Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Advice for aspiring LA bound writers

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.


Alex Epstein said...

My personal feeling is, production assistant is pointless. You learn how a show is physically made. Great if you want to be a Unit Production Manager. Useless for a writer.

It's pretty hard to get a writer's assistant job, though it is a great back door in.

My first job was producer's assistant, which helped me learn what a producer looks for in a script. But in retrospect working at an agency would have taught me more, faster.. Fortunately there are some online job listings..

Anonymous said...

what if you're a Canadian who wants to write in L.A.

CharlieDontSurf said...

I've been trying for the last year 1/2 to get a TV WA position...been a runner, office assistant, etc. Just getting a assistant gig at a production studio is tough enough.

But no luck. I've had one or two aquantainces get them but its usually due to a great connection from their wife or uncle or something. If I could score a gig by sleeping with someone...I hate to say it but I'd probably do it...as long as they were female...and I was drunk.

Best of luck though...I'm gonna try the write a letter to every writer on all the shows I like deal. It won't work but it can't hurt...plus my last name is hard to forget...so if I ever score a interview we can have a laugh given that I was that douche bag who sent the dopey letter.

By Ken Levine said...


I beg to differ. Quite a few PA's I've worked with have gone on to have nice careers. One became the VP of comedy at NBC. Others became writers and directors. A lot of shows (and I can only speak for sitcoms) will rotate their PA's -- a few weeks on the stage, a few weeks in the production office, a few weeks in the writers office. For the absurd hours and pay they do get to witness every facet of how a show is made. And they do get to make contacts.

I agree those jobs are hard to get but I believe still worth pursuing.

Danny Stack said...

I was production assistant on a sitcom here in the UK a few years back and it was a great experience watching the writers write it, then rewrite it, then rewrite it at the studio in front of the audience. The amount of work they did was staggering. Helped me boost my professional appreciation and application to what's needed to get good stuff made, and to get out there.

Frank Strovel III said...

Ken, this might somewhat off-topic but I wonder if you're familiar with the lawsuit brought against the producers of "Friends".

A former writer (I think) is suing because she was constantly subjected to sexually charged talk during writers meetings. She claims she had to listen to the guys talk about their personal sex lives thus claiming harrassment.

They claim that their "sex-talk" was part of the writing process and that that is the norm in the business.

Any thoughts or insights on this? Maybe for another post?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic advice, Ken, thank you. As I'm taking a break from harrassing studio lot operators for my job hunt to read this, it's very timely as well.

By Ken Levine said...


I will eventually post on that subject. I've been following it from day one. The case is being heard currently by the California Supreme Court. If I may just offer my brief legal opinion? It's BULLSHIT.

Anonymous said...

In Hollywood, it seems nine times out of Ten:

Lawsuits are for talentless losers.

Rinse and Repeat.

Anonymous said...

Warner Bros. Television runs a PA training program. There's some information about it at WBJobs.com. I believe they offer paid positions and may even offer health benefits.

Alex Epstein said...

Sounds like PA in TV is way different from PA in movies, where I came up. PA in movies does not help you become a writer.

By Ken Levine said...

In movies it's hard to learn from the writer because usually the writer has been banned from the set.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree with alex epstein that being a PA being pointless for a writer trying to make some money and get some contacts.

What other position gets you to talk and interact with the most people? And PA jobs, of all the assisting jobs, are by far the easiest to get and much more numerous.

I, personally, DO think it's important for the writer to have some understanding about the process of filmmaking. would you hire an engineer to design you a bridge who knows nothing about the physical process of how it will be built?

There's a lot to learn about writing for both TV and movies, and not all of it has to do with words on a page.

CharlieDontSurf said...

I agree...though I doubt being a movie PA is going to lead to a job writing for TV or as a staff writer's assistant, scoring a PA job can in fact lead to one...even if it is not on that current show. I've known one aquaintence who became chummy with one of the writers on a show while working as a PA. The writer switched shows the following season and my friend scored a writer's assistant interview and then the gig because of it.

The catch is scoring a PA job on a TV show isn't easy.

If you have the time and money..i.e- you can work for free-your best bet is probably to score an internship at a smaller production studio that produces TV or even on a writing staff. You'll occasionally see this listed in the UTA Joblist under internship...but you almost always have to be in college to qualify.

If you can't work for free, or already graduated college...well then your fucked...like me...lol.

Oh well, there's always porn...or being Scott Rudin's assistant.

Scott the Reader said...

Hey. Some of the people who critique people's scripts for money are nice guys who are doing it cheaply.

Or maybe I'm the only one.

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