I’m incredibly lucky to be working in an amazing writers’ room as a showrunner’s assistant, which even just a year ago seemed like a near-impossible job to get. As a graduate of USC’s screenwriting program, I knew I wanted to get into a writers’ room as an assistant but didn’t know how, nor did I understand the differences and subtleties between each of the roles.
So, just thought I’d do a quick post about these television assistant jobs and how to get them — things I wish I’d known a year ago.
The Job: Being a writers’ assistant is the most desirable as you’re in the room all day with the writers, whereas the showrunner’s assistant and writers’ PA don’t usually get to sit in the room. Your main function is to be the sort of courtroom stenographer, but in a creative space. You take notes, participate in the discussion, and help with anything from research to assembling documents and outlines. Depending on the room, writers’ assistants will be contributing to the conversation — you’re essentially a staff writer with training wheels in a good room.
Getting the Job: To be a writers’ assistant, usually you climb from writers’ PA to showrunners’ assistant. However, that’s not always the case as sometimes covering a desk at the production company or studio can get a recommendation and get you on a show. It’s possible to jump into this role with no experience, but fairly unlikely because the job is so specialized.
The Job: Finding a showrunner’s assistant job largely depends on who you work for and if your show is in network, cable, or streaming. Mostly, you’ll be scheduling, answering calls, booking travel, and supporting your showrunner with anything that makes their lives easier (i.e. maintaining grids, managing their schedule, and anything else that comes up along the way.) Being a showrunner’s assistant is an incredible opportunity to get a view of the whole process.
Getting the Job: Either start as a writers’ PA, or do your time at an agency. Learning the basics of assistant-ing will serve you well, as most showrunners will look for someone who already knows how to roll calls, schedule, and other aspects of being an assistant you only pick up from being one. Occasionally, I see jobs like this posted on job boards without a minimum year of agency experience required — but your best bet is to do your agency time and get drinks with current showrunner’s assistants.
If you want to learn more about working as an agent’s assistant, check out my blog post A Day In the Life of an Agency Assistant.
Writers’ PA (Writers’ Production Assistant)
The Job: As a writers’ production assistant, you’ll be helping the room run with a positive presence. You’ll be responsible for getting lunches, coffee, picking up supplies, and going on whatever runs needed. It’s a collection of odd errands, but there’s a lot of upward mobility as the room really depends on you and getting to know the writers is really valuable. As with all jobs like this, hustle is really important in order to get to the the point where you can start exercising your creative talents.
Getting the Job: Befriend showrunners’ assistants as they will usually be the ones interviewing and helping to narrow down the candidates. Occasionally these will show up on job boards, but because this is an entry-level room position, it’s hard to compete with the flood of resumes.
A quick note on “hierarchy” — writers’ assistant is technically at the top of the food chain because it’s most desirable in terms of being able to be in the room and being able to contribute to the discussion, but I know writers’ assistants and showrunners’ assistants who have gotten freelance episodes and have gotten staffed. If you’re a PA, there’s usually another rung or two on the ladder before getting staffed.
Now get out there and get to work!