THAT FIRST JOB, how to do it once you got it.
The First Job. And I don’t mean the first writing credit. I mean the first industry job.
Not everyone’s road to success is the same. Yes, there are people who write a brilliant spec script or win a contest or land a spot in a workshop that puts an instant spotlight on them. But there are also people who diligently work their way to the top. I’ll just be honest and say that I’m partial to working your way up and not just because that’s how I did it. Working your way through every job is also how you learn. Not just how production works but also how you need to work within production.
I started out as a production assistant, then a production secretary (I don’t think they even call it that anymore, as apparently I was working in 1942), then a writer’s assistant, then a script coordinator. While I was a script coordinator, I got my first freelance script on the show I was working on and I was hired onto the staff as a result of that script. This sounds pretty dreamy as far as big breaks go, but let’s just be clear; I worked my way up. I got the coffees and the lunches and took the notes and the phonecalls and the occasional (frequent) verbal abuse and harassment. At the time, one of my oldest friends (who was attending USC film school at the time) remarked that I was too educated for this grunt work and why didn’t I just quit? What he didn’t understand was that I was learning valuable lessons on the job. I was learning, to my mind, much more about production than I would in a classroom. Not everyone feels this way, but that’s how it worked for me.
To that end, I will give the advice that a dear friend and highly successful female writer/showrunner has given: “do any job you are given as well as you possibly can.” Sure, you are taking a job in a writer’s office (and if you want to be a writer, you want to be working in the writer’s office. But here’s another hint: if you start at an agency and work on an agent’s desk, you are highly qualified to be a showrunner’s assistant, and that is a great way in as well) because you want to be given a script. But if you only talk about being given a script from day one, no one is ever going to want to give you a script. Keep your head down, do your job well, have a positive attitude. Meanwhile, keep writing. Write in the bullpen, write after work. Let it be known that you are writing. It will be noticed. But first, assert yourself as a hard worker.
Here’s why I prefer working with and hiring women: women don’t take anything for granted. We are used to multitasking, to working harder, to showing respect. This is our virtue and also our flaw. But more on that later. Like I said, I could go on and on. But my advice for now is, don’t be afraid to start small. You’re not just getting coffee, you’re getting a glimpse into a production meeting. You’re not just taking notes, you’re learning how a story is broken. You’re not just handing out lunches, you’re learning how to handle yourself in a writer’s room. If you have worked your way up, you will have a greater understanding of how production works. And on the day when you sell your pilot and it’s going to go to series, you will have greater control over your product because you will understand how to run that show.