Oscars Behind the Scenes

A PA’s Big Night

February 2015. A Monday. I started my new job as a celebrity personal assistant.

I had landed my dream job. I was in the exact position I pined for for years. Within four days, my celebrity boss and I were on a plane to L.A. for the biggest weekend of Hollywood’s year: The Oscars!

Talk about ‘trial by fire!’ I had never been a personal assistant (PA), and aside from my work with the occasional PR campaign spokesperson, had never been in the company of someone with celebrity status.

Waiting for luggage in the hotel lobby, there goes that Hollywood legend. Getting on the elevator in the hotel, hey you, you nighttime talk show host! Drinks in the hotel lounge with the host of the Oscars one night; the next night was drinks with the man who won Best Actor. My outside appearance said, “I got this, this is my new normal and I’m really ok with it.” Internally, I was freaking out a little. Ok, a lot.

What the heck do I do at any given moment? What do I wear? Where do I stand? Do I make small-talk, or wait for some sort of signal? It was time to roll up my sleeves and figure out how to do the kind of job that comes with no training, no on-boarding, no easing-in, and often no one to ask.

A PA’s job exists to help her/his boss with whatever they need help with. In my case, at that moment, someone needed to make and confirm reservations. Someone needed to pack and unpack. Someone needed to coordinate with drivers, producers, the “glam squad,” other assistants, family members, etc. My job did not exist because she wanted a buddy to hang out with. My salary was not paid by someone who wanted to walk around with me, gossip like old friends, and “lunch” for the sake of lunching. I had a job to do. And remember, my boss had a job to do too.

Pull the red carpet, strip folks of their designer dresses and tuxedos and remember that this is work. When we tune into “live from the red carpet” feeds, we see the glitz and glamour. Some of it is fancy and fantastical, but keep in mind that what you watch is a production and everyone you’re watching is working – yes, this is work, even to the actors and actresses. From hair extensions down to the Deborah Lippmann color on their toes, every bit of it is planned in advance and requires a team to professionals to pull off.   Best believe, the Best Dressed of the night employs a professional PA. And while her/his boss attends the show and after-parties, that PA is probably working.

When my boss was off to the show and after-parties, I was at the hotel packing up our rooms, tracking our red-eye flight back to NYC, printing boarding passes, swinging by the convenience store to make sure we had snacks for the plane, and remembering to pull a change of clothes for my employer to wear on the plane (because who wants to wear a gown on a red-eye?!)

Get too casual, resent that you’re not hob-knobbing with the stars at a party, or start to forget that you are a professional with a job to do, and I guarantee that there is another “Elizabeth Meyer” out there, hungry for the opportunity to work and be the trusted right-hand to someone at the top of her game.

Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely excited to be in Hollywood that weekend, no matter my reality! In between landing and take-off, the trip was ‘VIP treatment’ all the way! More celeb sightings, limos, hot restaurants, very expensive [you name it], a lot of “people” (you know, the “have your people call my people, people), annnnd a heck of a lot of work!   I sat with my employer when we went to the hottest restaurant in town (and sat two tables away from Oprah!), but before everyone was done eating, I was outside making sure our driver was close and pulling up when my tablemates were ready to go.

I was – and remain to this day – grateful to my boss for giving me the chance to prove to her that I could do this. Over the course of four nears in that first PA job, I became a damn good PA and it launched my career! Confidence came in time, and was a byproduct of my work ethic and a boss who recognized that she was able to do her job because I was really good at my job!

Josh Kaufman

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