I follow @MysteryTVWrtrAs on Twitter. Apparently we’ve met before, but I have no idea who it is, and I know nothing about this person’s gender/ethnicity/age. I’m not even sure whether this person works in comedy or drama. We got chatting one night on Twitter, and I asked to do an interview. This person’s anonymity allowed for some candid answers about being a writers’ assistant.
What’s a typical day like as a writers’ assistant?
Every day is different. But a typical day is keeping your ass in the seat and taking notes. All the other writers get up to pee, you stay in your seat. Have an important call/text, redirect it to your laptop. I now have carpal tunnel due to many hours over many months with an indecisive Showrunner. It sucks, but it’s the path I chose.
How should someone go about trying to get a job as writers’ assistant?
My story: I was a PA on a show (how did I get that?…there was a listing for a PA gig on the studio website). While the other PA’s would take the long runs for the mileage reimbursement, I would get to know the writers by doing the short runs. Eventually the writers’ assistant was let go, and they needed someone ASAP…ME!!
I finished my new pilot! It took longer than I wanted, and I’m sure it can use another polish, but I’m happy with how it came out. That’s a pretty different reaction compared to the last pilot I wrote, where I felt like I was able to salvage it a little at the end.
I sent it off to a few agents, and am waiting to hear back. I hope it’s not too late for staffing season! (assuming anyone even likes it)
Trying to decide my next project. Should I write a spec for fellowships? Or another pilot? Maybe a feature? I asked some friends, and am leaning to writing another pilot, though I may also whip up a quick spec script.
Last week I got to go to San Francisco for CAAM Fest, and got to meet the other fellows. Check out the bios and the work of my super talented, accomplished fellows!
Since getting accepted into the CAAM Fellowship, I’ve had several discussions in trying to decide which mentor to try to go after. Should we go after a writer, a producer, or an executive? If it’s an executive, should it be someone in current series or development? We ended up picking someone who is a writer and Executive Producer. We felt like that role was the best one that could help me. The person we picked is high up and it’s a stretch, but why not at least try, right? Karin reached out to contact the person on my behalf, and I’ve been waiting to hear back.
Jeanne from Script Magazine mentioned me in a post regarding a picture of my closet doors that I posted on Facebook, so I figured I should post the pic here. I recently moved into a new place and I hated the cheap mirrored sliding closet doors. Unrelated, I also wanted a giant whiteboard to use for breaking stories, but whiteboards are expensive.
To solve both problems, I got these frosted glass sliding closet doors. I was inspired by the floor to ceiling whiteboard walls in the conference room of the office my writing group was using. Because they’re glass, dry erase markers wipe right off.
I work out the beats for the A, B, and C stories in separate columns, take pictures with my phone, then transcribe everything into my computer.
I hear a lot of people say not to work on specs, only focus on pilots, because agents and showrunners don’t want to read specs. Well, I went to a panel the other night, and one of the panelists was an agent from CAA. First, she said when she’s considering new clients, she wants to see a body of work, not just one script. She wanted to see consistency.
Also, she said she wants to read specs of existing shows, not just pilots, because even if a showrunner doesn’t ask for specs, she wants to know her client has the ability to match the tone and voice of a show. Good to know.
I was a fan of Hannibal on NBC, so when I met Kai and learned she was a writer on the show, I was pretty excited. Then she told me how she ended up getting staffed, and I wanted to share.
Can you talk a bit about your background? Did you study writing in school? Did you work as an assistant? Did you enter writing contests?
I was born in Taiwan and raised in a very small town (Salisbury) in Maryland. I went to Carnegie Mellon for college and while I did study writing, it was for fiction. I always knew I wanted to be a screenwriter so I purposely chose something that wasn’t film/television writing so I could have a different experience. After college, I came out to LA and got a job as an agency assistant. It made my life a living hell but the experience was invaluable. After spending two years in feature development, I moved to TV and worked as showrunner’s assistant and Writers’ Assistant on various shows before finally making the jump. Prior to my getting my first staffing gig, I tried writing contests twice but never got very far. So I just decided to focus on pilots instead of specs and forgo the writing contest route.
My finalist interview for the CAAM Fellowship was scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday, Jan 14. I left my office early at 5:30, thinking I’d get home by 6:15 at the latest. I already prepared for the interview, but wanted to do one more quick review of everything beforehand.
The interview was either going to be by Skype or phone. Phone interviews are hard because you get no visual feedback, so I was hoping for Skype. That way I could see the people interviewing me and gauge their reactions, instead of just talking into a void.
Unfortunately for me, there was ridiculous LA traffic. There had been a fire off the Pacific Coast Highway earlier in the day and that road was shut down, so all that traffic overflowed onto the route I take. After an hour of sitting in traffic, I had moved about 2 miles. There was no way I’d make it home in time. I emailed the people at CAAM and let them know the situation, and told them I could do a phone interview later that night at 7 as scheduled, or reschedule for a Skype interview the next day. They replied and said a phone interview later that night was fine.
I ended up pulling over in front of a Starbucks. All of my prep work was sitting on my laptop at home, so I wasn’t able to review anything beforehand. I turned on the light in my car, found a pen and the back of some receipts to take notes on, and had my interview. Not ideal circumstances, but I’ve done these phone interviews several times now: twice for Nickelodeon, and once for NBC. I know how to talk about myself and my work. I thought I did okay, but you never know.
I’m sure you’ve seen that Game of Thrones quiz that people have been posting to their Facebook pages. I didn’t think my result was that accurate (Daenerys), so I made my own.
Last Oct, a friend who had gone through WOTV a couple years before me emailed me about the CAAM Fellowship, which is a fellowship for Asian Americans in entertainment. She had gone through the program and said it was great, and she said I should apply. I hadn’t heard of it before, so I read up about the program on their site.
2013 was an interesting year. Not a good year writing wise, at least as far as tangible results go, but really great for other stuff.
My top 3 goals for 2013 were:
- Be a working writer, and get staffed on a show.
- Write at least 2 new pilot scripts.
- Write a feature script.
How many of those did I accomplish? None! Not even close.
Here’s what did happen with writing:
- I finished up WOTV.
- During WOTV, I had to leave the writers group I was in, but afterwards, I returned to the group. Thanks for letting me come back, guys!
- I started a new pilot. I got the outline done, but didn’t finish it.
- My pilot that I wrote during WOTV, Mailboys, was a 2nd rounder at the Austin Film Festival. I went to the festival with several friends and had a great time! I need to write a post on my experience there at some point, but the panels were inspiring, the parties were fun, and I even took a picture with Vince Gilligan (I’m pretty sure everyone who went to Austin has this same picture).