Hey there readers, it’s Amy. Before you read this post, I just want to let you know that my outlook on the current state of the industry has changed, and I can’t in good conscience continue to advocate for the assistant path for writers. It’s part COVID, part an inherent sense of classism in the industry. For more, read my new blog post here about my advice for new grads and why I think writers shouldn’t go the assistant path anymore. I’m keeping these posts up just in case you disagree with me and still want to go this path, but I just wanted to be fully transparent and give you the best advice I know how.
To be honest, when I started as an agency assistant, life was hard. In my second week, I remember staying until 10pm eating ramen alone at my desk wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. I broke up with my boyfriend at the time because he didn’t understand why I would *want* to spend 11+ hours at a desk answering a phone and sending a million of emails.
yes, that is a stockpile of food under my desk for inevitable late nights during my first three weeks
Now, just three months in, everything’s changed: I’ve mastered many aspects of my job that were once overwhelming, I’m meeting incredible people who work in the industry from our talented writer clients to network executives, I’ve learned so much from my boss, a successful TV lit agent who is so inspiring to me — and most importantly, I’ve carved out time to write, network, and advance my own career goals on top of working eleven hours a day.
After honing my taste, my systems, and seeking out what parts of the job are most valuable, I’m happy — and here to share how to survive (and thrive) as an agency assistant.
Why Go the Agency Route?
First off, it’s not for everyone. It’s a fast-paced job with long hours — and most places you get paid minimum wage (or a dollar or two above) plus overtime and benefits. Some agents (luckily not mine) are demanding and challenging, and you have to grow thick skin to deal with some of the abuse.
However, the payoffs are huge: agents are at the center of it all, so their ability to help you find that perfect next job is key to getting your career to the next step. You’re constantly communicating with writers, execs (or their assistants), showrunner’s assistants, and other assistants who will one day run this town. The networking opportunities are unlike any other job, and you’ll learn every aspect of the business. It’s a grad school you get paid to attend as long as you can keep up with the pace and intensity.
How to Become an Agent’s Assistant
You start as we all did: in the mailroom. At some places, you need to say you aspire to be an agent in order to get the gig, and at others — not so much. I was lucky to do my time in the mailroom while I was in school, and hopped on a desk right when I graduated from USC.
When picking your agency, get to know the culture of the different places. WME and CAA (known as the “Death Star”) are behemoths that may be powerful, but are also huge corporations. Smaller places like Verve are warmer and less competitive, which is great if you’re looking to spend some time learning and move on from there, or if you’ve done your time at CAA and WME and are looking to get promoted to being an agent. (As a writer, I went with Verve because a lot of USC students ended up there post-grad, and I knew it was on the friendlier side.)
Once you’re actually in the mailroom, you’ll be asked to do a lot of menial tasks. Do these like they’re the most important job you have, because these are in a way “tests” that show you’re detail oriented and competent enough to land a desk. Learn the office, learn the personalities, and stick around for long enough for the right desk to open up.
Stay tuned for more advice from the trenches, and a day in the life of an agency assistant.