Monday, October 25, 2010

Stuck as a writer's assistant?

Zachary Pincus-Roth has written an interesting - and potentially depressing - article for LA Magazine about getting stuck as a writer's assistant, script coordinator, etc. Here's a snippet:
For every aspiring writer whose Twitter feed becomes a sitcom, there are thousands of others toiling away at the assistant level, striving to one day be promoted to a full-fledged staff writer. Ideally that job is like a golden chairlift that carries them up the writer hierarchy, through mysterious titles like “coproducer” and “executive story editor,” before all of a sudden they’re running a show, creating other shows, and flipping through the Tesla catalog.
That’s the fantasy. Here’s the reality: Shows get canceled. The people in charge don’t always promote from within. Or a fledgling writer’s spec scripts—intended as writing samples, not for production—just aren’t good enough. So why keep the faith? The cyclical nature of television means that there’s always next season. Which is why some assistants remain assistants for years or even decades, always praying they’ll move up the ladder.
I blogged a little about this last year. Basically, getting an industry job can be an invaluable learning experience and great way to make connections - but it's not a guarantee that you'll land a writing job (or at least a writing job that lasts). Sometimes, quitting your job and finding another way to keep beer in the fridge is the best decision you could make.

It's important to remember, though, that plenty of current TV writers got their jobs by being assistants first. Ask them.

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11 comments:

Edward said...

It's important to always be looking for new (and better) work. Personally, I think the people who sit around waiting to be promoted aren't being aggressive enough. You can't just sit on your hands. You should be constantly on the prowl for more and/or better work, a higher position, etc., as well as building more credentials. That's what I've found, at least.

I don't really like the tone of the article. Not because it's cynical, but because it makes it sound like the writing business is one huge roulette. Then again, there's a substantial difference between article/technical writing and fiction, I guess....

The Bitter Script Reader said...

I recently interviewed for a writer's assistant position, so thanks for making me question the wisdom of pursing THAT career path.

In all seriousness - I think the only surprising thing about this story is that we don't these kinds of stories more often. There are only so many writer positions, and an equally limited number of assistant positions relative to the population seeking those spots.

Interesting detail about the over-30 crowd accounting for 1/3 of TV writers. It is nice to hear that our chances at getting hired as a TV writer don't end the moment our palms start flashing.

Amy Butler said...

Wait, I'm confused. If, in 2007, only 6% of writer jobs went to people under 30 and over 50% went to people over 40, how did older writers sue for age discrimination? Or am I understanding something incorrectly?

Honestly, you'd think that age would be valuable. I'm debating right now whether to move to LA next summer when my lease is up or take a few more years to travel and do other things before I settle. In my mind, the longer I wait, the better writer I should be. If I wait two more years, I'd have two more years to refine the craft *and* I'd have a greater pool of experience to write from. Why isn't that valued more?

Dan Williams said...

I think the writer of the article is talking more about HIS reality than "the reality of the business." He seems to be seeing where HE fits in, and obviously isn't satisfied with his career path so far.

My own take is that there is an external and an internal path that we follow. Internally, as long as a writer keeps getting better at writing, then why give up? And I think a writer knows if they are getting better or not at the craft.

Externally, in the job world of TV-dom, there are many other reasons why a person gets promoted or not, besides writing ability and the quality of their stories. All you can do, I guess, is try to get promoted. If you do, you'll know why. If you don't, you'll know why. And if you don't, you'll discover another path to success if you keep trying and keep improving.

It takes courage to have the faith to keep going forward when you can only see the next step and not the final destination. But all you really need is to see the next step and take it.

Anyway, I have no doubt at all that everybody on this blog has the talent to find success. This is definitely one of the more honest, real and intelligent writer's blogs.

Anand Rathore said...

Hello Amanda ,

Nice reading your blog. I would like to thank you for writing useful articles for writers. Am established writer in India and few of my friends in US are funding my film. They are not into films and they want me to register my script and title in US. I got some information about writers association in US where I can register my title and script by becoming member online.

I would be really grateful to you if you provide me details of authentic association or agency .

Many Thanks

Anand

Que Lindo said...

The fact is, not everyone's dreams come true. Everyone in Hollywood thinks they're talented, that they deserve their shot, but if you've been in the business that long and nobody is producing your stuff, maybe you need to reassess your skill set.

We are not all destined for stardom. This article could have been about personal assistants to actors hoping to become famous. It's all the same. This is a tough business and there are no guarantees.

Dan Williams said...

I agree with Que that TV "is a tough business and there are no guarantees" but that's not how I'd think about my future.

I'd decide on a project that's right for my own talent and that meets a need in the culture, and make pitches, and see where they go. It's an adventure, not a long slow walk off the plank!

Drew is my model: he keeps his eye on the ball (ie. what he wants), has a total can-do attitude, makes things happen, and was rewarded. He isn't a critic. He doesn't judge the higher-ups, he just tries to learn and do.

In the final analysis, having an opptimistic attitude in the face of hard work is an advantage, for anybody can become discouraged, and few are self-encouraging--which is what a writer needs to do for himself or herself!

Sasha said...

This article seems myopic to me...Sure, these assistants and script coordinators aren't living their dream lives of wealth and creative validation--but so what? It's too bad, I guess, just like it's too bad that not everybody on earth has everything they want. But it's not a tragedy, or unexpected.

I think the really depressing thing about this article is that it seems as though most of the people covered devalue their present in favor of their possible future...Working in an industry you love, surrounded by people who do interesting work, for a livable if not fantastic wage, and in one of the most dynamic and comfortable cities on earth is not a failure of a (professional) life by any stretch. It seems ridiculous to let some idea of perfection drive you so hard you forget you're just a human being, working to live until you die.

Someone said...

HOW DO I EVEN GET THIS FREAKING JOB SO I CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT LATER??????

Because I WANT IT.

Dave said...

Don't be a writers assistant. Be the lead writer. Some great resources on this blog: http://screenwriting.maxforum.org/

John said...

I was a writer's assistant for years and it can be soul killing. I keep reading people's comments where they say "Keep postive" and things will happen. It's tough to maintain a healthy attitude when you are so close to doing what you want to do. You sit in the writer's room watching the process first hand. So close, yet still not a paid writer. And unfortunately all the writers on a staff are talented. Luckily I eventually was promoted so now there is another average writer in Hollywood.