After Hollywood assistants took a stand in 2019, saying they were no longer content to work long hours for low pay under frequently difficult and abusive conditions in order to get a foot in the door, the grass-roots organization #PayUpHollywood began collecting data to get an understanding of the issues assistants face as a basis for leveraging that information to make systemic change.
Three years later, the group has released its latest annual survey and finds that little has changed. Assistants continue to struggle for income parity while shouldering out-of-pocket expenses and find themselves shortchanged on a host of issues, the organization found.
It conducted a survey of 523 current and former assistants working at studios, talent agencies and production and development companies between Nov. 16, 2021, and Jan. 1.
Among the key takeaways: 91.05% of the respondents reported making less than $50,000 in 2021, up from 79.1% in 2020 who reported income in that same range.
As incomes stagnated, housing costs continued to eclipse the income of most assistants, who struggle to pay rent: 44.2% said they received financial support from family and others, up from 37.5% the previous year, according to #PayUpHollywood.
Among the survey’s other findings: 49.03% said they were pressured to alter timecards to “save production companies from having to pay overtime or additional hours worked.”
“This is a major labor violation,” said Liz Alper, a writer and co-founder of #PayUpHollywood. “It’s something universal to the entertainment industry.”
Additionally, about 64% of assistants said they were not reimbursed for work expenses such as computer equipment, office supplies, Zoom subscriptions and transportation, up from over 50% as reported in the 2020 survey.
The survey also found that assistants are still expected to perform a variety of menial tasks, including doing personal errands both during and outside of work hours, cooking and picking up mail and laundry for their bosses; some even reported being deployed for child care duties.
#PayUpHollywood’s most recent survey comes at a time of major upheaval in the industry including the aftershocks of COVID-19, the rise of and competition among streamers, studio consolidation (WarnerMedia has pledged to cut $3 billion in expenses) and intermittent layoffs.
For Alper, however, the survey reflects the traditional caste system at work in Hollywood, with assistants viewed as replaceable and the first workers to be cut. But support staff, not simply entry-level jobs, are the kinds of positions that create pipelines into every major branch of the industry.
“There are so many reports that we’ve received of people trying to ask for 25-cent and 50-cent raises but are shut down and told to strap down and do their part,” Alper said. “It’s all excuses.”
Meanwhile, Alper added, the gap between assistants’ pay and the multimillion-dollar pay packages given to top studio and media executives continues to widen.
“It shows that there is money, it’s just not going to the people who need it,” Alper said.
Kirsten Schaffer, the chief executive of Women in Film, an advocacy group, said the report’s findings show “there needs to be a shift in the way we think of coordinators and assistants, instead of thinking of them as people we are running through, but as building the next generation of workers and ensuring they are making a living wage and stay in the industry.”
Women in Film recently agreed to sponsor #PayUpHollywood, allowing the organization to operate as a nonprofit and raise funds.
The arrangement will enable #PayUpHollywood to grow and “start to bring in more of a think tank aspect to tackle a lot of the issues that assistants face,” Alper said.
Schaffer sees this as a natural alliance, pointing out that 66% of the survey’s participants identify as female.
“This connects to the kind of wider work around pay parity,” she said. “Other reports that have come out show that the highest number of women work in fields with lower pay, while conversely in the higher income brackets, there are fewer women. This is part of that story.”