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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I am an aspiring writer from Montreal (where I live at the moment). I have 5 years experience in the biz, having worked in Los Angeles at [snip], and started as an associate producer and researcher on a number of documentary projects.

When I was in L.A., my boss explained to me that a great way to get into writing and learn on the job (in addition to always working on the craft on my own time) was to find work as a writer's assistant or script coordinator. I thought it very sensible and so when I got back to Montreal, that's the kind of work I started looking around for. Trouble is, I didn't find any.

Have you worked on shows where that kind of work has been offered? If not, what would be the best advice you could give to someone like me?
Getting work as a writer's assistant is an excellent way in. You can observe a lot by looking, as Yogi Berra said, and nothing will give you more to observe than assisting someone who's doing. Being a TV writing assistant is practically the back door in, because people hire whom they know, and now they know you. If your writing is at all in the ball park, the writers will throw you a script if they can.

How you get these jobs is sticky, because everyone wants them. One way to do it is to intern (work for free) for a writer who's not currently on a show. If you do a great job as an intern, they will do their best to hire you when they get on a show. There are also ads in Variety for assistant jobs.

Unfortunately, the best way to get these jobs is to go to Beverly Hills High School (you know, the one in 90210). Then when your best friend's dad needs an assistant, your best friend can remind him that you're looking for a job. In New York, the high school to go to is probably Dalton (you know, the one in Manhattan), and yes, I went there, but no, I didn't get know Jenny Goldman very well, so I never got to know her dad. (She was cool, actually. But I was shy.) Or Jamie Redford. Or Nicole Fosse. Stupidly, I never got to know Jodie Foster very well when I was at Yale, either. What was I thinking?

You can help yourself, of course, by learning all the script programs, but particularly Final Draft. You'll need to know it.

You could try by shotgunning an extremely charming and polite and funny query letter, with a great resume, to members of the Writer's Guild who look from their credits like they can afford an assistant, but I have never in my life got a job or anything else this way.

John August has a terrific article on what writer's assistants do, but he's not 100% sure how to get the jobs either. Lee Goldberg also has a few choice insights.

As for Montreal, there is not a lot of work for writing assistants. Most Canadian producers won't spring for one except on a go show. One of my favorite young writers in Montreal just got laid off as a script coordinator. What I'd recommend you do is volunteer for the WGC. Just call'em up and ask what you can do to help, for free. Anything that will put you in contact with lots of writers. Actually volunteering for whatever charities are popular in showbiz at the moment is probably one of the best ways to get any entry-level showbiz job. You'll have to put in a fair amount of work before you get somewhere, but you'll get somewhere good.

Update: Here's a more formal internship program from NBC...

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