Can you see yourself draped over a chaise-longue, sipping chilled champagne and taking a letter from Steven Spielberg? Just fantasy? Or could it be reality? Each year thousands of women are lured into the glamour industries – the film and music business, TV and radio, public relations and journalism, book and magazine publishing, the theatre and modelling. But are glamour jobs all they’re cracked up to be?
Alison Bryant, 25, was attracted by the idea of working for a theatrical agency because of her love of theatre. “I went into it because my favourite thing was watching a play,” she says. “I wanted to meet the actors and learn what makes the theatre tick.” A sociology graduate, she got her first secretarial job by writing round to theatrical agencies enclosing her CV. After a year she moved on to become a theatrical agent’s assistant.
“Although it’s still mainly secretarial work – filing, typing and photocopying – I do more than that,” Alison explains. “I find work for our clients and I get very involved in their lives.”
While Alison finds meeting actors interesting there are drawbacks to the job. “Unfortunately I do the jobs no one else in the office wants to do. It’s incredibly boring printing out CVs and letters for hours on end.” But the pay’s the biggest drawback: Alison gets just £9500 a year.
So why doesn’t she ask her employers for better pay and conditions? “I did as I was told, “There are queues of people waiting to do your job, so you can take it or leave it,”” she explains. “I’ve had enough; I want to get out as soon as possible, and do something else.”
Francesca Simons, 25, loves her job as an editorial assistant with a large publishing house. “It’s great working with writers and being part of the creative process that shapes a book,” she says. Like Alison, Francesca started out with a dream of doing what she liked best: “I had a fantasy about sitting reading books all day and meeting famous authors. The everyday reality is very different.”
Her first job after leaving University with an English degree was as a secretary with a literary agent, helping writers to get work. While she was there she started writing readers’ reports for publishers in her spare time, advising them whether or not to publish a manuscript. Later, she was asked to edit a book, which was very successful; and this experience helped her to break into full time editing.
“Editing a book can take three or four weeks; it’s meticulous work. Then I have to talk to the authors and agree changes – sometimes I have to lop off chapters, change terrible endings, even rewrite whole chunks. Finally, I have to write the back cover ‘blurb’ to sell the book.”
Like Alison, she thinks her pay is a real disadvantage. “I’m on £10,000,” she says. “My boyfriend and I left college together and started work at the same time on the same salary. He now earns three times my salary.”
Annie Bertram, 24, is very ambitious and wants to be a film director and scriptwriter. After graduating with an English degree, she worked for a year as a secretary/production assistant in an independent film company. Then, six months ago, she became a director’s assistant and has been involved in making four films.
“It was definitely a sideways move, not a promotion. In this job, I’m really just the Director’s dogsbody. But I’m also learning the trade at ground-floor level.”
All in a day’s work
Annie’s day starts at 5.30am, when she gets up to drive the director to the shoot. She often spends 12 hours glued to his side on set, overseeing shots, script and actors. Then she goes with him to see the ‘rushes’ (the initial unedited prints of a scene), making notes to remind him what to cut. Finally she drives him home again. “The worst thing is getting home at 2.30am and knowing I have to get up and go again in three hours’ time,” says Annie.
She finds the job extremely demanding: “One minute I’m asked for my technical and artistic opinion, the next the director expects me to babysit his children or get him a cup of tea. The hardest part is being shouted at; it’s very humiliating.”
She was earning £10,000 a year, but negotiated £3000 rise for working on films. It means that she gets less than £200 a week after tax and national insurance. “I think it’s OK, although I know I’m earning much less than anyone on the set. I have to work night and day six days a week, often without time to even wash my knickers!”
In between filming, she has to run the office. “I have a lot of responsibility: organising money and controlling costs, setting up meetings, making calls and hiring freelancers. I’ve learned not to take things personally and I’m careful to take time off to rest, eat well and relax with friends – you need to do that to deal with the constant pressure.”