It’s no secret that becoming a writer for a TV show or movie is one of the most coveted positions in the entire film industry. The demand is very high. However, becoming a Hollywood writer can be a very difficult and mysterious process. The easiest path towards becoming a big-shot writer is by starting at the bottom, as a writer’s assistant. Fortunately for you, FilmToolKit has put together this guide on everything you need to know about writers assistant jobs. From what the jobs may entail, to where to find them and how to get them.
How To Find Writers Assistant Jobs
The film industry is very competitive, especially if you are in a city with a thriving film industry like Los Angeles, NY, Or Atlanta. Because of this fact, it can often be quite difficult to find jobs via traditional resources like classifieds and job listings. That’s why you should shift your focus away from searching for the jobs, and towards searching for the people.
Find The People, Not The Jobs.
Nearly all film jobs are obtained via interpersonal relationships and word of mouth. The amount of nepotism and favoritism in the industry can be a bit frustrating, unless you’re considering how you can use it to your advantage.
Rather than writing it all out again here, I’m going to suggest reading our comprehensive guide on how to become a production assistant. While it’s geared towards aspiring production assistants, it contains very thorough instructions on how you can effectively network in the film industry, even if you have no experience or connections.
If you’re too lazy to read that, the essence of the story is to meet as many people related to film as possible and add value to their lives. Ask everyone you know, and pursue any possible avenue to find people related to the entertainment industry. Prove your work ethic, maintain strong friendships with them, let them know you’re interested in working, and capitalize hard when the opportunities present themselves to you.
After some brief interviews with the writing assistants on a few of the shows I’ve worked on, I discovered that nearly every single one got their job by either knowing one of the writers personally, or knowing someone else who referred them to the writers. I’ve never actually seen a job listing for a writer’s assistant, and if they do actually exist, it appears that nobody is getting hired through them.
In fact, if you were to find a job listing, it could be argued that responding to it would only make you look more unprofessional. People who work consistently in the industry never have to do this. It’s always better to reach out to someone personally.
Bonus Tip: Going off of what we said about personal connections, sometimes you may even be able to get a position by sending out personal e-mails to established industry workers or DMs to big writers on Instagram. Remember, as long as you’re kind and respectful, it really never hurts to try!
Allow Them To Discover Your Amibitions
So, you’ve done a good deal of networking and you’ve earned a position as a general PA or other assistant. You’re suddenly finding yourself surrounded by people with the ability to give you a boost to where you want to be. Remember, these people are your most important connections and you need to make sure that they don’t think you’re just using them. So how do you get them to help you find writer’s assistant jobs without appearing sleazy?
You don’t. You keep things organic.
Instead, you put your head down, strengthen your relationships, and work your ass off. If are really capable of doing all that, people will start to take notice. “Who the hell is this kid and how is his attitude so positive all the time?” – that’s the kind of impression you want to be leaving on people.
Eventually, they will begin to ask you about your ambitions in the film industry, and this is when you go in for the sale. Be very clear that you have a fixed dream of being a writer and will stop at nothing until you achieve it. Ask them for their advice and allow them to flex their expertise over you. People love to talk about themselves.
Don’t expect anything in return. Ulterior motives are often easier to pick up on than one might think, and you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. If they don’t want to do anything to help you on your quest, you need to be okay with that.
How To Get Writers Assistant Jobs
Now that we’ve discussed everything you need to know to find a job as a writer’s assistant, let’s talk about what you’ll need to learn in order to get it and keep it.
What Does A Writers Assistant Do?
Assist the writers.
Okay, that’s a joke, hopefully the jobs you find are actual “writer’s assistant” gigs and not just jobs where you assist a writer by cooking and cleaning for them at home.
Typically you’ll be working in a writer’s room with all the big creatives doing the same, somewhat menial tasks every day.
- Take Notes – This is 99% of the job. You will just be sitting down writing what everyone else is saying and taking important notes regarding the content and the context of the conversations. Be very thorough. These people are paid a lot to think and talk, you don’t want to potentially waste thousands of dollars by not writing down a key idea.
- Organize Ideas – Simply writing down notes is not all that helpful on it’s own. You need to compile all of the ideas, their relationships to one another, the opinions expressed by the different creative heads, and any other information that could possibly be important. When you hand your documents off to your superior they need to be easy to decipher and genuinely helpful.
- Doing Research – If people have any sort of questions that need to be answered, you’ll be the brainpower they allocate towards that. “Did Westworld do that episode idea already?”, “What kind of doctor specializes in foot health?”, “Who were some famous actors from the 60s who are completely obscure now?”. These are all important questions that will be asked when writing a TV show or movie, and the writers are too busy brainstorming to do the busywork.
- Offering Reminders – Sometimes people can be somewhat forgetful. If someone’s pitching an idea that was already discussed and shot down earlier, remind everyone! Remember every idea that were liked by anyone and bring it up when it’s important. Sadly, because of your low position and allegedly lower experience, people won’t value your personal opinion too much. However, regurgitating other people’s opinions is a great way to demonstrate your value without being personally invested.
Generally, shows can have anywhere between 5-15 writers working in a room. There will likely only be one writers assistant, and your job is the only one that will not be very creative. Just accept that it is a part of the process and that one day, the shoe will be on the other foot.
How Can I Be A Good Writers Assistant?
If you want to keep your job as a writer’s assistant, you’re going to need to be on the top of your game. The position is in-demand and incredibly-demanding. The turnover rate is very high, you usually won’t have time to be trained or learn the job. Luckily, if you’re already reading this and looking into how you can do a good job, your chances are pretty good.
Here are a few tips to help you perform to the best of your abilities once you’ve landed a job, and maximize your chance of keeping it, and getting promoted one day.
- Sharpen Your Skills – You’ll need to be a fast typist, so if you’re not, you’ll need to get some formal education to bring yourself up to speed. In addition to that, you should take the time to learn the proper etiquette and hierarchy of the production team. In the film industry, it is often very important that you’re not just listening to people, but listening to the right people, and in the right order.
- Stay in line – Knowing your place and staying within your depth is a very important part of film-industry politics. Make sure you never are interrupting anyone. Remember you’re there to work, not to climb. Don’t try to show anyone your spec script, or bring it up, unless someone asks. Don’t offer your ideas for improving the story, unless they ask you. You should be too busy getting stuff done to even have anything to contribute anyways.
- Be as likable as possible – This doesn’t necessarily mean kiss ass and tell people what they want to here. The key here is to be a person who genuinely enjoys being around and appreciates the opportunity he has been granted. Sometimes days will run between 14-16 hours, and your patience will really be tested. If you can remain positive, fun, and hard working through all the difficult times, people will see to it that you eventually climb. This is when you’re making your important connections, and if the hard work turns you bitter, you’ll be practically blacklisted.
- Don’t Ask Too Many Questions – This is a big one for any low level position in the film industry. Of course, there are some questions that you’ll need to ask to do your job properly. The key is to know the best time to ask, and to ASK YOURSELF FIRST. If you ever ask a question to someone important, and they reveal that the answer would have been obvious if you just thought about it a little harder, you’ll come out looking baaaaaad.
Don’t stress out, try your best, and remember, if you have a likable personality and a strong work ethic, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spot at the top one day. Just try your hardest to be self-aware.
Oh, and don’t text at work or go on social media. Also, most definitely do not tell your friends about the confidential information discussed in the writer’s room. You’ll be gone forever.