Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

Maybe they won’t notice I don’t know what I’m doing…

How I Broke Into TV Writing, Part 4

This is Part 4 of How I Broke Into TV Writing. Here are Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Okay so when we left off on this completely indulgent four part memoir that I’m disguising as a self-help blog, I had just finished working in my first writers’ room and was set to work as a script coordinator slash show runner’s assistant for the first time.

The new show was another pilot and I was pulling double duty due to budgetary reasons. The production company I interned with previously was proudcing so I had familiarity with the producers. But my bosses aka the creators of the show were new to me.

Thankfully, they were total gentleman. Like BFF they invited me into their creative process and I was able to pitch ideas as they developed the pilot and prepped it for shooting. I had lucked out twice in a row. My Swimming With Sharks moment would have to wait.

At the same time I was learning the ropes of what a script coordinator does, working out of the production office on the Paramount Studios lot. Paramount is the only studio still in Hollywood proper and it has very old school vibe to it. It’s what you think of when you think of Hollywood studio.

My first day I met the 1st AD who scared the shit out of me. I would learn later that this is what 1st ADs do. The 1st AD or Assistant Director are the boots-on-the-ground managers for the show.

They breakdown the script and figure out how to organize the shoot the most efficient way. They run the production meetings and make sure everyone in the crew is on the same page. They have an incredibly stressful job, keeping the production on schedule and more importantly on budget. So yeah, they can be scary. And yell a lot.

I was minding my own business proofing the latest draft of the pilot script when this guy walks up to me, opens his script and stabs his finger at the page saying, “Just so you know I flip the numbers on the scenes so the letters are first. Okay?“ “Uh. Yeah. Of course.”

There is know resource guide when it comes to script coordinating. No wiki. No For Dummies. So when you have a question that you have no idea the answer to, you have to either ask another script coordinator or you need to become Sherlock Holmes and sleuth the shit out of the answer.

The thing is everyone just assumed I knew what I was doing, which while flattering was also incredibly stressful. I didn’t want to let anyone down.

But this experience taught me something important: people accept whatever you tell them you are. You have a couple of fuck-ups before it might dawn on them that not is all that it seems to be.

This notion had never occurred to me. To present myself as anything other than what I was. Or that others might do the same. Call it naïveté. Call it honesty. I call it being dumb.

Other than being scared and uncomfortable, having no clue what I was doing also taught me another important lesson. When you Level Up you have to accept that you won’t feel completely ready.

I never feel ready to take the next step but I’ve learned to accept this actually means that I am ready. Or ready enough.

Sure your green will show but you need to learn to be okay with that. I have a hard time looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t like feeling like a disappointment or a fraud. But it is such an important part of growth. And people are way more accepting of an honest beginner than an arrogant one.

By accepting that I didn’t know everything, I resolved to just get better. I sought answers when I didn’t have them. I felt my dumbness ooze out all over my dumb face.

Thankfully, the production crew I worked with was very experienced and they helped me with the bumps along the way. I could also email the script coordinator I worked with on BFF if I had any questions.

The pilto shoot went off without a hitch, which was saying something considering it took place in an abandoned hospital and involved dozens of animals, including a monkey and a tiger. ANIMAL PRACTICE was picked up for the fall and I was asked to come on board.

They had lined up all the other writers’ room support jobs so they asked me to just be the showerunner’s assistant. It was a bummer not to be in the room but being an admin assistant has its perks. You have a lot of downtime to write. Of course, I was a dummy and didn’t do this. I still regret how much time I wasted. Nothing like having a couple kids to reframe the concept of time.

Another perk is you are on all of the notes calls with the network and studio. Network TV is famously a process. Everyone has an opinion on how to make the show. Everyone has a vision of it in their mind’s eye. It’s the coalescing of these visions (or not) that is the challenge of every writing staff.

Between scheduling calls and ordering lunches, I did a fair bit of research for the room in my down time. We were a veterinary-based show so there were questions about animals and science and the business of it all. I think I forgot everything?

For the most part I tried to keep my head down and do my job. We were very separated, with assistants on the second floor and writers on the third, so I wasn’t able to “network” with the writers as much as I had hoped.

When our showrunner was replaced, I got to know the new showrunner pretty well. A month later when Animal Practice was canceled four episodes into the season, he ended up bringing me onto a couple of his projects as an assistant.

It was great to have the work but it would be almost a year before I was back in the writers’ room this time as THE writers’ assistant.

Stay tuned for next time when I tell you how I nearly imploded from stress and anxiety! Yay! Happy Holidays!

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

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