lips. In some cases, you spend so much time with someone that it's like becoming extended family — and most importantly, if you're lucky, gaining a great mentor who wants you to succeed.

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