Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 Questions with a Network Drama Showrunner Assistant-Turned-Writer's Assistant

Jess was working as a Showrunner Assistant on a network drama - but when the show got cancelled and her boss moved to a new show (that will premiere in the fall), she moved over to Writer's Assistant. Since she's just starting as Writer's Assistant, she answered 5 questions about being a Showrunner Assistant:

How did you start working for a Showrunner?
How do you think? This is Hollywood, people. I laid down on the couch and started to unbutton my -- oh wait, wrong job. That was my Starbucks interview.

I worked at the alphabet soup studio for a year before transitioning show-side. I was really lucky to get the studio job, the coolest cowgirl executive hired me when I had no experience. But she took a shot on a random Latina, honestly I think because I entertained her. Anyway after about a year of working for her, I decided to take a gamble and mosey on over to Free Lunch Land aka working on a TV show. The free lunch is convenient, as my current salary is less than I got paid at that Starbucks gig.

When I finally got to work with writers on a show, it was like coming home. They were weird, neurotic, pencil-throwing, baseball bat-toting people. And they were MY people. The Showrunner I worked for taught me that writing for TV is so much more than pen and paper; it's about the whole process. It's about post, production, the actors, the writing, the rewriting, the rewriting of the rewrite...you get the picture. Again, I lucked out with a crazy cool boss, and just got bumped up to Writers' Assistant.

So basically, though it's been said over and over, it's a relationship bizness. And if you ain't got the relationships, you ain't got bizness bein' in the bizness. And yeah, that's how I spell bizness. Look it up on Urban Dictionary.

What are the basic duties of the Showrunner Assistant?
Beyond answering the phone, proofreading scripts, booking travel, and coddling the interns, I'd say the most basic duty of a Showrunner Assistant is to be kind. Never be a pushover, but sometimes people forget that we aren't saving lives, we're just making a TV show. So you need to kindly remind them. Also, every once in a while the PA will be five minutes late with lunch and the writers will run around office screaming "Famine!" -- don't be the douche who throws the PA under the bus. Say there's an accident, they got stuck. Do them a solid. They have the hardest job in the industry. And there's a good chance they will one day be your boss.

Do you have time to write?
I do, but that's because I don't let myself sit on The Facebook all day. I lock out a section of time when the writers are all in the room so they don't want to be bothered with calls anyway and have at it. Yes, people interrupt me. And yes, I want to blow them up. But I constantly fight myself to focus, because it doesn't get any easier. The Showrunner won't be excused from writing his episode because the studio or network kept calling to give notes on those pesky other episodes. So why should I complain?

My thing is, if you're a writer, you write. Period. If you aren't writing you just don't want it that badly.

What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
I've learned that you won't get anything if you don't ask for it...which guys are more naturally prepared to do. So, sac up, ladies. Ask if you can sit in on the room. Or if you can go to a mix session. Or if your boss will read your script. By waiting for the perfect time you aren't doing anyone any favors, and the whole purpose of being an assistant in entertainment is that one day that relationship will prove that you are a person worth more. Assistants are the lifeblood of the industry, but all of us are waiting for that day when we collect a paycheck that's more than you can get on unemployment.

The other thing is, don't ask. I know that sounds confusing, but don't ask for favors if you're bum and expect everything handed to you on a platter. Every question you ask is a favor, and no one is going to want to do a favor for a lazy bones. Be the one willing to help everyone. Then when you ask a favor, people will happily oblige.

How did you transition from Showrunner Assistant to Writer's Assistant? Did you ask your boss about it or did he bring it up?
We both talked about it, but I brought it up. He knew I wanted to be a writer, had read my material, and by some stroke of leprechaun luck -- he liked it. He's the kind of person who always welcomes growth and is a great mentor so I felt comfortable broaching the subject.

Okay, six questions. What's the writer's room like?
It's an enchanted place. That said, few writers can feel safe amongst other writers as historically we are very hermit-like. Or, like Hemingway, very drunk. But for the few of us who run on the fuel of bouncing ideas off others...it's heaven. You form a bond with your room, which is really like a family, that's unparalleled. And as a budding writer, these bonds are the most important ones you have.

Also, if your future room is anything like mine, there will be a plethora of poop jokes. Bring toilet paper.

1 comment:

Ian said...

This was a great concise interview. Thanks for posting.