The Showrunner’s Assistant

Apr 17, 2019 by

Erin Conley – Showrunner’s Assistant on Netflix’s SHADOW AND BONE / formerly Showrunner’s Assistant on Netflix’s IRON FIST and Fox’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, Writers’ PA on ABC’s BLOOD & OIL
Shelby Enlow – Showrunner’s Assistant on NBC’s SUNNYSIDE / formerly an assistant at management company Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment

How did you land your position as a showrunner’s assistant?

Erin Conley:  My current job is thanks to a recommendation from the previous showrunner I assisted, who happened to know my now-boss socially.

Shelby Enlow:  Well, first I’d like to note that I went through six job interviews and plenty other rejections before I got this, and a lot of people go through more. I just think it’s important to share our obstacles so no one thinks everyone’s doing great and no one is crying in the bathroom. But, my best friend at work was good friends with Mike Schur’s assistant. I met her once, and we got along great! When she was getting promoted to writers’ assistant, she asked me if I wanted to apply for her desk, and of course I said yes. I interviewed with Mike, who was the nicest man I had ever met in my life, and through another turn of events, I interviewed with Matt, the other nicest man I had ever met in my life, and the rest is history!

What specific skills does a showrunner’s assistant need to have?

Erin:  I think attention to detail and a calm demeanor are crucial. Any showrunner has a lot on their plate, and it’s your job to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Also, a lot of high-stress situations can arise for showrunners, and I think a great assistant can remain composed and professional throughout, not only to help keep them calm, but to help diffuse and resolve those situations as efficiently as possible.

Shelby:  Any industry assistant in general shines with three qualities that really stand out to me. The first is being resourceful and forward-thinking – if you don’t know an answer, thinking of a way to find it without bothering someone above you, and then asking yourself how it could be useful in another context.  Another is just being kind and offering to help anyone out with anything; it’s a hard job for everyone, and kindness goes miles when everyone is stressed out. And less tangibly, but most importantly I think, is holding tightly to a sense of confidence in one hand, and an ability to read the room in the other. You can’t be that person throwing your work on peoples’ desks all the time and asking for their time and energy. But if an opportunity arises and you have a really good relationship, trust in the work you’ve done and speak up for yourself!

What type of learning opportunities and/or interaction with the writing staff is there as a showrunner’s assistant?

Erin:  A showrunner’s assistant primarily works out of the writers’ office, so there is a great deal of opportunity for daily interaction with the writers. I really think you can learn a ton from this job because you see the entire process of how the show gets made at a very high level.

Shelby:  A showrunner’s assistant is usually hanging out in or around the room and can hear most everything discussed, which is so helpful. You get to see how they break story, how they outline episodes, and then how they revise once a writer comes back in with a finished draft.

What are some of the things you learned as a showrunner’s assistant?

Erin:  I have learned so much because I have gotten to see the entire process of making a show, from start to finish, on three different shows now. From being so close to the showrunner, you learn about what challenges arise and how they handle them, as well as all the elements that go into making a television show. Especially for anyone who hopes to be a showrunner one day themselves, I think the job is really valuable just because of the access you get.

Shelby:  I hadn’t done a lot of production work before, so it’s been particularly helpful for me to see how a whole production staff operates in pre-production, and generally what it’s like to take a pilot from start to finish. Seeing all departments collaborating at such a level of excellence is part amazement to me, and part relief. In little short films, you do everything yourself. I am glad to know, if TV is what works out for me, that I am not meant to set up lights, but I can trust that other people are very, very good at it!

How did being a showrunner’s assistant make you a better writer?

Erin: Being aware of the challenges of production and of post-production has definitely informed my writing. I can now read a draft of a script and immediately tell if it will be super expensive to produce or not. The more you see how the process goes and learn the challenges that frequently arise when writing and producing television in terms of what works and doesn’t work, it works its way into your own writing in a beneficial way.

Shelby: Really, it’s assured me that, above all, writing should be fun. You end up with a better script if you allow yourself and other writers the space to goof and bond with one another while being mindful of what you need to get done. Nothing is funnier than the result of people just having fun together!

What was the most valuable thing you took away from your time as a showrunner’s assistant?

Erin:  Amongst many things, I learned just how difficult showrunning is, not just from a creative perspective, but from a business one. Aside from making sure the end product is creatively good, you also have to manage a lot of personalities and do your best to keep everyone happy along the way, and most of the time, that’s impossible. The best showrunners are more than just great writers, they are great bosses and managers.

Shelby:  I’m still early in the process, but I’d honestly say just being able to witness the whole process of writing and production, from start to finish, has been most helpful to me. It’s something you learn a lot from just by osmosis, which I’ve been grateful for.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

Erin:  My goal is to get staffed and be working in a writers’ room as a writer.

Shelby:  Well, I’m hoping to become a staff writer on a half hour comedy or a late night show in the next few years. Hopefully I’m working my way up the ranks of a room by year five. Eventually, I’d like to be a showrunner with my own show!

What other advice do you have for aspiring TV writers looking to get their start as an assistant?

Erin:  Move to LA. Apply to any entertainment industry job you can. Everyone starts somewhere, and there will be time later to take small, half-steps in the direction you ultimately want to go. Network! Every job I have ever gotten on a show has been thanks to a friend or former colleague. And finally, always be writing your own stuff. The day will come when a writer, showrunner, agent, or manager asks to read something, and you have to be ready.

Shelby:  First, I’d say find internships that align with what you like and want to do. I also say, if you feel it’s right for you (at least for a short while), to work in representation. It isn’t glamorous, and it’s the only thing I know and can speak to, but it was very helpful for me as a crash course in becoming a good assistant, as well as getting to work with high-level clients who now know I’m a person who exists and (hopefully) made a good impression on them. From there, you’re just talking to so many people every day – clients, and friends you make at other companies. You have access to so much information – including the early stages of projects those clients and companies are working on who need support staff. That early knowledge can really open doors to where you want to be!

To see the other types of TV assistants, click -> HERE

Erin Conley is a writer who has been working as an assistant in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles for almost eight years, most recently as a showrunner’s assistant on three different television drama series. In 2014, she began writing theater reviews on her website, On Stage & Screen, and quickly gained recognition in the LA theater community, leading to membership in the prestigious LA Drama Critics Circle. Her favorite show of all time and reason for pursuing this crazy career is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but lately she won’t shut up about The Leftovers. 

Erin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Erinsk8

Shelby Enlow is a comedy writer and performer trained in Chicago who now lives in Los Angeles. She was previously a contributor at ClickHole and Reductress. Shelby has studied with The Second City, iO Chicago, and is currently studying at The Groundlings. If you would like to get ice cream or talk about murder and ghosts, please just let her know.

Shelby on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shelbyenlow

Kevin

I invented the Frappucino. My dream is to visit Dollywood. Sometimes I host a podcast on writing @ScriptsScribes. Only one of those things is true.
Kevin

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