When my production company laid me off, I sued them for unpaid wages. That’s risky. Hollywood is all about relationships. Relationships are all about getting along – even when you’re getting screwed. Make waves, and you may never be hired again. Unless, of course, you are An Established White Male Director or Actor, in which case everything from rape (statutory or aided by rufies) to drugs to assault to crazy-assed religious requirements are forgiven. You might not even have to do a highly publicized stint in rehab!
As soon as the company gave me notice, I updated the old resume, began an online job hunt, and put the word out. While applicants might land lots of looks and some interviews from the internet angle, networking is how most jobs are landed, at least in Hollywood. You can have a misspelled CV, but if a friend of a friend vouches for you, that will carry the day. Most jobs have a preferred candidate before the main pool of applicants even find out about them.
Old Boss B and The Empress of International Sales gave me glowing recommendations. I got a decent number of interviews. I thought most of the interviews went well. I got called back for more interviews. I got told I was one of the top three candidates – three times.
I didn’t get hired.
Even more depressing was sitting in the waiting room of one Massive Production Company, watching producers and screenwriters hype each other up for their creative meetings with development. I could tell they were above-the-line folk by their multi-colored hair, retro-Bohemian garb, piercings, and tattoos. Artistic, you know. Very hip. Meanwhile, receptionists regularly mistook my suit-clad form for a lawyer and an accountant.
I looked at Ms. Tri-colored Coiffure and thought, “That should be me. Not the hair, that’s definitely not conservative me, but I should be pitching scripts. That’s why I have the damned MFA, right?” Then I remembered that I needed to eat, and that it wasn’t fair for Andy to carry the financial burden alone. There was a mortgage. Cat food. Health insurance. Car insurance. I needed a job, even if the hours and the commute meant there wasn’t much time left for creative endeavors.
I also needed to figure out why no one was hiring me. I suspected that the head of my former company had put out the word that I was a “difficult employee” after I’d sued them. What else could it be? I knew no one else had the academic background I did (cuz, ha, all my collegiate peers were all off at NBC or rewriting scripts and shit), and I had excellent experience. If anything, I was overqualified.
I was eventually ushered into the office for the head of the Massive Production Company. He happened to be European, which made the job even more attractive. No, no, get your filthy minds out of the gutter. He had teen children, for chrissakes. What’s attractive about a European boss is the hours, especially if they are Austrian, Danish, or German. In my previous jobs, I was never off-duty. I had conference calls with Australia at midnight, and my bosses called me on the weekends all the time. (Boss B interrupted my Valentine’s Day evening, in fact. AFTER he was no longer my boss.) But European Bosses of the Germanic variety never bothered their assistants after 5 PM or on weekends. (This was easier for them than Old Hollywood Dinosaurs like Boss B, as they could manage their own smart phones and knew how to turn on a computer.)
Mr. European Executive was the Holy Grail of Hollywood Bosses. His assistants worked their eight hours and went home. They could sleep in on Saturdays unmolested, even when a film tanked in Turkey.
Our first interview went well. So well that Mr. European Executive invited me back, had his assistant take me through her daily tasks, and talked salary and perks. I was sure I had the job.
And then he nodded at the big, sparkly ring on the third finger of my left hand. “Boss B says you are recently married?”
“Yep! So no need to worry about a crazy, partying lifestyle.”
I looked at him in horror. “Oh, God, no. No plans for kids. Definitely not anytime soon.”
Mr. Europe waved a dismissive hand. “Women always say that.”
I shuddered. “Look, I have four much younger siblings that I babysat until college, and that’s pretty much put me off children forever.”
Mr. Europe snorted. “You will change your mind.”
“If I haven’t changed it to please my Chinese in-laws, it’s not changing. No babies. Not for years. If ever.”
Mr. Europe didn’t look convinced.
Turns out, he wasn’t convinced.
The head of HR from Massive Production Company called me a few days later. “Hi, Autumn. We all thought you were awesome, but in the end, Mr. Europe opted to go with a different candidate. But you made the top three, and we’ll keep you in mind for any future positions.”
“Oh. Okay. Of course I am disappointed, because I thought we hit it off well. Do you think it’s because I just got married and he didn’t believe me when I told him I didn’t plan on having kids soon?”
I heard a thump. I’m pretty sure it was HR’s head hitting her desk, because the next thing I heard was her agonized moan: “Oh, my God, did he ask if you were planning on getting pregnant?”
“Ugh, I’ve told him and told him that he can’t ask that! I am so sorry.”
“It’s okay. You might want to tell him again, though.”
So I didn’t get that job. Nor the one after that, nor the one after that, nor the one after that, and onto twenty, or infinity. Apparently a newly married woman is a hot-potato that no one wants to touch in the Hollywood (and probably plenty of other industries). Even a European Boss can’t stomach the idea of his executive assistant taking maternity leave.
Andy got used to having someone at home, handling everything from washing machine repairs to vet visits. When the Empress of International Sales resurfaced with a new company, way, way up near Malibu, she offered me a spot as her assistant once more.
“You’d be spending hours in the car again,” Andy objected.
“But I’d have a paycheck. And she needs someone who knows what they’re doing for this new company.”
“We don’t need the money, though. Not since I got that promotion,” Andy argued. “So you’d REALLY only be doing it as a favor to your old boss.”
“I guess. Aren’t you tired of me being a kept woman?”
“Not if it means you start coming home after 9 PM again every night, exhausted, bitching about crappy drivers, and pounding on the table with your knife while screaming, ‘Where’s my dinner!?’
“I only did that ONCE!”
So I didn’t take the job. Instead, I did some contract work covering scripts. I networked with old friends and worked on my own scripts. I found a manager, and within a year, I was again in the office of a production company.
The receptionist smiled at me and asked, “Can I help you?”
“I’m Autumn Ashbough. And I’m here to meet with John.
“He’s in development.”