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How I Broke Into TV Writing, Part 3

I had just finished up my first on-set experience working on the pilot for. The show was picked up (i.e. more episodes were ordered) and the producers hired me to be the writers’ PA for the series.

Our offices were located on a tiny studio lot tucked between the neighborhoods of Historic Filipinotown. Unlike, literally every other studio in LA, anyone could walk on to the lot. There was no security guard and only a rolling chain link fence to keep cars out. There was one sound stage, which housed our warren-like offices in the attic.

My duties included stocking the kitchen and office supplies, getting lunch for the writers, and assisting the writers’ assistant and script coordinator with whatever they needed.

Quick TV biz explainer: the writers’ assistant works in the actual writers’ room aka where the magic happens. They take notes on the all the pitches, jokes, and ideas generated in the room. Then at the end of the day, they organize everything into a cohesive document and send it out to the writers.

The script coordinator is the liason between production and the writers’ room. Once outlines and scripts are written, they proof and send to network, studio and production. They track all the changes for each script draft. They keep everyone involved with the show on the literal same page.

Both roles can also provide opportunities for assistants to get room experience pitching ideas and jokes. On this was encouraged. A good idea was a good idea, no matter who pitched it.

was a unique room because the creators process relied heavily on improv. The room would generate ideas and break story. Once the writer for the particular episode had created an outline, Lennon and Jessica would use that as a template to improvise the scenes. From there, the writer would have scenes and alternate takes to shape and expand on.

This had been their process for writing together but there was some trial and error to figure out how to make it all work with a room full of writers. For instance, we figured out pretty quickly it was best for the writers to work off a transcribed scene rather than an audio recording.

I researched transcript services and lo behold no one specialized in transcribing improv scenes for TV writers’ rooms. Lennon and Jess are adept improvisers. They would play all the characters, switching between them mid-scene, sometimes finishing each others lines as the other person’s character. It would be impossible to outsource to someone who didn’t know the show or even what improv was.

So they hired me to do it. I was now the 2nd writers’ assistant.

Transcribing their improvs was tremendous fun. I mean, my job was listening to two comedy geniuses say insane, funny things to each other. Often in multiple accents.

More to the point, I learned firsthand what makes a scene work and what doesn’t. By listening to their different takes, I heard in real time the adjustments they would make. How the figured out what the emotion of the scene needed to be. The best way to access their performance. Where the comedy was coming from. What the game of the scene was.

Often, you learn so much more from failure than you do from success.

After the room wrapped, we jumped right into shooting and I was able to stay on to assist the writers. We shot on location all around the city and I was able to see and experience all parts of LA. For the first time, this weird, often-impenetrable place was starting to open up for me.

We were so busy with shooting and writing, that I hadn’t thought much about what happens after. That’s when I learned a sad reality №1 about a career in television: there is no job security.

Jobs start. Jobs end. You hustle to find the next one.

This kind of freedom can be liberating. But up to this point I had only worked regular jobs. The show ending caught me flat-footed.

I still struggle with networking but back then I hated it. Networking for me was doing my job, being responsible and funny and having solutions to problems. I’d cross my fingers people would remember me and (hopefully) be asked on to the next thing. Thus “networking.”

To get the next gig I needed to be proactive. I reached out to one of the producers for the production company I used to intern for. They had another pilot going and I wanted jump on to it.

The producer told me of course they’d love to have me. But they needed an assistant a script coordinator and only had room in the budget to hire one person. “Do you think you could do both jobs?”

I almost said no. At the time, I had a very limited understanding of what a script coordinator actually did. I knew there’s a lot to keep track of and a lot that could go wrong. I hate to suck at my job. I didn’t want to fuck it up.

But I needed a job. I needed to take a leap. How hard could it be?

Join me next time when we’ll dive into the lovely world of script coordinating and the time I got smacked by a trained monkey!

Andrew writes TV shows, movies, and silly songs for his kids.