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Most Hollywood assistants struggle to pay rent, survey says

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TV writers Deirdre Mangan, left, and Liz Alper in Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 2019.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Most Hollywood assistants are struggling to pay their rent and have to take second jobs to make ends meet, according to the preliminary results of a survey.

Of 1,100 assistants who completed an online survey, 89% said more than a third of their salary went to pay rent and 63% were making less than $50,000 per year before taxes, leaving many struggling as housing costs skyrocket.

The survey is being conducted by a group of activists — among them writers John August and Liz Alper — who are seeking to bring pay parity to Hollywood assistants.

Although the results won’t be finalized until after Dec. 1, organizers revealed some of their findings during a livestreamed presentation Sunday in Los Angeles.

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August helped bring the issue to light last month when he and “Chernobyl” screenwriter Craig Mazin devoted a portion of their “Scriptnotes” podcast to the plight of assistants.

“What we hadn’t anticipated was that so many people would write in with emails about their experiences of low pay as assistants and how it really is impacting their ability to make a living but also to grow up through the industry,” said August, a writer for “Aladdin.”

Alper, who serves on the board of the Writers Guild of America West and started #PayUpHollywood, said the goal of the survey was to get some “real data” on pay and working conditions for assistants.

“We started a survey November 15 with the intention of collecting data to get a real good look at what assistants are facing right now,” Alper said.

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Alper and her colleagues are seeking to expose widespread discontent among writers’ assistants, production assistants, agency assistants and studio assistants over abusive conditions, long hours and low pay.

“The reason we wanted to bring attention to these issues wasn’t just because we wanted to actually have everyone fully aware of the abuses that were going on, both work and financial, but we also wanted to point out that there is now a paywall enacted around Hollywood that means that most candidates from a certain socioeconomic background are not going to be able to participate,” Alper said.

The assistant role has long been considered a first rung into Hollywood but now many are speaking out about feeling locked into non-union jobs with noncompetitive pay because of intense competition for the entry-level positions. Emboldened by the #MeToo movement and a new labor law protecting gig workers, assistants are fighting for recognition of their contributions to the industry, fair pay and treatment. The unrest also comes as Angelenos fight against double digit rent increases.

At the Sunday event, labor lawyers shared what California laws workers can make use of to protect themselves and advised them to document in detail their experiences and expenses.

Alper and August led a panel with Allison Begalman of Young Entertainment Activists, and Jennifer Kramer of the California Employment Lawyers Association.

During the meeting, held at an undisclosed location, assistants anonymously shared some of their experiences. One participant said they could not afford a car and that made it “near impossible to find a regular assistant job.” Another assistant complained of being overloaded. “The fact is, no matter how nice your bosses are, or no matter how well they work together, you are doing three separate jobs, and are expected to do it in the course of a regular workweek,” the assistant said.

The survey, which focused on L.A.-based assistants, also revealed that over 91% reported suffering from anxiety as a result of their work and that over 67% had to take second jobs to supplement their income as assistants. More than 70 assistants said they had an object thrown at them in the workplace, including staplers, Alper tweeted.

Organizers conceded the study is not scientific and that they are not verifying places of employment in order to protect contributors from retaliation.


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