Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Meet the assistants

Yeesh, I'm tired. Not only did I have to watch Gossip Girl and Greek, but I also went to a JHRTS speed networking event at Falcon tonight, which was pretty cool. I met lets of fellow industry minions, and the concept did yield a lot of new contacts in one efficient night. Aspiring writers, agents, studio execs, directors, etc. And of course, Hollywood gets smaller and smaller - I met people who know friends, coworkers, even a girl who grew up on the same street as my roommate (IN OKLAHOMA). The first guy I met (a development assistant) actually said, "do you have a blog? I recognize you from your picture." That was pretty cool. My friend Jamie said "awwwwwkward" and walked away from us. But whatever. I am a blogger. I ADMIT IT! IT'S OKAY.

I've come to the realization that there are many kinds of assistant jobs out there...and though none of them promise a path to writerdom, I feel like they each have unique benefits and problems.

Agent Assistant
Pros: You learn how agents sell scripts, to whom they sell, and what's selling. You learn the process and the structure of the industry. You learn how people get agents. You have access to countless scripts. You will be talking to people at studios and production companies all over town. You will meet lots of other young people. In certain cases (like mine): you will be working very regular eight-hour days, leaving plenty of time for writing. You could move up and become coordinator very quickly (though you might not want to if you're an aspiring writer). Your boss might come to really value your opinion about scripts. Your job is very secure (unless you fuck up) - you get paid vacation and do not take a hiatus.
Cons: You must thrive among cutthroat salespeople. When dealing with clients, you're basically a customer service representative. You might work extremely long hours. You get paid the least out of all the assistants (except maybe in some kinds of production, but they work so many hours they end up with more money overall). You have to dress for Beverly Hills. You will probably not feel 100% comfortable sharing your writing aspirations.

Development Assistant (studio)
Pros: You learn the process of development and how shows become ready to shoot. You get to listen in on notes calls, where you learn what studios and networks tell writers to change. You will be talking to people at agenices, networks and production companies all over town. You might work with other young people. Your bosses are more likely to be friendly, creative people. You can probably wear jeans. You get corporate perks like tickets to Disneyland or Universal. You might get to read scripts and give feedback to your bosses during busy staffing seasons. Your job is very secure - you get paid vacations and do not take a hiatus.
Cons: You will likely work 10-12 hour days, leaving very little time for writing. You might need to spend a year at an agency before being considered for the job. You will likely have to work for two bosses, unless your boss is pretty high-level. Overall, nobody cares what you think about scripts and projects. You probably will have to leave and work for a smaller company before getting promoted to manager or coordinator - or wait around for several years.

Development assistant/Producer's assistant (production company/independent producer)
Pros: You learn the process of development. You get to listen in on calls from agents, studios, networks, etc. You will be talking to people at agenices, networks and studios all over town. You might work with other young people. Your bosses are more likely to be friendly, creative people. You can probably wear jeans. You might get to read scripts and give feedback to your bosses - possibly even all the time if your office is small. If your bosses have a deal, your job is probably very secure.
Cons: You might work long days, leaving very little time for writing. You might need to spend a year at an agency before being considered for the job. You might work in a small office with limited opportunities for meeting other young people. Your job might best be suited for an aspiring producer rather than writer. If your bosses do not have a deal, your job might not be very secure (or much of a learning experience if they don't have much in development or production).

Production PA on a TV show
Pros: You are on set, seeing everything firsthand. You do not have to sit in an office all day answering the phone. You might be able to leverage the position into a writer's PA or writer's assistant job. You get to wear jeans.
Cons: You will work long hours and may not have time to write on your own. You might not be exposed to the right people to get your way into the writer's room. It might take a while to get promoted. You probably won't get paid much or have benefits (depends on the company). You won't get exposed to scripts or writing-related aspects of the industry; you'll be doing odd jobs and tasks.

Note: these next two are based on my observations and stories from people I've met and I'm not super familiar with them...feel free to chime in or correct me. Of course, each show operates differently. Some shows have a writer's assistant for each writer AND a couple writer's PAs. Some just have one writer's assistant and one writer's PA. Plenty fall somewhere in between.

Writer's PA on a TV show
Pros: You are (sometimes) in the writer's room, learning how it all works. People know (and respect) the fact that you want to be a writer, and may be inclined to read your scripts and give you notes. You get to work with successful, talent writers all day. You get to wear jeans. You are that much closer to being the writer's assistant.
Cons: You probably need to have a strong connection to get this job. You are not a writer's assistant. You are getting lunch and running errands. You work long hours and may not have time for your own writing. Your job is not very secure - there is always the possibility of cancellation, and you may not make enough to save money for the hiatus (during which time you might not have health benefits).

Writer's assistant on a TV show
Pros: You are in the writers room, learning how it all works. People know (and respect) the fact that you want to be a writer, and may be inclined to read your scripts and give you notes. You get to work with successful, talent writers all day. You get to wear jeans. You get to listen to notes calls. There is the possibility that you might get promoted to staff writer.
Cons: You probably need to have a strong connection to get this job. If it's a big successful show, there is not much chance of you getting staffed. You will probably work long hours, and may or may not have time for your own writing. Your job is not very secure - there is always the possibility of cancellation, and you may not make enough to save money for the hiatus (during which time you might not have health benefits).

There are a few other positions...Office PA, Runner, Manager Assistant...but I think you get the picture. One of the writer's assistants I met (who is crazy stressed out since she's the only one) suggested that trying to get a job as an assistant to an executive producer is the better way to go - same learning opportunities, same access, less stress. When you're shopping for an assistant gig, I think these are some good questions to ask yourself:

Will I still have time and energy to keep up with my writing?
Will I be learning about my craft and/or the business?
Are my bosses people I can learn things from?
Will my bosses help me get my next job, or launch my writing career?
Will I be able to network?
Is it a steady enough job? If it isn't, will I be able to find something else or live off savings for a while?
Will I be happy (enough) in the job?

8 comments:

Randall Bobbitt said...

Great post. I think the easiest ladder is the Office PA to Writer's PA to Writer's Assistant to Writer. If you can skip the first two and go to Writer's Assistant Great. It's the only job you can have were you are able to hand your scripts to people that can actually hire you. The sad thing is it's harder to get a writer's assistant position than a writing position. There's only two per show!

sally seaship said...

Hey,

This was a really helpful post - so, thanks! (I also appreciate the benchmark of "getting to wear jeans": a very useful indicator.)

I'm just moving to LA and starting this process, so I admire your perseverance and increasingly savvy observations.

Josh said...

Really great post, Amanda.

aldentre said...

good stuff!

god, it really is a whole other world...

At this point, I'm pretty thrilled to be an office PA on a Comedy Central show. If you're in a cool enough office, it can be a really great job. The office I'm in is so relaxed, I'm at shorts level, certainly a perk when it's 85 degrees out.

I interact regularly with all the writers, executive producers, assistants. Everybody. And they all know me (I make sure they do!).

If you have an opportunity to seize upon an office PA job in an office the writer's work out of, I'd definitely recommend it. There's a lot of upward movement to be had.

Wool in Sunshine said...

Excellent post! I work in reality, and thus feel a little out of touch when it comes to traditional office assistants. I can't imagine having regular hours and vacation time, but I'm not sure I could give up wearing my jeans and flip flops in exchange! As much as I may groan about it, I love freelancing.

If you feel like it, I'd love to know more about what you do in your writing group. I'm in the process of starting one up and I'm not quite sure how to work it. Do you give each other deadlines, like "finish act one by next week?" or do you just present your writing as it's completed? Also, do you email it a few days before meeting so everyone can have notes ready or do you read it at your meetings?

Matt said...

This is great...and kind of near where I'm at right now. Thanks.

i write with pictures said...

Amanda,

Awesome blog! I'm graduating from the University of Michigan with a film degree next year, and the unknown threat/promise of LA looms a lot closer. Insider knowledge is like gold - we just got a class for next year called "contemporary film industry," which is going to teach us the nitty gritty. I realized that it's the first of it's kind - our film degree is heavily weighted between academic classes and production classes.

And my mom is always happy when I can pull up support about how I will not starve when I graduate.

Cheers,
Amy

r3i6nm8n2002 said...

Like your blog. I work as an Office PA on a movie, you have some access but unfortunately it's more for films than TV, but thought your blog was real helpful.