Monday, August 11, 2008

How is it, workin at the agency?

This question came from "The Genre Writer" an embarassingly long time ago: Do you work in tv lit, feature lit, or talent? Do you like agency work or is it hell for a upcoming writer?

And recently, from Shane: Can you blog more about being an assistant? I have a couple of call backs to set up various interviews to be one. Is it worth it to be an assistant? Do you find the horror stories true or false? Is the job hell and getting yelled at mostly and insane hours? I really want to be work for an agency and get my 1 year but I'm afraid I won't last. What are your thoughts about the assistant lifestyle?

I work in feature lit, and here's what I do at the agency: Answer the phone. Make calls for my boss. Connect my boss to calls when he's out of the office. Set lunches and meetings for my boss. Set meetings for clients. Confirm all these. Pick out restaurants I've never been to, make reservations and print out little maps of them. Submit our clients' scripts to buyers. Order scripts from the mailroom and DVDs from the video room. Generate expense reports. Translate contracts into booking reports that tell our accounting department exactly how much money our clients should be getting for spec sales, drafts, revisions, producing services, etc. Send invoices to buyers. Call buyers and tell them to pay us. Send things like scripts and checks to clients. Help clients out with random tasks. Help my boss out with random tasks like ordering cupcakes, faxing insurance forms and spelling words. Make and maintain files. Read scripts if my boss asks me to.

Do I like it? No, not the tasks themselves - they're pretty menial. But know that ALL assistants do those kind of things, be it at a studio, network, production company. I don't have a degree or set of skills to get me into another career, so I think it's worth it. And I don't hate it the way I think I would hate being a waitress again. It's pretty easy, and for me personally, I think it's better to be in the industry than out of it, since I am making contacts and learning things (you will learn a TON by listening to all your boss's phone calls).

I am also lucky because I like my boss, I'm not overwhelmed with work, I'm not expected to do ridiculous personal taks like ordering hookers, I only work 40 hours a week, and I like my coworkers. But - the horror stories are true, just not for me. A friend of mine worked at a big agency and had a terrible experience. Her boss made her cry a few times and she also worked a ton of overtime and even had to come in on weekends because there was so much work. It's really dependent on who your boss is. Lots of people do get yelled at for crazy things. It can be kinda hard to know what you're getting yourself into when you interview to be an agent's assistant, because agents are salespeople. Of course they're going to sell the job as great and themselves as a fantastic person to work for. In a way I had an advantage starting in the mailroom because I found out who was tough and who was nice, and I was able to go for a desk already knowing about the boss.

As for whether agency jobs are good specifically for writers: yes and no. I love talking to the clients, and I'm inspired by their successes. I am learning a lot about what agents look for, what buyers look for, etc. I also have access to a giant script library and can print out whatever I want. Industry jobs are what you make of them; I know some assistants who never read scripts or have drinks with other assistants or anything...and I feel like they're probably missing out. Also, you can't walk into an agency job with the intention of getting represented there. It's possible, but not a good attitude to have. You have to think of it as learning a lot and making contacts.

Production companies are generally more laid-back, and might be a better fit for a writer. The only problem is, many assistant jobs at prodcos require agency you may be able to get one, you may not. Agencies are kind of known as the place you go to learn how to be an assistant. They are centers for information. I think the mentality is: once you've worked at an agency, you can work anywhere. Most studio and network executives start out at agencies, so if you want to become one of those, I say definitely go for it. But if you know you're gonna write? Eh.

Some people don't last a year, and move onto good jobs anyway. Sometimes it's just a bad personality match. Some people try it and then decide they're done with entertainment and move to Texas. I definitely don't recommend the agency thing to everyone...and if you're thinking OMG, I DON'T want to work there at ALL, but I feel like I have to, I don't know if it's a good idea. Especially since it's not a sure-fire way to break in as a writer (hint: there is no sure-fire way). But if it interests you, it might be worth a try. If you hate it that badly, you can always quit. I think people will understand.

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Dan Williams said...

Your job sounds great. You are getting a lot of great experience in the business.

I don't really divide work any more into two groups, MENIAL versus NON-MENIAL OR IMPORTANT. Each little task can be full of details that could make for good information in a novel.

For example: I once worked in a grocery store (and hated it, but needed the money.) They transferred me to the Produce Department and on Saturday after 6 PM I had to throw out the vegetables that weren't sold. Stores weren't open on Sundays. Seniors would come up to me and ask for a big price reduction, knowing I would just throw the peas and lettuce out. All of my emotions (and there were many) could fuel a short story, a play or even a feature. I really related to the Peter Riggert role in, "Crossing Delancy." The world of a grocery store is one I can render in prose the way Tom Clancy can with a submarine. And you can with a Hollywood Agency. But a Hollywood Agency is much more interesting.

Anyway, maybe you could also get a spec script or pilot out of you Agency Adventures! It worked for "The Devil Wears Prada."

Emily Blake said...

I would also add, just for the people who are considering moving to LA, that it is okay to work outside the industry. If assistant jobs and PA work doesn't appeal to you, it's impossible to live here and not know someone in the business unless you're a complete shut-in.

Granted, you'll meet more people at an agency, but you don't absolutely have to work in the industry to get your career started.

evanshaffer said...

As a former assistant at one of the big five -- with an awful experience -- I can still attest to Amanda's advice here. The assistant experience is absolutely invaluable. If given so much as a glimmer of opportunity to do so, you should definitely take it. You'll regret it at first, but not in the end.