"Industry Spotlight" is our newsletter series where we interview professionals from across the entertainment industry about their current jobs and career trajectories. Our hope is that you will learn more about the positions you're already interested in, discover new roles you may not have considered, and utilize the wisdom of those who've paved the way before you to forge your own path for success.
This month, we sat down with Amy Thurlow, who has worked as a writers' assistant and script coordinator on SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox), KRYPTON (Syfy), AMERICANAH (HBO Max), and is currently working on TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORY (CW).
HOLLYWOOD RESUMES: Tell us about the role of a writers' assistant.
AMY: A writers’ assistant is responsible for taking notes while the writers break story, and then organizing the notes, so everyone knows what the room discussed that day. They create a record of the work that’s being done and track what ideas the writers "land" on and help create a blueprint of what the room discussed for the writers to reference as they go to script.
When I’m a writers’ assistant, my day-to-day is nonstop note taking and keeping up with the story breaking conversation. The writers’ assistant job is an art form, because you have to really understand story to keep up and make sense of everything when you organize the notes. You also have to pay attention 100% of the time, which seems easy, but oftentimes the writers themselves aren’t this focused. At the end of the day, I organize the notes and send them out to the writers.
HR: Tell us about the role of a script coordinator.
AMY: The script coordinator is the keeper of the script. They make sure that everything is proofed and formatted correctly for production and that it gets to the right people at the right time. They keep track of all the files for the show and versions of the scripts and are a walking reference guide for the show.
As a script coordinator, every day is a little different, depending on the show’s needs. If I get a script, I’m uber focused on proofing/formatting and generally making sure everything makes sense for several hours, then I’m asking clarifying questions to the showrunner to ensure that we’re on the same page, and eventually distributing the script to the departments that need it. Script coordinating is a hard job to describe, because there are so many layers in between each step. For example, you might need to alert a department head of script changes or flag overall mythology inconsistencies. It really changes from show to show. Script coordinators are also responsible for important WGA paperwork and sometimes even writer contracts.
HR: What are the skills someone would need to succeed in your position?
AMY: A good attitude. No one wants to be around someone who thinks they’re better than getting coffee. Everyone has to start somewhere and chip in. TV writing is a lot of teamwork. It’s about supporting the process no matter what level you’re at.
HR: What do you like most about your job?
AMY: I love TV writing, and I love being around the process. Whether I’m in the room while we’re breaking story, or I’m prepping a draft, I love seeing what decisions are being made about story. If you live and breathe story and character and love being part of a creative team, you don’t mind the other parts of the job that are less fun.
HR: If you don't like _______________, you won't like my job.
AMY: Being flexible! Assistants and script coordinators need to be flexible. You might have to take your laptop with you to the movies or a friend’s birthday. Things are constantly changing, so you need to be able to roll with the punches.
HR: What's something you do in your job that an outsider wouldn't expect (and maybe you didn't before you took the job)?
AMY: How much goes into to TV writing. I don’t think I ever realized the extent to which stories are discussed before I saw it in action.
HR: What's the key to finding time to write when you're working as support staff in a room?
AMY: This is a huge challenge, since shows are so engrossing. I struggle with time management, and a thing that’s really helped me is scheduling everything, including my writing sessions. Recently, I joined an online productivity program called CaveDay that really helps me unplug and focus.
HR: How did you get your current job?
AMY: I got the job on CW's TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORY through a mentor and friend I worked with on KRYPTON.
HR: What was your first job in Hollywood?
AMY: I worked at a 2D to 3D conversion company as a Stereoscopic PA/Coordinator for two years while I was trying to get hired in TV.
HR: What's a mistake you made early on in your career?
AMY: When I was a writers’ PA, there were writers that wanted to help me, but I had just started writing TV. I was really nervous about sending them my pilot, so instead I wasted a bunch of time paying for evaluations to tell me if I was ready. But writing is subjective, and they didn’t really give me an answer. Most show relationships fade after the show ends. I wish I’d trusted myself and my work more.
HR: Tell us about the #PayUpHollywood movement and why it's particularly important for people in your role.
AMY: TV is a changing landscape. It used to be you got a job as a WA or SC and you spent maybe a season or two doing it before proving you were ready to staff. The staff writer role used to be more of an apprenticeship. Now, what we’re seeing is that staffs are smaller, so staff writers are expected to operate at a much, much higher level. There are a lot more shows than ever before (which is great!), but they also have fewer episode orders. The WGA mandates freelance episodes be given out on shows with 20 episodes (or the show pays a penalty). Those freelance episodes regularly went to support staff as a way to prove their ability to write for the show and eventually get promoted to staff. They also supplemented the poor wages. Freelance assignments are still given out by generous showrunners, but there are a lot fewer of them available with shorter episode orders.
Along with fewer freelance opportunities, the vast majority of shows don’t make it more than one or two seasons. Miniseries are bigger than ever. The progression generally used to be put in 1 season as WA or SC, write a freelance in season 2 and staff in season 3. That progression has become pretty rare. So even though there are more writer jobs than ever before, the ability to move up the ranks as a WA or SC is harder, and people are stuck in support staff roles for a lot longer. It may be feasible for someone to suck it up and defer their student loans for a year or two, but the financial burden compounds when people are in these roles for 5 years or more.
Since the 2008 crisis, there’s been a steady crack down on how much these roles pay, and just as cost of living sharply increased in LA, studios were pushing to pay less and less. With COVID, they're trying to tighten their belts even more, which ultimately results in actual wage theft. Studios often try to pay these jobs as part-time roles, even though they’re full-time jobs. A show recently tried to pay their script coordinator for only 3 days per month. Aside from this being in violation of our union contract, there’s no version of that job that can be done in so few hours. Likewise, we’re seeing the cutting of overtime from a 60/hr week to a 40 or 50/hr week. But we don’t operate 9-5 -- we have to be available 24/7, so cutting the overtime means that we’re available off the clock for the show. When you work on a show, you can’t work a second job, so ultimately, only people who can afford to be paid less than base cost of living can afford to work. This is exacerbated by the fact that this is all freelance. Even on the most successful shows, there are typically 6-10 weeks of hiatus per year where you’re not paid (including the two weeks at Christmas where you don’t get paid). Other freelance positions that have comparable duties like Assistant Editors and Script Supervisors make about 3-4 times as much as we do. They’ve been unionized a lot longer, but even so, the difference is staggering.
Studios often try to act like our jobs are a luxury to the writers, but the reality is that our jobs are crucial. Why would a studio pay a room of writers upwards of $100k per episode if there’s no one taking notes on what they’re saying? My twitter thread tried to highlight how much money and responsibility rests on the script coordinator’s shoulders considering how little they make. On top of it all, the pay rate is exclusionary, and unfortunately, BIPOC are excluded at a higher rate from these jobs. The #PayUpHollywood movement is about changing representation from the ground up.
HR: If you could give one piece of advice to someone trying to break in/move up in the industry, what would it be?
AMY: Really evaluate why you want to be in this area of the industry. At the end of the day, you have to really love it, and if you don’t, you’ll be unhappy. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that think "TV writing pays a lot and is fun/easy." It’s not really that simple. Yes, the schedule of minimums on the WGA site looks high, but it’s not like being a doctor, where you put time in at med school and then make a steady amount of money for the rest of your life. You may put in 5-10 years as an assistant, going into debt, then be staffed for only one season. The same things that make it difficult for assistants to move up in rank are also making it harder for writers to move up in rank. It’s a lot of instability to deal with even if you really love the work. I also see a lot of people who are introverts who want to be TV writers. If that’s you, then you might want to reconsider. The job is literally being in a room talking all day with people. If you’re a writer who likes to be out on script, then maybe features or novels are a better fit.
HR: Thanks, Amy!
Applying for a job in the best of times can be scary, and in these very-much-not-the-best-times, it can be downright terrifying! But what if we told you you might be your own worst enemy right now? And that once you stop getting in your own way, you'll have a much smoother go of it?
Here are three things that cause job seekers to inadvertently hold themselves back (and some tips for getting around them!):
1. OVERTHINKING YOUR RESUME STRATEGY
Do you find yourself harping on whether your resume should have color, use a fancy format, or implement a grand graphic design? Are you considering leaving dates off of your resume for fear of being rejected because of your age? Are you utterly convinced the hiring manager won't take you seriously because you've been freelancing for 15 years? If these and other concerns keep you up at night, you're not alone. There's tons of resume advice out there, and not all of it is good OR relevant when transitioning into, within, or out of the entertainment industry. Plus, it's human nature to try to control the little things (like your resume details) when you can't control the bigger things (like when the role that's perfect for you will open up).
But the truth is, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting a resume. There are a few basic principles you should follow, but since every candidate is unique, every resume is unique. Your resume needs to be the best reflection of your capabilities to do the job you're applying for. That means you must tell your story clearly, concisely, and concretely; your resume needs a beginning, middle, and end and should give the hiring manager a clear picture of where you've worked, in what capacity, and what skills you developed there. Don't worry too much about the hiring manager's biases; if you're including relevant skills, contextualizing your experience, and using the language of the job posting to generally guide your resume content, you'll be ahead of the curve. Focus only on telling the clear story of why your work history makes you a fit for the role, and you'll be able to put the puzzle pieces of your format together.
And if you're still worried that you don't have the "right" experience for the job, remember that those little things that depart from the hiring manager's expectations are often what make you stand out from other candidates. If you can bring a unique perspective to the table, consider it a bonus!
2. OVER-WRITING YOUR RESUME
Are having trouble fitting your resume on one page (or two if you're applying for an executive-level role)? Do you get nervous that the one thing the hiring manager is really looking for will be the one accomplishment you leave out? Do you find yourself doing complex math problems just so you can show the incremental growth of a show's ratings from before your time working on it to now?
If so, stop. Your resume is not intended to be a lengthy history of everything you've ever done. It's an overview with the goal of selling yourself as the right candidate for the role. How do you sell yourself? By responding to the buyer's needs. In this instance, that means tailoring your resume to the job posting and listing only the skills you have that align with what they're looking for. You have a cheat sheet for this test: If a skill is listed in the job posting, it's relevant, and if it isn't listed, it's not. That doesn't mean you need to repeat every single skill listed, either. Often, a job posting includes soft skills like communication and time management that you can illustrate in the context of other bullets. Focus on the requirements and any skills that come up multiple times -- those are the main skills the hiring manager is looking for.
And when it comes to listing accomplishments, don't go overboard. The hiring manager doesn't want to scan meaningless numbers, but rather, she wants to get a picture of how successful you were in your last role. Did you have a high volume of work? Did you develop a new initiative for the company? Did you work with any notable brands or on major projects? You know what you're most proud of at work without pulling out a calculator, so write that.
3. OVER-APPLYING FOR ROLES
If you're applying for 50 jobs a day -- or even 10! -- you're doing it wrong. Especially in this job market, it's unlikely that there are more than one or two new postings for the role you really want that will show up in a day. And here's the thing: Hiring managers want to hire someone who wants the job, not someone who knows how to submit an application quickly.
Slow down, and narrow your search. "Something in marketing" is not narrow, while "content writer for digital marketing firm" is. You should also create a targeted list of companies you're interested in. As long as you can articulate a specific goal, you're on the right track. Then, focus your networking efforts on people at those companies and in those roles. Tell everyone you know what you're looking for (be specific!) and ask them for help. When you see a posting you want to apply to, find someone -- or multiple someones -- who can refer you. Reach out to the recruiter on LinkedIn and express your interest. Make it clear that you really want this particular job. Yes, each application will take more time, but your application to interview ratio will be more favorable.
Following these tips won't make the job application process super duper fun, but it will make it more fruitful and less stressful. And if you still need support, ask for it! Have friends hold you accountable. Get a second set of eyes on your resume, whether it's a professional look from us or from a trusted peer. You don't have to go at this alone.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
In Hollywood, it’s easy to feel like everyone’s against you, especially when preparing for an interview – you’re thinking about all the trick questions you might get asked, worrying that your interviewer has some negative preconceived notions about you, and convincing yourself that she’s just trying to weed you out of a big pool of candidates. But in reality, the hiring manager is on your side! It's sort of the flip-side to finding reasons to say "no" to a candidate's resume to narrow down the list; employers don’t want to spend their days interviewing tons of candidates, so they're looking for a reason to say "yes" quickly.
If you can remember this, you’ll be able to drum up a lot more confidence during your interview. Think about it: This person has already seen your resume (likely more than one person has), and she’s come to the conclusion that you probably have the skills to do the job adequately. She believes in you enough to spend 30 minutes to an hour of her workday getting to know you better. That’s saying something. You are a qualified candidate. Just the fact that you got an interview proves it. This is good news, because all you have to do is confirm the interviewer’s expectation. You’re not working to overcome a negative first impression. This should be enough to calm your nerves.
At this point, the interviewer is trying to assess whether or not she and/or the team can connect with you on a personal level, and her hope is that the answer is a resounding yes! Especially if you've been referred for the role or someone's called on your behalf, the expectation is that she'll like you. Even if she's meeting you blindly, she connected with something on your resume or in your cover letter or LinkedIn profile. It’s kind of like online dating – when you like someone’s profile enough to go out with them on a date, aren’t you’re going into it hoping that it will work out? It’s the same with a job interview. The hiring manager really does want this to work! Keep in mind that if it doesn't work out, it doesn't mean you were unlikeable (just like you might go on dates with perfectly nice people who aren't "the one"), but there's only one person who can ultimately get the job.
When you’re mentally preparing for your interview, take a moment to remind yourself that you’ve gotten the interview because you deserve it, and that the hiring manager wants to like you. You should be going into the meeting with excitement and confidence – you’re meant to be there, so all you have to do is prove to the hiring manager that she was right to bring you in! And everyone likes to be right, right?
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan
You're ready to shake things up in your career, but you don't know exactly what you want to do next. All you know is you're done freelancing. As long as it's in-house, stable, and comes with benefits, you're interested.
Many of our clients feel this way and plan to put feelers out across the industry to land their next jobs. Although a more targeted approach will likely yield better results -- for instance, identifying a few companies that really interest you, or narrowing down job titles to those that include the skills you most enjoy -- it's completely understandable that you might want to test multiple waters as you make that career transition. But if you choose this path, you're going to need to spend a little more time than usual on your job applications.
Well, when you apply for a wide variety of jobs, you shouldn't be using the same resume for every application. Different positions require different skills, so you'll want to alter your resume accordingly. Look at the skills each posting asks for, and find the experiences you've had in the past that match what's listed. Think about everything you've done previously that qualifies you for the role, even if it wasn't a major aspect of your job, and include it on your resume.
You don't need to start from scratch every time. Instead, create a resume that encompasses all the different skills you bring to the table and orient it so it aligns with the jobs you're most excited about -- your professional summary (if you have one) and primary bullet points should match that particular type of role. This way, you'll have one resume for the bulk of your applications, and you may just need to do a quick keyword pass or remove one or two irrelevant bullet points each time.
But when you apply for a job that's a little different, you should revise your professional summary and reorganize (or rewrite) your bullets to match the specific nature of the role -- for example, if you're mostly applying for in-house producer roles at a network, but an open creative director role at a branded content firm catches your eye, you'd tweak your professional summary to include references to work you've done with brands and rearrange your bullet points to highlight skills related to integrations and branded content.
If you're applying equally to wildly disparate jobs -- like a post-production supervisor and a marketing director -- you'll need two separate resumes as your base. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's better to spend a few hours crafting multiple resumes (or hire us to do it!) than to spend weeks or months applying for jobs and getting nowhere. A generic resume simply won't work in this case. For one, you'll be up against a bunch of more traditional candidates who have the exact experience the hiring manager is looking for. You're not going to be able to compete with them if you're forcing the hiring manager to do a ton of extra work to identify the skills they're looking for in your resume (trust us, they won't bother). Plus, hiring managers can tell when your resume is one-size-fits-all, and that doesn't convey passion for that company or role, nor will it convince them that you're a multi-talented hyphenate they'd be honored to have on payroll.
The bottom line: You'll have much better luck in the job hunt if your resume is targeted, focused, and tells a clear story to the hiring manager about why you're the right fit for that particular job. So take the extra time to tailor your resume to the job posting -- it will make your job search that much shorter!
-- Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan