NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Working in Development – Tales From The Assistant Desk

After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca

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When you work in Hollywood it’s inevitable, for at least part of your time, you’re going to work as an assistant. When you do, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a relatively polite, somewhat sane person. But given the fact that this is Hollywood, that’s also a rarity.

I have a ton of stories, mostly funny ones. I also saved a lot of the really funny emails in case I decided to ever write a book. In reality though… who want’s to dedicate that much time to writing about working for those people? Not I, I assure you. They get a column. Maybe Two… TOPS.

Anyway, let’s take a look behind the curtain and see what it’s like working for an Academy Award-winning producer.

A LITTLE ASSISTANT CONTEXT

Cobra Commander and The Baroness worked from home so while they kept an office (where we were housed) they never came to it. This allowed a certain amount of freedom for us, but it also presented a lot of really weird issues. The higher ups would often have to go to the house for meetings, but I rarely went unless there was a technology issue as I was the “fix it” guy.

So even though I was an assistant, I wouldn’t need all my fingers to count the number of times I interacted with them in person… in almost four years. What she would do is send the driver to the office, and I (or an intern) would have to do this weird drug deal exchange in the parking lot where he would give me an envelope from “the house” and I would give him an envelope from “the office.”

This would explain why, when I share these stories, most of them are via phone calls and emails.

WASHING THE DOGS

spa-dogIn Los Angeles, you can get anything delivered, including dog grooming. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure, basically it’s a “shower” van that travels around from house to house to groom their clients’ pets.

On this particular day, the grooming service failed to show up. I don’t exactly know why, but needless to say, The Baroness wasn’t happy. I was to call to find out what happened:

On Jan 28, 2013, at 4:40 PM, Manny wrote:

Couldn’t get to you today; he’ll be there for sure after 12

On Jan 28, 2013, at 4:42 PM, The Baroness wrote:

PLEASE CALL HIM BACK AND TELL HIM IF HE IS TOO BUSY TO DEAL WITH MY DOGS I WILL GET SOMEONE ELSE. DOESN’T EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO CALL AND SAY I AM NOT COMING… BULLSHIT. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT TIME EXACTLY TOMORROW OR TELL HIM NOT TO COME AGAIN.

On Jan 29, 2013, at 8:42 AM, Manny wrote:

Left a message, wasn’t a dick but asked for an exact time.

On Jan 29, 2013, at 8:43 AM, The Baroness wrote:

Okay.. I will play that role today. Please let me know what time he says or if he even calls back.

FUN FACT!: When I DID talk to the dog groomer (in the above email letting her know that I wasn’t a dick) he just sighed and told me: “Yeah, she does this a lot. If she’s so unhappy, please, let her know she can find someone else.” It seems as if I wasn’t the only one tired of her shit.

SKIP TO THE END!

On Aug 5, 2012, at 5:17 AM, The Baroness wrote:

Please give me the story of the movie “Hope Springs.”

On Aug 7, 2012, at 8:47 AM, Manny wrote:

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep go to Steve Carell (who’s a couples’ counselor) to revitalize their marriage and reconnect.

On Aug 7, 2012, at 9:27 AM, The Baroness wrote:

How does it end?


Script EXTRA: Learn how the navigate Hollywood in our interview with
HBO’s Chris Salvaterra, who also started as an assistant.


WHERE’S MY BALLOT!

Yes. It's the real deal.

Yes. It’s the real deal.

One of the few perks of working in development is Academy Award season. Academy Award season meant one thing: SCREENERS! For almost four years I didn’t have to see a single movie in the theater during the holidays and it was magnificent.

This also meant that I got an inside look at the voting process. Let’s just say, I know why a lot of people are upset that certain movies win over others.

On this one occasion, The Baroness seemed to misplace her ballot that was mailed to her. This is the outcome. Take notice that there were no responses from me. Also take note of the times. Often, if I wouldn’t respond, she would figure it out on her own.

Re: ACADEMY BALLOT

On Feb 2, 2013, at 7:20 AM, The Baroness wrote:

Please call the Academy. I have misplaced my ballot, I think I was sent a printed one (I know Cobra Commander got his but I do not remember if I ever got it or misplaced it. I can vote online or pick up another hard copy.

On Feb 3, 2013, at 7:27 AM, The Baroness wrote:

Actually call and see if they were mailed as Cobra Commander got his but maybe I did not misplace and it has not yet been sent.

On Feb 3, 2013, at 10:40 AM, The Baroness wrote:

DISREGARD ALL EMAILS REGARDING THE ACADEMY BALLOT. THEY HAVE NOT YET BEEN MAILED OUT. DO NOTHING.

FAMILY AFFAIRS

Pretty sure this one speaks for itself. So I’ll just leave that right here.

(No Subject)

Please call my brother on his cell and tell him his email is not working…my email to him is bouncing back. Have him check and send me an email when all is fixed so I can correspond with him.

I DON’T TALK TO HIM!

When I first started working for the company, I heard some pretty tall tales about Cobra Commander and The Baroness’ interaction with their driver. None of which I could hardly believe. After working there a couple of years, I finally got to experience them for myself.

The Baroness calls me up and says: “Call the driver and tell him that I need him to run to blah blah blah and pick up yadda yadda while I’m at my appointment.”

“Sure,” I replied. Now, to be fair, she DID use his name, but I’m redacting it here.

There was nothing odd in her request, so I called up the driver and conveyed her message.

“Uh huh,” he replied softly. This was somewhat unusual because he tended to speak up as he had a bluetooth headset glued to his head and was always on the road. Then I remembered that one time I was told a story and it hit me, so I say:

“Driver? Is she in the fucking back seat right now?”

“Uh huh,” he softly said again.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?! She’s less than 3 feet from you!”

“Uh huh,” followed by a soft chuckle.

On another occasion, she was incredibly agitated about something. I don’t really remember exactly what it was other than there was some massive miscommunication with The Driver coming to the office. Gee, ya think? I wonder why?

In an attempt to calm her down, I started to say: “Just tell the driver to come–”

She yelled at the top of her lungs into the phone: “I don’t talk to the driver!”

A WHAT?

Here’s another one that needs no explanation:

(No Subject)

Please make a Rolodex card for “Psychic”(dog) and also put under Dog Psychic.

WELL THAT’S RANDOM

tromboneThis one creates more questions than anything else:

(No Subject)

Please find a place that can repair a trombone… the slide sticks, remove a dent and purchase a new case.

FUCKING JENNIFER ANISTON TOOK MY TABLE!

Believe it or not, table location is EVERYTHING to some people in Hollywood. Whether it’s the best spot to be seen or the best view, it’s all about location, location, location. Now, it’s so important that the hosts, hostesses and Maitre D’s get paid, quite handsomely, to ensure that when called upon, their table is ready.

These are always cash payments, done in a handshake. Some of the staff can get “tipped” a hundred dollars or more on each visit.

Life as an assistant in Hollywood can be long and thankless, luckily it can also be comical. This week, Manny Fonseca tells some of his funnier stories.Now, the plus side is that, because THEY don’t actually make any of the reservations, the restaurant staff mainly knows you, the assistant. I have gotten into some of L.A.’s top restaurants thanks to being nice to those that have to endure Hollywood’s richest.

On this occasion, I had made the reservation as I have done many times before and was assured that they’d have their table as they have many times before. It was a big night because they were taking a very close friend and his wife out for dinner. All I’ll say is that this friend is a comedic legend and an idol of mine.

The next day all fucking hell had broken loose. There were multiple emails and phone messages. SOMETHING had clearly happened at dinner and Cobra Commander and The Baroness wanted heads to roll. I had to call the Maitre D’ who I made the reservations with, the manager and anyone else who would listen that their long-standing friendship with the restaurant was OVER.

Why?

Fucking Jennifer Aniston took their table.

Now don’t get me wrong. They were seated. They didn’t have to wait. It was just not at THEIR table. As ridiculous as this story is, it gets better. Apparently it didn’t really matter, because the comedic legend in question hardly spent time at the table as he was up entertaining everyone in the room who all celebrated the up-close and personal show.

The story appeared on Page Six of the New York Post the next day. The other A-listers in the room? Nicole Kidman, who just so happened to be having dinner with Donna Karan, Demi Moore and Bette Midler. Al Pacino, who was dinning with Sean Penn and, of course, Jennifer Aniston.

Not mentioned in the story? Cobra Commander and The Baroness. Cause you know, they were at the wrong table.


Script EXTRA: Behind the Lines with DR: Abracadabra, You’re Fired


POST-IT GATE

It’s not all fun and games. This is a 100% true story of the worst time I have ever been yelled at as an assistant. This is not embellished, and I am not making this up.

Literally the WORST i ever got yelled at by the higher ups was over red post-its.

IT BEGINS

The Baroness emailed me and told me to order “red post-its.” Now, they don’t make red post-its so I assumed she was referring to the red post-it TABS. I put in the order on Amazon and never thought another thing about it.

A couple of days later, I get a calm phone call from The Baroness telling me that “Amazon sent the wrong post-its and we needed to send them back.”

“Sure. No problem,” I replied.

“You still need to order red post-its.”

“Um, you mean, like, regular standard post-its, right?”

“Yes. The square ones.”

“Okay, they don’t make red post-its.”

Like someone flipped a fucking switch:

red-post-its“DON’T TELL ME THEY DON’T MAKE FUCKING RED POST ITS! COBRA COMMANDER HAD RED POST-ITS AND HE FUCKING WANTS MORE RED POST-ITS! IS THAT TOO HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND!?”

“I can’t get you what they don’t make!” It shouldn’t be a shock that I didn’t make a very good assistant. I dish back.

“BULLSHIT! ARE YOU CALLING COBRA COMMANDER A LIAR?!”

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Manny = Asshole when pushed. Clearly, I didn’t value my job.

Now, I don’t remember verbatim what the next line was, but I do remember the sentiment. I was getting yelled at because MY “fuck up” was getting HER yelled at.

“CALL THE COMPANY!”

A few hours later, she called me for an update. I told her that we (the interns and myself) dropped everything and scoured every paper company, office supply store and party place looking for red post-its, and they all said the same thing: “They don’t make red post-its.”

Her reply? “Call the company.”

That was her response any time things weren’t going her way. Call the company. One time she actually wanted me to call, and I’m not joking, Steve Jobs because Apple Mail didn’t have a feature that Microsoft Outlook had, and she wanted me to find out why.

Anyway, so I did what I was told. More to prove a point than anything else. I actually called the 3M Corporation. Their headquarters and spoke to a lovely woman in the public communications office, looking for red post-its. It should be no surprise that her response was: “We don’t make red post-its.”

Not wanting me to be left with unsatisfactory customer service, she forwarded me over to the special order division of the 3M corporation. This is the department that creates stupid holiday post-its or special order post-its with your company logo on them.

The woman who answered the phone told me that, during her time with the company, they have never made red post-its. In fact, if the 3M corporation HAS made red post-its, there would only be two occasions in which that occurred.

The first? If they made heart shaped post-its for Valentines day. (She checked, they haven’t.)

And the other? If they did a special, red, white and blue pack for Fourth of July. (She checked, they didn’t.)

WHY THEY DON’T MAKE RED POST-ITS

Now, I know you’re wondering WHY don’t they make red post-its. Well, I’ll tell you so that this factoid can take up space in your brain like it does mine. The kind woman informed me that, “They don’t make red post-its because you can’t read what you write when you write on them in blue or black ink. The two most common forms of ink.”

I cheerfully thanked her and wished her a jolly life and then smugly called The Baroness back.

“Yeah, so I called the 3M corporation and found out that, not only do they NOT make red post-its, but they have NEVER made red post-its because you can’t read your writing when you write on them. So I’m not sure what Cobra Commander has or had, but they weren’t red post-its.”

“Fine, just send over what you have in the office, and he’ll just have to deal.”

HOW DOES THIS STORY END?!

I walked over to the supply cabinet and opened it up. Inside were a stack of of post-its, all one color: HOT PINK!

That’s when Cobra Commander’s assistant informed me that he had gone to the eye doctor a few days before and got drops in his eyes for cataracts. So to HIM, hot pink, probably LOOKED red! The Baroness never questioned the king because doing so would result in a beheading, nor did she ever check herself. It was just easier to yell at me and waste about 15 hours total of my time.

THE GODDAMN XMAS LIST!

christmas-xmas-gifts-presents-largeEvery year I’d have to help with one off the worst tasks ever: Keeping track of the Xmas list. Everyone and their brother was on this list. Easily 300 names. Family members, friends, peers and colleagues were on this list, and she had to keep track of what she gave to everyone.

Not only that, but it had to be compared to the previous year’s list, to ensure that they either got something better, worse or the same depending on how the year went. Now, in most cases is was nothing more than a candle or a bottle a booze, but it was still the gesture of it.

Included on this list were the following: The mechanic, various hair stylists, the dog groomers (yes, THOSE groomers), the many restaurant staffers across Los Angeles and, yes, even the mailman.

Wanna take a guess who wasn’t on that list?

Yup! You got it…THEIR FUCKING EMPLOYEES! None of them! Not the president of production, not the assistants, not the interns and not the driver.

What made it worse is that she would ask me, at least five times a year, if there “was anyone she was missing?” She then added, “Is there anyone at the office building that you deal with that I need to take care of?”

I never had the balls, but I always wanted to say: “Oh, I don’t know… how about the people who do this shit for you day in and day out? How about showing THEM a little respect?” But no, the mailman. I get it.

I mean, the least they could have done was sent us some Holiday post-its. You know. The red kind.

all-you-need-to-know-about-the-movie-and-tv-business-gail-resnik-scott-trost_mediumGet more insights into Hollywood with Gail Resnik and Scott Trost’s book
All You Need to Know about the Movie and TV Business

2 thoughts on “NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Working in Development – Tales From The Assistant Desk

  1. NealR

    I’ve been loving all of your bi-weekly columns, but this one (sad as it is to find out how bad things so often really are in the business) made me laugh so much!!

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