horrible bosses in Hollywood. It centers on writers/showrunners (although to be fair, the worst writer boss is Mother Teresa compared to the way some agents treat their assistants. Picture: 12 YEARS A SLAVE but more degrading.). Still, the point made by author Jim Nelson is that there are a lot of insecure, insensitive, unfunny assholes who find themselves in enviable positions and treat their staff like shit. And to that I would say he is correct.
I would also say I find this behavior unconscionable. Writers assistants and P.A.’s have incredibly hard jobs. You hear about all the hours writers work. The support staff puts in way more. Once the rewrite is over at 2 in the morning and the writers stagger home, the assistants stay behind to type, print, and distribute the scripts. In some cases, actors still require a hard copy on their front porch. An emailed file won’t do it. So someone has to drive to the star’s home in a winding canyon at 4 in the a.m.
There was one star a few years ago who demanded the script be on her left night table when she woke up. The P.A. would have to enter the house, tiptoe into her bedroom, and gently leave the script in the assigned spot. If he woke her up he was dead. One day, for some reason, she awoke to find no script. World War III broke out. Killing her in her sleep would be too good for her. She needs to know she’s being killed and why.
The support staff is also woefully underpaid, generally has to park three miles from the lot, and is on call 24-7 to be their masters’ personal gofer. A writer I know who was based in Hollywood demanded her assistant drive to Malibu to pick up her birth control prescription. Another made his assistant take traffic school for him. More than once I’ve seen a P.A. in a garbage dumpster rooting around in search of something the showrunner thought he might have mistakenly thrown out. A major television star who was quitting smoking by chewing nicotine gum would call over her assistant and every time she had to go on camera to film a scene he had to hold out his hand so she could deposit the chewed gum in his palm. When the scene was over she put the gum back in her mouth. This poor assistant also had to follow behind the star as she walked her dog on the lot. He would be required to clean up the shit. (Sounds like that old joke right? "So why do you clean up after the circus elephants? Quit." "What? And leave show business?")
In the article, Nelson worked for an insecure comedy writing team. He didn’t identify them by name but sprinkled enough clues that a quick trip to IMDB easily outs them if you’re interested. The point is they were monsters.
Here’s one of those irrefutable laws of the universe: If a comedy writer has to constantly tell you how funny he is, he’s not funny.
The truth is showrunners are under a lot of stress. Some handle it better than others. Writing and management are two very different skill sets. And today the job is even harder because there is way more network and studio interference. Anger and even tantrums are not uncommon. I’ve had them myself. But there’s no reason to take out your frustration on the support staff. None. It’s just a matter of simple human decency.
And here’s the thing – if you treat people well they’ll work harder for you. You don’t have to buy them cars. Just appreciate them. Thank them. Not take them for granted. Let them take off early one night to witness the birth of their child. Stock up on extra packages of nicotine gum.
My heart goes out to anyone working for a horrible boss. Sometimes karma comes into play. This author is now an editor-in-chief of GQ. The last writing credit from the team he worked for is 1995. Often times P.A.’s and writers assistants rise among the ranks. One of our P.A.’s on CHEERS later became the VP of Comedy Development at NBC. Good luck to any of the writers who sent her back all the way across town because there were onions on their patty melt. So hang in there. Not every boss is horrible. And better jobs are coming.
But most off all, if and when you do reach a position of power don’t you become an asshole. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this. Abused workers feel they can now be the abusers. Break the string. Be a mensch. Just because Hollywood indulges bad behavior doesn’t mean you have to practice it. Remember -- you’re a human being first, in the industry second. It’s not the other way around.