Ask anyone in entertainment or marketing, and they’ll tell you how much Americans love a good underdog. It’s the perfect formula if you’re trying to sell a movie or product: a relatable figure, paired with the perfect story arc. Art may imitate life, but in Hollywood, the reverse is just as common, because in Hollywood, almost everyone starts at the bottom. Unfortunately, it can be hard to remember that top-tier agents were once in the Creative Artists Agency or William Morris Endeavor mail rooms, or powerful producers were on coffee runs and frantically answering phones.
It’s unfortunate, because for the ranks of wannabe writers and actors and directors and Youtubers and Kardashians, success can look instantaneous. With the promise of fame, Bel Air mansions and lots and lots of money also comes a fair amount of entitlement. It doesn’t help that there are more Maseratis than Hondas on the roads; roads that are lined with designer boutiques. When you see that, it’s hard to keep in perspective the work required to buy your own Bentley. Or really, the work required to get a car at all, because at an assistant’s salary, you’re lucky to be able to afford cocktails on “Thirsty Thursdays.”
Among the ranks of those that make their way out West, there are a lot of really talented people. After all, no one comes to Hollywood because they think they don’t have what it takes, but even if you might be a star on the rise, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone equally competent waiting in the wings.
A few months ago, the “50 Shades of Grey” stars demanded seven-figure raises for the sequel given the financial success of the first film (critics might have torn it apart, but it’s still one of the highest-grossing films this year at over $550 million worldwide). Producer Dana Brunetti responded in a Hollywood Reporter article, saying that, regardless, significant pay increases shouldn’t be expected. The movie vaulted Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson to stardom. That’s more than a lot of people can say for their 9-to-5 jobs.
It’s fair that they’re asking for more, since the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” stars did the same, but their attitude is reflective of a bigger problem in those new to Hollywood. Everyone has that friend who wants to be an actor and uproots everything to head to Los Angeles, with no job prospects or connections, convinced that their pure talent will take them on the quick path to fame.
I mean, I wish that were true, because then I wouldn’t be eating frozen Trader Joes’ dinners every night.
It can be trying: making copies, transcribing interviews and learning the ins and outs of incredibly fascinating industries for no pay is far from glamorous. I’ve talked to now-successful screenwriters who boast tales of eating ramen for years, while writing in the odd hours they aren’t waiting tables. It can be trying, or it can be an amazing learning experience that opens up the opportunity to fulfilling dreams you’ve had since you were a kid.
Entry-level jobs in entertainment function similarly to Accounting 1 or Organic Chemistry. It weeds people out. If you’re just in Hollywood to be recognized on the street or to make stupid amounts of money, it’s going to be hard to survive when your first few years are the complete opposite of that. It comes down to how much you’re willing to risk for your creative vision, the cars and the parties just being a positive consequence of undeterred passion. The other side of that is, unlike more stable fields, there’s no guarantee that hard work is going to win you a produced script or a principal role. You can’t even be sure about getting another job covering another assistant desk, but you have to hope that whatever happens, doing it means more to you than anything else could.
Kim Bussing is a rising senior in the College. Behind the Screens appears every other Friday at thehoya.com.
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