Typing Faster

August 4, 2009

Breaking In: Your first job in Television

Filed under: Breaking In — petertypingfaster @ 9:00 am

Continuing in the vein of yesterday’s post, I wanted to talk a bit about your first job in the industry, and here’s the thing:

It’s probably not going to be writing.

It’s rare for a neophyte writer to land a staff writer gig. In fact, unless you’re scary brilliant, a one in a thousand talent, I’d say the chances are almost nil.

And that’s actually not a bad thing.

Writing can be scary. And writing to deadline, especially the ever shrinking deadline of a television show in production, is never easy. Even for the most seasoned veteran writers amongst us.

The nice thing about starting out working in other capacities is that it lets you get your feet wet, without throwing you into the deep end. You’ll be able to learn a lot about the production end of things, what’s working and what’s not, and how everything fits together, by working any number of other jobs in the industry.

So what jobs should you be looking for if your aim is to write for television? In my opinion, from most to least desirable, it’d look something like this:

1. Script Coordinator
The first rung on the staffing ladder. Script coordinators liaise between the writing and production departments, ensuring that everyone is working off the correct draft, all changes are incorporated into the next draft, and generally making sure everyone’s on the same page.

Other duties might include general admin and assisting the writing staff. Some coordinators also handle clearances, working with the productions legal department.

Coordinators are sometimes offered a script, or co-write a script, as a way of helping to offset the long hours the job entails.

2. Writer’s Assistant
Personal assistant to an established film or television writer. Like other assistant jobs, you exist to cater to your bosses’ every whim. Depending on your boss this could mean loads of menial tasks (getting coffee, picking up dry cleaning, washing their car), to actually getting to assist in their writing process (taking notes, sitting in on meetings, acting as a sounding board).

3. Development Assistant / Coordinator / Intern
Either at an independent production company or with a broadcaster. Job revolves around evaluating new projects (pitches, scripts, existing intellectual property), writing funding applications, and liaising with creatives to develop existing projects. Gives you a ringside seat to the development process, access to a lot of scripts to read, and the opportunity to network with key decision makers.

4. Literary Agent Assistant
Personal assistant to a literary agent. Duties similar to being a writer’s assistant, though focused entirely on administrative tasks. You will be scheduling meetings, tracking / rolling calls, and ensuring the smooth flow of information. Take a look at Amanda the Aspiring TV Writer for a first hand take on working as an assistant to a literary agent.

5. Funding Agency Reader / Studio Reader
You read scripts and provide coverage. Great way to read a lot of scripts, get a feel for what’s popular in the spec market at the moment. Can be dangerous in that in rapidly chews up your free time, doesn’t pay that well. Also writers run the risk of burning out and becoming bitter doing this.

6. Producer’s Personal Assistant
Personal assistant to a producer, NOT a general PA. Same basic job as being an assistant to a Lit Agent. You will schedule meetings / travel, roll calls, get coffee, etc. These can be really hit or miss depending on the producer you wind up working for, BUT you can learn a lot if you capitalize on any opportunities that come your way. Decent way to start networking.

7. Office PA
Your basic office assistant. You will be filing, photocopying, getting coffee and answering phones (maybe). You will be paid shit, but you will be able to start networking and meeting people, which makes it worthwhile.

8. PA
The lowest of the low. You will be on set, standing in the rain, guarding parking spaces. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a producer / writer / director / actor, but generally you’re not supposed to talk to them. You’re in the industry though, so can (theoretically) start networking a bit. Bit of a toss up as to whether it’s worth it or not.

But those are all assistant jobs! What if I don’t want to spend my time getting people coffee?
That is, of course, your prerogative, but I’d humbly suggest you reconsider.

Why would I want to do that?
Because while an assistant job isn’t very glamorous, it does offer a lot of ancillary benefits. You will have the opportunity to network. You will meet a lot of people that you’d never meet otherwise, and the truth about this business is that people hire people they already know (and like). If you decide to keep working as [insert random job here], you’ll miss out on a lot of those opportunities. It won’t keep you out forever, but it will probably slow your advancement in the industry significantly.

And, believe it or not, being an assistant isn’t all that bad!

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