For the past six months, I had worked for free as an assistant to a television literary manager. In return for my services, I gained exposure to the television industry and began making my first contacts. This income substitution kept me satisfied me for a short time, but by months four and five, I was jonesing for a paycheck. My friends and family told me to jump ship, but I had agreed to six months and I intended to honor my commitment.
Important to note is that whenever assistant gigs become available in LA, one can expect them to be filled within days. Thus, I did not begin the search for my next position until five months into my internship. At first, I applied to anything and everything that I found posted on various job boards, without getting a single bite. Feeling frustrated, I went in search of career advice from a Notre Dame alum who works at a boutique TV literary agency down the street. Five minutes into our conversation, the agent, who I’ll call Alicia, suggested that I become her new assistant. Her assistant had been there two years and was getting ready to move on to something new. It sounded like a nice gig, but because the position wasn’t readily available, I told Alicia that I would continue my search until she could present a definitive job offer.
That same day, someone from a well-respected studio, which I’ll refer to as WDW, called to inform me that a television executive was looking for an assistant. When I had first moved to LA, I had done a brief stint in the accounting department at WDW. It looked like those three mind-numbing months were about to finally pay off. I submitted a formal job application, and interviewed at WDW the following week. The executive, whom I’ll call Mark, was a fairly new exec at WDW. He had spent the previous fifteen years working as a literary agent. Mark and I instantly hit it off, and he gave me a script to take home, asking me to provide development notes. I turned the notes around rather quickly, but then everything was radio silent for the next week.
During this time, my parents and friends had asked me to fly home to South Bend to attend the Notre Dame-Stanford football game. Feeling anxious about having to field questions regarding my job status in LA, I told my parents that I would only fly home if I had secured a full-time job. By Wednesday afternoon, I still hadn’t heard anything, so I phoned my parents to let them know that a visit wasn’t in the cards. Then, at 8:15 PM, Mark from WDW called to let me know that I had gotten the job. I was ecstatic! Not only had I secured a job with benefits, but I would also be working in development. This had always been my backup plan in the event writing didn’t pan out. I immediately called my mom to tell her the good news, and she subsequently booked me on the next day’s redeye to South Bend to celebrate.
Two days later, I could be found drinking a vodka tonic in my parents’ kitchen while preparing some last-minute items for Saturday’s tailgate. At around 6:00 PM EST (3:00 PM PST), my cell phone rang and it was an unknown number from Beverly Hills. I foolishly answered, and it was Alicia from the literary agency. In my mad rush to pack my bags on Thursday afternoon, I had completely forgotten to call Alicia to update her on my employment status. She greeted me on the line saying, “Hey, it’s Alicia. Can you start on Monday?” I fumbled for the correct words to explain that I had just accepted a new job at WDW. I tried to soften the blow by saying how difficult the decision was, etc. Secretly, I was truly excited to be starting a creative job at WDW, instead of spending a year rolling calls at an agency. Alicia interpreted my hesitation on the phone as uncertainty, and began to pitch me on working for her instead of Mark, even offering to call Mark herself to get me out of my commitment to WDW.
For the next thirty minutes, Alicia regaled me with all the benefits of working at her agency. She touched on everything from the family environment found within the agency, to the weekly grocery order that the agency purchased for its employees (anyone who knows me understands that mentioning free food is a brilliant negotiation tactic). I told her that I would think about it and managed to get her off the line. Shortly after we hung up, I was inundated with calls from Alicia’s colleagues at the agency, encouraging me to withdraw from the WDW gig.
Now I was truly conflicted. The main reason I had wanted to work at WDW was because the job would allow me to be more creative. On the other hand, I also realized how crucial it could be to have agency experience on one’s resume. Also, WDW had only recently entered the television market, and I was nervous about my options in the event things didn’t work out there. By the end of the day, I decided that I would honor my commitment to WDW and called Alicia to refuse her offer. When she answered, she quickly mentioned that she couldn’t speak very long, as she was at her husband’s childhood home attending her father-in-law’s funeral. Eek! I tried to ignore this information, and proceeded to explain my decision to decline her offer. Alicia said that she understood, but then made one last request. She asked me to discuss her job opportunity with Mark. She was convinced that Mark would encourage me to work at her agency, given his lengthy employment history at an agency.
When I hung up the phone, I was baffled and feeling a bit incredulous. Three days prior I was jobless, and I now had two respectable offers on the table. This sounds like a nice problem to have, but I was not feeling particularly thrilled. I had come home to celebrate a great opportunity with my family and friends, who were all drinking downstairs. Meanwhile, I was locked away in my childhood bedroom trying to make an eleventh hour decision that I hadn’t planned on making. I grabbed my vodka tonic and headed downstairs to seek counsel from my loved ones. After much deliberation, they agreed that I should at least mention the position to Mark, especially since Alicia kept suggesting she would call him herself.
I tried reaching Mark at his office, but it was Yom Kippur weekend and the entire entertainment industry had gone home early. That comment sounds sensational but the industry really did shut down early. I couldn’t track down Mark’s cell phone number, so I spent the next thirty minutes composing the most non-threatening email imaginable. Since I was resolved to taking the position at WDW, I had just planned on writing a humdrum email to placate Alicia. The gist of my email was that I had been offered a job at a literary agency, but was very excited about coming to work for Mark and just wanted to let him know. After reading this email to about ten family members, I sent it to Mark. For the next hour, I waited with bated breath for his response. When it appeared that the response wasn’t forthcoming, I attempted to take my mind off the email by filling my body with vodka tonic.
For the next two days, everything was silent on Mark’s end. I informed Alicia that I had sent the email, and she asked me to keep her updated. By Monday, I started to panic. My start date at WDW was still a week away, but I booked a flight to LA for Tuesday morning just to be safe. Mark eventually called me around 3:00 PM on Monday afternoon. The conversation started off pleasantly, but it quickly turned sour. Mark informed me that he took offense to my email, and his interpretation was that I was flaking out on the job because a better offer had come along. I tried to explain that that wasn’t my intention, but Mark interrupted and said, “Show that email to anyone and that’s the only way they’ll read it.” I wanted to say, “Listen, A-hole. I read the email to about 100 people over the course of the weekend and not one person found it insulting,” but I bit my tongue. Instead, I apologized and reiterated that he had misunderstood my intentions. He responded to my apology by saying, “I called you to inform you that I was going to continue my candidate search. Now that you’ve explained yourself, I’ll give it some thought and let you know my answer by the end of the day.” Ouch. Clearly Mark’s ego was bruised. I could only hope that my explanation had cleared up any of his misconceptions and that he still felt confident with his initial decision to offer me the job.
I went for a run to clear my head, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what had transpired in three short days. I had begun the weekend with one full-time job, followed by two offers on the table, and now could only hope to have a job upon my return to LA. Also, the more that I thought about Mark’s reaction, the angrier I was becoming. I felt that I had done the noble thing by informing him about the other offer, but instead was being punished for my transparency. Still, I decided that if Mark didn’t withdraw the offer, I would accept it so that this mess would just go away.
That night, as I waited by the phone for Mark’s call, I started to wonder if I was making the right decision. Mark’s overly sensitive reaction to my email was alarming, and I realized that it might be more advantageous to work for someone who was fighting to work with me (Alicia). It was going on midnight and I still hadn’t heard from Mark. Just then, I had an epiphany to check my email. Sure enough, Mark had emailed me an hour earlier with the following two sentences: “Unfortunately, my decision regarding the email below has not changed after further thought. I am sorry.” My kneejerk reaction was to tell him what a narcissistic A-hole he was being, but I took the boring high road and simply said, “I understand. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out.”
Once the initial shock of Mark’s terse email had diminished, I called Alicia to let her know that I would gladly accept the opportunity to work for her. At that point, my biggest fear was that I was going to fly back to LA the same way I arrived last February: unemployed. When I called Alicia, she didn’t answer. I left her a voicemail, followed by a text message, and then finally emailed her. Desperate much?! I waited for twenty excruciating minutes until I finally received a text from Alicia that said, “F*** yes! I just got your message. I’m so F***ing excited!” I was relieved. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this had been Alicia’s plan all along. Most people in the industry said that she “agented” me, but I didn’t care. I was just happy that I had a job. Even more, I was thrilled at my boss’ liberal use of the F-bomb!
As I flew back to LA on Monday night, I couldn’t help but feel upset about the manner in which I lost the WDW job. I tried to let it go, but I was worried about the repercussions that it would have on my business relationship with WDW. I had spent four months preparing their financial statements (something that I hated) so that I could build a good rapport with a studio. Now, due to one innocuous email, all of that work seemed to be coming undone. When one is hoping to be a television writer, it’s not a good tactic to piss off an executive at a television studio. My aunt called and gave me her usual spiel that “everything happens for a reason.” Though I usually roll my eyes at this mantra, this time I didn’t really have a choice but to hope that she was right! Besides, I’ve proven my resilience in the past, and hopefully, I’ll find a stronger and better bridge leading to my future success!