Saturday, October 13, 2007

Read Jane's Blog. Read Mine. Compare. Discuss

The great Jane is doing something awesome right now on her blog. She's having a real live writer's assistant, Marcia, share her experiences from the room. So cool. So depressing.

I thought it would be fun to highlight the similarities and differences in our experiences. Keep in mind that one huge difference is that I don't work in a TV writing room. My bosses are writing a feature animation project and at most there are three writers at a time in the room pitching ideas and trying to break the story. That being said, I've bolded Marcia's points and written what I've experienced directly afterward.

1. The pay is just enough to get by and more hours than you can imagine.

True, the hours are longer than my last assistant job with an executive, but nothing awful so far. Generally I'm there 830-730...I have heard tell of much longer hours possibly coming in the future, though, and have already worked one weekend and one night until 10 (but I got free dinner out of it!) The pay, somewhat surprisingly, is not bad at all, and the benefits are excellent. Plus, I am guaranteed to be paid on a 50 hour week even when I work less than that. Not too shabby.

2. It'll never be the job you pictured when they handed you your diploma back in college. Not even close. A sentence you're sure to mutter under your breath: "I'm so glad I worked my tush off for a first rate education from a four year institution for this."

Yes and no. As with any assistant job, I've been asked to do a few boring, menial tasks, but I've found that to be more than balanced by the fun side of being asked to write my own pass on various documents, being in the room with writers and simply watching the process.

3. You'll be expected to sit quietly by as you watch a roomful of people do exactly what it is you'd cut off both of your hands for a shot to do (and that's a big sacrifice considering you need those hands to keep your current job.)

This is sort of true, although I have a feeling less true for me than others. My bosses seem to respect my opinion and have no problem with me offering up ideas. I try to do it sparingly and in lulls, but the point is that I get to do it. They've even incorporated a few of the things that I came up with.

Marcia also points out skills she says you absolutely need:

1. Make sure your typing skills are honed. This may seem obvious, but new writers' assistants are frequently shocked by the fast pace of a writers room. Nothing will get you fired faster than an inability to keep up, causing notes to be incomplete and basically useless to the writers. That includes being adept at spelling and punctuation. Often, the writers assistant's computer is connected to a large TV monitor so the writers can see what you're doing, and nothing distracts them more than your errors.

Thank god there's no monitor in the room where I work. I try very hard to keep up and am slowly learning which things are important to record and which don't matter as much, but I always get a sense of panic when one of the writers turns to me and says, "Did you get that?" Uh, I think I did. No one has had anything but good things to say so far, though, so hopefully I'm doing okay. A few days ago they finally went to pages after weeks of breaking the story and outlining, and I turned in somewhere around 105 pages of notes from the room. This is not including meetings I've had to record and transcribe, which would probably add another 100-200 pages.

2. Study up. Be an expert at one of the two most popular scriptwriting software programs, Final Draft and Movie Magic. I have found Final Draft to be the most common, but Movie Magic would be number 2. If you're already a pro at one, it wouldn't hurt to have a cursory knowledge of the other, if only to be able to convincingly lie when you're asked in an interview. Also study up on MAC and PC operating systems. The computer in the writers' room tends to be whichever the show runner prefers, so be prepared to use both.

I think this is one of those "duh" things that applies to just about any job you take: learn as many programs and operating systems as you can. Being called on for tech support isn't so much a writer's assistant thing as it is a young person's thing. This is definitely something I should work on, as I have no experience with Movie Magic and only moderate experience on Macs.

3. Thicken your skin. A writers' room is a place where writers need the freedom to pitch any and all ideas, including the outlandish, the shocking, and the sexually explicit in order to have something to temper down for air. It's not a room where one should feel censored. Censorship is the antithesis of creativity, so a cringe, a self-righteous stare, or any other form of judgment on your part is a bad idea. It gives you what some writers would call a bad "room vibe." I'm not saying prepare yourself for a hostile work environment, but don't expect a normal one either. If you don't think you can handle that, walk away now.

You remember that story from a few years ago of that woman who tried to sue the Friends' writers because she felt violated, right? Well, get ready to feel violated. Luckily I'm not easily offended, but we've had long conversations on everything from gay bathroom signals to Fidel Castro to poop dildos. Yes, that's right, poop dildos. This shit (he punned) goes on all the time, and you just have to embrace it. If you can't, I would suggest considering writing features...or novels. The Room is going to be the Room whether you're an assistant or on staff, so...

That's it for today. Marcia will apparently be telling us more sometime soon, so watch Jane's blog. I know I will.


Anonymous said...

huh. informative :))

Anonymous said...

я так считаю: шикарно. а82ч