I follow @MysteryTVWrtrAs on Twitter. Apparently we’ve met before, but I have no idea who it is, and I know nothing about this person’s gender/ethnicity/age. I’m not even sure whether this person works in comedy or drama. We got chatting one night on Twitter, and I asked to do an interview. This person’s anonymity allowed for some candid answers about being a writers’ assistant.
What’s a typical day like as a writers’ assistant?
Every day is different. But a typical day is keeping your ass in the seat and taking notes. All the other writers get up to pee, you stay in your seat. Have an important call/text, redirect it to your laptop. I now have carpal tunnel due to many hours over many months with an indecisive Showrunner. It sucks, but it’s the path I chose.
How should someone go about trying to get a job as writers’ assistant?
My story: I was a PA on a show (how did I get that?…there was a listing for a PA gig on the studio website). While the other PA’s would take the long runs for the mileage reimbursement, I would get to know the writers by doing the short runs. Eventually the writers’ assistant was let go, and they needed someone ASAP…ME!!
Can you talk about the etiquette in the room? How should a writers’ assistant behave? How about a staff writer?
Every room is different. Luckily I’ve worked for EP’s who like to hear my pitches, just make sure you are taking notes first, generating ideas second.
My note-taking lesson for you aspirings is to look at the EP. Did they react? Laugh? Grimace? If it’s a positive reaction, I write it down. One time I had an EP who wanted EVERYTHING written down– then 2 weeks later would complain about 65 pages of notes. This was the EP who caused my carpal tunnel.
What’s your relationship like with the writers? Show runner? Other assistants and coordinators?
I am friendly with everyone in and out of the room, makes life easier. I’m somewhat funny, and since I stifle a lot in the room, there’s always an APOC or other crew member who I crack up outside the room. Usually when I run to the copier, it’s in the same room as the Production Staff. So after taking notes for a few hours, I have all this creative energy waiting for a release. I love to make em laugh…to the crew, I’m the funny guy in the room.
What’s the best part of the job? What’s the worst?
The best part of the job is seeing your pitch get a huge laugh or approval in the room. Especially the writers you respect. My favorite memory is having a consulting producer (who was in their 50’s and worked on many great shows)– he laughed his ass off at my pitch. The pitch didn’t make it to the script, but his laugh…the rooms he had been in, all the pitches he heard from great writers….and MY PITCH had him burst his belly. Can’t take that away from me.
I also love when my pitch makes it to broadcast. Especially if it causes a controversy on twitter/youtube (yes I check!)
The worst part is all TV shows are eventually cancelled….and I seem to work for the shows that get cancelled before I get a shot at a script/staffing position.
Do you think there are any extra challenges for the women or minority writers on staff, or is that a nonissue?
I’ve worked in rooms staffed with 100% white males. I’ve worked in rooms staffed with 100% non-white males. Be they black, white, Latin, or Asian… women get the shit end of the stick.
Is there anything you wish writers would do differently in terms of interacting w you?
Most writers are kind and grateful for my presence and notes. Many I like, most I respect, a few I still get drinks with after the show ends.
A lot of jokes are directed my way, as I’m the low person on the totem pole…but I love a good joke. I love originality. The room is filled with talented individuals. Bring it!
Is there competitiveness between other assistants and coordinators? Is there jockeying for position? Does that exist between the writers?
On my first show, the EP assistant wanted to be a studio exec, so there was no competition between us, only getting the job done. Since then, the EP assistants all wanted my gig. So yeah, I’ve been played.
I’ve also seen an EP coup. Happened really fast, and that EP hasn’t worked since. Not surprisingly, this is the same EP who screwed up my wrist. But I leaned a valuable lesson from this EP, at some point it doesn’t matter if you choose A or B, just keep moving forward.
I work in a room where people make a good salary (WGA minimum $4k/week) sitting around a table creating stories. Most writers are artists, entertainers, they’re good folks. A few are going to do dishonest things.
I tweeted something the other day that was quite popular: ‘Writers’ Assistant Tip: The talented writers want to nurture your career, the hacks want to make sure you don’t steal “their” seat.’
Let’s talk networking – Do’s, Don’ts. (maybe you want to talk about that lady with the scripts?)
Hah! Yeah, I went to a networking event recently where someone was walking around with several hardcopies of their feature. If I want to read you, email me…I want to shake hands and drink, not hold your script for the next two hours.
Now that I think about it, the next networking event I’m bringing 40 copies of my script. I’ll hand it out to everyone. They’ll all walk around looking crazy, and I’m the only sane person without a script…come chat with me!
Any last bit of advice you want to share?
My advice is this: This is a tough business. You will most likely be a lot better off financially if you choose to become a public school teacher and earn a salary and retire with a pension. But if you choose to stick it out—dig deep. Emotionally, physically, financially–stand your ground.
Yes, nepotism and hackery exists.
But let it go—and write. Some children of famous Hollywood, and some 23 y/o Harvard grads are actually talented. But if they is or they aint…it doesn’t matter. Keep pushing and use your voice. I’m close to breaking in, I can feel it…I can see it in my writing–but it takes time. Lots of time.
So make friends, hike on the weekends–the tortured writer is bullshit. Smoke, drink, screw, meditate your dharma bum off, but the only good writer is the writer who keeps writing.
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Thanks to MysteryTVWritersAsst for taking the time to do this interview! Follow on Twitter at @MysteryTVWrtrAs