Jack writes writes in:
I’m planning a move to LA in February next year to become a TV writer. I have a friend in development at a major network and another contact that executively produces a cable series. I’ve already met with them, they know I’m moving, and have offered to help and read anything I give them.
Would it be too much to also basically ask them to help me get a writer’s assistant/writer’s PA job as well? I mean in a nice way, of course. I’m just curious if that’s standard fare or if I’d be overstepping my bounds if I’m straight-up like “Can you help me get a writer’s assistant or writer’s PA job?”
As someone who gives advice to young people such as yourself, I’d say you should absolutely exploit any advantage you can to get ahead. It’s hard enough to get a regular PA job, much less a writers’ PA gig. As long as these people are actual friends, and you’re not just using them, then go for it.
As someone who’s worked in this business for years and wants the job you’re talking about, I despise you and everything you stand for.
There’s nothing wrong with using connections to get your foot in the door. But a writers’ assistant is not a foot-in-the-door job. People1 have put years into this business, trying to work their way up to that job. When they get passed over for someone like you, who just happens to know the right person, that’s just… just…
And it’s really not just the fact of being undeservedly passed over for promotion.2 I’ve worked on a too many shows where the producer’s assistant or writer’s PA doesn’t know his asshole from his elbow. I got a call from one assistant, asking if the office was going to be open late.
Crew call was 7:00, so I said, “Well, I guess that depends on how you define ‘late.'”
He said, “Like, after 5:30?”
Have you ever worked on a show before? We work twelve hours, minimum. Minimum! Of course, we’ll still be here at 5:30! Who the fuck gets out of the office before 5:30?
And that’s just a couple of terrible assistants. What’s worse is what these assistants will eventually become. I know many producers who have never worked in any department but the writer’s office. Either through connections or luck or whatever, they’ve lived in a rarefied world for their entire career.
This becomes a problem when they start making changes to a script without actually understanding the consequences to the budget, the schedule, or the crew. You know, the people who actually work so hard every day to bring your imaginary story to life?
Hell, the showrunner I work for now, I’d bet you a thousand dollars he couldn’t point out a grip on set, much less tell me what a grip does. I’ve actually heard him say, “Why would making it a night scene cost more?”
He’s a showrunner. Why doesn’t he know these things? Because he had connections and became a writers’ assistant straight out of film school. Just like you, Jack.
Does that sound like somebody you’d like to be? I hope not. At the beginning of this post, I advised you to use whatever connections you had. Here’s some better advice: don’t use your connections yet.
Try to become a more rounded person, learn about all the departments, what they do, what sort of people they are. Being a set or an office PA is the best way to do that. After a season or two, ask your friends if they might help you get in the writer’s room. You’ll be a better writer, and better producer, for it.