The hardest job to get on any TV series is probably not what you think. It’s not director, since there are often as many directors as there are episodes. It’s not producer, either; you can’t throw a rock on set without hitting some producer or other. The rarest job isn’t above the line at all.
In fact, it’s got “assistant” in the title: the writers’ assistant.
There Can Be Only One
In a room full of writers, there is only one writers’ assistant. (Some of the more senior writer/producers my have their own personal assistant, but that’s a different story.)
Just about every aspiring writer first aspires to be a writing assistant. That’s because there’s a mytholgy around the job, that it’s a stepping stone to becoming a full-fledged writer. And it is… for the writers’ assistant.
Most writers didn’t get in the room by being writers’ assistants, though. They did it by writing. They did writing fellowships; they won competitions; they self-produced award-winning short films. They did a million different things that impressed an agent, a manager, a producer, whatever.
There isn’t a specific career path for writers. You don’t have to be a writers’ PA, then assistant, then coordiantor, then staff writer, etc.
You Are Not Ready
Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with the assistant-to-writer path. It can work. It’s just not a straightforward career ladder that many people, especially those who’ve just graduated from film school and don’t have much real-world experience, seem to think it is.
I cannot tell you how many people sign up for our resume consultation service with nothing but student films for credit, and tell me their near-term goal is to be a writers’ assistant.
Too many people are competing for that job. With no experience and no connections, you’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightening while being eaten by a shark who’s scratching off a winning lottery ticket.
Writers’ assistant and writers’ PA jobs are generally given to people with connections to the writers in question. How do you make connections if your last name isn’t Whedon or Nolan?
You’ve gotta start at the bottom. Despite the word “assistant” in the title, writers’ assistant is not the bottom. Below that is a writers’ PA. Below that is an office PA. And you’re not going to get an office PA job on a network series unless you have some other PA credits to your name, which means working for free or cheap on shitty independent movies.
It’s Not a Straight Line
People (including me) like to use the metaphor of climbing a ladder for your career. But that implies a straightforward path. You start on this rung, then step to that rung, then up and up until you finally reach the top.
But the entertainment industry is weird. There are a lot of paths to reach your destination. Don’t fixate on one particular job as a necessary step because you heard some writer mention it on a podcast one time.
Especially when you’re starting out, be open to taking any job. You might find a shortcut you never even knew existed.
Getting That First Job
As I said, Hollywood is weird. Even our resumes don’t look the same as you’d find in any other industry. That’s why we offer daily webinars where we teach people how to properly format their resume in a way that’s eye-catching and effective.
TAPA learned this method while working at a below-the-line agency, where they created resumes for everyone from line producers to DPs to editors. No matter what your level of experience, this format helps you highlight your strengths while downplaying any holes in your career path.