Caitlin Duffy is the writers' assistant for Chicago P.D., which airs Wednesdays at 10pm on NBC. On Twitter, she's @duffosaurus_rex . She was kind enough to answer five questions about her job:
What's your background?
I've been writing since I can remember, whether it was short stories, terrible poetry, or even more terrible fan fiction, but for a while it was nothing more than a hobby. I went to a liberal arts college, completely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. After taking an Intro to Film class, I liked what I saw and wanted to work in the entertainment industry. So I decided to major in Film Studies, and a month or two after graduation, I bought a one way ticket to LA!
What was your first industry job?
Of course, I moved out to LA in the fall of 2007, right on the verge of the writer's strike. After 6 months of unpaid internships in film production, I landed my first paid gig through a friend of a friend as an office PA on a pilot. Connections on the pilot got me a reality PA job, and for the next two years, I bounced around different, short-lived reality shows, doing everything from PA work to craft service to transpo.
How did you become a writers' assistant?
I got my first writers' assistant job through a combination of dumb luck and determination. While working in reality, I had signed up for email groups that posted industry job openings and had been actively submitting my resume to any job in scripted for over a year. Finally, the TV gods smiled down upon me and I got an interview on the show Bones. They hired me as an office PA, and I worked in that position for a year. A friend I'd made on the show had heard an executive assistant position was opening on a new show called Breakout Kings. She submitted my resume and I got an interview. Later, they called to say the executive assistant position had been filled, but asked if I wanted the writer's assistant job instead. I've been a WA ever since!
What is a normal day at your job like?
The writers' assistant job can vary a bit from show to show, but in my personal experience, a large bulk of the day is spent in the Writers Room, taking notes, and updating story boards and episode breakdowns on the white boards. The writers will often take breaks from the room to work alone on their personal episodes. During that time, I'll be doing episode research, taking notes on network calls and proofing scripts and outlines. I also handle a lot of random odds and ends, like writer contracts, legal forms, submitting loglines and guest casts to the network, and keeping track of script and outline assignments and submission dates.
What's something you've learned from your job?
The phrase I always hear repeated is "keep writing!" This is true, not only to keep your portfolio nice and full, but to keep your brain fresh. The more you write, the better you'll get at story telling and problem solving. It can be difficult to keep writing (I often fall off the wagon myself), but important you get back on. Write down any idea you have, no matter how small. Sometimes it's the littlest ideas that grow into something big.
Another piece of advice that I've never been explicitly told, but have observed in my years out here, is that personality goes a long way. People want to hire people they can spend 8-10 hours a day in a writers room with. You can practice writing day in and day out, but if you're stand-offish, bossy, won't take notes or criticisms, or are generally not terribly pleasant to be around, you'll be hard pressed to land a job in a writers room. So, in addition to your writing, work on your collaboration skills too!
Also, please remember there's no one "right" way to get into the industry or find success in it. Some people are in the right place at the right time, or know the right person, and nab their dream job in a heartbeat. Other people take years to gradually climb up the ladder. Some will toil for years then suddenly get find success seemingly overnight. Someone else will be on top of the world until their show gets cancelled, then will flounder in unemployment. Everyone is different, so dwelling on how your current success compares to your peers isn't helpful. You, and those around you, will likely fluctuate between rising and falling. If you are mindful of that and don't let it deter your focus, you'll be OK.