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The Best Advice For Becoming a Writers’ Assistant

Earlier this week, script coordinator Kate Powers shared some advice with fellow SCs on a private board. With her permission, I’m re-posting it here for all of you to read:

If there’s a job you’re interested in, approach someone who does that job and see if they’ll talk to you about their path, what their job entails, etc. It’s not admitting weakness to acknowledge that you have no idea what a certain job involves — it shows that you know what you don’t know, which is a valuable asset in support staff.1

Informational interviews are actually a thing. I have done… twenty of them? Thirty? I can’t remember anymore. But for the last five years, if someone emailed me directly, explained how they got my name/email, and why they wanted to talk, I would AT THE VERY LEAST answer their email. If time allowed, I’d jump on the phone for half an hour, and even met folks for coffee. (Of course, all this is dependent on the person being fairly professional and non-weird, which most people are.)

Now, not everyone will be cool with this. Or they’ll WANT to help, but their schedules will make it impossible. (That’s the category I’m in now — I had to go on informational-interview-hiatus last month, and I have no idea when I’ll come be able to come off. But there are lots of other assistants in the sea! And btw, don’t get obsessed with reaching people on “cool” shows — we all work hard, we all know a ton about how the industry works. And, ahem, we’re all flattered when someone asks our advice.)

If you’ve never done an informational interview, let me reveal a little-known secret about them: When I meet with someone and they’re awesome, I mentally file their name away for future reference. I get asked for recommendations all the time — and sometimes I have openings of my own to fill. In both cases, I’d much rather go with someone I’ve met and liked, than post the job on the UTA list and drown in a sea of resumes.

That is not to say that informational interviews are a guaranteed way to find work. They’re not. Don’t go on them assuming you’re in the running for a job. But if you’re wondering why on earth some assistant would meet with a total stranger and answer their questions, be aware that “some assistant” is getting something out of it too.

Look, it’s a free country, you can do what you want. Ignore this post. Write me off as a crank. But in my experience, mass emails to a mailing list, asking about openings — particularly the most competitive, rigorously screened openings in the industry, like WA and EP Asst — don’t usually lead to jobs. The opposite actually: They make the sender look amateurish and inexperienced. Reach out to someone personally, ask for their advice and see where that leads you.

This is fantastic advice, and you should all listen to her. Kate’s been on Breaking Bad, The Good Wife and Rectify. I guarantee you like at least one of those shows.

And since we’re talking about going out and meeting people, I should remind you once again of the TAPA event next week. It’ll be a great opportunity to make friend with people at your level, who will eventually break through to the next level.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Also, listen to Crew Call, now on iTunes!
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2 Responses

  1. I completely agree with this post. As a fellow assistant in the feature world, I used to always ask other assistant around me what the job entails. I cannot tell you how helpful it was to know because once I got into the assistant world I found out a lot of it is true. Nowadays I always try to meet or at least answer every email because back then when I needed it someone helped me out. Now many assistants I fear don’t do this because they may see it as a threat but trust me in the long wrong, meeting for these information interviews is beneficial for the person and for the assistant.

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