Thursday, June 2, 2016

A tale of sexism and self-respect on a Hollywood job interview

This story's been on my mind these last few weeks. A few years have gone by since it happened, so I feel pretty secure in telling it with a few identifying details removed/obscured.

I was interviewing with two producers for the job of assisting both of them. On the face of it, it seemed like a good job. The production company was flush with cash, they had a couple high-profile projects on the horizon, and I knew someone who worked with one of the two. He'd given me the highest recommendation possible.

Some context for those not in the business - I did some calling around to people working at production companies and studios. Knowing the job description, which would be assisting TWO executives full-time, I tried to get back a reasonable estimate of what the job SHOULD be worth. The studio friends told me "Two execs? At that level? $70k." Those with production company experience quoted me a wide range, with $40k on the low end, and $60k on the high. (Those who lowballed it later acknowledged that they'd have raised their estimates if they knew it was for two execs.)

So I take a meeting with these guys and OH MY GOD there were moments I seriously thought I'd stepped into Entourage. One of the two was relatively professional and the other was a like a caricature of a Hollywood producer, and a caricature written by someone whose only experience in the biz was other caricatures on TV. The guy's a big talker with an overcompensating swagger and someone who you got the sense saw every conversation as a dick measuring contest.

But in the back of my mind I'm thinking "Worst case scenario: do a year here and having this place on your resume instantly makes you more desirable around town." So as the quasi-racist and definitely sexist statements pile up, I resolve to choke down my disgust and do my best not to wince. This becomes sorely tested when they come around to the subject of hiring some new support staff.

 "....and we're going to hire a receptionist."
- "A HOT receptionist!"
"Yeah, I've checked in with a couple of modeling agencies. We'll probably go that way."

This was soon followed up with a discussion of how they were dead set on hiring a guy for this assistant job "because you know how women are.... we want someone we can have fun with." Given what happened later, I kinda wish I'd just trashed the interview and said, "No. What do you mean? Tell me 'how women are.'" If nothing else it would make for a better story.

The casual sexism disturbed me at the time and it still bugs me now. The meeting had all the professional decorum of a locker room. I'd been out here for a number of years at the time and I'd never seen such blatant sleaziness during a job interview. Usually people at least TRY to put on their best face then.

Okay, there was one other weird interview I had within a year of moving to town. It was at a small production company, at a point where I had only two internships on my resume. I was meeting with the company principal about being his assistant. He glances at my resume, says "You interned for Jenny Smith?" (not her real name) "Yes," I brighten, taking his recognition for approval.

"JENNY SMITH IS A FUCKING CUNT!" And then he just lets the statement hang there. I have NO idea how to react to that. Laugh? Ignore it? Try to change the subject? I honestly can't remember what happened next. I think I merely looked shocked and after an eternal long silence, the assistant he brought in with him shifts the subject.

But back to the guys determined to hire a model. This line of discussion also lead to talk of how there'd be a lot of "dinner meetings" and some surprising interest in if I was married and for how long. I've been on plenty of interviews where family life comes up and this was different. I felt like I was being interrogated while Mr. Entourage squinted, cocked his head and ran my words through whatever Doucebag processor was also regulating his libido.

When I repeated the conversation verbatim to my wife, she drew the same conclusion I did: "It sounds like you're going to have to go to strip clubs with these guys."

Still, we agreed that if they were paying what it sounded like this job would be worth, and the opportunity to contribute was as great as they said, I'd be a fool to turn it down. (Sadly, there's so much sexism in this industry that if you discounted any job offered by a male pig, the pickings would be very slim. Not that I haven't worked for some great bosses in the past, but if you're around long enough here, you'll run against a lot of the bad eggs.)

Not long after that, I get the call. I passed the interview. Now I have to meet with their HR person. No disrespect to anyone who works in HR, but my experience is that these people have no soul. At the time of this interview, I hadn't yet had some of the more scarring run-ins, so I made the mistake of believing I was dealing with a human being.

I meet with the HR woman and after a few pleasantries, we get to the REAL meat of the meeting - salary range. I didn't go well. The woman interviewing me balked when I told her what a job assisting ONE high level exec at a studio was paying - and that I deserved AT LEAST that for two. Her answer? "If we were looking to pay that much, there are much more qualified people I'd be talking to than you."

Again, here's where Future Bitter would reach back into the past and tell himself, "This meeting just ended. Your relationship with this company just ended. Get up and walk out while you can take your self-respect with you." Alas, I sit there helpless as the offer goes from metaphorical insult to literal insult.

I ask what they DO think would be reasonable. Are you ready for this? "$32,000," she says. "Frick and Frack [not their real names] really like you and they really want to give you a chance even though your resume doesn't have all the experience they were looking for."

Again, this is the point where someone with self-respect would walk out. Instead, I continue to be polite as the woman says, "Let me go back to them and see if there's any room for more."

There is. And I know there is because Mr. Entourage spent half the interview boasting about all the money he was spending. Like, discretion is not in this guy's vocabulary.

A week later I get the call from HR. "Hi, I just wanted to see if you were interested in doing the job for the number we discussed."

"Honestly, for what they say the job is, that number is an insult. I can't do it for that little." The Mortal Combat graphic "FINISH HIM" keeps flashing before my eyes, but I remain almost unfailingly polite as I terminate the call.

And that was the point when I really came around to the notion that I didn't necessarily NEED an industry job if I already had a decent network and just needed something that paid the bills while I kept writing.

And the irony now strikes me that if I named who these guys were, there are plenty who'd think I was the unprofessional one for smearing them like that.


  1. Nicely penned. And mercy, it all rings true for any of us who have spent time here working our way up the food chain.

  2. You unfurl the details of your outrage, like you want to take us on a voyage into the unknown. We knew the story from the headline. My question is why were you wasting your time? If you were willing to become part of the systemic "sexism" for a self-serving price, why does the part about about self-respect only have to do with their entry-level like offer?

    You obviously made the decision it was okay for pay, and that's all too common in Hollywood. You make it all seem so cavalier and righteous based on the charitable action that you didn't "out" them here in your blog.

    If you did now or do later, they will continue on and make their project and live with their miserable selves. It is Hollywood after all.

    If you wanted to be a hero, you would have been more astute to the Hollywood ways and responded to their "Jenny Smith is a cunt" line with, "Is that a good thing?" Get some laughs and proceed to ask why? And then defend her, let it go or stick your neck like them and agree with them. I would have told the two guys that you need this $ amount of compensation.

    Being a deer in the headlights in a place like Hollywood will get you run over. And when you see those guys on the lot, you could have said "hey guys, your HR girl would only give me a few hundo a week. With that I'd be living in my car." Your meek sit-and-listen-to-their bravado act, is the reason they deemed you not being able to bring your own bravado to the table. It's like the Bud Light commercial where the last "new guy" orders the beer at lunch with his boss. All of a sudden his boss likes it and orders one too.

    This was linked from Stephanie's site and I think she may have intended it to be about what you want it to be, the outrage. Stephanie is great, don't get me wrong, but sometimes you need to take an audition and be an adult.

    You can always go the dangerous route, be a real trailblazer and call Jenny Smith.

  3. Ugh. Sadly, I'm sure your story isn't even exaggerated for effect. Imagine what it's like to be female and interviewed by (or working for) those guys. And trust me -- they don't suddenly strap on filters for our benefit.