Saturday, October 31, 2009

Schmoozing the assistants?

Jennifer writes: One of my instructors at UCLA Extension told us the best way to get get staffed on a show these days (if we don't yet have an agent) is to try and get in good with the assistants on various shows, so they'll read our material and if we're lucky, pass it on to their bosses. He said this is probably a more helpful and productive route than trying to land an agent first to get us a job second.

What are your thoughts on this from your experience? And if you agree that "getting in" with the assistants is the best way to go, how in the world do you go about doing that? Start cold calling or emailing them from some production company staffing lists that exist somewhere?

Networking is definitely important, but I think there's some flawed logic in your teacher's advice. Why would those assistants want to help you? Don't you think that they are aspiring writers too, and want to use their positions to get their own writing opportunities? Their bosses are too busy to read a million scripts by I bet the one script that gets handed over will be written by the assistant. Besides, you're asking for a favor that you have no right to be asking for.

Instead, focus on making FRIENDS. Cultivating RELATIONSHIPS. People want to help their friends, not random cold callers.

As for getting staffed - if you can't find an agent yet, I would recommend you become one of those assistants on a show, at a production company, etc. I realize it's hard - and you may have to be another kind of assistant first (PA, office PA, agent assistant, manager assistant, etc) - but being a showrunner assistant or writer's assistant can be a path to getting a freelance episode, and then getting a staff gig. It doesn't happen for everyone, and it doesn't happen on every show, but I have seen it work for some people. And even if you don't get a script or get staffed, you'll still be learning about the craft and meeting professional writers who may be able to give you notes or, if they like your work, refer you to their agents.

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Dan Williams said...

Thanks for the analysis!

In my own experience, if you know somebody in the biz it's a lot easier to get in, so, for sure, networking is key. Doing really good work will also attrack persons to you, I believe.

GH said...

This sounds like outdated advice to me. 15-20 years ago, writers had development deals at studios, and their assistants were career secretaries, from the secretarial pool. (Who made good union money and had health benefits, unlike today's assistants, who are paid in Promises of Advancement.) When the secretaries acted as gatekeepers, and were not themselves aspiring writers, making a good impression on them was vital to reaching their bosses. Now, as Amanda says, every assistant is hoping to get their own material read, not their friends' stuff.