Elle writes in:
I’m a production assistant on a talk show. I’ve been in Los Angeles since 2012 after my relocation from Florida to pursue a career in the motion picture industry. I’m still very new and learning everyday, but at this point, I’d like to know what the next step should be.
My goal is to write for television and film, starting as a writer’s assistant if I can find the opportunity. But, what unions can I join while I’m a PA? Or how should I approach joining the WGA or Warner Brothers writer’s program?
Okay, some of my readers are laughing at Elle right now, and that’s not fair. At one point, you didn’t know any of this stuff, either.
There is no PA union. Who would want to join it? You should only be a PA for a few years; don’t make a career out of it.
I’m not sure how unions work outside of Hollywood (season 2 of The Wire really confused me), but in Hollywood, you don’t hang out at the union hall, waiting for someone in need of a union electrician to call.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a DP or a camera assistant, an AD or a PA, everyone finds work the same way– calling everyone in your network and saying, “Hey, my show just wrapped. Got any work for me?” Eventually, if you’re very, very good at your job, people will start calling you and asking if you’re available. The union has nothing to do with finding you work.
Don’t get me wrong, IATSE (the umbrella union most Hollywood crafts fall under) does lots of good. They set union wages, enforce safety regulations, provide insurance for members. They even benefit non-union PAs, by setting minimum turn around times.
So, you don’t just “join” the WGA. There wouldn’t be any point. What you have to do is write, show that writing to someone who can hire you,1 and only then join the guild.
Again, WGA does lots of good. Along with negotiating minimums and offering a generous insurance plan, the WGA arbitrates screen credit.2 This is so some producer can’t change a comma to a semicolon and say, “Hey, I did a re-write! My name should go on there, too.”
Elle has been PAing for close to three years, it sounds like, which is great. The only problem is, she works for a talk show, which doesn’t sound like the kind of writing she wants to do.3 The next step, really, should be finding work on a narrative feature or television show. That’s where you’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow into the position of writer.