my former Hollywood boss is forcing me train her new assistants

A reader writes:

I work as an assistant in the entertainment industry. I was in my last job for a little over a year. My boss, a talent manager for film and TV actors, said that I was the best assistant she had ever had. She was incredibly picky, demanded long hours, and was fairly consistent with her nasty comments and criticisms — but I figured out a way to work around it and just get the job done, which I think she appreciated.

During my time there, I never made any secret of the fact that my long-term goal was to work in film and TV production as opposed to talent representation. When an incredible job came up in that field at a well-respected company, I interviewed, was offered the job, and accepted in the space of about 12 hours.

When I gave my boss the standard two week’s notice, she lost it. She demanded indefinite notice and made continual threats to call my new boss and have him revoke my offer (they know each other from working together on a project about a decade ago).

It was a small company so I assisted in the hiring of my replacement. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible for my old boss, I arranged to start my new job a week later than I had initially planned to, essentially resulting in my having given three weeks notice. This allowed me to train the new assistant to a satisfactory level before moving on.

I left to start my new job and within five days, the new assistant quit. He couldn’t handle her volatility and got out of there. In fact, since my departure five months ago, seven assistants have come and gone.

The real issue here is that my old boss tells every single new assistant to call me when they have questions. I haven’t worked for her in almost half a year and I’m still getting calls four or five times a week. My new office is open plan so everyone around me can hear when I take their call (they call from a blocked number so I can never tell it’s them). I think it makes me look weak and unprofessional when I stop working to, effectively, train my old boss’s new assistant.

I tell every single one of them when they call me that I’m no longer available for questions but the calls never stop.

She’s essentially having me train her assistants remotely and not paying me. I’m more than happy to tell someone where to find a password or something along those lines but it’s really getting out of control.

How do I make this pattern stop? The last thing I want to do is make my old boss angry, as she’s quite a powerful figure in our industry and I don’t want her badmouthing me, especially to my new boss.

Four or five times a week? That’s ridiculous.

It’s good that you’ve been willing to tell the new assistants that you’re not available. Once you’e done that, though, I think you need to back it up by not continuing to answer their calls. Since they’re calling from a blocked number, can you set your phone to reject calls from blocked numbers or just ignore them entirely? If that’s not possible — if for some reason your job requires you to take a lot of blocked-number calls — and so you have to keep picking up when these people call, make it as unrewarding as possible for them:
* “I’ll repeat what I told you earlier: I’m not able to help with this.”
* “I’m in a meeting currently. Please don’t call me at work. Goodbye.”
* “I really can’t help with this and need to ask you not to call again.”
* “I have no idea. Sorry!”

Related to that last one: If you’re worried that taking a hard line will make your old boss angry and cause problems with your new boss, then a softer way of achieving the same thing would be to pretend you had a total memory wipe. Just say in response to every query, “I’m sorry, I have no idea — it’s been a while and I really don’t remember many details at this point.”

A more drastic option would be to change your number, but that might be a huge pain that you don’t want to deal with.

It also might be worth mentioning to your current boss that this is happening so that she has context for it if your old boss says something to her. Depending on how powerful your old boss is and how wimpy your new boss is, there is some chance that if you do that, your new boss will tell you to keep helping in order to preserve her own relationship with your old boss, but at least then it’ll be an out-in-the-open understanding with your new job.

(By the way, I am assuming that your boss is Ari Gold from Entourage and you are Lloyd.)

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. BB8*

    This reminds me of a book I read, Oh! You Pretty Things. Working for celebrities sound crazy, haha. (I’m sure there’s some good ones.)

      1. Aim Away From Face*

        I should hope so, that would really kill some illusions if he wasn’t, LOL!

    1. hermit crab*

      I just read that book last week, and for a second I was wondering if this letter was going to turn into the same story. The book sure made me glad that I don’t work in Hollywood!

  2. abankyteller*

    I’m really wondering if Old Boss knows how often the new assistants are calling. Maybe she’s so angry and mean that they’re afraid to ask questions, and have been misled that you’re willing to accept the calls? Either way, the frequency at which it’s happening is ridiculous on so many levels.

    1. BRR*

      From the letter it sounds like the old boss is probably encouraging it or at the very least wouldn’t care.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Maybe, or maybe not. It’s not at all unusual for someone like Old Boss to be thinking “New Boss and I are besties!” while New Boss is actually all “Oh no, it’s that horrible person Old Boss again, but I can’t just tell her to pound sand.”

    2. Paloma Pigeon*

      I can tell you right now that Old Boss is standing over them when they call, or told them in an expletive-heavy tirade to call. Trust me on this one.

      1. Eli*

        Spot on. I feel awful for the new assistants having to call and I’m sure it’s not easy at all for OP to dismiss their questions as he/she must know what they’re going through. But it’s clearly gotten to the point where a “not my problem” attitude is warranted and completely justifiable.

    3. Christine*

      I had a boss years ago that didn’t like you to ask questions. That wanted you to go to others. This boss might be directing them to call the OP.

      I like the suggestion of being a blank slate.
      Dear OP! Let us know what your manager says about this situation.

  3. Jaguar*

    A good example of why, if you’re in a dysfunctional job that you don’t absolutely need, you should get out as early as you can. The stink has a way of lingering.

      1. Jaguar*

        It can be a real disaster to work in an industry that a lot of people covet. Hollywood, video game development, journalism, etc. Because there’s another person ready and willing to do the job, the conditions are often (not always) dreadful.

        1. Adam*

          Definitely. I can’t think of a more glaring example of where a passion career runs smack into a brick wall of reality, particularly with video game developers. From the stories I hear being a game programmer demands you be passionate about the work as the stress and time crunches to meet deadlines can be absolutely bonkers, and those doing the job could almost assuredly find a much less taxing position elsewhere and often making more money to boot.

          1. many bells down*

            As the wife of a game programmer, this is spot-on. Although it’s improving at a lot of the bigger companies as the pool of experienced developers ages.

            1. neverjaunty*

              They’ll just hire a new crop of young’uns “because they’re cheaper!” (also, don’t understand as much when they’re being exploited).

              1. my two cents*

                Add a big-named ev-car company to that list, too! Had two technical-sales visits at this particular company last week, and the two engineers we had meetings with barely knew which way was up. They have all the earmarks of a fancy die-to-work-for-them company- valet parking, big fancy security desk and check-in with ipads, ultra-casual dres scode (engineers in flip-flops and shorts) and a big shiny fancy facility. But they’ve squeezed out their talent by various terrible workplace and work/life balance policies, and are now hiring up whoever they can get to fall for the name’s prestige and apply.

            2. Honeybee*

              Yeah, I work in game development and while we definitely have crunch times (especially leading up to a big release), for the most part my workload is very manageable. But that’s partially because my company employs a slightly older set and is not a start-up culture in the slightest. I’m 30 and I’m one of the youngest people on my team. It’s great; it’s one of the reasons I came here.

          2. Rmric0*

            That always confuses me about the stories I hear with game development, it’s essentially the same skill set as other software development but they don’t treat you as well (I guess you get free video games).

            1. Jaguar*

              I’ve never worked as a game developer (for exactly the reasons stated), but I suspect it’s because people who get into programming very often do it because it’s their dream to one day make games. It’s really not anybody’s dream to build routing logic for Amazon.

              1. Kyrielle*

                I have counted my blessings for a LOT of years that I wasn’t able to get a game-development job out of the barrel. I ended up doing something equally exciting and far more rewarding, and then moved to where I am now (less excitement, equal reward, better life balance). I was originally going to transition over to game development, but luckily, (a) I really liked what I lucked into, which slowed me down from searching, and (b) I eventually heard from the outside about what it’s really like.

                On the whole, I’d much rather work under better conditions and go *buy* the games and play them in my spare time. (Not that I do that much any more – spare time and parenting are not often compatible. But still.)

                1. Tau*

                  I will veeeery occasionally let myself think “hey, programming video games would be cool” but anytime I think longer on it I make sure to bring myself back down to earth pronto. I can get really enthusiastic about “boring” software stuff (the product I’m working on now is super cool and I’m wondering if specialising in this area is a thing) and the puzzles and challenges they involve, so it’s not like I need to be working on games to feel fulfilled… and overall I think I’ll stay over here in the bit of the field everyone and their dog isn’t trying to break into where there is a better work-life balance and way less stress.

                2. Jaguar*

                  Well, for teenage Jaguar, getting to build video games seemed like the coolest job imaginable, while playing them (playtesting, reviewing, etc) seemed like that would kill my enjoyment immediately. I think there’s a lot to be said for creating something vs consuming something (a lot – I could rant on this topic for quite a while). So I suspect that for many people who have the dream of making games, just playing them won’t scratch that itch.

                  Even today, I hardly play video games any more, but I still wistfully daydream every now and then about making one.

              2. Grapey*

                But for those few of us that love routing logic and other process drudgery while being simultaneously GOOD at it, it’s pretty much a ‘name your salary’ game.

            2. Stranger than fiction*

              And from the job ads I’ve seen, they always want to hire people specifically with gaming industry experience.

          3. Stephanie*

            Yeah, my friend’s partner did the video game developer slog and didn’t mind it…for a while. He managed to find a niche doing simulations/training for the army at a contractor, but be still sounds criminally underpaid from what it sounds like.

          1. Stephanie*

            My friend’s sister went to one of the elite fashion schools (FIT/Parsons/etc) and works for a luxury brand as a manager and makes…$30k.

            1. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

              That’s the other point of these high demand industries… The pay often sucks unless you’re at the top.

              1. Dynamic Beige*

                Design/creative… not everyone gets to be a Creative Director but there are a lot of people who are needed to assemble “the vision”

      2. Anonamoose*

        I lasted 4 hours before I was canned (uh, I was filing, and doing rather fine at that) from a dude in the finance industry who had FIFTY TWO assistants before me. He was a young-ish dude, in case you were wondering if the number had anything to do with his tenure at the company. It didn’t.

        Some people just suck and you have to breathe in – breathe out – that you totally got lucky getting out of there.

        ps. I 100% advise the ‘playing stupid’ comment. Once they realize that they’re trying to squeeze blood from a stone, they’ll stop calling. Keep reminding them ‘sorry, that was just a long time ago, I don’t remember. Sorry, need to get back to work – good luck.’ CLICK.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Finance industry, he must have been a “rainmaker” of some sort… or related to someone important.

            How does someone get fired after 4 hours on the job? I could see it if something so completely and utterly amazing happened (i.e., you totalled the boss’ fancy sports car on the way to taking it to be detailed) but what on earth beyond Duck Club could have possibly happened in 4 hours in an office? Were you breathing in the key of D and he insisted on A-flat?

            1. Reality bites*

              Just read some of the stories about the finance industry, or the movie business. These guys fire people for bringing them coffee in the wrong cup, or sweet n’low instead of sugar, or looking at them sideways. If you’ve got a brain and snark back at them, you’re gone. Look up some anecdotes about Scott Rudin. If the guy is making money for someone else, he’s got a job. These professions attract some seriously psychotic people, finance worse than most (I’m thinking the oil business and the shipping business is probably just as awful), and there’s so much money at stake, they will keep their job as long as they are causing someone else to succeed. I mean, there’s a lot, a lot, A LOT of money at stake, millions or billions. So if someone ELSE’s paycheck or success depends on Psycho Guy, they’ll turn a blind eye. There’s also this weird cult of “I was abused coming up, so what?”

              Meanwhile–Scott Rudin makes incredible movies. You’ve probably seen most of them. You liked them. Your dollars contribute to the reason he keeps his job. So… we’re all part of it, aren’t we?

              And those of us who are on the creative side just have to figure out how to get along with it. Decide what we won’t put up with. It’s easier than being an assistant–we can always walk away. But if you want to be in finance, or be a producer, or an agent, you’ll have to face the gantlet. I could never do it myself!!

              1. Nico m*

                The oil majors are bad in the opposite way – dilbertesque.

                Shipping has plenty of nutters. But

                the ex seafarers have had the chance to be proper high stakes leaders.

                Also the crooks need to appear nice

              2. The Strand*

                (Raises hand). That was me. I tottered through 12 blocks of midtown Manhattan not because the coffee was in the wrong cup, but because the coffee wasn’t boiling HOT enough. Movie business, not finance.

                And I have to laugh – I know someone who was one of Rudin’s assistants, though not well. The tenure was about four months, which must be a record — for longevity!

            2. Rabbit*

              I knew that a co-assistant at my company was not right for the job within an hour of meeting her–within that hour she made several snide comments to me about my ability to do my job, how much better she was at is (again, during the first hour), and if her boyfriend could come hang out with her at work.

              That being said, I’m sure OP wasn’t making these kind of faux pas.

      1. Leatherwings*

        By all means, answer phone calls at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.

          1. Anonamoose*

            Still totally love that movie. :) “I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese. I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight!”

            I think I shall watch it tonight in celebration of having a somewhat normal leadership at my current job. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      The thing that blows my mind is… who doesn’t change their passwords when you have that much turnover? How is it possible that in five months someone who hasn’t worked there should still know things like that? That is a situation that is just ripe for abuse… I can just see someone with an axe to grind helping themselves to stuff. Amazing.

      OP, you must have the patience of a saint. Well past time to cut the chord with this situation.

    2. Rainy, PI*

      Long long ago, before I finished college, I worked as the front office for a small business. There were definitely plusses, but my coworkers were so awful to work with that at 3.5 years, I lasted the longest of anyone who’d ever been in that role. When I left, the next person didn’t last 6 weeks (and left in the middle of the day, quitting by sticky note), and in the year after I left, they averaged a new person in my role every 6-8 weeks.

  4. Adam*

    I’ve never worked in the entertainment industry, but I’ve heard many a person say that it operates very much in its own bizarre, oftentimes dysfunctional world. So much so that if you do end up getting the wrong person on your case “You’ll never work in this town again!” is actually not an empty threat.

    Can anyone attest to this? I wonder because the OP seems very genuinely concerned on not getting on her old boss’ bad side when in most other industries the status and training of her old position would have long since stopped being her problem.

    1. Anthony*

      This is absolutely the case in our industry. I’ve seen it happen many many many times and feared that it would happen to me in the past as well. Getting on the wrong side of the wrong person can derail your entire career very quickly, because hiring managers and executives are often far more frightened of angering industry power-playing than they are excited about any particular candidate, no matter how exceptional that candidate might be.

    2. AVP*

      I think in entertainment, there are often a lot of really tiny companies (5 employees or so), and the smaller companies are often founded by really talented people who have no experience managing people or a business, but are funded because they’re really great at doing whatever craft or niche they’re really great at. Unless they have the foresight to hire someone with management experience, they are sort of learning on the job and not investing in coaching or training or HR.

      I think a *lot* of the dysfunction comes from that, coupled with the dynamic that Jaguar mentioned where a lot of young people are trying really hard to break into the business and are willing to work under crazy circumstances to get a leg up, at least for a few months.

      I think threats like “you’ll never work in this town again!” are overblown, but sometimes come true – enough so that most workers have heard some kind of horror story or urban legend, which can be enough to keep people in line and stuck in crappy positions for longer than one would expect.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Heh, I think you got it. Horrible dysfunction is hugely common in businesses that small, regardless of the industry (my aforementioned Evil Fashion Biz was tiny, as were several other nightmare jobs). They’re run by people with a very specific talent that isn’t management. Or by people who somehow got their hands on a bunch of money and decided to start a business, whether or not they knew what they were doing.

        1. Rainy, PI*

          Or they were started by people with a gift for seeing an opportunity and seizing it, but now those people are old and rich and want to ride around on their boat all day while their extremely incompetent family members run their business.

    3. Paloma Pigeon*

      There has been a lot of press recently about the double-standard for women and artists of color to break many barriers in entertainment. Some of these challenges are due to the fact that if you are branded ‘difficult to work with’ it follows you around for a long time. And sometimes you are branded ‘difficult to work with’ when you do not want to kowtow to a tyrant or bully on the set who has all the power, and you are just starting out. So it perpetuates this system where bullies are allowed to flourish. I think it is changing slowly, but stories about producers like Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin are legend. See all the emails in the Sony hack for reference on how these folks really interact in business communications. It’s unbelievable.

  5. AVP*

    Ugh, I am always here for a good Entertainment story.

    One good thing to note is that OldBoss probably has near zero sway with NewBoss, especially since you’ve been working with her for months and she knows your work by now. Basically everyone in Hollywood worked with everyone else a decade ago, so as long as OldBoss doesn’t rep anyone that’s currently important to you, I wouldn’t worry too much about that dynamic.

    If the new assistants were emailing I would suggest setting up an auto-response that just said “sorry, can’t help, check the documentation file on your desktop” but the fact that it’s over the phone from a blocked number is really beyond the pale.

    1. Ellen N.*

      I used to work in Entertainment Business Management. I communicated a lot with personal assistants and I was asked to do a lot of personal assistant work in addition to the clients’ finances. The horror stories you read are actually watered down. Many people are so nasty to their assistants that going through seven in a five month period isn’t unusual. I wouldn’t bet that Old Boss doesn’t have much sway over New Boss. Many people in the entertainment industry have a philosophy of not burning bridges because you can’t predict someone’s career trajectory. It also doesn’t work to tell the new assistant to look at documentation. It is impossible to document every picky “need” that people like the original poster’s boss has. Entertainment bigwigs will have to have their flowers refreshed daily and be a certain color regardless of availability, a certain way their dog has to be walked, a certain way their luggage has to be packed, a certain way their children’s’ sandwiches must be cut, you get the picture.

      When I left my old position the person who inherited one of my difficult clients was told by a partner in the firm to call me at my new job if she had any questions.

      If I were the original poster, I would have a sit down with my new boss about this. I would tell my new boss exactly what is happening and ask the new boss for guidance on his/her desire to preserve the relationship with old boss. Hopefully, the new boss will be horrified at old boss’s behavior and will green light new boss to say I can’t help you.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        New Boss may even reach out to Old Boss and tell her to knock it off if New Boss has allies in the business more powerful than Old Boss. OP won’t know, though, unless she brings this up and focuses on the loss of productivity in the new job if she’s still essentially doing her old one.

    2. Jeanne*

      It’s so hard to tell if the threats were empty or not. The bosses worked together 10 years ago but are they friends or enemies or indifferent now? The only way to find out is by talking to new boss.

  6. KG*

    You could bill your old boss for time and services rendered to train her staff. That might make her stop referring them to you.

    1. Newish Reader*

      This option really only works if the OP is willing to train the new staff. If she states she’s going to bill for the time, OldBoss just might be okay with that, leaving OP having to follow through with the training. And given the turnover rate, the training sounds like it could be a full-time job all by itself. I suspect the OP just really wants to move on and put OldJob behind her.

      1. Kiki*

        OldBoss might agree and then not ever pay up. What’s the downside to that? The consequences would seem to be minimal there.

    2. Nico m*

      Not personally though.

      The New Company should invoice the Old Company at $200/hour for professional services. And give the OP a nice bonus for the revenue.

    3. E*

      Bill the old boss for time & services training her staff, then offer a one time service to create a packet of notes for all you know. Old Boss must agree that after receipt of packet that neither she nor any subsequent assistant shall contact you ever again.

  7. Naomi*

    I second the suggestion to loop in your new boss. It sounds like the primary threat Old Boss is holding over your head is that she will turn New Boss against you… but New Boss has as much reason as you do to be pissed about this situation. Old Boss is essentially trying to hijack the time that New Boss is paying you to use for your new job. If you tell New Boss what’s going on, any future complaints about you from Old Boss will become suspect. Best case scenario, New Boss might tell Old Boss directly to cut it out.

    As a last resort, you can always change your phone number. Which will probably be a pain, but will leave Old Boss and her assistants no way to contact you.

    1. INTP*

      Yeah, definitely give New Boss a heads up about what is happening. You should have some credibility with New Boss after working there for some time, so the heads up should render any calls to New Boss pointless. It looks much better for you than if Old Boss calls, and after this you are explaining the situation and that you’ve been taking calls for months without telling New Boss anything.

    2. TempestuousTeapot*

      Definitely loop in New Boss. Especially with Old Boss stating having control or say over New Boss. But as said, only as a concern over ongoing calls damaging productivity. No one wants to be unhelpful, but there is still the primary responsibility to New Boss and new job. The between boss relationship is theirs to navigate, LW’s is to navigate current responsibilities. I just find it strange that there is some expectation of ‘forever free consulting’ to the extent of four to five times each week. Really, a call a day? The Google Voice option mentioned below is amazing for this. Just changing the number could result in Old Boss contacting New Boss for the new number (this gets back to industry norms and network circles – it could backfire).

  8. Anon Anon Anon*

    I would absolutely tell your new boss this is happening and let her know you are telling the callers, “Sorry, I can’t help you” and hanging up.

    Then do that. Every time. You owe your old boss nothing.

    1. Ama*

      Yes, I think telling New Boss “I’ve been trying to handle this nicely but clearly I’m going to have to start taking a harder line — I just wanted to let you know in case Old Boss doesn’t respond well.”

  9. sharon g*

    Since your new boss once worked with your old boss, chances are new boss knows old boss is a whack-a-doodle. If the new boss had a good relationship with the old one, they most likely would have called for a reference. Since the old boss didn’t flip her lid until you put in your 2-week notice, chances are a reference call was never made. AAM has good advice about talking to the new boss.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      Not necessarily. I would hope that would be the case, but that’s not always the situation.

      I work in academia. There is a faculty member that is just horrendous. Nasty because she’s tenured and can be horrible without repercussions. She’s very careful to direct her behavior to peers and students, not Deans and Provosts.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Someone here called that type of person “kiss up, kick down,” which is an unfortunately perfect summation.

        I’m hoping that now that OP has had five months to prove herself in the new position, she can go to her boss and say that this is happening without repercussions to herself. Something tells me that Old Boss does not, in fact, have the power to get OP fired — otherwise why wouldn’t she have had the offer rescinded when OP quit instead of just threatening to do it?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Who does that? (Call and sabotage )an employee’s offer) I mean what did they expect Op to say “oh ok so see you tomorrow then”

  10. Jerry Vandesic*

    Don’t even bother responding. “Hello.” “Hi, it’s Rudiger again. I have a quick question for you.” Click.

    Repeat as necessary.

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Yeah I detailed a situation like this, where I was called anywhere from one to several times a week by a former employer.

    Big difference though – I didn’t quit that job, they laid me off. I even was on a job hunting trip and away for eight days, and when I returned a call left on my message box it was “WHERE WERE YOU? HOW DARE YOU!”

    1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*


      I was let go from a job and then they called me to ask about project details. I was at the hospital with my dying father and it didn’t deter them — if fact, they cheerily told me that it was a silver lining of being unemployed, that I would get to spend more time with my dad!

      I was still in such shock from being let go that I actually helped them out, I deeply regret not telling them to bite me.

    2. I'm Not Phyllis*

      That’s awful! I was laid off once from a job and a coworker called me the next day and left a message telling me we still needed to finish x project. Umm, no we don’t – you have to finish it, I don’t work there anymore! I didn’t bother returning the call though.

    3. The Strand*

      I would have immediately explained the new cost of the service they are asking me to provide, with a certain amount paid upfront.

      Someone that nasty probably isn’t going to give a good reference anyway… and either they’ll pay up or shut up.

  12. CR*

    Honestly, if you’re not worried about burning bridges with your old boss, I would send an email and read her the riot act. Tell her you’ll be forced to bill her for your time if the calls continue. Copy your new boss on the email.

    1. Anononon*

      Not worried about burning bridges with your old boss *and your new boss*. Allowing there to be written documentation of you chewing out the old boss and including the new boss on the email (indicating his tacit support) is not a good idea. At all. In a typical industry, where it is much clearer that the old boss is terrible, this would still be a bad idea, let alone in the entertainment industry, where personalities like the old boss are common.

    1. Anthony*

      Ask any assistant in entertainment… The Ari / Lloyd relationship is spot-on, if not a little lighter than reality. Talent agencies are notoriously awful. Not only do they treat the young staff like garbage, they often pay minimum wage and skimp on overtime.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The best suggestion out of all of these is to tell the person you don’t remember.  There’s no other way to get around that.  You don’t know what you don’t know, right?

    The second best suggestion is to not pick up the phone for a blocked call and don’t respond to any VMs.

    The good news is that it sounds like you’re far enough away from that job that you could take a ding or two from your ex-boss.  You don’t need her because you already have secure employment.  Giving your current boss a heads up is key because I can’t imagine any manager being okay with such ludicrous requests.

    Don’t be so sure it’s your ex-boss innocently needing help.  I realize now that my ex-boss was probably a sociopath but not the kind that kills people.  This was my first internship in and before cell phones.  If anyone was ever out of the office, she would find a way to contact him for some made-up emergency.  I recall her getting in contact with an employee who was literally on a canoe.  She managed to track down where he was and call the canoe company to find him.  When I took a day off, I intentionally never told her where I was going to be.  When I got home, I had over a dozen calls from her and other employees, begging to know where some file was.  It was seriously like a weird game to her.  When she asked me to track down employees who were out of the office, she was relentless until I found the person.  

    All of this was done in a super sweet, innocent way such that you couldn’t get mad at her because she really, really, really needed help and she was so sweet about it!  I wonder if your boss is trying to do the same?

    1. Joseph*


      Really, the goal here is act in a way that doesn’t anger OldBoss enough to badmouth you to NewBoss/others, but also doesn’t provide any useful information.

        1. Paloma Pigeon*

          Ha, my husband once worked for someone who told him to call American Airlines and tell them to hold the plane because he was going to be late. This was in the 90’s, before all of these folks got private jets.

          1. Kate M*

            Oh yeah. My old boss one time had me hire a private plane for him to go to the Hamptons, but on the day he was supposed to come back with his family, he was supposed to board the plane at 9 am. He called me at 6 am (on a Saturday) and said that he was on his way to the airport and wanted the plane ready to go by 7. I didn’t know where the plane was at that point. So I was somehow supposed to contact the pilots and tell them to leave earlier or fly faster?

            A series of numerous calls later from my boss, he ended up being super pissed that he had to leave around 8.

            But at least he didn’t throw anything at me like he did previous assistants.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          Actually, I found out that a certain white water rafting trip was dependent entirely on the dam releasing enough water at the right time, otherwise there would be no white water to raft down. So, yeah, depending on the circumstances, it can be done!

  14. Leatherwings*

    Oy, I hope your new boss is not the same as your old boss. I think making yourself as useless as possible to these new assistants is your best way to go if you think being more direct will cause old boss to lash out in a way that will affect you professionally.

    At the rate old boss goes through assistants, you’ll probably still get phone calls, but hopefully only a couple per new assistant (to be clear, still ridiculous).

    “I don’t really remember, so sorry” repeat.

  15. AD*

    Hmm, I think I know who this may be. That’s tough, OP. I think Alison’s advice is spot on.

  16. eunice*


    yes it is one of the most dysfunctional industries.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Two years creative, eight years corporate. Some days I wish I could go back. But only to the part where I knew exactly what I was doing and I made decent money.

    2. jj*

      Eight years in production. Five years ago I went corporate and I will never, ever go back. Getting paid decent money for the first time in my life, benefits AND normal hours? I’ll stay right here, thanks.

  17. Bevina del Rey*

    Change your phone number. Sometimes in life we have to do things that seem like a complete inconvenience to us, where we say, “But I shouldn’t HAVE to change my number…” but the reality is that you need to do this to make it stop.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I think this offers really strong plausible deniability with old-boss-with-connections too.

  18. CrazyCatLady*

    Yeah, this really stinks. I would be especially uncomfortable with having to be curt with the assistants, who’ve done nothing wrong and are themselves in a difficult sitation when it’s actually the boss that’s the problem. But I agree with Alison that there’s nothing you can do apart from not rewarding the calls with advice, plus I’d email your OldBoss asking her in no uncertain terms to stop.

    If your industry was dominated by reasonable people, I really can’t imagine there being repercussions to that approach, but you’re in a better position to know your industry (and the entertainment industry does have a reputation for not being reasonable).

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I’m with you here … the assistants are doing what they’re told so I wouldn’t be rude to them. Well, not the first time anyway, and maybe not even the second. But once you’ve told them you’re unable to help, you should be able to take a harder line and remind them that you’re busy in your new job and not able to assist anymore.

  19. Eli*

    I have this discussion with young colleagues all the time – we all think the entertainment industry is going to experience a serious drain of talent by tech startups & the like over the next 10 years or so. Why would you put up with being treated like this when you could work for a young company, be paid 5 times as much and be spoken to like a human being?

  20. LisaD*

    HAHAHAHA oh boy. I live in LA and I know the type. Honestly, if she’s that big a figure in the industry, I assume all the people who know her already know that she’s also a complete asshole. I wouldn’t worry too much about her badmouthing you.

    1. Paloma Pigeon*

      But it doesn’t matter if they know. What matters is does she make them money? And if all of them went through it there is a hazing mentality – ‘I survived, it’s a rite of passage’. There’s never an incentive to stop this behavior as long as everyone gets rich.

      Think about how many movie stars get away with outrageous behavior for years – until their movies start to tank. Then all of a sudden the welcome mat rolls up, almost overnight. But it’s not until that happens before jerks are called out on that behavior – because too many people depend on the jerks to make a living.

      1. Josh*

        Exactly! Everyone knows Scott Rudin is violent, aggressive and expects his assistants to be at their desks by 6am but no one’s going to stop making movies & putting on broadway shows with him until those movies and shows stop making money.

        And you can bet if a hiring manager or executive receives a call or email from him black-balling a candidate, that candidate ain’t getting that job.

        1. Paloma Pigeon*

          There is some really interesting take on this over at Lainey Gossip regarding Johnny Depp. Not taking sides here, but she keeps pointing out that others keep coming forward to defend him, and are these folks who have basked in his limelight a little too long? Also on how his team is manipulating TMZ, and how framing the story a certain way always preserves the status quo. Fascinating stuff. Again, it’s not about taking sides, it’s about the fear of losing the cash cow that makes folks go nuclear pretty quickly on someone who doesn’t step in line.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, this reminds me a great deal of political journalism. Outside of a few exceptions, the “bias” isn’t for one side or the other, but what gets attention and what makes money.

  21. Karyn*

    If you REALLY don’t want to deal with it? Get a Google Voice number and give that one to them, saying it’s your business line. Then set it to never ring, and send all calls to Voicemail. POOF.

    We did this with my friend’s emotionally abusive ex husband. He would call her 10+ times a day when they were married, and when she finally left, she ended up getting a Google Voice number and said she’d changed her phone number and to call that one. Then she set the app to “do not disturb” and poof. No more ex-husband bothering her, and if he left a voicemail about their kid, she could see it in transcript rather than have to deal with it via voice.

    They also have a nice call forwarding feature on the Google Voice web where you can make the caller say their name first before you accept, and then if you don’t want to talk to them, they go to voicemail.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      You don’t even have to get a Google Voice number—you can port your number to Google Voice (for $10) just as you would to another carrier. Same number but with a lot more blocking features enabled.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      What’s also really nice about that is that if the voice mails all get transcribed/e-mailed automatically, then you have a built-in set of documentation about how often you were called, what was said without having to write it all out yourself. That’s brilliant.

  22. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

    I feel for you, OP. I work in the entertainment industry as well, and the fact that our crazy bosses have the power to damage our careers even after (or because) we leave them is absurd and awful. Right now, I’m in a catch-22 where I *have* to get out of my job (toxic work environment, employees illegally classified as contractors so our boss doesn’t have to pay us for overtime, I could go on), but I work in a very specific sector and my boss knows pretty much everyone I might apply to work for, and has told me that she’s essentially blacklisted people in my position before who have tried to quit before having worked for her for at least a year. So in order to eventually escape this job, I have to stay in it and be unhappy and underpaid for several more months. It’s very Devil Wears Prada, and I would almost find it funny if it weren’t, you know, MY LIFE.

    1. Eli*

      That sounds so awful – I really feel for you! I won’t name names but, as someone who’s worked for 3 of the industry’s most notorious ‘bad-bosses’, the best thing to do when you think about looking is to be upfront about it. Wear it as a badge of honor. Execs at rival companies MUST know your boss’s track record and can will respect that you’ve managed to stick it out, even for 6 months.

    2. Mike C.*

      Keep very good records of the misclassification – it might accidentally end up in the hands of the state labor board…

    3. The Strand*

      The thing is, how can you be sure that even working for another several months will guarantee no blacklisting?

      I say this because the abusive producer I worked for at the beginning of my career (it wasn’t Dawn Steel, but similar characteristics) never provided any kind of reference or help. Period. I did everything that was asked of me and got zero return. The kind of person who is a sociopath, who screams, throws things, and behaves badly just because he or she can, may, or may not suddenly become a sweetheart after you prove your loyalty. You know, the “So and so is an asshole, but she’s my asshole”. My experience is that returned loyalty is about a 50-50% thing in the industry. A long time buddy of mine has been in the industry for about 40+ years, knows lots of people, and still experiences shocking lapses of professionalism and loyalty.

      Talk to people who have left your boss after a year and find out what she’s really like.

  23. Elizabeth West*

    This is all fascinating, even though I hate the situation for the OP and for everybody in the industry. (I know little about it even though most of my last book is set in it. So it will probably never see daylight, LOL.)

    I’ve been seeing articles lately exposing dreadful working conditions for all sorts of entertainment industry employees. Let’s hope pulling the curtain back to show the fraudulent wizard will start to make things better for a few people. Also, I’ll keep this all in mind (and bookmark this post) in case I ever have to rub elbows with it. Yipes.

    OP, I agree with the other posters who said you should say something to your boss. And tell the assistants you’re really not able to help them, as you haven’t worked there for some time now.

  24. Green Square*

    Regular commenter using a different name. 7 years in film industry. Just had the flu. Was given a giant pile of stuff to do while I was gone. Was asked constantly when I’d be back. When I got back in, while I was still quite visibly ill, I was “jokingly” called a p***y by my boss and was immediately pressured to return to 13hr days (the usual) and criticized for not working at full speed. Zero. Empathy. But hey, I get to blow up helicopters at work, so that’s cool right? Well, not cool enough. I’m quitting after this movie.

  25. Mephyle*

    I think it’s time to raise the issue with New Boss. Either New Boss is buddies with Old Boss or owes her big favours, and will say, “Go ahead, give her anything she wants on my time,” or she will say, “What? I’m not paying you to work for someone else,” and then you can be done with it.
    I agree with those above who mentioned not being rude or hanging up on the assistants – they’re not at fault – but just telling them you’re sorry, you can’t help them. (Or putting in place one of the technical solutions that involve you not receiving their calls at all.)

  26. fudge*

    Personally I wouldn’t respond or help at all. Your relationship with your former boss is over in the working sense. You’ve done what you can and the rest is on her.

    Start screening your calls and block your old bosses number – at least temporarily. If she somehow freaks out just tell her you’ve had phone issues. Which you have… with her!

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