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.
There are a lot of Things They Don’t Tell You in film school about getting a job after you graduate — and mostly that’s because your professors and advisors don’t know what the current conditions of the film and television job market are, and what jobs aspiring writers, directors, etc. should actually pursue.
I loved my experience at USC’s screenwriting program because it helped me hone my craft, but what they don’t really tell you is how to get from student to Real Life Working Writer — something my graduating class and I are still figuring out, but we’re far more aware of what the trenches are like now that we’re in them.
Here’s what I wish someone would have told me when I started film school:
1. Who you know is important, but not as important as finding your voice as a creator.
At USC, the constant career refrain is: get an internship! Literally any internship! Network and learn! Every time I meet with a current student, the first thing they ask me about is what internships should they get/how many/paid vs. unpaid.
What they don’t tell you: yes, networking is important, but there’s plenty of time for that in your senior year and beyond, and what’s more important is that you’re devoting as much time as possible to your craft as you can.
Networking won’t help you if you don’t have solid creative work — and awards to show for it, if possible. You will literally never be in an environment like you are now, encouraged to focus only on your writing and filmmaking.
Spend your first three years cultivating your writing, seeking out interesting experiences, and reading as widely as possible. This will make you a better artist and creator, and now’s the time to give it your full attention.
2. Being a Hollywood assistant is like being an apprentice.
You spend four years in film school being groomed for the job you actually want to do: writing, directing, cinematography, etc. When you graduate, it feels natural to expect that you can do just that. However, there’s still a gap and a learning curve pretty much everyone has to go through at some point in the beginning of their careers, even if you’re able to jump straight to the job you want. There are dues everybody has to pay — in one way or another.
What they don’t tell you: especially if you’re a writer looking to break into TV, you HAVE to go the assistant route — at least at first. Nobody tells you the benefits of working as a writers’ assistant, showrunners’ assistant, writers’ PA — and what these jobs are and how to get them (check out my article detailing just that.)
These jobs are not only stepping stones, but they provide actual connections (unlike temporary internships) and knowledge that will help you be better at the job you want to do down the line. Think of yourself as an apprentice instead of an errand runner, soaking in knowledge when you can and constantly working on your own craft on the side.
3. Start at an agency. Seriously, just do it.
I have many feelings about working as an agency assistant, especially as a writer. The day-to-day is a challenge, and it’s an experience that reveals a lot about who you are and why you’re in this industry.
At film school, they’ll probably offhandedly mention working as an agency as a kind of “industry grad school,” and encourage you to try it, but they don’t really talk about why it’s crucial.
What they don’t tell you: both of the jobs I’ve gotten working on TV shows after I graduated were thanks to the support and recommendation of the agents at my old agency. I still had to lay the groundwork myself, but without my previous bosses, I wouldn’t be where I was today.
The experience, connections, and knowledge you get from an agency pay off in dividends. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy or you’re going to enjoy it — agencies are also notorious for hazing and impossibly small paychecks. Still — it’s worth it. Even a tough experience will help you grow.
4. Use your senior year to land that first job.
I spent my first three years at USC writing and producing my own scripted content and writing nonstop. When senior year rolled around, I still did all of that, but shifted my focus toward the networking, necessary internship (at an agency), authentic networking with alumni, and informational interviews in order to land my first job out of college.
It was my internship that got me in the door, and that’s what helped me land my first job out of college.
What they don’t tell you: some of the advice I had gotten from my professors and advisors was conterintuitive: to relax and enjoy senior year, forget about working so hard to get that first job — etc. You’ve got to use your momentum of graduating (and all of senior year!) to get off on a good foot in terms of landing a job in the TV/film fields so that you don’t have to take another job in an unrelated field and have to find your way back to what you actually want to do.
Because Hollywood is so insider-centric, you’ve got to ramp up your efforts all of senior year to wrap up your portfolio, figure out how to sell yourself and your experiences, and focus on finding a job. That’s also why I think that prematurely focusing on internships can hurt you if that means you aren’t investing all your time in creative work for your first three years of film school.
5. Your career is a marathon — and that’s a good thing.
In film school, there’s this pressure to be a runaway success: to get repped before you graduate, to win awards and sell scripts and to make millions in Hollywood by 24.
What they don’t tell you: it’s about career longevity, not about how quickly you make it. Instead of focusing on timeline, focus on self-development. How can you be a better artist, now and in the future? What can you learn from the industry leaders now so that you can become a better leader tomorrow?
Thriving in this industry isn’t easy, but that’s half the fun. Embrace every challenge and savor the process.