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An Assist for Aspiring Movie Assistants

April 27, 1999|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Countless people come to Los Angeles dreaming of a career in the movies, and now there's a book to help. In stores next week, "Development Girl: The Hollywood Virgin's Guide to Making It in the Movie Business" (Doubleday, 1999) is a funny, pragmatic guide to landing internships and assistant jobs in the entertainment business, with an understanding of what it takes to make it.

Author Hadley Davis, 27, is a "D-Girl" who has worked as a creative executive at Warner Bros., Le Frak Productions and Wind Dancer Production Group. Her first roles in the biz were as an intern and then a script reader, when she rejected such classics as "Beauty and the Traitor: The Mrs. Benedict Arnold Story." Davis says she wrote the book in response to the dozens of requests she was getting for informational interviews from recent college grads, Harvard MBAs and even successful New York attorneys.

"I couldn't believe all these people wanted my job! I have read a lot of movie business books, and most are by successful people looking back on their careers. I wanted to write something conversational, fun and from the point of view of someone who recently graduated from college," she explains.

We asked Davis to share a few of her tips about how to break into the world of D-Girldom.

Q: What exactly is a D-Girl, and why would you want to be one?

A: A development girl or guy is someone who is no longer an assistant but not an executive. He or she is involved in the development process from the first draft of a script to when production begins. The work involves finding a project, reading the script, making the script better, working with writers, attaching talent and putting all the elements together for production. It's a great place to be for a few reasons. One, the industry relies on these young people and listens to them. It's also a thrill to find things you feel passionately about and see them through to the big screen.

Q: How do you know if you are D-Girl material?

A: If you want to make it in the movie business really badly. You have to endure a lot of craziness as an assistant, and you'll still have to endure a lot of craziness when you are an executive. It will just be coming from stars and studios. It's all about determination and tenacity.

Q: The first step on the road to success is landing an assistant's job where one often suffers abuse on a daily basis. The book includes one anecdote about an assistant who even changed his name because his boss said there were too many Allens in the office. How much abuse is too much?

A: Some abuse is part of the hazing process. Assistanthood is a good experience because producing entails dealing with a lot of personalities, demands from stars, studio execs and directors. It also entails a lot of problem-solving. If you can solve the case of the missing Caesar salad with dressing on the side, you are being trained to problem-solve on a movie set someday.

Q: One of an assistant's most important skills is "giving good phone." Sounds risque.

A: It's the art of the schmooze on the phone. It's flirting, flattering and charming, and it's using those skills to get what you want, whether it's a reservation at the Ivy or a call back from Harvey Weinstein.

Q: How can you expect a Yale graduate with a degree in molecular biology to deal with menial tasks like copying and faxing?

A: The most important thing to learn . . . nothing is beneath you. Maybe you don't think you went to an Ivy League school to learn the internal workings of a Xerox machine, but you did. Have a Zen attitude. This is what you're doing now, not forever.

* Hear more from Hadley Davis May 20 when she will read and sign "Development Girl" at Book Soup in West Hollywood, (310) 659-3110.

* Booth Moore can be reached by e-mail at booth.moore@latimes.com.

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