How a Chipotle receipt represents everything wrong with our toxic work culture

Tell me if you’ve ever experienced something like this before:

You love what you do, and because of your passion you give everything you have to your craft. But this is unfortunately a one-way relationship. Your job simply doesn’t love you back.

The expectation is to simply get the job done, no matter the costs. So in order to meet insane deadlines you often skip lunches (or you aren’t even given lunch breaks anymore), and you barely have a moment to breath during the day much less actually take care of yourself.

But because you’re human (i.e. you’re not capable of working 10+ hours straight without a break while running around town), you choose to run super quick into Chipotle to at least prevent yourself from totally passing out from hunger…only to be told that you can’t be reimbursed for that Chipotle receipt because it wasn’t “pre-approved.” Yet the project you work on is spending tens of millions of dollars per episode.

Yeah…this is pretty much a microcosm of working in Hollywood.

And unfortunately I didn’t make any of this up…this is exactly what costume buyer Nickolaus Brown experiences every day (which you can hear more about in this week’s podcast interview).

I myself have been a part of creative conversations where it was easily decided it was worth it to spend upwards of $100k to license a single song for a 2 minute montage, yet I have been told I need to “return the soup” because my lunch order surpassed the $12 budget threshold.

Something’s gotta give.

So what can we do to begin earning back the respect we deserve?

What will it take for each and every one of us to be valued for our unique and specialized creative skills?

How can we work together to create a less toxic work culture where we’re excited to go to work Monday morning instead of dreading an impossibly long week of exploitation and disrespect?

If you’re curious about my thoughts on this, I have not one but two brand new podcast interviews on this subject to inspire all of us to begin setting the boundaries we so desperately need that will lead to us (finally) being respected.

Hollywood On the Record: What’s REALLY Happening On Set? | with Shay’La Banks and Nickolaus Brown


In this episode I discuss the realities of working on the production side of the industry with Shay’La Banks and Nickolaus Brown, both of whom work in the costume department and were recently featured with me in the recent Variety article IATSE Crew Members Share First-Hand Accounts of Set Life. Shay’La is a Costume Supervisor who has worked on shows such as The VoiceInsecureGrown-ish & The Oscars. Nickolaus has been working in costumes for almost 25 years for films such as Free GuyThe Lake House, and Dukes of Hazzard, and TV shows like How to Get Away w/ MurderScandal, and Glee.

This honest conversation gets to the very core of the many issues that production crews face while on set. You’ll hear candid stories about the horrible conditions and disrespectful behavior they both endure on a routine basis and how it affects their health and relationships. You’ll also hear that despite the enthusiasm they both have for their craft they both desperately crave the change that is so necessary in our industry.

A Contract Isn’t Going to Change Our Lives…It’s Up to Us to Create Change | Community Q&A


This episode is a very candid community Q & A on the topic of setting boundaries and expectations. I gathered my Optimizer coaching & mentorship students to have a frank and honest discussion about the realities we’re facing on the job and how we can take action to ensure that our time & expertise are not being exploited. As daunting as it may seem, change will only happen from the bottom up – we cannot rely on union contracts to set the boundaries for us from the top down (because frankly a lot of the boundaries we need are already in writing, they are just exploited, ignored, and outright abused).

Change happens one person at a time, but if we’re all going to collectively change the toxic work culture in the entertainment industry, we’ll have to lock arms and do it together – across guilds, crafts, union and non-union alike. This conversation is all about the practical steps we can take to create a better future for ourselves and the next generation of artists, filmmakers, and storytellers who will come after us.

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”