How To Get A Staff Writing Job

Back in August, Chad Gervich wrote this great post about staffing. I encourage you to read it. He answers many of the FAQ I receive from readers.
The two most common ways to land a staff position are:

(1) First become an assistant, then be promoted
(2) Have your agent or manager submit your script to the showrunner

Below, I’ve reposted Gervich’s main points regarding staffing (in bold) and added additional thoughts.

TV shows don’t accept submissions from outside writers.

If you don’t have an agent or manager, a showrunner will not read your script unless you have a personal connection to them (i.e.; they’re your boss or someone you know is willing to pass your script along to them.)

What about freelance specs?

As Chad explains:

Most of the time — and by “most” I mean “pretty much all of” — freelance scripts are given to either:

    • The show’s writers assistant
  • The assistant to the show’s showrunner or executive producer
  • A personal writer-friend of the showrunner, often someone who’s already an established professional writer

Which is another reason why, as I repeat loudly on this blog, it’s essential — if you want to be a TV writer — to be in Los Angeles, networking and building your base of contacts.

You can’t submit a spec of a show to that same show.

Your agent is not going to send your Big Bang spec to Big Bang. First of all, the writers of BBT know the show better than anyone else, meaning they’re going to judge it harsher than anyone else. But more importantly, it’s a legal issue. Good specs often feature a story similar to something that ends up being done on the show, and showrunners don’t want to be accused of stealing a young writer’s idea. On many shows, the studios actively discourage showrunners from reading spec of their own series.

I often hear writers say, “I know I could write a great Justified spec but I really want to work on Justified, so I’m going to write something else.” DON’T BE THIS PERSON. The chances of you landing a job on your favorite show are slim (even if you’re an established writer.) If you know you can write a great spec, write it! The most important thing is to write something you can write well.

Right now, sample specs seem to be out of fashion.

I disagree.

It’s true that most showrunners ask to read pilots. Not only do they want to hear YOUR voice, but they can’t bear to read one more Modern Family spec. That said, if they’re interested in hiring you, they will often ask to read a spec as well; they want to make sure you can mimic the voice/style of another show. The conventional wisdom is you must have, at minimum, one pilot and one spec of an existing show.

A show must be hiring at your level in order to hire you.

For your first job, you’ll be hired as a staff writer (the lowest level). But not every show has an opening at that level. Many shows promote assistants to staff writers, etc. And some new shows don’t hire low-level writers at all. Post writers strike, shows have smaller budgets and smaller staffs. Some pilots hire five upper-level writers and no lower level ones.

Showrunners tend to promote their assistants or hire friends.

That’s why connections are so important. Showrunners promote assistants, they hire writers they’ve worked with before, they hire writers that are recommended by other writers they trust, and they hire writers that are recommended by agents and managers. Occasionally a showrunner will discover someone on their own (a playwright) but it’s rare. As Chad says, that’s why it’s so important to live locally and network.

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