Stop Calling Yourself An Assistant

I’ve had an epiphany this week. I’m sick of being an assistant.

I went to a pitching event the other weekend where in response to the age old introductory question ‘what do you do?’ I said I was a production assistant and “aspiring” director. The reply was something I had heard before when introducing myself this way, which was ‘no you just are!’ referring to removing the word aspiring from before Director. It was here I recognised the first inklings of imposter syndrome.

It made me realise that I have been selling myself short for a very long time. Calling myself an aspiring director and only ever pursuing assisting jobs has firmly cemented in my mind that that is all I am worth and capable of doing. But why have I been doing this?

Me Production Assisting on set minding the stuff (2015)

I began to evaluate the kind of work I’d been required to do as an assistant and came to the conclusion that it’s incredibly inconsistent. Unlike most jobs, assistant positions in any field don’t seem to have a defined standard. They’re instead defined by the tasks the positions above them either don’t have time to do or don’t have the patience for. Subsequently proving your merit as an assistant reaps equally inconsistent rewards. It can either lead to a promotion and potential pay rise or a dump of extra responsibilities for the same pay cheque. And often even with the nicest company/boss to work for being the assistant can just really suck.

And I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the time I’ve spent in assistant roles. We all have to start somewhere and in the nearly 3 years that I’ve been an assistant I have learnt a lot about the industry, a lot about myself, worked with some great people, and even managed to score that promotion with one of the companies I was assisting at. But I have been watching the most recent series of The Bold Type and can’t help but resonate with Sutton’s career situation of feeling like she’s just capable of so much more than her assisting role allows her to do. (Seriously if haven’t seen The Bold Type you need to go watch it).

Now I haven’t trodden on toes like she did, but that could be the very problem I face in trying to move away from this assistant box I have caged myself in. Perhaps its time to be a little more disagreeable.

I write about incredible women on this blog who create such varied and interesting work as directors in their own right. Some come to me asking to feature their debut projects and I am so inspired by these women. As each new year roles around I tell myself this will be the year I make a film, this year I’ll have that idea that will be worth taking a couple of risks for. But for some reason I never do. The list of excuses are perfectly memorised in my head. You don’t know anyone to make anything with. You don’t have enough experience as a director yet. You don’t have the time for that on top of your full time job.

And most of these are probably correct. No I don’t know very many people to make films with, but there are so many creatives out there that I’m sure would love a collaboration project. I haven’t had a lot of experience as a director, but how do you think you’re ever gonna get that experience? And time is precious, but weekends are a thing and occasionally we even get public holidays…jus’ sayin’.

So my epiphany was that I don’t want to be an assistant anymore. Something I think I already knew a while ago but kept suppressed with the excuses I’ve talked about above. Of course the recent coronavirus pandemic doesn’t help me take the action I was hoping to take with such a realisation, but I think that whilst we are forced to remain locked up in our homes it is a great time for self reflection and the first step to moving away from this role is to not call myself an assistant anymore. It may be my job right now, but it is not who I am. A lot will change once things are allowed to go back to normal and I am hoping that my self doubt can be one of those things.

So for any future events (once out of lockdown of course) my response to the question What do you do? will be: “I’m a film director. What do you do?”

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