Yes, Let’s Pay Up Hollywood, but the Damage is Done
When the #PayUpHollywood stories first started trickling in, I was elated. Finally, someone was taking a stand about the horrible working conditions I’ve endured for the past fourteen years. But then the stories kept coming…and coming… and coming. And instead of feeling elated or vindicated, I felt really fucking dumb. And taken advantage of. And sad.
Beyond the bad pay (which speaking candidly, sucks, but I also have a nice family cushion and a husband, so it doesn’t impact me as much as it could), it’s the abuse ranging from sexual to verbal to emotional that has done the most damage. For the past decade plus I’ve been treated like I don’t exist or don’t matter and it wasn’t until I started to relive some of those stories that I realized the impact it’s had on my self-esteem. To simplify: If you’re told over and over again that you’re not good enough for (a script, a pay bump, respect) you start to believe you’re not good enough and act accordingly. And maybe that’s why I’ve struggled so much in my career, especially in the past few years: If I didn’t believe I was good enough, how could anyone else expect to? A real chicken and the egg situation.
You see, I’ve always been a people-pleaser. Blame it on childhood trauma or it being my nature, but I will gladly chop off my figurative hand if I think it’ll help someone else. It makes me a wonderful friend, wife and now mother, but it’s also made me an amazing assistant. Unfortunately, when you’re giving up so much of yourself for a job, people take advantage; and Hollywood certainly has taken advantage of me. The amount of stories I can tell where this abuse has taken place would be ridiculous. I don’t need to relive it, and I don’t need to bore you with the details. But, here’s a sampling. Have I been asked to buy drugs for a boss? Yes. Have I been subjected to sexual harassment? Yup. Have I had things thrown at me? Markers, staplers, even my own high-heel that I was told to fetch like a dog while I was at a party with my co-workers. I’ve also been asked to write scenes or outlines without pay and then been told I just didn’t get the voice of the show to be considered getting hired as a writer, even though those documents were sent to studios and networks. I’ve been made “promises” of getting a freelance script, or getting staffed, to have people respond that they forgot about those promises or have come up with some other excuse. It’s a mind-fuck, to say the least. And yet, I keep putting in the work. I’ve blown off parties and dates to work on things. I put out script pages at milestone events (weddings, honeymoons) and didn’t even get a thank you. Being an assistant is a thankless and humiliating job. But, it’s a job that you’re constantly reminded people would line up to have. So you stay silent. You take the abuse because the alternative is not being able to pay bills or get health insurance. And you keep hoping that, “maybe this time will be different.” Sound familiar?
This is not to say every job has been horrible. I’ve had amazing bosses that have stood up for me and advocated for me. When I worked for Josh Friedman, that was the first time I had a boss call the studio directly and negotiate my rate along with his own deal. It’s the first time I was making a decent wage, and I had health insurance. When the studio wanted to cut my rate by almost half when I got promoted to Writers’ Assistant, he fought back. Then he offered me a freelance episode that year. That script fee allowed me to pay off my credit debt and take time off to focus on writing. That year did more for my self-esteem and career than any other. It made me feel like I belonged that I was worth more than others had made me feel. When I went back to work after having a baby, I was terrified. How could I work a 60-hour week as an assistant and raise a newborn? My bosses on Roswell, Carina MacKenzie and Chris Hollier worked with my schedule in a way I didn’t think was possible— and to be honest, many other show runners wouldn’t. Carina also went out of her way to send me an email during our first month to make sure I was getting all the help I needed. It was a small gesture, but it did wonders for a struggling mom in the throes of postpartum depression.
A few months ago, an assistant friend of mine asked my advice about negotiating a pay bump. I felt nervous for her. I had NEVER negotiated a pay raise in the middle of a show. I didn’t know how it would be received. And I felt a bit of: “wow, this younger generation is doing things I haven’t been able to do,” envy. But I encouraged her. She’d been working her butt off and deserved it. I’m happy to report she got that damn raise. To me, that’s a sign that things are already changing. It’s also encouraged me to start speaking out more and sharing my story. Remind myself that I’m not a punching bag, or a drug mule, or an easy target. I’m a person with things to say and stories to share. #PayUpHollywood has allowed me to share those stories with less fear than I’ve had before.
The damage has been done, but it can also be repaired.