Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5 Questions with a Cable Drama Showrunner Assistant

Katie works for a showrunner on a new cable drama that will premiere in the coming months. She was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her job:

How did you get your job?
My journey's been sort of cyclical. I moved out here to write, but started at a talent agency and then worked my way back to the creative side. My assisting began at William Morris (back when it was WMA - hollaaa) and then I worked for CBS Studios Drama Development, then a director/producer, and finally Showrunner Assistant. I wasn't trying to be strategic at the time, but my experience on the other side of the development process has been invaluable to me both in my current job and as a writer.

What are the basic duties of your job?
Officially, it's mostly administrative. I answer phones, track calls, manage files, and keep my boss on schedule. Unofficially, I'm fortunate because my boss actually abides by the open door policy, so I'm able to do more than just administrative duties. I'm able to pitch ideas and projects to him throughout production and hiatus.

Do you have time to write?
During hiatus, I work 9-6 with hour lunch break. When the writers are writing the show, it's a little later but not usually later than 7:30, and during production I usually work 9-8. When my boss is directing, it's the normal 12-14 hours of whatever is the shooting schedule. During production, I don't have as much time because my boss is so busy. But during hiatus, I have time to do my own writing. Also, because it's a cable show, our schedule is more lax than network shows, so I think I have more time than other showrunner assistants might.

What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
I've been able to see firsthand what it's like to be a successful, working writer. I've been lucky because I've had the chance to sit in the writers room and learn from seasoned writers about how to break story and craft structure. I've learned to always remember that entertainment is first and foremost a business, and you have to keep that in mind starting with the brainstorming stage. Practically, I've learned what the physical process looks like both from the writers' side and the production side. I've learned that as a writer in this industry, half the battle is making and maintaining relationships. Having an amazing script isn't enough - you need to have people who are willing to read it.

What advice do you have for people who want to become showrunner assistants?
Network and try to get as much experience as you can. Most of the jobs you'll get will be through relationships, and people need to know you're looking. Meet studio assistants and writers' assistants. Showrunner assistant jobs are usually kept quiet, so you'll want to be in a position where you have relationships with the people that are going to hear about those jobs openings. Also, there isn't one direct path or solution. Go to drinks with the people who have the job you want and ask how they got there. Although my journey felt long and somewhat indirect, I was hired because I had so much experience from the other side of the process.

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