Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Working for the "suits"?

Casey writes: How do you feel about network-oriented jobs? Good experience for an emerging writer, or a good way to stay in a suit forever? I have an interview tomorrow, but in talking to other writers, I've often heard jokes about the "evil suits" in development. I think that working in television would be better than not working in television, and I know that I would be interacting with writers and producers, and witnessing that creative element first-hand. I would be reading scripts, giving coverage, sitting in on meetings, that kind of thing.

I guess I'm looking to hear if writers and producers really see development people as "suits," and if I would be viewed as less of a writer in this job. Looking further down the line, would it actually be harder to be seen for staffing jobs, or considered a "creative", with this job under my belt?

First off, congrats on the interview! I think you'd be very smart to take a job like this. You're absolutely right: working in television would be better than not working in television. There may come a point when you decide you've learned enough and you'd rather have a non-industry job while you work on your writing, but the knowledge you'd gain in this job would be invaluable for all the reasons you mentioned - reading scripts, writing coverage, sitting in on meetings, etc. You will also make great connections with writers, producers, executives, agents, managers, etc.

Usually the only people considered "suits" in Hollywood are agents and lawyers, and maybe network or studio presidents. The Big Bosses. Development execs are usually really down-to-earth, creative people - and they often wear (designer) jeans. They're not frazzled starving artists like stereotypical writers, but they're people who work with writers all day I think you'd get along better with them than you think.

And even if you did find the opportunity to work for a "suit," you should jump at that as well. A friend of mine works on a show many of you are obsessed with, and he got the job because he used to work for the head of a network. When he took the network job, he was deciding between that job and another one working for a lower-level development person. Although you might be involved in more creative work if you work for a lower-level person, there are unique benefits to working for the Big Boss. When the lower-level exec found out my friend was even considering passing up the Big Boss desk, she called my friend and said, "Are you crazy?? Go work for him!" So he did, and it paid off. Because if you do a good job working for a Big Boss, then when the time comes for you to move on, the Big Boss will call a showrunner or whomever and say, "Hire my assistant." And nobody tells the Big Boss no. Ideally, you should try to work for the person who does exactly what you want to do. But in the absence of that, work for the most powerful person you can find. (Or find a job that will lead you to one of those situations.)

Back to Casey: You'd only be stuck in development forever if you chose to be. Generally, people move around a lot. Nobody will see you as less writerly for working in development; in fact, I bet they'll be glad that you know how the system works already. Trust me, tons of writers get their start this way. You have to prove yourself and focus on doing a good job, but at some point I'm sure you'll be able to show your writing to your boss and coworkers, and/or move to working as a writer's assistant, showrunner assistant, etc. But don't get ahead of yourself...the first year or so should be about learning a lot and soaking everything in.

I hope you get the job!

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