THE MONEY: What it Costs to Become A Writer by ANNA FRICKE
AT WOMENSCRIBES, WE HATE ELITISM. PURSUING ONE'S DREAM SHOULD NOT BE LEFT TO THE RICHIES WHOSE PARENTS/PATRONS WILL ENDLESSLY BANKROLL THEM WHILE THEY WRITE THEIR SPECS IN THE SAFETY OF THEIR BEVERLY HILLS CONDOS. HERE AT WS, WE WERE NOT BANKROLLED RICHIES. WE TOILED & SO DID OUR BUDDIES. YET, WHERE'S THE REAL TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH STARTING OUT COSTS FOR THE UN-BANKROLLED? HARD TO FIND. 'TIL NOW: IN THIS PIECE, WS CO-FOUNDER ANNA FRICKE BREAKS DOWN THE COSTS OF 'THE EARLY DAYS' WHEN YOU LIVE IN LA BUT DON'T YET BENEFIT FROM THOSE SWEET, SWEET WRITER'S GUILD MINIMUMS.
Look, I’m not gonna lie to you. From where I sit today, I’ve got a lot of Rich People Problems. My dogwalker sends me a lot of annoying texts about who and what my dog barks at and I had a really hard time parking at my house last night because of all the trucks that were there to install my pool. UGH. I’m an a-hole. But you know what? I worked incredibly hard to have these obnoxious problems, and I continue to wake up in a cold sweat thinking that I am about to lose it all. Piece of advice number one: always keep the fire in your belly. Piece of advice number two: be realistic about what it’s going to cost you to continue to stoke that fire.
A lot of you awesome people ask us what advice we have on succeeding out here. Many of you wonder if it’s worth it to uproot your life from wherever you might be now. Personally, I think the answer is yes (I mean, if you really want to. I’m not gonna tell you what to do. Don’t leave a small child behind or anything, let’s be reasonable). It’s very difficult to become a successful working television writer when you are living in Bangor, Maine. Although, Stephen King lives in Bangor, Maine and he’s doing just fine so maybe he has better advice than I do. But he’s also a rich, older white man with even whiter, richier problems than I have, so please keep reading. The point is, yes, I think it’s necessary for most people to live and work in Los Angeles for a while in order to become a television writer. Certainly there are other routes. But this is the route I took. I moved to Los Angeles two weeks after graduating college and toiled away at a few jobs until I got an “industry job.” And the toiling was necessary not just because showing people that you are willing to toil usually engenders respect and favors, which in turn, grow a career, but because MY PARENTS DID NOT FUND ME.
So, let’s talk about the reality of life out here when you don’t have a sponsor. This business shouldn’t belong to the trust funders (though if you have one, don’t let that stop you from toiling, because toiling is everything.)
I was a Producer’s Assistant (PA, “runner,” person who gets coffee, person who stocks writers’ room with gum, person who has grueling task of asking writers what they want for lunch every day. One of the hardest jobs to land because everyone wants it). From there, I moved onto various industry jobs like Writer’s Assistant and Script Coordinator. My friends took similar paths, including working for talent agencies. So, I’m going to get into the real finances of living in Los Angeles, working these jobs while trying to land a writing gig of your own. Of course, I was doing all of this in 1943, so I have polled the young whippersnappers of today to provide a more accurate window. These are working industry assistants who live in various not-posh-but-not-Skid-Row neighborhoods around Los Angeles.
So, let’s say you move out here to Los Angeles from Bangor, Maine. Most people need a car, although public transportation is getting better and bikes are increasingly popular. Share the road and whatnot. If you do get a car, please don’t be afraid to get a crappy one. I drive a crappy one. No one cares (or maybe more importantly, I don’t care. Probably people are laughing at me. But still. I’m blissfully unaware). Now, did you move out here with someone or are you going to live alone? Most people I questioned either live with their significant other or a roommate. On average, it is typical to pay $1400-$1500 for a one bedroom and around $1700 for a two bedroom.
So, you’ve got a place to live and maybe a roommate or a S.O who you decided to move in with sooner than you were ready to so that you could both move to L.A and follow your dreams. That’s probably not going to work out well. But you can write about it. As I have stated before at some point in these hallowed halls of WomenScribes, I personally think it’s wise to get work as an assistant, either on a show (in a writers’ office ideally) or with an agency. (If you come here without a job or a strong lead for a job, you should give yourself six months to get a job with a regular paycheck and another six months to get an assistant job. )
Shockingly, agency jobs pay the worst. Surprising, right? Agents dress to the nines and drive crazy cars! They all have fancy scotch in their offices! But yeah, working for them sucks. But they also teach you a great deal and give you a leg up into getting other jobs. For example, people who work on an agent’s desk hear every phonecall and learn the ins and outs of the business, including etiquette, which will go a long way in terms of understanding the shorthand in a production job. All that said, working at an agency pays between $9-$12 an hour, MAYBE $14 if you have worked at said agency for years.
If you are lucky enough to land a job as an assistant in a writers’ office, being the Production Assistant pays (and every studio might be different) $700 a week, the Writers Assistant makes $750 a week as does the Executive Producer/Showrunner’s assistant. The Script Coordinator, who usually has to suffer the most with last minute script changes and an utter lack of life, makes about $900 a week.
So, there’s a snapshot of your job/home. But what about the rest of the time? You’re a vibrant person living in the world. How do you do it? How do you eat? I have a friend who was making about $1600 a month at an entry-level job (this would be an internship/page program). First of all, she didn’t even go to the doctor. Not an option. Wash your hands a lot. On average, she would spend about $50-$75 a week on food. Her roommates often brought home food from work/craft services/catering, which helped. Utilities were about $50-$75 a week (laundry is not always on site).
But there is a whole other thing that didn’t seem to be a thing In My Day. Drinks. I mean, obviously drinks have always been a THING, but “drinks” for these up and comers is a whole other job. They network, something which I never had the foresight to do. But from what I can see, it is a given that the assistants from whatever television show will a) have drinks with each other b) have drinks with the assistants from the studio behind the show c) have drinks with the assistants from the network behind the show d) go to Vegas with each other when you wrap production e) not invite you when you are the Co-Ep or Showrunner. Wtf? Anway, yes, drinks are a thing. Which is also obviously an expense. Those living on a budget will order a fake drink (seltzer, etc.) to save money. People also cancel drinks all the time and it’s completely acceptable because everyone understands that you are a) poor and b) working insane hours and just too tired.
But we love the assistant route because through all of that, you are writing! You are living your truth! You are meeting new people who can give you advice and help you meet other new people. I will also add that I believe that Los Angeles takes at least six months to adjust to. I grew up in Maine and Los Angeles was a culture shock. So, maybe also add in extra money for therapy, which you can obtain on a sliding scale at various facilities. You will probably need more therapy as you become more successful, because Rich People Problems, but you will also be doing something you love to do.