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.