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The Ultimate Guide to TV Writing Assistant Jobs

Updated: Feb 19


Hollywood - the TV writing capital of the world

Many people looking to break into TV writing think the first step is finding an assistant job. And while this is a good first step, it's not because you can climb a ladder that leads you directly to being a paid TV writer. Those days are over.


TV shows don't last long enough and you don't have enough time to climb the ranks. However, these jobs can build your network, they can show you what it's like to be in a TV writers' room and they can teach you how to write.


My writing sucked before I stepped foot into a writers' room. Many will argue it still sucks today. But it unquestionably improved after spending time in a writers' room.


But here's the problem. Simply saying "I want an assistant job" isn't good enough. You need to know what those assistant jobs are and, more importantly, what those job titles mean.


It's great to be the go-getter in the interview who's ready to take on any task. But it's even better if you go into that interview knowing exactly what those tasks are.


In addition, there are a few assistant jobs that don't deal with writers and are a bit outside the classic "assistant trail" to becoming a writer.


So, in this post, I want to focus on what jobs can get you closer to the writers' room, what those jobs entail, and how those jobs can help you progress in your career.


And I say this having been employed in every single job on this list. Some of these jobs are difficult, and in the wrong environment, they're not worth taking them. But in the right environment, these jobs can change your life.



TV writing assistant jobs


TV Writing Assistant Jobs


Writers' Production Assistant

You've probably heard of production assistants because, how could you not? They're ubiquitous and, for up-and-comers, they're most people's starting point in terms of a job.


But not all PA jobs are the same. And for our purposes, we're going to focus on the writers' production assistant because those are the ones who interact directly with the writers. First, a bit of background information...


On most shows, there is a production office and a writers' office. Sometimes these offices are connected, but other times, they are in completely different locations.


The production office will have their PAs and the writers' office will have theirs. And if you're just looking to get your foot in the door, any PA job will do. But if you really want to get close to the writers, a writers' PA job is what you're looking for. Most of this career is about making connections and networking, and it helps to be around the people whose job you want.


So, what do writers' PAs actually do?


Basically they cater to the writers. This means getting coffee, getting lunch, and so on. It also means gathering the writers into golf carts and bringing them to the set. It may mean doing small tasks like printing out scripts, or keeping the writers' kitchen clean. (This seems like a small task, but for some reason writers treat kitchens like cesspools. After lunch, peanut butter will be smeared on every surface, garbage will be in the sink... it's mayhem in there.)



Writers' PA duties


On some shows, this job, while tedious and not very stimulating, can be rather easy. On other shows, some writers will take any down time you have and you'll be asked to do personal tasks.


This is not right and should be told to your boss (usually the production coordinator). You are a production assistant, not a personal assistant. Make sure to make those boundaries clear.


Here are some of the plus sides...


This job happens all at once, like at lunch time, where you're collecting lunch orders, placing them and then jetting off to the lunch spot, but then it grinds to a halt.


You'll often have long periods of time when you're not doing anything. Once you've established a good rapport with the writers, and particularly the showrunner, this is a good opportunity to ask to sit in the writers' room. As long as you don't have any work that should be getting done, this is an amazing chance to take it all in and see what TV writing is all about.


Writers' Assistant

Many people take this title to mean a writer's assistant, as opposed to a writers' assistant (note the apostrophes). In other words, this job is not a personal assistant job to a writer. This is a whole other thing that has nothing to do with personal assistant or PA duties. This assistant job is one of the few that takes place in the writers' room.



TV writers' room


During a typical day in a writers' room, the writers will sit around a conference table and talk about story. They'll build on the conversations from the day before and eventually some solid structure to the season and finely tuned episodes come out the other side.


And to make sure that this talk doesn't fly into the ether, the writers' assistant is there to write it all down. So, while a conversation is taking place, the writers' assistant is typing furiously, taking notes on everything that's being said.


Eventually, writers' rooms will land on a general shape or important points that they want to focus on. The writers' assistant will highlight these or put them at the top of the document.


Then, at the end of the day, the whole document is sent out to the writers and the showrunner so they can review the material and be prepared for the following day's discussion.


This job puts you in the thick of it. You are literally in the room where the show is being crafted and it's your job to capture it all. So, you become one of the people most familiar with the show.


Not only that, but in the right writers' room, you can pitch your story or jokes and start getting attention as a writer rather than an assistant.


This is difficult because while the other writers get to think about their pitch and maybe even write it down, you need to think of your cleverly crafted pitch while writing down other people's ideas. It's nearly impossible. But it's the best way for the room to look at you as a writer, and a well-received pitch will put you in a good position for a potential freelance script.


Freelance scripts are scripts written by somebody outside the regular writing staff. There's usually one given out per season and they generally go to either the script coordinator or the writers' assistant.


My first two scripts were freelance scripts and I wrote them while I was a writers' assistant and script coordinator respectively. They literally changed my life. They pulled me out of debt and got me into the WGA.



My first freelance script

My first freelance script


So, that's the good. Here's the bad...


Writers' assistant jobs are extremely hard. You are literally typing all day long and most people in this position experience some sort of carpal tunnel.


You don't feel like you can leave the room because suddenly nobody's getting the writers' ideas down. It means you have to be "on" all day long with only a small break for lunch.


That being said, there's no better way to learn how to be a writer than being in a TV writers' room. And this is how many people experience it for the first time.


Script Coordinator

This is the highest-level job in TV writing assistant-dom. So fancy it doesn't even have "assistant" in the title anymore. Before I get into the duties of this job, I need to mention that there's a big difference in what script coordinators do on comedies and dramas.


And often in comedies, script coordinators and writers' assistants, though they hold different levels of seniority, basically overlap their duties, so each one does a piece of both of these jobs.


On any TV show, the script coordinator is in control of the script. They're the one actually making the changes to the Final Draft file, proofreading the document, making sure the formatting is correct and then sending it to the people who need it.


Sounds simple enough, right? It is not.


This job is the most detail-oriented position I've ever encountered. In a 35-65 page script that is being changed and noodled with every day, there are countless things that can go wrong. And it's the script coordinator's job to correct them.


In dramas, script coordinators are often outside of the writers' room. Sometimes they're not even in the office at all.


They receive the script from the showrunner, make any changes that are needed and send it out to those who are supposed to receive the script. That means you're not getting much face time with the writers in the same way a drama writers' assistant is.


In comedies, which tend to be more collaborative when it comes to the script phase of writing, script coordinators are in the room and are often "on screen." Being "on screen" is when the script is pulled up in Final Draft, the script coordinator connects their computer to the two big TV monitors at either end of the writers' room conference table, and makes changes on the fly as dictated by the showrunner.


This task is nearly impossible as you are reacting to everything being said all day long. Not only that, but everybody is looking at every single move you make on the computer and reacting to that as well. (Note, as I said previously, in comedies, often writers' assistants perform this duty as well.)


The good is that it gets you in the writers' room and you're often allowed to pitch. Also, of all the assistants, the script coordinator is the most likely to get a freelance script.


Showrunner's Assistant

This last job is a slight deviation from the typical TV writing assistant path because it doesn't have much to do with the writers' room.


This job is basically an executive assistant position for the showrunner of the TV show.



showrunner's assistant

Showrunner's Assistants control the showrunner's calendar, they field all their calls, they act as a liaison between the showrunner and the many department heads they need to speak to, and they often perform some personal tasks as well.


While this job helps you network with the highest-level writer on the show, and potentially the other writers, it does not get you inside the writers' room, which, if you're looking to be a TV writer, should be your ultimate goal.


Still, this is not a bad job and brings you at least closer to the action.


Other non-TV writing assistant jobs


The jobs I listed above are the ideal assistant jobs if you're looking to break into TV writing. However, if you're just looking to get your foot in the door and make connections, there are plenty of other jobs that can do that for you.


There are production assistant jobs everywhere: on set, in the production office, in casting, in post (editing), and each of these jobs provide you an opportunity to learn about that department, and to meet others in the office.


Make it known that you want to write. That makes it easier for people to think of you when a potential writers' PA or writers' assistant job opens up. So, don't assume the jobs above are the only jobs you should take if you want to be a TV writer. These are just the most helpful ones for breaking into TV writing.


Overall, if you're brand new to the industry, take any opportunity that comes your way, make the most of it, and soak it all in. And make your end goal known.


There's no sense in wasting a season as an assistant without somebody knowing that you're actually an amazing writer. Make them keep you in their minds for future opportunities. It's a networking game. And these assistant jobs will help you be the best at that game.



Photo Credit: Michael E. Arth,



 

Anton Schettini - TV Writer

Anton Schettini is a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.


You can pre-order Breaking Into TV Writing here:





 

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Hello!

I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.

 

You can pre-order Breaking Into TV Writing here:

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