Confessions of (Asian American) Hollywood Assistants

Growing up on the East Coast, I knew what the concept of celebrities and Hollywood was, but didn’t really know much about the business of Entertainment, let alone the career paths it offered. Now that I’m in Los Angeles, I’ve met a lot of people in the Entertainment industry who work in Talent Agencies- the management companies that handle and facilitate the careers of all of the people that star and create content (films, commercials, etc). They represent actors, writers, directors, producers, recording artists, even corporate brands in a variety of areas film, television, music, digital media, voiceovers, commercials, endorsements, branding & licensing and entertainment marketing It’s something I probably would’ve been interested in learning more about coming out of college and what I might have done after graduation… so I asked a few people I know now for their insight and experience as Hollywood assistants in their respective departments especially because being an Asian American in entertainment is a unique experience (you won’t find many in talent agencies). *Names have been changed below for privacy.

If you’re interested in learning more, a book I read and would recommend is the Hollywood Assistant’s Handbook. That being said, the book was published in 2008 and the industry is constantly changing, so be sure to constantly be sourcing out recent advice.

Mitchell*- Through the perspective of someone who had a different career/focus before starting at a Talent Agency:

Your background in a nutshell (did you grow up in LA? What school did you go to? How old are you if that’s relevant)

I was born in LA but grew up mostly in Orange County. After high school, I studied English and got my Masters. I spent a number of years in an unrelated field prior to going to grad school. I am currently 35 years old. 

How long have you been at a talent agency? Did you start from the mailroom or was it a different situation?

I’ve been in agency for 1 year now and I started in the mailroom.  

Why do you think there’s a lack of asians/Asian americans in talent agencies?

I believe it has to do with a cultural emphasis on traditional vocations that are held in high esteem (i.e. Medical, Law, Engineering). These fields are perceived to be unrelated and distant from the creative aspects of entertainment in general. I think it’s a combination of culture in Asian American communities and immigrant culture in general that has prevented them from being exposed to the multitude of career opportunities in entertainment including agencies. It has changed noticeably over the last few years and there appears to be a growing number of Asian Americans working in agencies today.

Why do you work at a talent agency? What was the appeal to you? 

Agencies are the epicenter of information in the entertainment industry and that appeals to my desire to learn. It requires a tremendous amount of expertise and strategic thinking to maintain and grow a financially strong position in an industry that is one of the most competitive in the world.

What key takeaway did you learn from working at a talent agency?/Biggest lesson you’ve learned/Word of advice to those who are interested in entertainment?

I think some of the most brilliant and intelligent people in the industry are working at agencies (or running studios). It’s an incredible learning opportunity to work at an agency and the high pressure/fast-paced work is invaluable training to face the competition wherever you my want to go in entertainment. Biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it never hurts to ask for what you want and it’s important to cultivate yourself into being someone that is responsible and reliable.  

When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say…..: 

That is #543 out of the list of things I do and really the least important. Anyone just starting out who thinks they are too good to “get coffee” is not likely to last long nor have a very promising career. Those people who are now producing movies or running studios started out getting coffee just like all the other countless people that were willing to get coffee. 

Craziest thing you’ve done on the job?

To be honest, none of it really seems crazy anymore.

4 major hollywood agencies I’ve come in contact with!

Cleo- From the perspective of someone working in an industry where very few female Asians are represented

Your background in a nutshell (did you grow up in LA? What school did you go to? How old are you if that’s relevant)
I didn’t grow up in LA. I was born on the east coast and spent most of my childhood in the forest-y suburbs of Portland, Oregon. After graduating high school, I went a liberal arts school in the mid-west where I studied Art, experienced 8-month long winters and made some of the best friends of my life.
How long have you been at a talent agency? Did you start from the mailroom or was it a different situation?
I’ve been working at a talent agency for a little over a year now. I was hired externally to support 2 high volume TV agents in the midst of staffing season. It was a hectic learning experience, but I was lucky enough to have the best bosses around.
Why do you think there’s a lack of asians/Asian americans in talent agencies?
There are not many Asians in Hollywood and even less in the agencies. If you’re going into entertainment, you’ve probably accepted that you won’t be making a lot of money for a long long time. In fact, you’re not only going to be making basically no money, but you’ll also be slaving away at a job a computer could probably do better than you could. The combination of these two are essentially an Asian parent’s worst nightmare.
Why do you work at a talent agency? What was the appeal to you? 
I have always been told that an agency is a great place to start. You’ll be at the center of the entertainment industry and you’ll learn the skills to help you at any entertainment job you’ll pursue in the future. I honestly never thought I’d work at an agency. I always wanted to have a job that was hands on and creative because that was what I had wanted my whole life. But when I was offered an agency job, I took it. I took it on a whim and I took it because I could. And honestly, I took it to test myself, to see if I could make it a year and even more so to see if I could make it in entertainment.
What key takeaway did you learn from working at a talent agency?/Biggest lesson you’ve learned/Word of advice to those who are interested in entertainment?
Everyone’s agency experience is a little different because everyone’s boss is different. But I think everything people say about working at an agency is true. It’s hard, it’s fast paced and it’s overwhelming. You have to be tough, you have to be fast and you have to work long hours. And to top it off, you’re constantly feeling underappreciated by basically everyone around you – particularly your boss. But if you can endure and find a way to bond with your boss and/or the people around you, it will give you the confidence to survive in Hollywood.
When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say… that we’re more or less chained to the desk most of the time so that’s not really a reality.

Book I’m reading for more insight into the talent agency world.

Tiffany- From the perspective of someone who works at an agency but more behind the scenes

Your background in a nutshell (did you grow up in LA? What school did you go to? How old are you if that’s relevant)

I grew up and went to elementary/high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. I came down to SoCal to attend UCLA for undergrad and stayed after graduating. I just turned 23 and am working at my second job after graduation.

How long were you/have you been at a talent agency? Did you start from the mailroom or a different situation?

I’m at about 7 months now! I didn’t start in the mailroom and directly got on the desk. I’m pursuing law school and have had an interest in entertainment law, so when this opportunity popped up it was fantastic luck that the executive I now work with wasn’t looking for an attorney for his assistant (all the other assistants in my department are required to have a JD and to have passed the Bar).

Why do you think there’s a lack of asians/Asian americans in talent agencies?

I think there are multiple facets that contribute to that lack in Hollywood talent agencies – I don’t know much about international ones. (Disclaimer: I’m speaking from my own perspective and upbringing) One of those facets is that it’s not one of the top job prospects many traditional Asian families distill on their kids – growing up, I don’t think I even knew about this side of the entertainment industry. Much of the public that aren’t already heavily invested in entertainment, usually see the actors/directors/writers when thinking of working with “TV and Movies!”. So when Asians in those careers are still fighting to gain a larger voice in the face of a predominantly-white Hollywood, I don’t think much of the public know to look behind that face for a career (at a talent/management/marketing agency or etc) that can be just as fulfilling and illustrious as any other. But a positive in the face of this lack, is that I am starting to see more Asian/Asian-American individuals joining my talent agency, which I believe is indicative of an increased interest to become involved in entertainment. Now whether each of those individuals plan to stay at the talent agency or move on to work in producing or development or something else remains to be seen, but at the very least it is an increase in possible numbers.

Why do you work at a talent agency?

I’m working at a talent agency to gain experience in entertainment law, and there’s no better place to get a wide overview since it is the center point between the talent and the studios – I essentially get to see all the deal making processes, and get to see all the different agreements and standards that studios typically use. The company events, occasional free lunches, and screening perks don’t hurt either!

What key takeaway did you learn from working at a talent agency?/Biggest lesson you’ve learned/Word of advice to those who are interested in entertainment?

Be aggressive but be patient. You will have to hound people for information, a signed agreement, or something else. Whether they’re clients, the counterparty, or another agent’s office, there will always be someone who does not get back to you or get you something you need in a timely matter. They may forget or it might have been more than two weeks already, but whatever it is, you need to get whatever it is you need from them. You’re already dealing with a hundred different deals, you don’t want a backlog of projects on standstill. At the same time, don’t let the number of follow-up’s you send out frustrate you – you’ll learn to be patient and note out who always takes a while to respond..

When people think assistants just get coffee, I want to say…..:

They are the backbone for the machine that is the entertainment world. They keep everything running from simple details to large projects so that their bosses can effectively focus on their jobs. Don’t underestimate their ingenuity and tenacity.

Craziest thing you’ve done on the job

Might not be crazy for other people, but I thought being able to drink beer/champagne/wine for special events during work hours was pretty crazy.

I hope this was remotely helpful!! I wish I could tell you my experience firsthand but I haven’t worked at a traditional talent agency. I really believe and am excited by those who are Asian American and work at these agencies because if they become agents in the entertainment industry, there will be more diverse stories and actors represented in Hollywood.

Thoughts? Do you have your own experiences working in a talent agency? What do you want to know more about?

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