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My life as a first-year…Production Assistant

The premiere of another recurring rubric for The Gig: “My life as a first-year…” Our debut entry comes from a production assistant at a major television production company in New York City. (She asked to remain anonymous, in the interest of keeping her gig.) We’ll be looking out for more of these every month, so just give a shout if you’d like to share your life as a first-year…

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Like a lot of people, I experience rock-bottom desperation whenever I’m strapped for cash. In college, I’d find myself staring longingly at the foster parent ads mixed in the job section, contemplating squeezing an air mattress into my dorm room. In the end, I realized there wouldn’t be enough walking space. So you can imagine my stress when 15 months after I was officially conferred my bachelor’s degree, I was still unemployed. I was at my wit’s end, and I had been on so many interviews and rejected from so many jobs that I was starting to feel like the eternal bridesmaid.

So it was rock bottom that brought me to New York City, working as a production assistant for a major television production company. My soon to be boss made the job sound as appealing as a back-rub from an ex-convict, but somehow in my state of desperation it sounded appealing, and I fibbed (“Transcribing? Love it!”) and finagled my way through the interview to land my first job.

In retrospect, I probably could have considered a few factors besides 1) did it pay (check), and 2) would it get me out of my small town (check). When I first got here, the culture shock was so extreme that I was watching Sex and the City every night just to cope. My life was nowhere near that fabulous, but it was still pretty exciting to see Times Square for the first time.

Now that I’ve been here a little while, there are still some things about my job that I love. Because I’m a pop culture junkie, working in television production gives me some place to use some of my favorite useless facts—like the real names of the entire cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—and it definitely helps when I have to identify C-listers at red carpet events. (Which by the way, are total insanity.)

But being a PA is a mixed bag. Some PA’s get technical jobs, jobs I imagine involve lots of power cord wrapping and hoisting of 30-lb lights. Fortunately I work in the “cushy” desk job variety, meaning that I sit in front of a computer for nine hours a day.

On a good one, I am on fire, deftly transcribing witty descriptions of $5,000 silver spoons and trips to Ibiza, simultaneously dubbing tapes and researching Mariah Carey’s net worth ($225 million).

On a bad one, I send about 541 instant messages, 31 personal e-mails, and check perezhilton.com about 4 times. All this to stock up on my retention of useless pop culture facts, such as the paternity of Dannielynn Smith and which young it-girl forgot her panties at home.

The upside is that I can pass all that off as research. I mean, I’ve got to stay up on culture, right? But the most challenging thing about my job is the fact that it’s freelance, meaning at any given point my company can decide that “my services are no longer needed.” I’ll never forget a very self-assured co-worker who was first introduced to me as having been one of the longest employed PAs—for a staggering 16 months. She helped show me the ropes. I found some of her work behavior obnoxious and inappropriate: she had a penchant for extended lunch breaks to catch sales at H&M and coming into work hung over. Still, having her there assured me that no matter how badly I slacked off, I’d probably be able to keep my job.

Scarier still was when I was cleaning out my desk and found remnants of another PA’s work. It looked pretty darn organized, so when I learned that an uptight producer complained about her Internet behavior and insisted she be fired, I became officially paranoid. I’ve mastered the Mac keystrokes for screen hiding and minimization because I can’t bring myself to go through an entire day in front of a computer without checking my e-mail. But the stress of constantly looking to see if my boss has silently crept up has made me consider cutting back for the sake of my sanity. It just wouldn’t be right to lose my job over updating my Facebook profile.

Along with the complete lack of job security, the freelancer lifestyle also has a pretty unstable income. Half my monthly income goes to bills, and the rest is cautiously partitioned to cover my meager meals. My friends all wonder how I’ve lost so much weight; I call it the “poor diet”. When you can only afford $2 lunches at 200 calories a pop, you’re going to shed a few pounds.

Worse, one of the many “perks” of freelance work is that I have no health insurance. Granted, I could foot the $200 bill to get it, but at that rate, I’d have to move into the hospital just to get a return on my investment.

It’s like any job—starting out is tough. I like getting a paycheck, but I hate how small it is. I like being independent, but part of me wishes my parents would just pay the rent so I could have more cash to do what I want to do. I’ve never liked sitting around all day, but according to my budget, that’s my new favorite hobby. But I really do appreciate having a job—especially one in an industry where so many people are struggling to get in. And I’ve managed to wean myself off Carrie and Charlotte, mostly because I have my own life and New York hustle now (largely courtesy of FreeNYC). That’s my life as a first-year PA. Here’s hoping I last more than 16 months!