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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday links!

Working Girl: The Assistant Diaries (Advice to Assistants From Female Execs) [Glamour]

Summer 2012 TV Preview: 14 Reasons to Watch TV This Summer
[The Daily Beast]

Cannes Lessons: Sideshows Are Fun, but 'Love' Is All You Need
[The Wrap]

Cougar Town Boss Bill Lawrence on the Season Finale, Moving to TBS and Killing Big Carl [TV Guide]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Premiering Tonight: Men at Work

Men at Work is a new TBS sitcom that premieres tonight at 10/9c. Take a look:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5 Questions with a Cable Drama Showrunner Assistant

Katie works for a showrunner on a new cable drama that will premiere in the coming months. She was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her job:

How did you get your job?
My journey's been sort of cyclical. I moved out here to write, but started at a talent agency and then worked my way back to the creative side. My assisting began at William Morris (back when it was WMA - hollaaa) and then I worked for CBS Studios Drama Development, then a director/producer, and finally Showrunner Assistant. I wasn't trying to be strategic at the time, but my experience on the other side of the development process has been invaluable to me both in my current job and as a writer.

What are the basic duties of your job?
Officially, it's mostly administrative. I answer phones, track calls, manage files, and keep my boss on schedule. Unofficially, I'm fortunate because my boss actually abides by the open door policy, so I'm able to do more than just administrative duties. I'm able to pitch ideas and projects to him throughout production and hiatus.

Do you have time to write?
During hiatus, I work 9-6 with hour lunch break. When the writers are writing the show, it's a little later but not usually later than 7:30, and during production I usually work 9-8. When my boss is directing, it's the normal 12-14 hours of whatever is the shooting schedule. During production, I don't have as much time because my boss is so busy. But during hiatus, I have time to do my own writing. Also, because it's a cable show, our schedule is more lax than network shows, so I think I have more time than other showrunner assistants might.

What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
I've been able to see firsthand what it's like to be a successful, working writer. I've been lucky because I've had the chance to sit in the writers room and learn from seasoned writers about how to break story and craft structure. I've learned to always remember that entertainment is first and foremost a business, and you have to keep that in mind starting with the brainstorming stage. Practically, I've learned what the physical process looks like both from the writers' side and the production side. I've learned that as a writer in this industry, half the battle is making and maintaining relationships. Having an amazing script isn't enough - you need to have people who are willing to read it.

What advice do you have for people who want to become showrunner assistants?
Network and try to get as much experience as you can. Most of the jobs you'll get will be through relationships, and people need to know you're looking. Meet studio assistants and writers' assistants. Showrunner assistant jobs are usually kept quiet, so you'll want to be in a position where you have relationships with the people that are going to hear about those jobs openings. Also, there isn't one direct path or solution. Go to drinks with the people who have the job you want and ask how they got there. Although my journey felt long and somewhat indirect, I was hired because I had so much experience from the other side of the process.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Advice from script readers

Update: Part I of the Twitter discussion is now posted on Go Into the Story - check it out!

Late on Saturday night when I was painting my nails and watching Say Yes to the Dress super busy, the Bitter Script Reader, Nate Winslow and I got into an impromptu Twitter discussion with Go Into the Story's Scott Myers. To my new followers and readers: welcome! The chat was fun, and we'll be doing more reader discussions on Twitter soon. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to ask me questions about my experience as a reader, feel free to comment or email me. I've written two posts on Why Readers Pass, and plan to do more. I'm actually surprised I get so few questions about my perspective as a professional reader.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Outdoor movie screenings this summer!

Nothing says LA like outdoor movie screenings! Check out some of this summer's offerings:

Cinespia
5/19 - SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
5/26 - SABRINA
5/27 - GREASE
(more to come)

Street Food Cinema
5/26 - NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
6/2 - MI4: GHOST PROTOCOL
6/9 - THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN
6/16 - ROCKY HORROR
6/23 - AVATAR
6/30 - TRANSFORMERS
7/7 - TWILIGHT
7/14 - X-MEN
7/21 - AMERICAN PIE
7/28 - IRON MAN
8/4 - BRIDESMAIDS
8/11 - ALICE IN WONDERLAND
8/18 - SIXTEEN CANDLES/VALLEY GIRL
8/25 - WEIRD SCIENCE
9/1 - TALLADEGA NIGHTS

Eat See Hear
5/25 - ANCHORMAN
6/2 - THE WEDDING SINGER
6/9 - FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
6/16 - THE GOONIES
6/23 - THE BIG LEBOWSKI
6/30 - ZOOLANDER
7/7 - DAZED AND CONFUSED
7/14 - PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE
7/21 - TOMMY BOY
7/28 - THE PRINCESS BRIDE
8/4 - PURPLE RAIN
8/11 - FRIDAY
8/18 - GHOSTBUSTERS
8/25 - PRETTY IN PINK
9/1 - KILL BILL
9/8 - THE THREE AMIGOS
9/15 - THE KARATE KID

Note: Last year a company called Outdoor Cinema Food Fest provided screenings, but its website is no longer active and according to Yelp, it's defunct.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Commuting to LA from Long Beach and OC

Amanda writes: How far is too far from LA? I was born and raised in Orange County so I figured it might be easier to just live at home and commute. While I am well aware of the devil that is the 405 and rising gas prices (devil's spawn), I am dedicated enough to leave the house at 5 AM if I need to. When I send out resumes and put down my home address, will the gatekeepers deem Orange County acceptable or would it be better if I just moved to LA?

SJ writes: I'm moving to SoCal in a few months. My future roommates are already out in LA in grad school, so they're in charge of finding places to live. One goes to USC and the other goes to Chapman University in OC, so they're trying to find a place that would be cost efficient and equidistant for the three of us. The area that those girls are focusing on is Long Beach. Once I get out to the west coast, I'll be trying to find an entry level job in the industry - so my concern is, in terms of finding said entry level job, does it matters where you live? I'm just a bit concerned that since Long Beach is about 30 minutes away from LA, that may be considered too long of a commute for potential employers and they would be less inclined to hire me. Any advice would be amazing and very much appreciated.

A few employers might be turned off by an address on a resume that's too far from their LA office (especially if they've had previous employees with tardiness problems), but I don't think most people will toss your resume aside based on your address. If you want, you can leave your address off your resume and just list your cell phone number. Since lots of us keep our non-LA cell numbers (myself included), the area code isn't exactly a dead giveaway that you're not in LA... but if you don't have any SoCal work experience, you probably DO want to include a local address so that people don't think you're applying from New York or something (which would be a strike against you).

SJ: Long Beach is not "30 minutes" from LA. Maybe 30 minutes at 2 am if you're driving really fast. I used to travel to Huntington Beach (just past LB) fairly often and it would often take me 90 minutes, even when it wasn't rush hour. It's going to be hard finding somewhere convenient to both Chapman and USC; I know this isn't want you want to hear, but I recommend finding new roommates. (Or living with just the USC one, maybe.) You're going to waste a ton of time and gas if you get a job in LA. I don't think anyone will care that you live in Long Beach in terms of hiring you (as long as you can show up to work on time), but it just doesn't seem feasible to me.

On the other hand, I think Amanda is smart to stay in OC and live with her parents for a while, since she'll be living rent-free. If you can handle living with your parents for a few months (or maybe even a couple years), you will be able to save a LOT of money - and trust me, this will make your life much easier in your 20s. But if you're paying rent, I recommend getting as close to job opportunities as you can.