>Lessons Learned as a Hollywood Assistant (Oct. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Posted: November 16, 2004 in Columns

>I was once a Hollywood assistant at two talent agencies and one management firm in fabulous Los Angeles, California. The work was unglamourous, mostly unrewarding, and not at all lucrative. The only benefits of the experience were the lessons that I learned. These lessons can be applied to any career and any person living just about anywhere, so I offer them to you. Attractive people get farther in life — so deal with it
Sure, there are the Bill Gates’ and Stephen Hawkings’, but these are merely exceptions to the rule. In Hollywood, I saw many vacuous and less-than-intelligent individuals reach the apex of the industry with nothing more than their good looks. It stinks, but we have to realize it and deal with it. The only leveling factor is that there are tons of attractive people in Los Angeles and not all of them are going to make it. This is the poetic justice which evens things out for the normal cross-section of the human population.
There is a difference between Equal and Sweet & Low
This may confuse some of you who haven’t seen the movie “Swimming with Sharks,” so I’ll explain further. If someone in a power position asks you for Sweet & Low for their coffee, don’t bring them Equal thinking that they’ll be just as happy. What I’m saying is this: Pay attention to detail and you won’t end up with coffee thrown on your new white shirt (literally and figuratively). Even though this example is from a movie, I’ve still seen this type of scenario played out time and time again, whether I worked in LA, Washington DC, or Northwestern lower Michigan — regardless of the job field I was employed in.
Just because you’re hot now, it doesn’t mean the honeymoon will last forever
Creative people, especially actors, directors, writers, and the like, love to have their egos stroked. They enjoy the attention, the limelight, the “heat”, so to speak. The problem arises when said creative folks start to believe their own press. I’ve seen many a Kansas farm girl or boy come to Hollywood as sweet, down-to-earth people who chuck their Midwestern values the first time they land a guest role on “Caroline in the City.” I’ve also seen sitcom stars who were on the cover of “Tiger Beat” every month spend their money like the gravy train would never end, only to find out that even a good television series only has a six or seven year run — and after that, you’re returned to the back of the line to try and get on another hit show with the rest of the newbie actors fresh off the Greyhound bus. Which leads to my next point…
Always treat others as you would like them to treat you, no matter how important you think you are
I’ve seen it happen. The supposed “star” actor treats the lowly production assistant like so much dog doo that she scraped off the bottom of her designer Jimmy Choo shoe. Then she finds that two years later when her career is on the skids and she’s dying to do the new part in the hip new script that the production assistant wrote and is directing, that he has a very good memory. Fame in Hollywood, and all avenues of life for that matter, is truly fleeting. Don’t burn your bridges.On the flip side, no matter how lowly your beginnings are, keep your chin up. Your fortunes can change at any moment if you’re in the right place at the right time, and take the opportunities that life presents to you.
Not everyone is destined to “make it big”… and that’s okay
Now this is a tough one. I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea about what I’m trying to say here. Those with delicate constitutions should leave the room now. Yes, you should follow your dreams. Yes, you can achieve your dreams if you work hard enough. But…not anyone can achieve any dream they set their mind to. I know this sounds harsh, so hear me out. Some folks aren’t going to be good actors, no matter how many summer stock productions they perform in, how many acting coaches they enlist, or independent features they do non-gratis to “hone their art.” Look at it like this. I will never be a professional basketball player, no matter how many hours I spend at the YMCA practicing free throws. For everyone, and every dream, there is a reality checkpoint that must be acknowledged. If you’ve been trying for ten years to be an actor and all you’ve landed is a guest shot on “MacGyver,” maybe its time to start thinking about a day job. That’s all I’m saying. This logic doesn’t only apply to Hollywood. Everyone needs to look at their careers with realistic goals and it’s important to reassess these goals every few years. We all have hidden talents just waiting to be discovered. I think the best learning experience for me from my time on the left coast was the way in which I was humbled on a daily basis by the people who, at least in their own minds, were “big shots”. Being humbled, although hard on the psyche, did go a long way towards thickening my skin, which has helped me in life ever since. I was able to sleep much better once I came to the realization that these so-called “superstars” were really just people like myself, with the same hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, and all the other everyday junk that life brings; albeit they were a lot richer and more arrogant. And quite frankly, I was most comforted by the fact that most of them — were absolutely nuts. Cean Burgeson can be reached at cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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