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by Vault Careers | March 10, 2009



The hours on the creative side, especially at the assistant level, are brutal. Long, backbreaking hours, for little pay and often questionable reward are the norm. It is an unspoken rule of the junior ranks that one must arrive every morning before one's manager and stay at least until they leave. The hours drive many people to flee from the industry within a year of their first arrival. After being promoted beyond assistant, however, the hours become more flexible. Even so, there is often the implicit pressure of savage competition, making it essential to put in plenty of face-time.


Flexibility to have children, or time for children is very difficult to find. As you move up the ladder, you will be able to exert more control over your schedule and work hours. Still, spending time mingling and schmoozing is vital, since many promotions and deals hinge on personal relationships. It is difficult to not feel left out in the cold when everyone else is at an industry function on weekends or weekdays.


Assistants make between $500 and $900 a week, depending on the job. Agent assistants and production assistants usually make $500, while assistants for studio executives and producers make closer to the higher end of this range (both because overtime is built in and studios have labor laws that force them to treat hourly workers with more respect). From the assistant position, creative types usually make the leap to a 'manager' level position. It is a big deal to make the leap out of the assistant position, though the ascension is more a matter of title and responsibilities than compensation. While the specific titles vary, the overall job description is largely the same. Annual incomes for the story editor/manager/director of development position is between $40k -- $60k but it is a salary (you're off the punch-in clock) and you get an expense account for meals (a big deal!) not to mention a cell phone.

The VP title pays in the $60k -- $125k range, depending upon the company, your experience and your negotiation skills. In general, studios usually pay more than production companies unless the production company has a lot of projects going on (or if you bring in a lot of projects). In that case, you will be compensated similarly to how you would be paid at a studio. You might get a bonus for setting up projects, a production fee if/when a project gets made and a low-level producer credit once it is executed. Agents usually make a guaranteed base and then get a cut of the commissions they book. In the smaller agencies, you're expected to earn back your base first, and then you get a cut. Good agents make quite a bit of money because their salary is entirely contingent upon the deals that they execute. Less ambitious or successful agents naturally make less. Typically the starting salary for an agent is $40k-50k. Studio executives get higher salaries because they don't get any bonuses or commissions. In studios, the "big money" occurs when you work your way up the VP ladder at the studio (executive vice president, senior vice president, etc.).

Other perks

The perks of the entertainment profession are many and enticing. There are the lavish premieres, the tickets to special parties, the exposure to celebrities, the generous expense accounts and of course, the involvement in creating pop culture. Beyond the glamour of the industry, there are other more pragmatic advantages, such as company cars from some jobs, and even subsidized home loans. Beyond the schmoozing, one of the most popular perks of working in the industry is the tax benefit. Many who work in the entertainment industry save money by writing off all entertainment expenses (e.g. movie tickets, stereo equipment, magazines) as itemized elements on the IRS Schedule B.

Promotions and competition

The industry is tough. In fact, it can be downright brutal. There are many people vying for a few positions. The biggest downside of the creative side of entertainment is the lack of job security. "You get fired all the time," are the words of one TV producer. Take a quick look through one of Hollywood's big trade periodicals and it quickly becomes clear that people are constantly changing jobs. The entire industry, in fact, is one big perpetual game of musical chairs.

Even though the industry is tough, often with long, draining, grueling hours that chip away at one's ego and self-esteem, it's not impossible. You will be rewarded for delivering a great movie, a blockbuster book, or a hit record, and you can often ride on the coattails of others who do. And you only need one or two big hits to make it for life. Everyone starts on the bottom rung. Even if you have a JD or an MBA, you'll still need to start out opening fan mail or getting coffee. Keep networking and keep smiling.


Filed Under: JD Alternative|Job Search

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