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?
I think most writers are naturally inclined to the WA position, for obvious reasons:
- “You get to be in the writer’s room!”
- “You get watch how they break story!”
- “You don’t have to answer phones all freaking day!”
The more I thought my career as a writer and its trajectory as a whole though, I started to believe the counter-intuitive choice was the better one: a SA.
As a SA, I believed:
- You’d build more relationships
- You’d get a better macro sense of the world of television production
- You could still absorb what was happening (creatively) in the room.
Plus in my case, I was working on my boss’s book business as well. That was work I wanted to continue.
There was a time that once I made up my mind, I’d leave it at that. But if eight years of reading, listening, and watching material about self-development taught me anything, it’s that: you gotta know when to ask for help.
So I started reaching out to my network, to get feedback on my questions.
Amazon SA and Network Writer’s PA
A couple days later, I sat down with a SA on an Amazon show, and a Writer’s PA on a network show. Both were currently on hiatus. Here’s what they had to say:
If you had a choice, would you take a SA position or a WA?
Amazon SA: As an SA, you get this huge, macro view of how a television show is put together. You meet a lot more people on all sides of production, and you learn the etiquette of what goes on in a room. Plus, during down time — you have the opportunity to work on your own writing as well.
However, in the writer’s room you get a look at the micro — how does the story come together?
It’s a tough question — I’m not sure which one is better.
Network Writer’s PA: I think because you’d get exposure to all those other elements of production, you’re better off starting out as a SA, then taking the next step of being a WA. If you’re a WA, sure you get to meet people, but it’s only those in the Writer’s Room. You’ll only meet writers.
Plus, as SA it’s a bit more secure, since you have the opportunity to follow the Showrunner to the next job, unlike a WA where if the show gets canceled, it’s time to start sending out your resume.
What are you doing now that you’re on hiatus?
Amazon SA: I work through temp agencies. Right now I’m working with Variety Insight… but I’m probably going to quit soon. I hate it.
Network Writer’s PA: Before the Writer’s PA job I was working at a boutique agency. They’re always low on staff so I’m temping there for now. It’s not great, but it’s nice to know I can find steady work there.
(To learn about the ins-and-outs of being an SA, WA, and more, read Inside the Writers’ Room.
And for dozens of micro-case studies on how people broke into the writer’s room, check out: How Do You Write for TV?)