How did you land your position as writers’ PA?
Brenden Gallagher: I was the office PA on the medical show Heartbeat when our Showrunner’s Assistant was promoted to staff writer. The PA bumped up to SA and I moved over and became the writers PA.
What specific skills does a writers’ PA need to have?
Brenden: You need to be organized, of course, but the biggest thing for me is that I think some familiarity with how film/TV works really helps. I think that a post PA, office PA, or casting/agents assistant job can really prepare you for the gig.
What type of learning opportunities and/or interaction with the writing staff is there as a writers’ PA?
Brenden: This all depends on the show, but I think it is reasonable to expect that once the room gets in a flow (a few weeks to a month in), you can get a little time to observe in the room. I would do it where I would bust my ass to get all of the day to day tasks done in the morning (office needs, lunch, tidying up) so I could observe for a bit in the afternoon.
I also think that it is smart to be the first one in and last one of out of the writers room. That is kind of what is expected of a PA unless you have a writer who loves to stay late or comes in insanely early. But if you do this, you’ll get one on one time here and there to pick the brains of the writers on staff who you might not interact with a ton on a daily basis.
What are some of the things you learned as a writers’ PA?
Brenden: The most important thing is to learn how to do the other assistant jobs so you can get promotes (showrunner’s assistant, writers’ assistant, script coordinator). I personally have no interest in being a script coordinator so I never bothered to learn that one, but you generally should expect to do one or more of these jobs before you get staffed.
But, you should also be able to learn a ton about the writing process. You are getting every document, from one-pagers to full scripts. You are CC’d on emails with agents, directors, and editors. You are probably chatting with anyone who visits the room — from star actors to DPs — as they wait to invited into the room or the EPs office. You might be setting up conference calls with producers and directors. Be a sponge. There is no reason not to learn pretty much anything you need to know about how a room works during a season, even if your time physically in the room is limited.
How did being a writers’ PA make you a better writer?
Brenden: There are a lot of ways, but most importantly, I learned what all of the documents (outlines, colored drafts, pitch decks) that you need in TV writing look like, and I also learned how process works in the room (note cards, pitches, how to talk to your superiors without stepping on toes). I think that is just stuff you can’t learn from a book.
What was the most valuable thing you took away from your time as a writers’ PA?
Brenden: I learned that I have what it takes to be a TV writer, and that it is only a matter of time until it’s my turn.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
Brenden: That is a tough question in this market because young writers are selling little shows all the time. But, I hope to either be working up the ladder somewhere in the executive story editor / co-producer level or I hope to have sold something and skipped the line to executive producer level. Only time will tell.
What other advice do you have for aspiring TV writers looking to get their start as an assistant?
Brenden: The best advice I ever got about TV writing was from showrunner Chris Fife. He was an assistant until he was 35, and now he’s a big time showrunner with a ton of EP credits under his belt. He told me, “Don’t look in other people’s windows.” The average age of assistants I’ve worked with is somewhere around 30, and it is very common not to get stafffed until your mid-30s. Assistants you know will get staffed before you. I have friends who are a few rungs up the ladder while I’m still an assistant because my shows haven’t been renewed and I haven’t had the chance to move up. That is normal. It’s a marathon not a sprint, and just because you aren’t where you imagined you would be by now doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts, even as you watch your peers become the next hotshot showrunner.
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Brenden Gallagher is a writer who lives with his wife Claire Downs and his pug Goober in Los Angeles. He works as a writers’ assistant in TV drama and freelances for various publications around the internet writing about culture, TV, film, and politics. He is currently producing lots of samples as he chases that elusive staff writing gig.
Brenden’s Website: https://www.brendengallagher.com
Brenden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brendengallagerFind us here: