Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to Get a Writer's Assistant Job (Update)

Andy writes: Staffing season is coming up soon. I'm local and trying to land a writers assistant job or a production assistant somewhere. My current approach is to start calling offices to see if anyone is looking for assistants. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my chances/be more efficient? I hate making those calls, but I'm a writer and I want to get in that room.

I posted about this back in 08, but I figured I'd tackle it again since I had a few interviews for these kinds of jobs last year.

I have heard of a few people getting jobs via cold calls - and I commend your boldness. I definitely can't recommend this as your only route, but if you have the stomach for it (and can find the right numbers), go ahead and try. My advice would just be to be very brief and polite, don't stutter, and sound like you understand how Hollywood works. As someone who has had to field cold calls (albeit for representation), I was always happy to talk to people who were polite and succinct, and who understood that I was a human being who did not exist to make their dreams come true.

Also, don't discount pilots. They're often very short-term gigs, but if picked up they can lead to more. I would imagine they probably look to fill positions very quickly. (Feel free to comment if you've worked on a pilot.)

I know that nobody really wants to hear this, but these jobs are all filled through word-of-mouth and knowing people. The only way I landed writers assistant (and writers PA) interviews was by having friends and colleagues e-mail the postings to me. The kinds of people who might know about these openings include:
  • fellow writers assistants, script coordinators or writers PAs
  • other assistants who work on the show (set PA, line producer asst, etc.)
  • showrunner or executive producer assistants
  • the writers themselves
  • assistants or executives at studios
  • assistants or executives at networks
  • assistants or executives at production companies
  • agents of showrunners, and their assistants
  • managers of showrunners, and their assistants
It's actually a lot of people, right? Networking is key, but don't think about it in terms of who can get you a job. See it as making friends - because people want to help their friends. Now, even if they're your friends, you may have to remind them you're looking. But generally when people like you and know you'll do a good job, they're happy to pass along your resume. Also, don't think your contacts necessarily have to work in a writers office. My friend is an art department coordinator and she was able to send my resume in for a showrunner asst position because she talked to the old one all the time.
The other piece of advice I think is important is that people RARELY find writers assistant jobs as their first jobs. You might have better luck working as an on-set PA, agent assistant (but focus on agents who represent big showrunners), etc. Loyalty and good work sometimes does get rewarded in Hollywood; I was passed over for writers asst gigs a few times because other people had gotten promoted on the show. It's also important to let people know about your writing aspirations - after you've gotten to know everyone and proved that you're solid in your current position. You don't want to look like you're a selfish ladder-climber, but you also don't want people to pass you over because they had no idea you were interested in writers office jobs. You have to be your own biggest advocate.
Again, there is no job that will absolutely lead to a writer's assistant job (and no guarantee that being a WA will get you staffed). Some people get stuck in PA-land for years. But you might as well position yourself so that you can hear about as many of these jobs as possible.
If you're thinking that you don't know any of the people on the above list, consider doing an internship. I did four. Maybe you can even call up a show and ask to be their intern (I had some friends in college who interned on shows). If you're out of college it can be harder to find a place that doesn't require credit, but I know that not everywhere does.
Good luck, everyone! I know it's tough. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen for you this season. There is massive competition for these jobs, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. You might have to alter your plan a little (I certainly did).

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9 comments:

Angel L. Roman said...

I hear you. It's hard. I live in NY which I heard is probably the 2nd best place to be other than LA. I've been trying to land a PA job for a few months with no success. Any pointers for a guy who is dependent on a steady income?

Camden Carr said...

I get all my assistants via recommendations from other people in the industry as well as my alma matters career website. I know alot of other studios also post on the job boards of schools they went to: USC, NYU, etc.

Most people in the industry like helping out people like themselves: fresh out of college, etc.

Dan Williams said...

I think you've got a terrific franchise here: young persons fresh out of college trying to land their first assistant jobs in Hollywood. And it could be combined with "the city" of L.A. as in SATC. And with the movie business as backdrop. Your experience and research might make a great novel or non-fiction book! I know I'd read it!

Kira said...

Excellent advice as always! I especially agree with the point about internships -- both the writers' assistant and EP assistant/office PA on my show were interns first.

Gabeli said...

Thanks for the advice! I am really hoping to land a writer's assistant position...we'll see! I'd totally be willing to intern first...I find it difficult to find show internships though! Any advice?

april said...

Just found your blog and I'm excited to read more. I am on of those just-out-of-college folk who are looking for a place in the industry. Unfortunately I live in the Bay Area and I won't be able to make the move to LA until I land a job. Any advice?

Amanda said...

@april - first, read this post:

http://aspiringtvwriter.blogspot.com/2008/08/move-to-la-maybe-have-plan-fo-sho.html

then read this one:

http://aspiringtvwriter.blogspot.com/2009/07/reflections.html

unfortunately, I don't really know of anyone who has been able to secure a job without moving to LA first. I know it sounds unfair, but imagine how many thousands of people are already here looking for those jobs.

David Blake Meyers said...

I just found this blog, it's great!
I'm an aspiring writer who has written several pilot scripts and have even filmed some of these.
I'm not "fresh out of college"(more like 7 years removed). Am I too old to go after WA jobs, internships, and other related jobs?

Amanda said...

Hi David!
Check out this post:

http://aspiringtvwriter.blogspot.com/2008/12/how-old-is-too-old.html

You're certainly not too old to do the job - but some people your age don't want to spend the next 5-10 years struggling with low-paying jobs, you know?