Friday, April 1, 2011

Interview with Amy Baack, Executive Assistant on "V"

A good friend of mine, Amy Baack, is the executive producer's assistant on the TV show "V"....I asked her to share a few of her experiences and insights on working on a TV show! Here's what she has to say....

You graduated from USC in 2010, what did you study there and how was the experience?

I studied Film/TV Production at the School of Cinematic Arts. That program is very intensive in that you study every aspect of film production, from writing to post-production. It was an incredible experience - USC has earned its reputation for being one of the top film schools in the nation for a reason. I think the alumni it produces are so successful in this industry because they’ve had experience in every aspect of the creative process and are thus more well-rounded than anyone who specializes in just one field.

What sorts of activities did you participate in and what kind of jobs did you have prior working at “V”?

I held many internships in various fields of the entertainment industry during my college years. I was interning in the production department on Mad Men when I got the job for V. Before that, I worked at E!, Spyglass Entertainment, ICM, and Fox Television Studios, to name a few.

How did you get your job as the Assistant to the Executive Producer at “V”?

I have a wonderful friend who works at one of the big agencies in town and was willing to help me search for jobs. My boss’ agent had sent out an in-house job listing for the assistant position, and my friend was able to give me a heads-up about it. I submitted my resume not expecting to hear anything, but then I got an interview and landed the spot! It was completely unexpected.

What is a typical day like for you? What hours do you work and what sort of tasks do you perform?

As the showrunner's assistant, my duties are primarily based on the needs of my boss, though I am involved in many of the creative sides of the show as well. I manage my boss's personal schedule and contacts, transcribe notes calls with our studio and network, edit outlines/scripts, along with a whole bunch of other random tasks. Sometimes I have to do personal assistant-type duties, but those are rare. My work hours during the writing period were 9:00AM - 7:00PM (sometimes a little later).

How does your job as Assistant t the Executive Producer differ from that of a Writer’s Assistant or a Writer’s PA?

The writers' assistants job was centered in the writers' room: they took detailed notes, got lunch for the staff every day, bought groceries, helped write up outlines, and did research. They started work at 10:00 AM and usually worked until much later than I did, but it depended on how many notes they had to type up and edit, as well as how late the writers stayed that day. I did a lot more coordinating with the studio and network and oversaw the whole office, whereas they worked directly with the writing team.

Do you get to spend any time in the writer’s room? Can you explain the hierarchy of the writer’s room?

I got to spend a ton of time in the writers’ room. My boss was amazing in that he encouraged me to spend time in the room whenever I could. The hierarchy will vary from show to show, but it is established by how much experience each writer has and what title they have been given on the show. Obviously the showrunner has the final say on every decision; all the writers have to pitch ideas to him or her for approval. Our writers would usually split up into a couple of rooms, with the senior writers leading the others in brainstorming ideas, then they’d all come together to pitch their ideas to the showrunner. The writers’ titles are arranged in the following descending order: Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer. Consulting Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Story Editor, and finally Staff Writer.

With your busy schedule, how do you find time to write?

That’s the biggest dilemma in the television world; working 10-12-hour-long days is hardly conducive to the creative process. But if you’re committed, you’ll make it work. If I had any down time at work, I would usually spend it writing (again, my boss encouraged me to do this because he knows I want to eventually be a writer); weekends are also a good time to write as much as you can. But it is definitely a challenge.

Are you trying to get an literary agent? Do you have any tips on how aspiring screenwriters can find representation?

I’m not currently ready for the agent stage, since I’m still polishing my spec scripts, but I’m not too worried about it since I have plenty of contacts within the industry to help me out when I want it. The best way to get representation is to start with the smaller agencies, since they’ll be better able to help foster a beginning writer’s career than a big agency would. If you know anyone with representation, it’s also a good idea to ask them for help in submitting your writing samples to people who might read it. You just need to use your contacts to get your script on the right desk; and, of course, the script has to be good.

Have any of “V”’s former writer’s assistants been promoted to staff writers on the show? How does one more up from writer’s assistant to staff writer?

V hasn’t been around long enough for the writers’ assistants to be promoted (and we had different assistants in season 2 than we did in season 1). However, my boss is a strong believer in upward promotion; if V sticks around for another season or two, I’m sure he’d be willing to give the assistants opportunities to write scripts. The jump from writers’ assistant to staff writer is a tricky one; basically, the assistant has to prove that he or she has good ideas (by actively pitching them in the room and not being afraid to pipe in during the writers’ conversations) and the showrunner has to be willing to take a chance on them.

What advice do you have for those hoping to land a gig in a writing office?

There’s no magic formula for getting a job in a writers’ room, but since those are some of the most coveted positions (especially for aspiring writers), they are the most difficult to find and get. They won’t be posted in any joblists for that reason. I’d recommend trying to find and get to know people who work in television who can tell you about open assistant positions and put in a good word for you. Also, it’s always a good idea to bolster your resume by working in other industry assistant positions, such as at an agency or production company.

You always hear about how important networking is in the entertainment industry, how important do you feel networking is for an aspiring writer? Do you have any networking tips?

Networking is critical, but I think the concept has become a bit misunderstood. The truth of the matter is that no one is going to give you a job just because you schmoozed them up at some industry event. Networking is really about building friendships and proving that you are intelligent, friendly, and interesting. People in this field can see through fronts pretty well; if you’re not genuine or actually talented, no one is going to want to associate their name with yours. The best way to go about “networking” is to be willing to work very hard with a good attitude; that’s how you’ll get noticed and promoted.

What is the best thing about your job? The worst thing?

The best thing is that I’m immersed in the writing process on a television show, which was exactly where I wanted to be when I graduated from college. I feel really blessed for having gotten such a great position so quickly. The worst thing might be the stress that comes with the long hours and pace of working on a show, but that’s not much to complain about. I truly love my job.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Ideally, I’d love to be running my own show by then. But I’d be happy just to be getting paid to write in any capacity.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from your job at “V”?

V taught me the importance of collaboration in television writing. It’s very different from feature writing, which consists of one or two writers at a time working alone on a script. In TV, you have to be willing to put your ego aside and work for the good of the show. You have to be willing to pitch any and all ideas and not be offended when they get shot down or someone else has a better take. Television writing can be a truly marvelous experience when everyone is willing to work together to produce the best possible content; it only goes sour when personal conflicts start getting in the way of the creative process.

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