Tips for TV Writers’ Office Assistants
Memorial Day has come and gone and the warm air of summer is happily upon us, which means for TV writers and assistants, it’s time to get ready to make another season of television. When I go back to work next month, it’ll be my tenth writers’ office that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of. For those of you starting out on this fantastic journey, it can be downright scary and intimidating. But fear not, because here are some of my top tips for a successful time as a writers’ office assistant (this applies to writers’ PA’s, showrunners’ assistants, overall deal writer’s assistants, writers’ assistants, and script coordinators!)
“Make Sure Your Script is Perfectly Aligned”
This was the first ever piece of advice I got when I was an intern, and to this day I still line up the edges of my script perfectly before I hand it to my boss (with only 2 brads, just FYI!) The sentiment behind this advice is that anything you’re presenting to your boss, you want to make sure it’s perfect… even if it’s something small and inconsequential. This has stuck with me during my thirteen years assisting because I’ve seen how true this is. Your boss may not remember that the edges of your script were perfectly straight, and that’s fine. But, I guarantee you they will remember if a page is missing from the script, or a title is misspelled. It’s worth it to take an extra second to double check your work and make sure it’s the best it can be.
It’s Your Job to be Proactive
I can’t stress this one enough. The assistants that I’ve seen succeed are the ones who know their boss’ coffee order and food preferences before the boss even knows their hungry. You should never claim to be bored as an assistant— there is always something to do or research you can conduct. It also never hurts to ask the showrunner or the showrunners’ assistant if there’s something they need help with. The answer will always be yes. And I guarantee you they’ll start to think of you as their go-to person if they see how well you can anticipate their needs and make their lives easier.
Soak Up As Much Information as You Can
As an assistant, think of your time in the writers’ office as a masters class, and treat it accordingly. That means reading every piece of material that comes out— you’ll be amazed to find out how much you learn reading every draft of a script. If your room doesn’t allow assistants to sit in, make sure to read a copy of the room notes. Actually, read a copy of the room notes even if you are in the room, so you can see how the writers’ assistant breaks it all down. Read any research material that is suggested. Ask questions. There’s a difference if you ask a writer, “what made you put that scene at the top of act five?” versus “will you read my script?” Most writers are happy to answer questions about process, and it’ll only help you in the long run. The writers that I’ve fostered a relationship with are the ones who think of me when they hear about jobs, or when they have downtime to give notes on scripts.
You’re There to Learn and Observe
This is a tough one, especially for veterans, but it’s SO important. As assistants, we’re there to learn and observe and not pitch ideas or try and sell ourselves. There will be opportunities, I promise. But, that’s what the team of writers is getting paid to do… not you. If you happen to have a really good idea (as in you’re absolutely sure about this idea) and you think the showrunner or a writer you trust must hear it, talk to them about it after hours or on breaks. It’s much less distracting to ask a writer their opinion of your pitch outside of the room, versus disrupting the flow of the room to pitch something that may or may not work anyway. And it’s just bad etiquette to pitch in the room as an assistant, unless you’ve been given the go-ahead in advance. If you’re lucky enough to sit in the room, and your boss is okay with assistants occasionally pitching, make sure you still observe the first few times you’re in there to just get the flow of the room. Every room is different, and you need to be able to read it before participating in it. And for goodness sakes, NEVER EVER INTERRUPT ANYONE.
Be The First One In and the Last One Out
Or, at the very least, make sure you’re there before your boss, and ask everyone if they need anything before you take off. That means if you’re a PA, double check with the rest of the assistants to make sure it’s cool to leave. Your script coordinator who might be working late to put out pages will appreciate you getting them dinner before you go home for the night. Trust me.
Think of Your Fellow Assistants as a Team
It doesn’t matter your title, you guys are all there to function together and make sure the office is running smoothly and efficiently. That means filling up the La Croix in the fridge if you notice it’s running low. Covering phones for the showrunner’s assistant so they can finally pee. Offering to help the script coordinator collate so they can finish their email distro. You get the idea. And especially if you’re the P.A., try to help out as much as you can. On every show I’ve been on, I’ve always taken time to teach the P.A. and/or showrunner’s assistant how to take notes when I was the writers’ assistant and script coordinate when I was the script coordinator. Not only does it help them build up their skills, but when one of us is out sick, there’s someone who can step in. It’s all for the benefit of the show. Another fun thing I’ve tried to do on shows, is create a mini-writers group with my fellow assistants. We’re all there because we eventually want to write, so why not seek the help and guidance from each other? It makes for a less competitive environment where we’re all trying to help each other succeed, instead of worrying about who amongst us might be lucky enough to get bumped up. The more you can function as a team with your fellow assistants, the better it will be for all of you and your show.
For more helpful tips about being an assistant in a writer’s room, feel free to check out this panel recording that I was a part of: Writer’s Room Assistant Extravaganza
And if anyone has specific questions that you’re too afraid to ask, feel free to email me! I’m always happy to help.