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Home » Archives » October 2007 » Guest Speaker Conclusion
[Previous entry: "Today: A Guest Speaker"] [Next entry: "Waking Up Familiar"]

10/14/2007: Guest Speaker Conclusion

Okay, ready for more information from guest speaker and friend-of-the-blog Marcia? If you recall, Marcia is an accomplished writers' assistant, with access to inside information about the job that I simply don't have. So, once again, take it, Marcia!

Here's where I say what you've been hoping I wouldn't. Writers' assistant jobs are near impossible to get if you've never been one. What's equally frustrating is that a large percentage of those who end up in my position for the first time, get there by pure, dumb, luck. Being good at the job is how you land consecutive gigs, but that first one? Luck is a big part of it. There's an unfortunate Catch-22 nature to the hiring of a writers' assistant. No one wants an inexperienced writers' assistant, but new writers' assistants can't become experienced if no one will hire them. Which is where connections come in. This won't come as a shock to most readers, but being in this business is often like being in the mafia. It's more than just a little helpful to know someone to get your foot in the door. That's not to say the totally unconnected can't find a job, but connections on all levels should never be overlooked. Nor should you feel the need to take the "I can make it on my own" stance. Take the advantages you can. Sure, connections may have gotten you the job, but it's your abilities that keep you in it. Staying employed consistently is based only partly on who you know, the rest is the reputation you cultivate.

For example, my first job as a writers' assistant was on the show Arrested Development. I was actually hired originally as the show runner's assistant. That's where connections helped, seeing as I was only up for that job because a friend of mine from college was an assistant at the production company co-producing the show. When the show runner asked her to help him find an assistant, she put my resume on the top. How did I get to the room from there? Now for the luck. In an attempt to save money, they put off hiring a writers' assistant until we moved into the offices on the lot, which meant I was to function as both assistant to the show runner and writers' assistant in the room for two weeks. During that time, they had the most detailed notes, not a single lunch order was delivered incorrectly, and every writer's whim was met. By the time the move came, I was given my choice of the two jobs.

If you're luck and connection challenged, one avenue to a writers' assistant gig for the inexperienced is as a writers' PA (being different from a regular production PA in that their responsibilities are solely to the writers, writers' assistants and script coordinators, versus being used by the entire production.)

(LisaKlink's October 4th blog that Jane linked you to had some particularly good advice for those right off the bus.
[The blog is here. You can page down to the relevant entry. - Jane]The only thing I'd recommend caution with is her "find a way to stand out" piece of advice. She's not wrong, but you want to make sure you do it in a way that doesn't get under the skin of your fellow underlings. Because, though it may work to get you in good with the writers, it's also those little people on the same level as you or thereabouts that recommend you for future work. For example, when I get hired as a script coordinator on shows, I do my best to make sure MY writers' assistant and MY writers PA are hired. By which I mean, the people I've worked with in the past who I know will work hard for me, are people I don't mind spending 18 hours a day with, and who don't have a chip on their shoulder about the work. Anyway, where were we?)

You can often interview for a production PA spot and specify that if the position is open, you'd love to be the writers' PA. They're usually hired by the same person. As a writers' PA, you'll be exposed to how the room works and have access to the writers. Though a good skill to have is knowing when not to be around (you wouldn't want to be known as that meddlesome PA), getting to know the writers and proving your worth is a good way to get that bump you're looking for. For example, the writers' assistant who replaced me when I left Arrested Development was formerly the writers' PA.

So be sure you really want this when you give it a shot. You're going to have to stick it out. For some people, it's a short journey, but for most of us, it's a long, winding road with many twists and turns. There'll be disappointments along the way. Show's get cancelled, orders are cut short, all ending your chance of a bump to staff writer in the future. Not to mention, there are plenty of show runners unwilling to see you as anyone other than the guy/gal who clacks the keys. But don't let that discourage you from continuing on. There are also those show runners who will see that you're working just as hard as everyone else to make their show a success, and reward you for it, if not in this production, than a subsequent one. You never know where that next job will come from, where it will lead you, who in the room will sell a pilot, and who will be able to give you the push you need to land what we're all trying to land... a seat at the big kids table.

Thanks so much, Marcia! Jane here again. I hope you all found that helpful. And I wanted to leave you with this. One of my fellow writers this year at Battlestar Galactica began the year as our writers' assistant -- "clacking the keys," as Marcia put it. Now he's one of us. It happens.

Lunch: escargot and a greek salad in Squamish, Canada


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