Hollywood Assistants Adjust to Working From Home: "I Feel Like I Have to Be on Call Every Minute of the Day"

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti
Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

Illustration by Eleni Kalorkoti

The industry's hard-working assistants navigate the highs and lows of servicing their bosses remotely, which often requires frequent FedEx runs, tech troubleshooting and plenty of virtual drinks.

The pandemic has shuttered productions, delayed releases and turned Hollywood on its head. What it hasn’t done is slow the pace of emails or phone calls, which is why the industry’s assistant community — or at least those in it who haven’t been laid off or furloughed — is still hard at work.

A sampling of Hollywood assistants, mainly those working for executives, producers and agents, say the newly blurred lines between work time and whatever’s left for their personal lives has made it that much more challenging to strike any kind of balance. “I feel like I have to be on call every minute of the day and by my computer to answer emails at a moment’s notice to prove that I’m working,” says one development assistant, who, like everyone who spoke for this piece, did so on the condition of anonymity.

Back when she was in an office, the assistant says she felt more comfortable stepping away from her desk to grab a quick bite or take a break every now and again. Now, she says, “I’m mostly glued to my laptop or phone.”

Another notes that she keeps her phone on her at all times these days out of a constant fear that she’ll miss an important call. “It feels like you’re almost required to work 24/7,” she says. Some others, however, say their bosses have been mindful of the fact that the days don’t have a natural end to them anymore, and have encouraged them to unplug when they need to.

Still, several assistants insist that the virtual workplace setting has given them the chance to take part in learning opportunities for which they normally wouldn’t have the bandwidth. Several agency assistants, for instance, say they’re sitting in on meetings that previously were closed-door events. “We’re joining practice pitches more than we ever would have been able to,” says one, who notes he and his fellow assistants have been able to give more feedback on scripts, too. Before, this assistant explains, “it was [often] a matter of, ‘Can I get away from my desk for an hour without my world imploding?’ ”

The often-menial tasks seem to have shifted as well. Many say they’ve traded coffee runs for trips to FedEx. As one assistant points out, execs are often “people used to having things printed, so teaching them how to use iPads or getting things printed at FedEx is a very real, ongoing balance and struggle.” Instead of scheduling (and rescheduling) lunch meetings, several have found themselves playing the role of the resident IT person far more often than they’d anticipated. Says the same assistant, “We have to do so much troubleshooting and so much hand-holding.”

And, of course, assistants have had to find a creative way to network. Many have gone all-in on virtual drinks, which are, incidentally, more cost-effective for the town’s up-and-comers. “I’ve saved so much [by not] having to eat out,” says one. Another says he’d love for networking to transition to Zoom permanently: “I dream of a world where I could come home from work, change, cook myself dinner, recharge for a bit and then go meet somebody new [without having to] circle for parking for an hour.”

This story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.