If your screenwriting career hasn’t taken off just yet, and you still need to keep your day job, it’d be nice if you could work in a relevant field. It keeps your mind in the game, allows you to build connections with like-minded people, and learn more about the movie and television business.
Take Caitlin Schneiderhan, for example. She’s a screenwriter with many accolades to her name, including being named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch. Her scripts have placed in the Austin Film Festival’s AMC One Hour Pilot Competition, Screencraft Pilot Competition, Cinequest Teleplay Competition, the Page Awards, and on the Bitch List. But she’s also worked other jobs in Los Angeles, some of which you may want to consider giving a go! Her current role is on the hit Netflix show ‘Stranger Things.’ Season 3 premieres July 4th on Netflix.
“I am the showrunner’s assistant on ‘Stranger Things.’ It’s a great job,” she said during an interview at the Writers Assistants Network mixer in Los Angeles. “You’re working on a show that a lot of people seem to have really connected with, so there’s a lot of great emotion surrounding it. My day to day job is pretty simple. I work for the Duffer Brothers, so I manage their schedules, I answer their phone calls. I sort of make sure that everything in their life goes smooth so they don’t stop thinking about the big picture stuff.”
Showrunners, meanwhile, are the “puppet masters” of the show. “So, that person has a lot on their plate. They’re dealing with everything from the writing process, through production through post-production. And that process can last, in our case, upwards of a year and a half. So, it’s very long, and very drawn out, and sometimes very arduous. The showrunners assistant is there to sort of make that a smoother ride.”
And then, there are writer’s assistants. “The writer’s assistant is a totally different job. Writer’s assistants sit in the writer’s room, with the other writers, and their job lasts as long as the writer's room does, which is anywhere from, if you’re talking cable, ten weeks, through if you’re talking a network show, up to 11 months. They take notes on everything that everybody says, every day, then they organize those notes, and they send them out at the end of the day. You’re in charge of keeping everybody’s ideas and thoughts organized, as they come flying out at you, and making sure that nothing is lost along the way.”
There are hundreds of other behind-the-scenes roles that don’t involve writing in the production of a film or TV show, but here are a few you may want to consider if you’re entry-level.
Production Assistant: The production assistant, or PA, does just about anything that the production may need. That could range from grabbing coffee, chauffeuring talent, or picking up equipment. You’ll learn a lot, meet a ton of people, and feel like you’re part of the action.
Showrunner’s Assistant: The assistant to the showrunner coordinates the showrunner’s day so that they can focus on the bigger picture items. Your job may include answering phones, keeping the schedule, taking notes, grabbing lunch, and more.
Writer’s Assistant: In the writer’s room, a writer’s assistant helps the writers keep track of all of the ideas being thrown out, takes notes, and may read and type scripts. If you ultimately want to be a writer, this is a good place to watch as the stories are developed. If you’re in a permissive writing room, they may even let you throw some ideas out yourself!
Script Supervisor: On set, the script supervisor makes notes about what was in the script versus what was shot and ensures continuity of props and blocking.
Runner: Production runners’ job responsibilities vary depending on the assignment. A runner could be assigned to site cleanup, paperwork duties, coordinating extras, and crowd control.
Tape Logger: A tape logger’s job occurs after shooting. The tape logger is responsible for organizing the film segments, adding time codes, and making sure all footage is useable.
Grip: A grip’s job on set is to hold microphones, cameras, and sometimes lighting.
These jobs often require long hours and the ability to think on your feet. But the payoff can be rewarding, and you’ll get a birds-eye view of what it takes to create some of your favorite shows to help you later when you’re writing scripts.
Good luck with your search,
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach