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How to Get Your First Job as a TV Writer

By March 24, 2021 No Comments

It’s officially springtime and you know what that means: sunnier skies, kids excited for the end of the school year, and TV staffing season!

Maybe that last one is a bit specific to this industry, and over the years, streaming networks with year-round scheduling have diluted the number of projects that are hiring in spring, but the season still serves as an anchor that the majority aligns itself around.

So how do you land one of these spots when so many of the entry points to the industry currently aren’t available? It can seem from the outside that it’s harder than ever to find your way but, in fact, it’s the same routes through more creative paths!

Assistant Gigs

Probably the most “obvious” answer to questions on how to break in is “get an entry-level, assistant gig”. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds. Many companies have not started hiring again at the same rate they were before, but there are positions available. Seek out Facebook groups, track LinkedIn, and dedicate an hour or two every day to hunting for those gigs and you can find a few. Even better if you have some friends that are already in the industry that will let you know if they hear of anything. So much of the hunt right now is being one of the first to apply since those hiring are inundated, so make sure you always have an updated resume ready to go!

This goes for any kind of assistant position, whether it’s at an agency, production company, studio, or as a Writers’ Assistant in a room. That last job title is particularly difficult to come by unless you know someone, as our own Preston Walker mentioned when we spoke to him about his journey, so keep plugging those connections.

The reason you want an entry-level position, potentially before staffing, is because they’re going to teach you the business on a level that is completely different than just reading about it in the trades. You’ll know the etiquette, the major players, and get to know a group of people who will “graduate” through the ranks alongside you. Once you’re in, you can find paths to a writers’ room.

Fellowships

Fellowships are a great way to get noticed by the right people in television. Each contest has its own rules and requirements, but they all have submission periods in May. Disney’s may be the most well-known because it pays the writers that are selected for the program so they can spend the following year working solely on their writing, in addition to connecting them with writers and creators in the hopes of getting you staffed once you complete your year.

Similarly, there is Warner Bros. Writers’ Program, ViacomCBS Mentoring Program, and NBC Writers on the Verge. These programs do not pay, but put the participants through a series of meetings, training, and networking sessions, and they work to get you staffed. There are a few other programs for writers that happen throughout the year (Warner Media, Imagine Impact, Nickelodeon, but these are the main ones when people are talking about “fellowship season”).

If you’re looking for something later in the year, this year’s ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship opens in October.

Contests

While Fellowships take on submissions in the spring, there are contests year-round available to you! Contests are great for getting your name out there and connecting you to representation (which we’ll get to in a little bit…). Many of them come with monetary awards, in addition to the connections and bragging rights, and the opportunity for feedback to let you know where you stand against other writers coming up in the industry.

In the case of Launch Pad, many past featured writers have talked about how placing in the competitions here gave them access to the Launch Pad team who were immensely helpful in preparing them for the interviews and meetings they were about to go on with industry professionals, as well as helping get their script and/or pitch materials in the best shape to meet people. It’s an incredible value that’s potentially available to you.

Network with Other Writers

As mentioned before, who you know can help you a lot with breaking in. But if you’re not in Los Angeles (or a global stay-at-home order is happening), how are you supposed to find those people?

The beauty of being a writer in 2021 is that you can be the most introverted person, in an area on the opposite side of the country, and you can still meet people thanks to online resources. Check out Facebook groups, join the Clubhouse app, sign up for (usually free or inexpensive) panels on screenwriting, take part in networking events like the ScreenCraft Writers Summit, check out the resources on the WGA’s website… there are more opportunities out there for you to find your people than you realize.

Once you know where the writers are, start reaching out for video chats or join a writers’ group! Creating those more intimate connections and friendships are vital to find your squad in this industry to lean on and look to for opportunities and advice.

#PreWGAStaffingBoost

Back in 2019, as the WGA faced an “agentless” staffing season, it was forced to get creative to get writers opportunities. How were mid-level writers supposed to find jobs and negotiate for themselves? How were new writers supposed to even break in? The WGA worked to create a platform that writers could be discovered on, but union members also took matters into their own hands. They created two hashtags, #WGAstaffingboost for writers already in the union and #PreWGAstaffingboost for new writers. Writers could pitch themselves on Twitter using the hashtag and receive reads from established writers. Should the reader like the script, the person that submitted would see their name announced on Twitter that showrunners and other creators should know.

It was a great, grassroots way to support writers and while the project was short-lived, the hashtags remain as a great resource of information and opportunities.

Yes, You Need a Rep

As mentioned before, the WGA and the major agencies were in an on-going legal battle that has since come to an end. This was incredibly difficult because, while a manager and lawyer can represent you, they are not meant to serve the role of an agent. A manager builds and shapes your career, helps you develop material, and can connect you to producers and executives. A lawyer can also connect you and can negotiate on your behalf. But an agent can solicit work and this is major. Managers have definitely been able to assist in the process though, so don’t fret if you don’t have an agent yet!

It is possible to find a staffing opportunity onto a series, usually through people you know, when you don’t have representation. Typically, this will happen to Writers’ Assistants or someone with a close connection. And the moment that opportunity comes your way, those same connections will also help you find representation because someone will need to negotiate on your behalf. This route isn’t impossible, but it shouldn’t be your gameplan.

Script Consultants

In the last decade or so, there’s been a rise in a new career path: script consultant. These are people who writers pay to work with them to help them develop their scripts and train them to get to a place where they are ready for representation and staffing. These consultants are not cheap, but they are good at what they do, having a lot of success stories and previous experience as either literary reps or executives. They know what it takes for you to become a working television writer and can definitely help, but there’s not a timeline as to how long that path takes to get to your goal and you have to pay for their services upfront instead of their taking a 10% like a rep would.

Have Your Scripts Ready!

The best possible thing you can do to get a job as a television writer is to write! You’re probably sick of reading/hearing that, yet it’s the most important thing.

It will not matter how many people you know if you don’t have a script to say you’re a writer. It will not matter how talented you are if you don’t have a script to prove it. You cannot get a literary rep if you haven’t written anything already. And you can’t prove that you can join a writers’ room when you apply to a fellowship or a contest without a script.

Therefore, the first thing you should do, before anything else, is write a good script. Then do it again. And again. And again. And if you do that while also putting yourself out there, then the people who you need to know to get staffed will find you.


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