Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reader question - Timetables to becoming a writer's assistant or reader?

David asks:

If I'm looking to seriously break into the industry (which I am), I already know I pretty much need to move and live in LA. My question is: what are the odds or realistic time tables of landing a job as a reader or in an agency or as a writer's assistant where I can make the connections needed while honing my craft and continue writing my own specs?

Well, this post covers my path to being a reader, so that's what I can offer as far as first-hand experience. It was just about two years before I became a reader, though by then I'd already been a development assistant and I had been reading for a good while before that too.

To add to the "how do I become a reader" end of things, I'll direct you to this post from me and this post from Amanda the Aspiring Writer. The gist is that you really don't want to pursue being a reader. With the way things have shifted the last few years, it's practically a dead end. Trust me, you'll still read plenty if you pursue work as a production assistant, office assistant, agency assistant or executive assistant. (That and the position of reader is becoming a rapidly disappearing one.)

Why should you pursue those? Two works: desk experience. I don't think I've seen many job postings of late that haven't made a point of saying they want the applicants to have a year or more of experience on a desk. If you want to climb the ladder that way, aim for the desk. If you soak up that experience, you'll likely also make the contacts that can set you up when writers' assistant positions need filling.

It's hard to give an accurate guess these days. With the job market in the state it's in, there's a lot of competition out there. I've heard of job postings for assistants receiving submissions in excess of 300! Not only that, companies are cutting back, meaning that staffs are smaller and there are fewer opportunities to move up.

But let's try to come up with a middle of the road estimate:

Start with 3-6 months doing internships. After that, let's add another year for production assistant work. Odds are that could be two or even three years if you're really unlucky. Eventually a slot opens up at an executive/agent's desk in the company where you work. Figure at least a year on that desk before you can take advantage of that to go elsewhere. More than likely, you'll end up doing more time there. I've got a friend who took an executive assistant position intending to only be there a year and he's ended up staying on through his third year.

So the "you were damn lucky" estimate probably comes out to just under two and a half years. I wouldn't count having that kind of luck. I'd say four or five years is probably the more realistic way to go before you get enough experience and make enough contacts to get that writers' assistant job.

But everyone moves at their own pace. There's no set timetable. It tends to be a combination of ability meeting opportunity.


  1. Let's also not forget that the goal is not to be a writers assistant or PA. The goal is to get staffed. Newbs should remember they really want to be working as a writer not only getting coffee for the writers. It's easy to forget this along the way.


  2. The average for Writers' Assistants seems to be about five years from getting the first job in Hollywood. And while Eitan makes a good point, the takeaway is that in those five years writers should be WRITING as much as they are assisting. I really wish I had written more before getting a job working with writers who could potentially read my work -- and that's the worst kind of regret.

  3. Cool, great insight. Thanks, BSR.