Should Wannabe Writers Be PAs?

Corey writes:

Due to the nature of production and the long shifts, would you still recommend PA to someone trying to write films? Many writers have told me that it is often best to pick a job that allows you to pay bills and still have time to write. Since you are obviously doing both, your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

I’m of two minds about this. As John August and Craig Mazin are always saying on their podcast1, writing a good script is worthless if nobody reads it. Working in a production office is a great way to meet producers who might like your script.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a production office. You could just work for a production company or an agency or some other industry-related job.

Is being a PA better than those other positions? I don’t know. I want to write for TV, so it seems like a good place.

I also firmly believe that everyone should be a PA, for at least a little while. I know way too many producers who are totally out of it, who have no idea what the rest of the crew is doing to make their show. You don’t want to be that guy.

On the other hand, I feel like the majority of writers I know have never been a PA. They either started their writing career straight out of college, or they were an assistant for several years.

But who’s to say what worked for them will work for me? Or you?

PAing does take a lot of time. Some days I just don’t have the energy to write, even if I do have time. For some people, that’s not an issue. Maybe you can wake up at 5:00am every day and burn through a few pages before work. Maybe you can write all day, and not be bothered when you get called away to do some menial task.

Also, I’ve been doing this PA thing for a while. So maybe I’m pretty good evidence that you shouldn’t be a PA.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You do listen to Scriptnotes, don’t you?
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8 Responses

  1. it’s a good idea to pa for a little bit , but after a few years you should try to make a move (or a movie) before the dreaded BurntoutPaSyndrome turns you into a salty dog that has lost their original inspiration for being in the film industry.

  2. Not that reality/nonfic writing is the same enchilada as traditional scripted, but I came in as a logger/transcriber (another entry-level, lotsa time in the office sort of gig) and developed a relationship with the producers that got me going in the story department within the first year.

  3. The best is to do a typical job that doesn’t require you to think, like a barrista. That way not only do you get a small income, but you get out of the house for a while everyday, and yet you’re brain isn’t drained by the workload so you are insipred to write when you get home. A PA job is overrated.

    1. It’s a good theory, but re-read the first sentence of my reply. That’s not just my advice; that’s two big time writers saying it.

  4. “I also firmly believe that everyone should be a PA, for at least a little while.”

    Some of my favorite moments as a PA have been when I’ve sat with a producer, director, or editor and listened to their PA war stories. It’s very encouraging for a PA to realize that people that were once in their position have been successful in their careers.

    It’s also probably not a coincidence that those were also the ones that treated me the best and were the easiest to work for.

  5. I emailed TAPA a question very similar to this about a year ago. His snarky response was to bite the bullet and get a job in the industry. So, I interned at a company, they hired me and I’m further along in my writing career than I ever was before.

  6. Wait! You know writers, plural, who started their career straight out of college? Where and how? The received wisdom I’ve always heard is that this is more or less impossible. Could I trouble you for any more info on what sorts of things these people did to get those gigs?

    1. Certain schools help writers meet agents and producers. That’s all I really know. If I knew more, I’d be the Anonymous Writer.

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