Please excuse the click-bait title. There are a million different ways to become a television writer. There is no right or wrong way to approach this career path. I can only tell you, from my experience, how best to become a television writer.
HOW TO BECOME A TELEVISION WRITER
The first thing you have to do if you want to become a television writer is move to Los Angeles.
If you are unwilling to move to Los Angeles, you can pretty much kiss your dreams of becoming a TV writer goodbye. Why? Because 99.99% of writers’ rooms are located in Los Angeles.
The vast majority of television shows are written by more than one person. The episodes are “broken” by a group of writers who all sit in a room together every day. They wake up in the morning, drive to work, sit in a room, and come up with story ideas for the episodes as a group. So even if a show SHOOTS in Atlanta, New York, or Vancouver, the writers’ room is in Los Angeles. Also, all the agents and managers and production companies are in Los Angeles. Everyone you need to KNOW to get a job and all the MEETINGS you will take are all in Los Angeles. It is possible (but not probable) to become a screenwriter writing movies not living in LA, but it’s near impossible to become a TV writer if you don’t live in LA. There are some tiny exceptions, but the vast majority of writers’ rooms are in LA.
Now, the #1 way to get a writing job in TV is by knowing someone who will champion your work and fight for you to get a job in a very competitive field.
This means meeting people and building relationships. It kind of works the same way that it works when trying to become a production assistant. There are tiers of hiring. The first person someone wants to hire is someone they have worked with before and enjoy working with. If that person is not available, the next person they hire is someone recommended by someone they like and trust. The very last person someone hires is a random person they’ve never met.
Now, when it comes to a writing job, unlike a production assistant job, your writing samples (original scripts) play a factor in everything.
If you have a fantastic writing sample, it can open doors for you. But, the sad truth is that it doesn’t play as big a factor as you may think. I know PLENTY of people who have become television writers who are not very good writers. But, to be honest, no one expects a staff writer (the entry-level tv writing job) to be a great writer. The VAST majority of staff writer jobs go to showrunner/producer assistants, writers’ assistants, writers’ PAs, and diversity hires. This is because a lot of writers like to “keep it in the family” and promote from within. YOUR job is to try and gain entry into one of those families by working from the bottom up as an assistant.
What is a diversity hire you ask?
Most writers’ rooms are full of white men because for a long time white men were the majority of people writing TV shows. But now there is a gigantic push to diversify writing rooms, so, in many cases, the NETWORK will PAY for that diverse writer. It’s a free writer for the show. And even if they don’t pay for that writer, they lay down a mandate. You HAVE to have a diverse writer on your staff. Which, to be honest, I think is a GOOD THING in theory, but it’s kind of turned into a total shit show.
These networks don’t GIVE A SHIT about actually diversifying writers’ rooms. I’ve seen it first hand. They only care about what the media will say if they don’t diversify a writers’ room. And their bosses are breathing down their necks to diversify writers’ rooms because there is a large public outcry to diversify writers’ rooms (for a good reason).
So these networks, in some cases, basically pay a show to hire a woman or person of color. But most shows aren’t hiring diverse writers for upper and med level writing jobs (TV writing jobs that go to writers with more TV producing experience, they pay more, etc.). These shows are only hiring diverse writers for entry-level writing jobs. Staff writer jobs. (THIS IS THE PROBLEM). This means if you’re a woman or person of color trying to get a TV job as a low-level staff writer, you odds have VASTLY improved. If you’re a white male, your odds of landing a staff writer job have VASTLY decreased. However, if you’re a woman or person of color trying to get a med to high-level writing job, your odds are still very low. And if you’re a white male trying to get a med to high-level writing job, your odds are pretty much the same as before the diversity mandate. And people will argue this point until they’re blue in the face, but it’s true.
Maybe only hiring minority staff writers is the single way to get diverse writers the experience they need to become med and high-level writers. I don’t claim to have the answer, but it doesn’t FEEL right.
Also, showrunners aren’t promoting their diversity hires (There are multiple positions as a TV writer, each promotion comes with more pay and more responsibility). These showrunners keep the diversity hires as staff writers (entry-level, low paying writers) or fire them after one season, and then hire on a new diversity hire staff writer. So now we have a system that only employs low-level diversity hires. The same system doesn’t promote these low-level diversity hires, because all the med to high-level writers making the hiring decisions ARE ALL WHITE MALES. They’ll be fine. It’s not their jobs in jeopardy. They just run these diversity hires through a meat-grinder and never promote them.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
So you’ve moved to Los Angeles and now need to start making connections.
The best way to do this is by grabbing up any entry-level entertainment industry job you can find. Work as a production assistant, work as a producer’s assistant. Try to get work anywhere where you can start meeting writers and producers. (And if you’re wondering what a PA is and how to get a job as one, read the rest of my blog. Check out the Tips for PAs section…)
The best thing you could do is land a writers’ assistant job or a writers’ PA job.
However, these jobs are very hard to come by. You want to start forming personal relationships with writers and people who have the clout to make moves in the industry. People who have friends in high places. And the best way to do that is to work on TV shows or in production companies that produce TV.
What do you do once you have these friends?
Let them know you’re a writer and that you want a TV writing job — and get them to read your fantastic script!
That’s right; if you want to be a writer, you have to fucking write… who knew!?
The entire time you’re out in LA schmoozing around and making connections, you HAVE to be writing. Constantly. The only way you can improve your writing ability is by writing. And no manager or agency is going to take you on as a client unless you have material they can sell. This is a business. You are a product. If you follow my advice, there WILL be a time when someone who has the connections to get you a job will ask, “Oh, you want to be a writer? Let me read your script.” And if you haven’t done your job and written that brilliant script, you’ll have nothing to say and nothing to give them. Your opportunity just walked out the door. Sucks to be you.
Once you have the best script you’ve ever written, that you think is on par or better than every script you’ve read that is selling these days, then you try and get that influential person you know to read it. Maybe they’ll help you out. If they’re a showrunner, perhaps they’ll hire you on as a writer or writers’ assistant or writer’s PA on their show. Or maybe they’ll send that script over to another showrunner. Or maybe they’ll help you get representation.
Agents and managers are much more likely to read a script recommended by someone they know and trust than from some random person like you.
The HARSH truth is, most new writers have to get their first job, and even their second job, by themselves! Agents and managers have a tough job trying to staff a new writer. Your first writing jobs are going to be gained solely through relationships YOU make while working in Los Angeles.
So in short.
1. MOVE TO LA.
2. FIND ENTRY LEVEL JOBS.
3. MEET PEOPLE AND MAKE FRIENDS.
4. WRITE YOUR ASS OFF.
5. GET YOUR NEW INFLUENTIAL FRIENDS TO READ YOUR SCRIPT AND CHAMPION YOUR WORK LANDING YOU REPRESENTATION OR A JOB.
There are a million things I could talk about within this topic, so ask away in the comments, or shoot me an email via the ASK ME A QUESTION button at the top of the page and I’ll be happy to answer if I get to it.