Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to Get a Writer's Assistant Job

Please note: there is an updated post about this topic here!

Nathan writes: I am also an aspiring writer and I was just wondering if you could offer any advice on the steps necessary to become a writer's assistant. My situation may be a little different seeing as how I reside in Toronto, Canada, but I'm pretty sure the process is the same.

I can't really speak to the Canadian process, but once again I can refer you to Alex Epstein for TV Writing in Canada concerns and Jane for Canadians Coming to LA concerns.

As for how to get a writer's assistant job: This is tough. If I really knew how to get one of these prized gigs, I'd be doing it. But I've met enough of these lucky kids that I seem to have a sense of how it works. Here are some of the ways it happens for people:

1. Know someone. It's kind of the key to everything in Hollywood...generally the people who get WA jobs right off the bat know people. But don't be discouraged by this - I've posted before on what you can do if you don't know anybody. (A year and a half ago, I didn't know anybody either.) Network. Join tracking boards. Go to alumni events. Ask people to drinks. Cultivate relationships.

2. Be another kind of assistant first. Sometimes these jobs are easier to get without strong connections. Agency assistant, On-set PA, Studio assistant, Prodco assistant, Office PA, Showrunner assistant, etc. Through these jobs you will meet people (bosses, assistants and otherwise) who might be able to help you get in the door. Click on the Job Search or Internship labels at the bottom of this post to read more about breaking in and becoming an assistant.

3. Cold call. It sounds crazy, and I feel like this should be a last resort for everything (getting jobs, getting people to read your script, etc.) except maybe for internships, but I've heard a couple of people say they became writer's assistants by calling the production office and asking if they could submit a resume. The worst they can say is no. If you get on the phone with the current WA, ask if you can submit your res in the event that s/he gets promoted to script coordinator or staff writer.

Any WAs out there, please feel free to share your stories and advice!

Remember that there are way more people who want these jobs than there are available positions. Just like all jobs in Hollywood, there is a TON of competition from people just as awesome as you are. You just have to be persisent. Know that you'll probably have to apply for a lot of positions before you get one. Also, one writer's assistant gig might not be the key to success; some of these jobs are temporary, as are many production jobs. Many WAs work on several shows before getting to write a freelance episode or becoming a staff writer. It also depends on whether your bosses are mentors who will help you out, and what the culture of the show is like.

Also remember that you don't have to be a writer's assistant to become a TV writer. Plenty of writers have never been any kind of assistant. I've covered the Two Steps to becoming a TV writer before: 1. write something great, and 2. get someone important to read it (and like it). If you can get repped by a powerful agent or get accepted into a fellowship or something, you might not have to be an assistant at all. But for many of us (especially those with degrees in silly things like Television), being an assistant is a practical way to meet those important people while also learning a lot about the craft and process of writing.

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15 comments:

Randall Bobbitt said...

The easiest way to do it is be an office PA, then a Writer's PA, then a Writer's Assistant. It's not to farfetched to skip from Office PA to Writer's Assistant, but do not expect to get a job as a Writer's Assistant if you've never worked on a show. You need to at least have been a Writer's PA or so extremely connected you don't bother reading aspiring screenwriting blogs.

Michelle Goode said...

Hi Amanda, great blog! I was wondering if you think it is necessary to have certain qualifications (degree-wise or other) to become a an agency worker - reading scripts - like you do? I'm from the Uk, so maybe it works differently over here... But still, as an agency worker yourself, I thought maybe you'd have an idea... I would love to read other people's writing as a job alongside writing my own :)

Dan Williams said...

Good post!

I'm wondering if you could team up with a director and some actors who are trying to break in, and have them use a digital video camera to produce some of your work, which you could then put on your webpage or YouTube or both.

If you do so, you could refer a heavy hitter to a two-minute scene as a sample of your work and you might get it looked at when they might not want to read an entire script.

There's a website "Pink, the Series" where this is being done.

Anyway, just an idea.

Matt said...

Make sure you work on a show that promotes WAs. Neither Family Guy or American Dad does.

The problem with being a WA is you won't have time to write -- meaning if you don't get staffed on the show you're working on you have very little actual product to show for your time spent there.

Too many people worry about jobs, connections, and positioning -- the pros I knew are even worse than the aspirants -- but at the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: a GREAT SCRIPT.

If you have one of those and are willing to bust ass and ask for reads (a surprising thing to me is that I know a ton of aspiring writers and no one ever asks me to read their stuff -- believe me, coming from someone on the flip side of where you guys are, it's been a constant disappointment that I haven't been able to help anyone out yet), even if you don't know anyone, I guarantee you will find representation in three or four months.

Nathan said...

First off, thanks Amanda. I really appreciate your help and I love what you're doing with your blog. The rest of this message is for MATT. Matt, your comment is very interesting and I would love for you to take a look at one of my scripts. If you're up to it, contact me at nathan.fdr@gmail.com and we'll go from there. Thanks.

BAS said...

Matt,

I also would be interested in having you look at one of my scripts. If that's a possibility, contact me at basnider@insight.rr.com.

Matt said...

I'm sorry -- I should have made clear that I can't read a slew of unsolicited scripts from the Internet.

My only point was: I guarantee everyone reading this knows someone in the business. BE AGGRESSIVE. An agent once told me if you're not banging down doors to the point of being arrested, you're not trying hard enough.

Little Miss Nomad said...

This is apropos. I recently applied for a WA job, got a message requesting an interview, talked to one of the writers the next morning, was told someone would get back to me about setting up an interview time... and the position was filled before it happened. Maybe the fact that I jumped out of the shower to retrieve the phone and was shaking as I spoke to the writer ruined my chances. I don't know. But I was really close and would have been perfect for the job. So my advice is, listen to your messages regularly and be calm on the phone. And try not to let the nepotism make you bitter...

Joe said...

I know that to be a PA you should contact the UPM, but is that also the case if you want to be an Office PA? Or what about just at a Production Company or Studio? Iceman9181981@aol.com to email me about this.

Ridwan said...

If you really did find a working formula that made you, say $1,000 a week online on average and it kept producing income no matter what, would you want to sell that idea to a bunch of noobs for $47 a pop and expect to retire on the proceeds? No way, man! It does not compute. It does not add up. And it does not make any sense to do that. I certainly don’t go shouting from the rooftops how I make my money online. Hell, I don’t want the competition taking a slice of my pie and neither would anyone who really does make good cash online.

www.onlineuniversalwork.com

Nick said...

I thought there was a WA at American Dad! that was promoted to writer. They talk about him on the DVD commentary. I want to say Chris McKenna, but I'm not sure that's him.

Danielle said...

Would I have to live in LA for a PA job to turn into a WA job (meaning, to meet the right people to read my script), or could I do that from outside Atlanta? We have a few popular shows (The Walking Dead and Drop Dead Diva) being filmed either in my town or the next town over.

Danielle said...

Matt, how would you find the doors to knock on? LinkedIn? Another site? Forums?

Efrain C. said...

Hey, Matt. I actually have spec script I would love for you to read if interested.it is WGA-registered and has been greatly revised.

LA Woman said...

Matt, your reply is hilarious. You say you're dying to help people, then turn around and say what everyone in the industry says, you don't take unsolicited material. Why even bother to make a statement like that. And why are you even trolling this blog site. Makes me think you're in the same boat as everyone on here. Your comment was neither insightful, nor helpful.