Entertainment Biz Comes Under Fire for Assistants’ Low Wages, Working Conditions

It’s no secret that many assistants in Hollywood bear heavy workloads for low pay. But the entertainment industry’s labor practices when it comes to those workers have now become the subject of intense social-media scrutiny.

TV writer and WGA board member Liz Alper shone a light on the issue Monday with the creation of the Twitter hashtag #PayUpHollywood, sharing truths about what it’s like to be an assistant in the biz and asking others to do the same. As of Monday afternoon, #PayUpHollywood was trending in the United States and had racked up more than 3,700 tweets to date.

“I thought someone needs to stir sh-t up first and I decided well, I might as well do it,” Alper tells Variety. “I’ve received so many stories and they were all just going to be sheets in the wind, but now you can see the magnitude of what the assistant community and what the support staff community in Hollywood are going through. It’s not just limited to those who work at an agency or work a desk, it’s also our set PA’s, our wardrobe PA’s, anyone who is trying to make it in the business. It’s a class privilege to be able to work in this industry nowadays.”

Alper says that while it’s easy for agencies and studios to point to diversity hires at the top of the food chain to enhance their image and claim they’re making an effort towards change, in reality, it’s the jobs that “aren’t as sexy or don’t get the air time” where change really needs to happen.

“You don’t have a sexy, world-famous locations manager who can say look, our assistants are getting f–ked when it comes to wages, and no one knows about it and is speaking up about it. Anyone who is trying to fix wage inequality in Hollywood has been speaking about it for years, and it’s just not getting the traction, so I’m hoping this might get the traction,” she says.

The soaring cost of rent and living in Los Angeles, on top of paying for healthcare and taxes, all contribute to why the staggeringly low amount that many assistants are paid is “simply unacceptable,” according to Alper.

Deirdre Mangan, a friend of Alper’s and current writer on the CW series “Roswell, New Mexico,” believes the problem is not only that wages have been stagnant while costs skyrocket, but also that “many people at the top aren’t aware of what it’s like being at the bottom.”

“The way assistants are treated and the amount of work they’re expected to do is astronomical, it’s not just 40 or 60 hours, there are some boundary issues with assistants and what they’re used for,” Mangan says. “100 people would be in line to replace any one person and that’s why the wages get to stay low and some producers, writers, agents can make insane demands because if you don’t do it, they’ll find somebody else who will.”

“There are so many bosses who say this is how it’s always been, you have to pay your dues, suck it up, and everybody is supposed to be proud of the war stories they have when they were a starving assistant sharing a one bedroom with three other people, but they scrapped and starved so that they could have the career they have today and to me that’s such privileged bulls–t. It’s not addressing any sport of problem, it’s inflicting the same sort of pain on a new generation who are facing a multitude of issues that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago,” Alper says.

The conversation was kicked off by “Aladdin” screenwriter John August and “Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin during a recent episode of their “Scriptnotes” podcast. The duo talked about how low pay for assistants is “creating a barrier” stopping people who don’t come from wealth from entering the industry, and is therefore hurting the push for diversity. Alpert took to Twitter in response to their calls for assistant horror stories.

Alper says that she, along with the many assistants sharing their stories, is scared that she will never get hired again, but that “banding together” and “speaking out” is the only way to bring about change.

August and Mazin will go over some of the stories that have been shared with them on Tuesday’s episode of “Scritpnotes.” It remains to be seen whether the duo’s efforts and the hashtag will provide the wake-up call to the industry that Alper is hoping for.

“Right now there’s a sign up that reads, ‘Welcome to Hollywood, this is how much you’re going to be paid and yes it is below minimum wage.’ When we out that mentality we might be able to change it,” she says.

More TV

  • Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay Urge Changes

    Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay Among Directors Urging Changes in DGA Parental Policies

    Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon and more than 40 other women directors are urging the Directors Guild of America to change its policies for new and expectant parents. The directors have co-signed a letter by documentary filmmaker Jessica Dimmock seeking an extension of the qualifying period for DGA health insurance coverage to 18 months [...]

  • NBC Orders Drama Pilots 'Echo,' 'At

    NBC Orders Drama Pilots 'Echo,' 'At That Age'

    NBC has picked up two more drama pilots for the 2020-2021 season. Universal Television will produce both pilots. The first is titled “At That Age.” It is described as an exploration of an African-American family’s legacy. After the Cooper family’s golden child suffers a catastrophic event, seven family members face a foundational shift, make life-altering [...]

  • Tom Papa Netflix special

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Reveals Premiere Date for Tom Papa's Standup Special

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announced the premiere date for “Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great!” and Quibi unveiled the title and artwork for its upcoming series starring Liam Hemsworth and Christophe Waltz.  DATES “Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great!” will launch globally on Feb. 4, Netflix announced. The veteran comedian aims to remind viewers to [...]

  • Alex Okosi

    YouTube Hires Viacom Exec Alex Okosi to Bolster EMEA Growth

    YouTube has tapped ViacomCBS Networks International exec Alex Okosi as managing director of emerging markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), the company announced Tuesday. Okosi will be responsible for running YouTube’s business and partnership teams in Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, and will report to the head of YouTube EMEA, Cécile [...]

  • Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons

    HBO Teaming With Bill Simmons on Music Docuseries

    Bill Simmons’ The Ringer is continuing to expand its relationship with HBO. The company, which already produced the “Andre The Giant” doc at the cabler, is teaming with HBO on a six-part docuseries about the world of music. The project is slated to air on the network in 2021 and will center on pivotal moments [...]

  • Frida Torresblanco

    Viacom International Studios, Braven Films Sign First-Look Deal

    At Miami’s NATPE market, Viacom Intl. Studios (VIS) announced an exclusive development and production first-look agreement with Spanish-American film and TV producer Frida Torresblanco’s production company Braven Films. Braven films is run by Torresblanco and her partners Eric Laufer and Giovanna Randall and produces feature films, television series and documentaries. Torresblanco’s resumé is packed with [...]

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks

    TV Ratings: Trump Impeachment First Day Draws 11 Million Viewers

    The opening day of President Trump’s senate impeachment trial drew a substantial amount if viewers across the three cable news and major networks that broadcast the proceedings. In total, around 11 million people tuned in to see prosecutors from the House of Representatives and attorneys for the White House argue over exactly how the complicated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content