What Do You Want to Learn About the TV Industry?

career, how hollywood works: TV

I was 14-years-old when I started working in restaurants. As I slipped into a polo shirt and pleated khakis, my father gave me his version of a pep-talk, tinged with a sensitivity known only to drill sergeants and Asian fathers:

“Remember: You don’t know as much as you think you know.

“So keep you mouth shut,” he said. “Watch and listen.”

Inspiring! However…

14 years later and the advice stuck with me. What my father meant:

Go into everything with an open mind.

Listen before passing judgment.

And spend the time to learn about people and their opinions. They may know something you don’t.

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Showrunner’s Assistant or Writer’s Assistant? Advice from a Producer on Mad Men

career, writer's room

I was happy with my friends’ advice about what was a better career move: Showrunner’s Assistant (SA) or Writer’s Assistant (WA)?

Both seemed to think SA was the better move:

  • You get to meet more people.
  • You see the macro world of television.
  • There’s more job security.

Made sense to me.

Then I sat down with an Emmy-award winning writer/producer on MAD MEN…

And wow. Easily some of the best advice I ever heard.

She shared a few tips, but most importantly, shared 3 nuggets of advice I never really considered…

Despite having spoken to other writers and working in the industry and reading hundreds of blog posts on building your career in Los Angeles.

If you’re looking to get into a writer’s room, and ever wondered which would be a better position, Showrunner’s Assistant or Writer’s Assistant, keep reading.

Her advice could save you somewhere in the ball park of 2 to 3 years of your life.

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This Is How Success Finds You

career, work

Seth Godin wrote a post called Gradually then suddenly a few months back. It’s stuck with me, as Seth Godin posts tend to do.

This is how companies die, how brands wither and, more cheerfully in the other direction, how careers are made.

Gradually, because every day opportunities are missed, little bits of value are lost, customers become unentranced. We don’t notice so much, because hey, there’s a profit. Profit covers many sins. Of course, one day, once the foundation is rotted and the support is gone, so is the profit. Suddenly, apparently quite suddenly, it all falls apart.

It didn’t happen suddenly, you just noticed it suddenly.

This is what sticking around in a dead-end assistant position looks like. You want more responsibility but the company won’t give it to you, so resentment builds. The company feels the resentment and is reassured of their decision not to nudge you along or push you forward.

You stick around. Not because the paycheck is particularly good, but it’s not particularly bad. You’re comfortable.

Until the one day you’re not. And then you look back at the last 3 or 5 or 10 years of your life and you wonder where it all suddenly went.

Of course, as Seth points out, the inverse is true, too:

The flipside works the same way. Trust is earned, value is delivered, concepts are learned. Day by day we improve and build an asset, but none of it seems to be paying off. Until one day, quite suddenly, we become the ten-year overnight success.

My favorite part:

This is the way it works, but we too often make the mistake of focusing on the ‘suddenly’ part. The media writes about suddenly, we notice suddenly, we talk about suddenly.

That doesn’t mean that gradually isn’t important. In fact, it’s the only part you can actually do something about.

Don’t focus on the outcome. Don’t focus on being tomorrow’s Max Landis or Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lee.

On a smaller scale…

  • Don’t daydream of your career 10 years from now. Crush today’s work.
  • Don’t fantasize about your “summer body.” Pick up the weight in front of you.
  • Don’t imagine finishing the screenplay. Write the next page, sentence, word.

Focus on the everyday work and — quite suddenly — the outcome will appear.

Showrunner’s Assistant or Writer’s Assistant? Advice from Both

career, writer's room

I remember during one of my first sit-downs with Dennis, we discussed potentially what my career trajectory would look like, and how this job role would change depending on:

  • If he stayed in Los Angeles
  • If he lived in Boston
  • If a television show went
  • If he was just writing features

“What do you want to do?’ he asked.

“To get to do what you do,” I said.

“Okay.” He said if a television show gets greenlit, we’d transition into a Showrunner’s Assistant (SA) or a Writer’s Assistant (WA). “Then you go find your replacement.”

Which led me to wonder: what’s the better position?

Showrunner’s Assistant or Writer’s Assistant?

What were the pros and cons of each?

Which was better suited for the skill sets I had, and for the trajectory of my career? [click to continue…]

How to Quit Your Job Without Second-Guessing

career, personal stories, quitting

An old boss’s office was stuffed with books. Wall to wall.

It left no doubt that his was a business built on NYT bestsellers, same as his predecessor before him, who repped authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, and Elmore Leonard.

Sitting in the chair across from his desk, I stared at the spines of all these books.

Man, he’s been in this business a long time.

I learned a lot. Was on all his calls. Listened to negotiations. Studied literary agreements and learned about reruns, spinoffs & subsequent productions, how to stipulate a sliding purchase price, and the importance of reversion language.

But today I wasn’t in his office for a lesson.

I looked up at him. I told him I was leaving the company to work for a writer. [click to continue…]

How Do I Get My First Hollywood Job? Try This

career, first hollywood job

Kevin B. writes:

I have had a few internships, but no long term employment other than waiting tables. I’m currently looking for my first job as an assistant, but everywhere I look (entertainmentcareers, UTA, etc.) is asking for at least a year of experience if not more. How do I get experience if even the most entry level positions require it?

In other words:

How do I get my first Hollywood job?

First, I know how frustrating this is. It’s unfair: You want to build experience — you’d even work for free to get your foot in the door! — but you need 1 to 2 years of experience first.

Plus, you have no network. (Actually, you do, but we’ll cover that in another post.)

So how do you get that first Hollywood job?

First, let me say:

Don’t Bother With Low-Hanging Fruit

You could apply through public job boards like EntertainmentCareers, the UTA Job list, etc. But that’s like dumping a box of your headshots in front of Chris Andrews’s desk and expecting him to sign you.

Not gonna happen.

Another example of low-hanging fruit: company career pages. If you’re pushing your resume and cover letter through the company’s standard application process, and you don’t have a contact on the other side pulling it through, you’re wasting your time.

I realize how depressing this sounds.

You did everything you were told to do.

You did well in school.

You got your degree.

These companies were supposed to fling over their doors the moment you arrived in Hollywood.

Is it impossible to find opportunities through these channels? No, not impossible. I landed my first internship through the UTA job list. I’m grateful for that.

However, that channel is oversaturated. Below, I cover 7 tactics you can use in another, less crowded channel. [click to continue…]