This is a guest blog post by Samantha Wilson of Any Possibility.
Many young writers use a Hollywood assistant position to launch their screenwriting careers. Becoming an assistant gives you a couple of advantages. It’s the ideal playing field for networking and making contacts. You’ll also become familiar with the ins and outs of the industry, whether you’re near a writers’ room or taking notes in a development meeting. It’s essentially an education and foundation for a thriving career.
How do you choose the right position? Here’s a breakdown of the various types of available roles that can help you get where you want to be.
A writers’ production assistant helps the writers’ room with every menial task known to man. You stock the fridge, do a daily lunch pickup, make photocopies, and run errands, all with a smile on your face. When the opportunity comes up to cover another position in the office, you have a chance to gain extra experience. For instance, you might get to fill in and learn the writers’ assistant job if they’re out sick, or if the room decides to split up into groups and needs someone to take notes, you’re essentially a second writers’ assistant for the day.
A writers’ PA is one step below a writers’ assistant. But it would be a mistake to think it’s beneath you. The writers’ PA position can be one of the hardest jobs to get in the industry because it’s in high demand. With the right attitude and an office that promotes from within, you can obtain the right experience and rise through the ranks from WPA to WA, then eventually to staff writer.
A writers’ assistant sits in the room with the writers on a show and takes notes. When the writers pitch their ideas or work out the season’s arc, the WA types furiously on his laptop, outlining and organizing all the essential information. Grab every detail! After the room wraps for the day, the WA combs through his notes, proofreads, and does any additional organizing to send the room notes for the writers to use.
It’s a demanding job. You learn a lot by osmosis. By watching the way the room works every day, you become familiar with the workflow, as well as solidifying your own understanding of how to write for TV. If you land on a supportive show, the opportunity might come up for you to write a freelance episode for the season. Make sure you have a solid writing sample to take advantage of this opportunity. You might even get staffed.
A showrunner’s assistant is the right hand to the person (or people) in charge of the room. You aren’t inside the writers’ room, like a WA would be, but rather, handle more of the scheduling for the show/showrunner and communicate with the network, studio, executives, and so on. This position allows you to learn how a show operates as you generally coordinate and take notes on calls with the showrunner.
There are opportunities as a showrunner’s assistant to have your boss read your writing sample after you’ve built a rapport (and they ask). Many showrunners’ assistants take this position with the hope that they can make a lateral move to become a writers’ assistant next.
Writer’s Personal Assistant
A writer’s personal assistant has nothing to do with the writers’ room. A personal assistant takes care of -- yes it’s redundant -- personal tasks. Many writers and showrunners lead busy lives. Maybe they need someone to take out their dog during the day, pick their kids up from school, do their dry cleaning, and occasionally help them type up their notes. Sometimes it’s all menial tasks, while some writers want an actual assistant to help with their writing process. It’s a mixed bag that depends entirely on your employer.
Agency Assistant or Management Assistant
Working at an agency or management company is a great stepping stone for any recent graduate or newcomer to the industry. Big tier agencies or management companies like CAA, ICM, WME, UTA, Gersh, Verve, Paradigm, Anonymous, Untitled, etc. are names that other future employers will recognize on a resume.
Working for agencies and management companies helps your career in a couple of ways. Many of these places represent big writers who will need assistants down the line. You might hear of the jobs first, which is a huge advantage, since hiring managers for coveted writers’ and showrunner’s assistant positions are inundated with resumes as soon as a job opens up. Your boss can also vouch for you, and you might have built your own relationships with her writer clients who already trust your competence.
Another way working in management or at an agency can help you is that these places represent writers…and you want to be a represented writer. Through a lot of hard work, networking with other agency and management assistants, and so on, you will find yourself in the inevitable position where someone asks to read your writing. It might be at your company or at a completely different company where one of the assistants or junior reps has become a good friend. Opportunities will present themselves if you’re good at your job, take networking seriously, and let the fact that you are a writer come up organically.
Long-term, understanding the way representation works is a huge benefit of working at an agency or management company. The entire experience will be a big learning opportunity.
Your job will be rolling calls, scheduling, coordinating talent appointments, assisting your boss, and so much more.
A production company is a great place for a writer. Producers at these companies work with writers, agencies, and management companies to kick off new projects in television, features, and digital. Because of this, you are exposed to working with all of these professionals too. You take notes for your boss on phone calls, put together grids of hot new writers and their reps, network with assistants at agencies and management companies, and read a ton of scripts.
A development assistant position helps you make connections with people who can eventually read your work and do something with it. You will meet a broad spectrum of individuals from assistants in representation to people at studios. In the event that you want to work as an assistant to a specific writer or show that your company handles, you might hear about and apply for a job there after you’ve put in one to two years on the desk. There’s so much to learn from a development desk and so much to gain from networking while on it.
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