Aaron is a writer's assistant on a cable drama. He was kind enough to answer 5 questions about his job:
1. How did you get your job?
Years back, I was an assistant at a TV production company and was able to make a good impression on a veteran writing team that was attached to one of our projects. They were pitching the project to every cable and premium network in town within a matter of days, and I had to schedule all that, coordinate everyone in our pod, adjust for last minute changes, etc. Kind of a heavy plane to land, but it all went well.
Two years later, I had left the business to assistant manage a restaurant (more money, more time to write, etc). It turned out being a restaurant assistant manager is a nightmare. Everyone - customers, staff, vendors - everyone shits on you. That's what you're there for. So there I am, pack a day, trying to decide between buying a gun or starting Paxil, when I get an email from that writing team:
"Just wanted to know what you were up to and if you have any interest in being put up for an assistant to a showrunner? If you are, send us your info..."
I hadn't had any contact with these people in almost a year...
So I met the showrunner, we hit it off, and I got the job. Miracle.
I'm still working on the same show and have since been moved into the writers' assistant position.
2. What are basic duties you have to do on a typical day?
I have two basic duties. My first and primary duty is to keep the room notes. That's just about writing down everything the writers say and then organizing those thoughts into an easy to read document. That organizing step can be time consuming.
The second big thing is research. The show I'm currently on aims to be as realistic as possible. So if someone pitches a crazy idea about a killer rapist dolphin, I pull up all the dolphin research I can to see if there are any facts to support the idea. Or alternatively, the research is done as a first step and the room starts drawing story from the research.
3. Do you have time to write?
Sometimes the work schedule/demands are very intense and sometimes they're easy, so it varies, but even if it's very intense, I make time to write every day even if it's just a half hour in the morning. Have to.
4. What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
The coolest thing I've been shown is the value of immersing yourself in what you want to write about. If you want to write about cops, but don't know anything about cops - call the cops. Visit a police station. Walk up to a cop on the street. Find out if you've got a cop stashed in your social network somewhere and then go ask him/her questions. Anyone - lawyers, paraplegics, local politicians - if you approach them and say, "Who you are and what you do fascinates me, would you please talk with me for a minute?", what are they going to say? "Go fuck yourself"? Maybe, but probably not.
5. What advice do you have for people who want to get a job like yours - and succeed?
It took me 5 years to get a job near a writing staff and I was pretty lucky when I did, so... But I think I got this writers' assistant job because I worked hard as the showrunner's assistant. I got that job because I worked hard as an executive assistant. I got that job because I worked hard as a receptionist, cleaning out the toaster and shit. I got that job because of Craigslist.
A lot of my opportunities have come from unexpected people. People I didn't realize were watching, were watching. And luckily I was doing a decent job when they were.
So my advice has to be:
Let everyone know where you want to go.
Take pride in your work.