View Full Version : What's the best day job for Writers?

08-08-2004, 05:08 PM
I'm a newbie Screenwriter, so please forgive if this is an obivous question, but, is it better to support oneself working as an assistant or receptionist in the entertaiment field than say, Coffee Bean or extras work? Or would Production Assistant lead to anything?

I'm guessing that a receptionist at ICM talks to tons of industry people each day. However, does anyone know or even CARE about his/her writing talents? And don't assistants work long hours for little pay?

Coffee Bean or extras work probably pays more and it seems like you'd have more free time to write.

Additionally, I've heard that P.A. work is degrading and back-breaking, but wouldn't one make lots of director/producer contacts this way?

Please share your day job experiences, mistakes, etc., as I'm really desperate for advice! I'm 32 years old and can't afford to waste a year or two in a total deadend.

08-08-2004, 05:20 PM
For some reason, many people think that the best way to break into the industry is by taking low level jobs as P.A.s and such.

BTW, to become an agent's assistant usually requires 3 years of mailroom duties and when an assistant spot opens up, you have to interview, along with other mailroom clerks, for that slot. So getting an agent's assistant job is difficult.

I know lots of people who work as writer's assistant on shows or as P.A. And I know many who do nothing all day. Really the best way to break in is pursue an opportunity that would afford you the time to write. Because ultimately the best script that you can write will be the thing that will open doors for you.

08-08-2004, 06:47 PM
I agree with Ham that the job that pays your bills AND fits your writing schedule is the one to get - industry or not.

I would add though, that if you don't have any industry contacts, it might behoove you to work an industry job in order to make a few so that you have someone to show your script to.

I used to PA on feature films and gave it up because the hours are too demanding. However, working as an office PA at a production company might not be a bad choice for you - it would give you access to scripts, to coverage, to execs, and let you see how it all works.


Get a job at the coffee bean and then get a part-time internship at a production or management company. They are always looking for free labor from anyone with half a head on their shoulders and it might even lead to job opportunities should your biological clock tell you it's time to cash in your chips.

JakeSchuster aka Ostroff
08-08-2004, 07:02 PM
If you can swing it, any freelance writing job where you have to work to someone else's specifications. Professional musicians fill up their empty hours by practicing scales and the like. Keep your chops in order and write as much as you can.

08-08-2004, 07:09 PM
I've heard it said that the best day job for a writer is one that requires little or no thought. Something menial, that allows you to think about your stories and develop plot outlines while you're mowing lawns or serving cappucinos or whatever.

I work a desk job, and it seriously interferes with my writing. ;) But before that I worked in a packaging factory and I had all the time and brainpower I needed.

Of course, this wouldn't help you in terms of positioning within the industry. But it would allow you to put more thought into your writing.

08-08-2004, 07:12 PM
Probably one of those jobs that give you connections would be best for getting in.

But I think a more unusual job, one that put you in contact with a variety of different people, might be better for your writing. While I hated it at the time and couldn't wait to get out, a couple years in the army gave me a wealth of characters from which to draw. My dad met a fascinating array of oddballs while working as a porjectionist in a run-down little movie theater.

08-08-2004, 10:16 PM
Gia - If you ask ten different people, you're going to get ten wildly different answers.

If you get a job in the industry, you will quickly learn more about how the industry works, you'll have Variety and the Hollywood Reporter to read every morning for free, you'll be meeting all sorts of people on their way up in the business. In short, you'll have a huge leg-up on any of the internet wanna-bes (like me!) - but you'll be poor, over-worked, and probably mistreated.

If you get a job outside the industry, you might be better off financially and have more time to write. You can even maybe use that "life experience" outside the biz to create a great script. But you'll have to build all your connections like the other outsiders and wannabes - through queries and luck.

Whatever path you choose, two things to keep in mind-

1) You're going to regret your decision and wish you'd done the other thing. My friends in the industry who haven't yet made it wish they'd gotten life experience and more money by doing something else - my friends outside the industry would gladly give up the worthless stock options to get connections and a copy of Variety to read each morning.

2) Most importantly, the quality of your writing is what's going to matter. Whether you're sweeping floors or Bruckheimer's cabana boy, your writing is going to make or break you.

Best of luck!

Vining Wolff
08-08-2004, 11:02 PM
You'll find many people here have a plethora of jobs. I'm a professional engineer that makes, we'l a pretty decent living.

My day job affords me the security that I can write. Having three kids and sports makes it late night, whenever i can, but my workplace is gold mien for characters and dialogue.

08-09-2004, 12:43 AM
Once you have a handful of connections, do something that gives you time to write. I say teaching ESL is the way to go. Pays well.

08-09-2004, 09:19 AM
Thanks everyone for the amazing and eyeopening advice!!!!

Okay, one final question. In utter frustration (before I read your posts) I picked up a book about becoming a script reader in Hollywood. From my estimation, it looks like one could read & cover 2 scripts daily, earn about $500 weekly (before taxes, yikes!), and make industry contacts. Yet, I don't know about anyone else here, but if I read 2 scripts a day, then wrote detailed coverage, my brain would be mush, plus I'd probably feel pretty isolated as this looks like a work-from-home deal. Also, my neighbor recently asked me to read his screenplay -- a 140 page epic about his dating life, well, living nextdoor and all, I should've know it wouldn't be that interesting -- it was TORTURE!! Anyway, has anyone tried the reading thing as a way to make a living? :D

08-10-2004, 10:23 AM

Script reading is a difficult job to get into - there are a lot of people who want to do it and not many jobs available.

DoneDealer CE has written some good stuff about readers. Here's one thread of his from the FAQ section - p068.ezboard.com/fdonedea...D=71.topic (http://p068.ezboard.com/fdonedealfrm33.showMessage?topicID=71.topic)

A quick google search brought up this page that will hopefully be of help - www.latimes.com/classifie...-counselor (http://www.latimes.com/classified/jobs/counselor/la-041402counselor-storyanalyst,0,7055271.htmlstory?coll=la-class-employ-counselor)

Good luck!

[edit: Oops, misread the $ totals in her follow-up post.]

08-10-2004, 04:38 PM
I agree with the part about the job with little thought...and it helps to have access to the net at your job...and best of all no boss looking over your shoulder...kinda like my job...I'm a file clerk, work in a file room, alone..net access...no boss ever in here watching me fiddle with my writing between filing, etc...

08-10-2004, 06:55 PM
If you can get a security job in some major industry/shipping that is good. Years and tears ago I had a job at the remote gate of a corporate yard. It was quiet, and I did tons of reading and my earliest pro writing. I also made money from wise-guy types who'd pay for me to fudge logs. Spider Robinson began quite the novel writing career on the graveyard shift.

08-10-2004, 08:20 PM
Extra work pays about $50/day, when you can get it. You'll spend too much time chatting with the other extras to get much writing done. I did get to know a producer/writer from one show but most directors want their extras to be quiet and invisible when not on camera.

I got the most writing/thinking done when I did custom darkroom work, alone in a dimly lit room. Fluids quietly bubbled in the background. Contrast and color correction were pretty automatic once my mind tuned into it. The minute or so of down time while the processor did its magic gave me time to make script notes on the backs of test prints.

Another consideration is life experience for the job of writing. What have you done that gives you stories worth telling? Here are some suggestions: CIA opperative. Special forces soldier. ER doctor. Policeman. Therapist. Lawyer.

There is one job opening for every new writer: Student.

08-10-2004, 08:32 PM
I am constantly amazed at the number of TV writers who had major careers in other fields before deciding to write for a living.

And yes, the list above is accurate, even if the poster meant it somewhat sarcastically. Lawyers, special forces, covert ops, cops, FBI agents, brain surgeon....

I met a woman who graduated from Harvard, went to Harvard Law, clerked for a Supreme Court judge, worked for the State Department and was a presidential speech writer...

...and now works as a TV series writer.

Some of the resumes out there are simply mind-boggling.

One thing to be said for getting a job working on films and TV shows is -- you get to see how films and TV shows are made.

08-11-2004, 04:05 AM
School teachers can write one script per semester and then two during summer vacation, that's four scripts a year, if you can make in on the salary.

08-14-2004, 07:03 PM
Yeah. it's cliche. but it is perfect for many reasons.

You need a job that enables you to make lots of cash in the shortest period of time. I worked as a temp for the studios when I first moved out here. I couldn't believe the number of hours it required ... not only at the office, but in traffic on the way to and from the office and in my head when I got home .. Who knew answering phones could be so stressful? ...

Waiting tables is perfect cuz you only work about 25 hours a week and you make plenty of money .. enuf to pay your bills ... and you have ALL THAT TIME to write .. that is key .. time ... and you also don't have mind stress .. it's stressful to wait tables .. sure ... but your brain doesn't work in the same way as it has to when you have a 'real' job ... i had a real job for years before trying this ... and there is no way i could have completed my script while working that job .. (it was a writing job) ... my brain had nothing left after my eight-hour day ...

another thing ... don't work in the studios for the connections ..

if you're in LA, you meet people who are connected all the time ... without even trying
that part is the easy part
the great script is the hard part
and you need TIME TIME TIME to write it
and that is what waiting tables gives you

im done

08-15-2004, 11:16 PM
I actually have some expertise in this category. Unfortunately, I had no waiter/bartender experience when I moved out here so I got stuck working retail. That sucks. It'll crush your spirit and you can't live off the wages. I eventually got into the biz and I do recommend doing it, despite the downsides. You'll just feel a lot more pro-active in your career if you surround yourself by the industry. I'll share a few of my experiences but first, a few comments about some earlier posts.

I disagree with Ham. Becoming an agent's assistant is not that hard. You don't need 3 years in a mailroom, you just need a friend who works in the company or knows somebody. I have a lot of friends who got those jobs right off the bus. But if you have no connections, yes, you'll spend a lot of time sorting mail. But I wouldn't recommend this job anyway.

Forget script reading. A very hard job to get. And it will drain every bit of creativity you have.

Forget extra work. You have to be on set at approx. 6:30 AM. You'll be so exhausted, you'll never write. The money sucks. And you'll only meet other extras. I've never seen the extras talk to anybody of importance on set.

Now...I worked for quite some time as a writer's assistant. Not on a show, but just one on one with different writers. Sometimes I worked out of their homes (which sucks, it's uncomfortable and you don't meet any other people). But if you're lucky, you'll get to work closely with the writer--you'll prove your skills and learn a lot. Problem is--it's not the most steady job. They pay you from their own pocket usually (no studio deal for this type of thing) so when their scripts are done, you're done.

I also worked as a director's assistant on a big movie at Universal. That was a great experience. You'll learn a ton of stuff--stuff you can't find in books. But it's very stressful. Long hours and a lot of pressure. Money was decent, but at the end of that long day, you go home and dream about what you need to do at work tomorrow. And all you do is hope the director likes you because you feel like your entire future is at stake. It sort of is. This is the guy who will help you get your next job or recommend you to an agent or manager. So there's a lot of pressure to perform well. And believe me, you can never do everything right.

Jobs like this are mostly positive experiences if you can force yourself to make time for writing. I found that the writer's assistant jobs actually helped me be more productive in my own writing. Helping that writer for 6-8 hours a day was kind of a warm up. When I got home, I was ready to tackle my own stuff.

I would stay away from agency/management/studio stuff. Anything that relies more on business than creative is a bad way to go. Because after all of your hard work, you really haven't done anything to prove yourself as a writer. Or learn how to become a better one.

It goes without saying that jobs in the biz have long hours and little pay. But it is a great way to meet people. Believe me--all of the other assistants suffering like you will one by one become more important. It's smart to be their friend now so you can help each other out later. I think the pros out weigh the cons for most of these jobs. Most important: try to stay on the creative side and try to get in a position where you're not taking your work home with you. It's tough. A lot of these jobs want you to cover scripts. But that's your time for writing. So just feel your way around until you find one that's convenient enough for you.

Finally, I'm the kinda guy who studied film in college and really don't have any other skills. So having no choice but to take showbiz jobs with lousy pay sucks, but it also motivates. I know some people who are sitting pretty on their parent's money and don't write anything because there's nothing driving them. Struggling actually has some benefits. Use it to your advantage. Just be ready for the long road.


08-17-2004, 04:12 PM
Ele> great words of wisdom...
I'll add some that hopefully might help...

if you're young enough (and maybe even if you're not) i'd say go for the industry jobs too. you'll have to sooner or later and you may as well get your foot in the door.

i worked as a writer's assistant too, on a TV show, for no pay. it was a great experience but also kind of humiliating. i'm a published writer (major national publications mind you, not just 'podunk news') but it didn't matter even though one of the writers had less experience than me, he was a 'writer.' that's the nature of it. it depends on your experience, mine, for example, was very informal except the assistants were not allowed to talk. (I had to laugh when Debi Mazaar in "Entourage" (HBO) turned to her assistant and said, "ok, speak.")
In my experience, too, when some of the show didn't work, an exec prod came up to me and two other assistants and yelled at us: "Why didn't you speak up!? This scene sucks!" (hello! we weren't allowed to "contribute.")
that's the way it goes. I still loved the experience. If they had paid me, I'd probably still be there instead of onto bigger and better. (That's another thing to watch out for, when you take a gig, be really clear about your title and role and how long you're commiting. I'm sure they would've loved to keep us all working for free forever...)

on the other hand, due to circumstances at the moment -- I'm able to live in a nice place and have a bit of money in the bank, so it all depends.

The important thing to remember is: no matter what you do -- whatever it is -- it's a struggle. So chose well.

08-18-2004, 01:29 PM
let me just add that studio Reader jobs are union.

Boobsie Malone
08-18-2004, 09:20 PM
I also disagree that one has to be in the mailroom for years in order to procure an assistant job. I know someone at one of the big five whose assistant is from outside of the agency.

Writing In The Margins
08-19-2004, 01:03 AM
Agent's assistant job is fairly easy to get -- and no, it often doesn't require years in the mailroom. You have to be a particular type of person to handle that kind of stress though.

Postal Pictures
08-19-2004, 01:04 AM
If you go PA only do it for a year or two. You get a lot of knowledge about how things work and you meet some interesting creative people. Once you do that, get out when you can. You don't want to be stuck as a PA forever (I fear this happening to myself).

I have been a PA for a little over two years in and around the NYC area. I really think it's a good thing to do and it helps you understand film, I think writers should know the logistics of film production, might help them write more practical material. I started in my senior year of high school and it was an amazing introduction (even working on a feature war film). You fall in love with watching the director work, but then cringe when you have to go back to nailing a wall down with the production designer because on this set you've been assigned to the Art Department.

I originally took a lot of PA jobs because I wanted to direct more. I wanted to witness how professional directors deal with their actors and basically how it all comes together. I think it is better to get this on-set expierence than go to some film schools because you don't need a degree to set up a C-stand or roll a genny up a hill.

I am now studying film studies learning things like theory and criticism. Some people think that'd kill creative juices but I think it enhances mine, it makes me think what makes film as good as it is - not just how to. That's a whole other thing and off-topic, in short, being a PA does open some doors:

Still being a college student I submitted to intern some of my favorite TV shows and I got great responses. I am now going to start being an intern for Late Night with Conan O'Brien in two weeks, I think because I took time to be a PA. I know being an intern is nothing to be proud of, but I am hoping my experiences in their small, witty office will help me as a writer and maybe get to know some of their own hired guns. They also know I am a writer, it was all over my cover letter. I have one year left and am hoping to get another intern position at maybe New Line Cinema for my senior year (you're basically a script reader then, just paid in credit instead).

I guess my advice is to start young, but if not better late than never. You just have to pay your dues. It will be awesome at first, start to suck a little, but over all: worthwhile.

Boobsie Malone
08-19-2004, 01:09 AM
I wonder what type of personality one has to have to get PM responses?


08-19-2004, 09:16 PM
My vote goes to working within the industry.
Over the years I have seen a lot of people
move on from lowly assistant positions to
working writers and directors.

I just had a conversation with a 20-year-
old intern who gave his script to someone
here and is now being courted by a lit
agent. Meanwhile, his writing partner,
who works at a studio, gave the same
script to someone, who got it to someone
at UTA. Now, BOTH agencies want to
sign these kids.

A reader recently sold his script for 600K.
Two others just left to work as staff
writers - all of these jobs obtained through
connections made by working in the

An assistant got a writing gig (which led
to writing several sequels) after he
overheard his boss talking about a
desperate search to find a writer. He
approached his boss and eventually got
the gig.

Obviously, there are many factors to
consider, but if you don't need A LOT of
cash to maintain overhead, have little
or no ties, and lots of fortitude, working
in the industry is the smartest thing you
could do.

Good luck!


PS - In regards to the "receptionist" from
the first post... We have one here who
writes and hands off scripts to big wigs
al the time.

08-21-2004, 01:06 PM
Get a job at the nearest sewerage plant. Handling human waste all day is the perfect primer for this business.

08-23-2004, 10:27 PM
A limo driver in LA. The hours suck but you meet a lot of
interesting people. About $20/hr plus an occasional nice tip.


Winter in New York
08-26-2004, 03:00 AM
Working in a video store full or part time is a clever way to pay the rent. Hours are flexible, pay is fine considering the work. And you get free movies.

Hey, it worked for Tarantino... :smokin

Winter in New York

Queen Uhuru
09-04-2004, 09:37 PM
When I was a film student, the university provided internship opportunities for the students. You didn't even need to go begging around town, the school covered all insurance expense, etc. so the movie folks didn't mind at all "hiring" free labor.

I took as many internships as I could get and several were of the P.A. variety. I was sternly told by the production manager my first day on the job that I needed to have pockets in my jeans and to have a notepad and pencil in my hand whenever I wasn't doing something else. I found out there is a lot of idle time for P.A.'s and the production manager said at least I could scribble on the notepad and pretend to look busy because otherwise, the folks who were working their asses off might get a bit pissed off.

I also learned that you NEVER EVER exchange money as part of your job duties without giving the person who hands it to you a receipt and without expecting (and demanding, if necessary) a receipt for yourself when you brought the change back.

It took several takes of slating a scene before I learned how to do it right. The director simply could not go on until I'd learned my lesson. In front of everybody.

I learned how to develop a "sense" for where cables were without even looking down sometimes. Amazing what you can learn when you have to.

I learned to scamble up onto a catwalk and not show that I was terrified of heights. Never let 'em see ya sweat.

I learned to find opportunities to show how versatile I was. And how hardworking. And reliable. And helpful and willing to go that extra measure for the sake of the team.

I showed up on location before anyone else and had hot coffee and fresh bagels ready for the whole gang when they arrived.

I was "craft services" for one shoot at AFI and my budget was $30 total to provide two meals a day to approx. 30 people. You learn to lie. My best gotcha was the "ancient family heirloom recipe" for chile which meant EVERYONE WAS BANISHED FROM MY KITCHEN for the day. Heh heh... then I dumped two industrial sized cans of Hormel chile into two huge pots and let it simmer. And when I saw that Hormel cuts its meat into neat little squares, I thought, oh sh*t, the jig is up. But nobody ever caught on. They thought I was the best cook ever. That one still cracks me up.

I went from being "craft services" to assisting the set designer because I am also an artist and was able to think fast to come up with the stuff he needed.

Then I moved into the recording engineer's job when they quit in a huff (never knew the reason why). I'd spent nearly four years working the master control booth and sound recording and all that at the university. Basically, to record sound you have to know how to push Record and Play and Stop and not let the little needle go in the red and if you hear crap through your headphones, you yell, "Cut!"

So when the production manager went on to direct his own film, he called me up straight away and said, "You HAVE to come work for me!"

And that's how you meet people and network. Networking is key.

As for a non-industry job for a writer, I have to say that being a waitress at a large restaurant was perfect. You never have to be bored, you can always find something to do, you have an endless supply of characters and their stories coming through the front door and you have lots of cash in your hand when you leave at the end of your shift. And most of your coworkers are pretty decent about swapping hours and days if something important comes up.

I think the biggest "positive" I had either as an intern or a waitress was my reliability (always showing up and on time or early) and being versatile and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

09-15-2004, 04:48 PM
Get a job working in the vault at a studio home entertainment division. All you do is pull, log or file tapes (mostly trailers and tv spots). With the downtime you can write, do the crossword, or watch features or even learn how studios will position and market titles using trailers and tv spots.

Talkin' 'bout the pig

09-15-2004, 04:51 PM
Get a job working in the vault at a studio home entertainment division. All you do is pull, log or file tapes (mostly trailers and tv spots). With the downtime you can write, do the crossword, watch features or even learn how studios will position and market titles using trailers and tv spots.