Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nepotism and network cronyism

Ah, nepotism.  It's often invoked by people far outside the business as the reason that movies and TV "suck."  You know the type of people I'm talking about - the bottom feeders who comment on Deadline articles presenting themselves as an authority who understands show business better than the people who work in it day in and day out.  To hear them tell it, everyone who ever got a movie made got there only because they were fraternity brothers with the studio head.

Sometimes these accusations get a little ridiculous.  Google "Lena Dunham nepotism" for an example of what I'm talking about. Yes, her parents are artists - it played no part in her getting an HBO show.  Plenty of people who actually ARE artists have trouble getting their own shows.  Nepotism doesn't quite work like that.

However, as we head into staffing season in the coming months, I'm reminded that nepotism does exist in a number of forms in the industry.  In some cases, this is expected and maybe even reasonable. Most industry jobs are highly coveted, with hundreds if not more than a thousand people applying for each job.  Those UTA job postings that you find on the net? Virtually worthless.  By the time the UTA List has gone wide, several thousand people are flooding the inboxes of people seeking employees.  If you're looking to apply to a job that's been publicly posted, the best way to get called in for an interview is to have someone who knows that person pass your resume along.

As some of you might remember, every year around this time I pound the pavement looking for a writers' assistant job.  I've put posts up on the site saying as much and I typically work all my contacts.  I know a lot of people working in TV, both as writers and in jobs with access to writers.  In general, it's not hard for me to get my resume into the right hands on a number of shows.  Even as I do that, I realize that there are at least a hundred other resumes coming in via similar means.  People in the business are going to recommend people they know who are qualified, experienced and easy to work with.  That's honestly a reality of any industry, so don't think I'm railing against that.

Here's what DOES burn me, though - when all of those resumes are discarded because the network or studio in question tells the showrunner "These are the four PAs you will hire."  Who are these PAs and assistants whose employment becomes network mandates?  23 year-old entitled brats just out of college.  They're kids who've never had to punch a clock, whose car is probably newer and more expensive than most of the staff writers on their show.  Hell, there's a good chance their condo (because Daddy wouldn't DARE let them throw their money away renting) is better than several staff writers.

Yeah, fuck those guys.  And fuck the studio execs who give the showrunners zero say in who their low-level employees are.  If you guys want to say, "I want you to interview these guys" be my guest.  But throw them in the thunderdome with the rest of us who've actually put in the time and earned the respect of the showrunners.

On more than one occasion, I've had a direct "in" for a writer's assistant job because I or someone close to me was very tight with the showrunner of a newly-ordered series.  In some cases, this has even involved me proving my worth to the writer by taking the time to read their work and give them very considered and detailed reactions.  So I'm not just coming in from a place of "Hey, I know this writer socially."  It's often a case where I've shown my value to the process and demonstrated a willingness to put in the hours and check my ego at the door for the good of the show.

What I'm getting at is that in pretty much all of these cases, I probably would have been at least a strong runner-up for any position if it was in the hands of the show-runner.  I can take being beaten fair and square by someone with more experience than me.  But to get trumped by some twit who proceeds to spend the next ten months whining about being called upon to do basic tasks that are part of their fucking job?  Yeah, screw those guys.  They're the ones born on third base and are pissed that they can't have someone wave them into home.  Why do they have to wait until someone else hits the ball?

Frankly, I'm tired of losing to these guys.  And I don't blame the showrunners at all. I know they've done what they can.  The fact that I've seen this play out for many years across several shows tells me that this isn't their fault at all.

This is not meant to demean every writers' assistant.  There are a number of those who do manage to get hired through conventional means.  (A good trick is to have the writer hire you before the pilot is officially picked up. A showrunner who doesn't want to get saddled with a dud shouldn't put themselves in a position where the network knows there's a vacancy.)  But if you work in TV and you find yourself dealing with a writers' assistant who acts like getting coffee and taking notes is beneath him, you probably wonder "How did this idiot get hired?"

He knew the right people. And the "right people" didn't give the people who had to work with that twit any say in the matter.  I wish I had advice about what to do about this, but I don't. This is a venting post.

I'm not saying I'm owed a job just because I've proven my worth to those people in the past.  I do feel like I and every other person in that resume stack at least deserves a chance to present ourselves as a more grateful alternative to these spoiled dilettantes who often leave the business within five years anyway.


  1. Ah, here we get the "bitter" of the bitter script reader. Not that it isn't justified.

    When I first started looking for work in Los Angeles, I was all about production companies or studio assistant positions. Then I got a job working for a Hollywood temp agency. I saw what the people hiring were looking for and what kind of applicants were getting hired, and it quickly changed my mind.

    I'm perfectly fine having a "day job." I work 8-5 in an industry completely removed from entertainment. Then I spend 2-3 hours each night and my weekends at the coffee shop writing.

    Now that I'm finally starting to break into the industry, I'm coming at it solely as a writer. When I come back to my job and tell my coworkers about my meetings, they're genuinely excited to hear about it and insanely supportive. Not the bitter jealous of people who wanted those meetings themselves. Plus the fact that my job gives me interactions with people completely removed from the bubble of entertainment.

    I'm sure my path is not for everyone, but it works for me.

  2. Apparently, all college graduates should get jobs in the fast-food industry.

    Oh wait, they already do, because you can't get a job unless you have experience. Of course, you can't get experience until you get a job.

  3. I ran into the same problem when I moved to LA after having served in the Army for five years. I thought my background as a veteran would put me at the front of the line. I couldn't have been more wrong. I tried for years to get a job as an assistant and continuously failed. The few jobs I was able to get were just temporary positions.

    It seems to me that getting hired as writer's assistant requires a very specific background. They want Ivy League or USC/UCLA grads who under 25. Anything else and you might as well not even apply.

    You're also right about the whole UTA Job List and other such things. While working a temp job at a small production company I was told to post a job listing for a DP for a commercial shoot. I got dozens of resumes, including ones from a few friends. The owner never even looked at the resumes, he just had the director hire a friend. The job listing was just for show.