Saturday, December 27, 2008

The agency one year rule

Sean writes: Can you blog about the one year agency rule? I want to work in TV at a studio or for a show but I keep getting advice that I have to work for a agency first. Is it worth being stuck there for a year? And how do you start to get a job after being at an agency. When should you start planning an exit?

Make sure you read my previous posts in the Career Advice and Inside the Agency categories. But otherwise, it's pretty standard to agree to work for an agent for one year. Within a year you'll see any seasons (like pilot season) and learn about as much as there is to learn. You don't sign a contract or anything - so you could actually quit at any time. But I ran into the same problem you did - that to be an assistant at a studio or network, execs often want to see a year of agency experience. Generally agencies are seen as entry-level assistant jobs where you learn how to be an assistant. Agencies are also centers for information, so you will learn a lot about the process of television or film. I think there's also an idea that agents are tough personalities, so if you handle an agent, you can handle anybody.

Also, it's usually understood that with any assistant job, if you do a good job and stay for the time you've promised, your boss will help you find your next job by making calls, giving you a positive recommendation, etc. If you don't stay for the year, you may kind of be on your own. (And maybe that's fine, if you have great connections and have already lined up your next job by yourself...but it might not be easy for everybody.) I don't think any agents are counting down your year by the day - so I don't think you're going to be shunned for leaving at 11 months or anything if you find a good opportunity. It's just kind of a general rule. I'm going to start letting my friends and colleagues know I'm looking after probably 10 or 11 months. I'm sure you know that it's a very competitive job field (made even more competitive by this lovely economy), so it may take a couple months to find the right job. Other than looking on the UTA lists or reading posts on tracking boards, it's all a matter of knowing people who can help. This is why networking is so important.

Also I think it's important to know that a year at the agency is the usual prerequisite to be an assistant at a studio (film or TV) or network... but not necessarily for working on a show. Often being an on-set PA or Office PA is the entry-level job there. There's no hard and fast rule...I even know writer's assistants who had writer's assistant jobs as their first jobs (rare, but it happens). You just have to meet the right people who will give you a chance. Also, have you had an internship? I know it sucks to work for free...but I had four different internships, and ultimately it was one of my internship supervisors who recommended me for the agency job I have. I know of a few different people who leveraged their internships into assistant positions on shows or at production companies - often bypassing the agency step.

Is the year at the agency worth it? It really depends on who you work for and what your personality is like. I know a lot of people who were absolutely miserable at their agency jobs, but I also know people who planned to do a year and then stayed longer and even joined the training program because they liked it so much. You never know! Also, you might be interested to know that the path to being an agent can be a lot faster than the path to being an exec (by going from assistant to executive at a studio, prodco, etc.) - if you're on top of your shit. Every circumstance is different, but I know 25 or 26 year-old agents. And sometimes after being an agent for a couple years you could make the leap to being a studio exec or producer.

If you're having a tough time finding a different kind of assistant job, it might be worth it. If you want to be a studio or network exec, definitely do it. If you want to be a producer, almost definitely. If you want to be a writer...maybe. It will certainly be valuable, but there are other paths you can take also. Personally, I'm glad I did it - but I also have a great boss, and I didn't have a problem fitting into the agency culture.

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Chad Gervich - Script Notes said...

GREAT ANSWER, Amanda! Sean... it may also be helpful to know that "working for a studio" or "working for a show" are very often two entirely different jobs requiring two different skill sets. Working as an assistant on a show involves being in the trenches of production-- you're on set or in a writers room or in a production office, dealing with the issues of physical production. Working as an assistant at a studio is usually a desk job... answering phones, scheduling meetings, reading scripts, etc. Working at an agency is usually a prerequisite for a studio job, not necessarily a production job, because the skill sets are more similar. Having said that, many showrunners only hire friends and people they already know, even for entry-level jobs like production assistants. And if you don't have those contacts already, working at an agency is a great way to get them. As an agent's assistant, you'll not only meet all your boss's writer/showrunner clients (who will hopefully be in positions to eventually hire you), but you'll also be meeting all the other assistants in town... assistants at networks, studios, shows, other agencies. This is almost more valuable than meeting a handful of writers or showrunners, because assistants swap information, tell each other about job openings, recommend friends to bosses, etc. So aside from the practical knowledge and skills you'll pick up at an agency job, you'll form the network of contacts that will help open the door to the next step of your career.

Having said ALL of this, if your goal is to work in production... and you already have contacts or entrees into the world... you many NOT need to work at an agency. But if you're starting cold, like many of us, then it's a terrific training ground...


? said...

I think when you do come to move on from the Agency and continue your ascension, we're all going to lose such a fantastic resource with this blog.

Hopwfully, though, you will continue the blog through the next stage.