An aspiring writer soon to move to LA had a few questions.
HIM: I will obviously have to take another job. The best jobs would seem to me to be production assistant (watching a show get made from the inside) and writers assistant (working with someone who knows what they're doing). How do I start looking for work in these areas?
ME: First off, it helps to know somebody. ANYBODY. This is the automatic answer to any question involving industry employment. Don’t sleep with anyone to get one of these jobs. Having to get sandwiches for them is demoralizing enough. Short of a connection, write to every show and offer your services. Write to the production companies and networks too. Find out what writer/producers have development deals. They may need assistants. Do a little homework. Who went to your college? Who’s from your hometown? Who got drunk and sang “My Heart Will Go On” in a karaoke bar one night? Shows start staffing around the beginning of June. New ones are the best. You’re not competing with any returnees.
HIM: I'm working under the assumption that PA and WA jobs are entry level. Is this correct? What skills should I emphasize for these jobs?
ME: You are correct. As entry as can be. The pay scale was set by the Triangle Shirt Factory in 1911. For Writers Assistant positions you must be very proficient in computers, can type like the wind, and can hold your tongue when you hear morons less talented than you pitch jokes that people on laughing gas wouldn’t chuckle at. For a Production Assistant -- have a car.
HIM: What does a writers resume look like?
ME: There isn’t any standard format that I know of. I think Kinkos provides a few sample templates although they may insist you xerox a thousand copies before they’ll let you see them. It’s pretty basic. List pertinent information. What you’ve written, educational background, any awards, previous experience that might be impressive. Leave out hobbies and special skills. You’re not an actor. We don’t give a shit that you can fence, yodel, or ride a horse.
HIM: What other jobs might you recommend that might help me as a developing writer?
ME: A script reader, providing coverage for a studio. Interning at a studio or network in their development or current departments. Mailroom in a talent agency (the Guantanamo prison of show biz). Personal assistant to a writer (if a writer can afford a personal assistant he’s probably somebody and helpless). Network page. Dialogue coach.
HIM: Where could I go to get an unbiased critique?
ME: It’s not a question of whether the reader is unbiased. It’s whether he knows a good script from GIGLI. Writing instructors often are a good source. Or fellow writers whose opinions you trust. I’d avoid the folks who want to charge you to critique your script. They’re usually bad writers with gambling debts.
HIM: Are there any contests, competitions etc. that you consider legit? For example if you were considering hiring a new writer what contest could they have under their belt which might make you inclined to give them a thumbs up?
ME: A Heisman Trophy. Actually, there’s no one contest that is the Pulitzer of specs. But any competition you win or place highly in is a plus… except maybe PROJECT GREENLIGHT. Winning the Diane Thomas Award from UCLA is pretty big stuff. You would certainly get agent consideration by acing one of these competitions. And whatever prize or bowling trophy you get is keen. If you win a playwrighting contest you might get the benefit of a reading or staged production of your work. That’s way more valuable than a plaque. But ultimately it’s your spec script that is going to sell you.
HIM: Are there any other examples of my work that a potential employer might consider? Sketches or short films? Could a DVD of my work ever be appropriate? (assuming I could get a few shorts made)
ME: The short answer is no. Sketch material and short films might help you secure an agent but won’t even be considered by producers looking to staff or hand out writing assignments on sitcoms. The last thing you want a producer to say when he picks up your sample is “What the fuck is this?” It’s all in the spec, baby.
ME TO ALL: Best of luck. More tomorrow.