Monday, July 19, 2010

5 Questions with a Writers PA

Sam is a writers PA on a new network drama that will premiere in the fall. I asked him 5 questions about his gig:

1. How did you get your job/what experience did you already have?

I got in the door because the showrunner was an old friend of my parents. To be fair, I wasn't born in Hollywood and my parents don't work in the industry. I've been really surprised by how many totally coincidental connections my family and friends have, ones that I would never have known about if I didn't talk about my writing aspirations. I met with this writer back when I first moved out to LA and kept in touch with him afterwards. When his show got picked up, I sent him an email congratulating him and politely asking if there were any positions available. Next thing I knew his assistant was calling me to set up an interview.

Once I was in the door, I think what clinched it was my work experience. But it wasn't the stuff you'd expect. One of the producers I met with had spent a lot of time in New York (where I grew up and went to school) and loved that I had worked at the Shake Shack, which is kind of an institution there. It gave us a lot to talk about. They were also pretty happy to discover that I was currently working at the Apple Store. Our whole writing staff uses Macs so having someone around who could speak that language was definitely appealing. I've set up a lot of MobileMe accounts.

2. What is a typical day like?

It's hard to say with any confidence, since we haven't started shooting yet, but so far it goes something like this:

I get into the office around 8:15. I try to get there before any writers so I can put some coffee on, check the printer to make sure it's full of paper, unlock office doors, etc. Some writers show up early, but generally they arrive between 9:00 and 10:00. When the writers arrive I start organizing our lunch order, which I pick up around noon. The rest of my day is pretty amorphous, a lot of odd jobs -- post office runs, sending faxes, troubleshooting printers. If it's a Monday I'll probably do a big grocery shopping run. One thing I'm in charge of is distributing all documents that only go to the writing staff. The production staff handles all the production drafts of scripts, but if it's an outline, a concept document, or a writers' draft, that's my realm.

I don't have a set end of the day; once all of the writers are gone, I can usually head out. So far that's been about 6:00-6:30, but ask me again when we're on episode 10.

3. Have you learned anything about writing or Hollywood from your job?

I've definitely been learning a lot. Seeing the writers' room in action has been really inspiring. You can tell these people are professionals. They write fast and can quickly figure out whether an idea is worth exploring. And they think of everything. I've been able to sit in the room a couple times and every time I've had an idea, one of the writers has come up with it a few minutes later.

I've also been learning a lot of little tips and tricks, like don't write more than an act a day. Every writer's different, so ultimately you have to decide whether things like that work for you, but it's really great to spend time with people who have figured that stuff out for themselves.

4. What advice would you give someone who's trying to get a job as a writers PA?

Talk to everyone you know about your writing aspirations. If you get in touch with people in the industry and they don't have a job for you, stay in touch with them. And don't stress out if people don't get back to you right away. People on TV shows are VERY busy.

5. What's something you didn't know or that surprised you about your job?

Free lunches! Seriously, though, what surprised me the most was how much I like my job. There's this idea that assistants are always treated like dirt and that your bosses are constantly making outrageous demands...but being a Writers PA is not torture. Everyone I work with is really, really nice and the job is actually a lot of fun.

Thanks Sam!

Bookmark and Share


Unknown said...

You worked at Shake Shack! Cool.

Dan Williams said...

What shines through in his comments for me is how happy he is in his job. It's almost a rule of life that if a person isn't happy in their job -- isn't, basically, a happy person -- success at it won't come. It would be a pleasure for a boss, I would argue, to promote a guy like him as it would make him so much more happy, which could only benefit the room that much more.

(Used to work at a place called, "The Satellite")

Bryan said...

Ha! I love Shake Shack! Goes to show there are a million and one roundabout ways to landing a job in this industry. Congratulations to him.