Despite that writers’ assistants earn — alongside other support staff such as department coordinators and script supervisors — some of the lowest wages in the entertainment industry, these positions are highly desired. This is due to the fact that experience as a writers’ assistant offers valuable insights into production, and because being a writers’ assistant is one of the most promising paths toward becoming a writer.
Typically paid somewhere between $16 and $25 per hour, writers’ assistants may make anywhere from around $35,000 to over $80,000 per year. This depends, to some extent, on the writers’ assistant’s education, talent, and whether they have just started or are a mid-level to senior writers’ assistant. Pay rates also fluctuate heavily from one studio to the next, however.
Average Salary for Writers’ Assistants
The average salary for writers’ assistants is — there is no way to sugar-coat it — extremely low. As recently as June 2021, the fact that Hollywood writers came out in support of their writers’ assistants as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stages Employees (IATSE) campaigned for a living wage for writers’ assistants. Over the course of the campaign, the AITSE union commissioned a study that produced a detailed breakdown of pay rates among support staff in the entertainment industry. An infographic summarizing the results can be viewed on the IATSE Local 871 website.
While national data on the average wages for writers’ assistants are not available through the typical sources, news reports that emerged over the course of the recent campaign was able to shed light on typical wages for writers’ assistants and similar support personnel in the TV and film production industry. The Guardian newspaper reported, for example, that writers’ assistants are generally paid “$16 to $17 an hour”, while the Deadline article above cites industry insiders reporting slightly higher wages of $20 to $25 per hour as well, albeit in rarer cases.
At the lower end of the scale, this means writers’ assistants do not make significantly more than the LA minimum wage of $15 per hour.
By working a 60-hour week, extremely well-paid and unionized writers’ assistants may earn a weekly wage of $1540 — which (multiplied by 52, and therefore discounting any time off that may be taken) would amount to an annual base salary of $80,080.
That figure would add up to more than the median annual salary for writers and authors across all fields. That, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, currently stands at $67,120, with a range of $35,880 to $133,460 being the norm. However, most writers’ assistants will not be able to make that much. Glassdoor reports, to name one example, that the average yearly pay at Twentieth Century Studios is $44,610 for writers’ assistants. Since this data is based on a small sample size, however, it is not clear whether that number is an accurate representation.
Does Experience and Education Impact the Salary of a Writers’ Assistant?
To some extent, the earning potential of any individual writers’ assistant will certainly depend on their qualifications, years of experience, and their reputation within the entertainment industry. However, the research we conducted indicates that a studio’s policies, and whether the writers’ assistant belongs to a trade union, has just as much of an impact on the salary a writers’ assistant may earn. The fact that writers’ assistants often start at a salary that barely exceeds the minimum wage, and these jobs are seen as entry-level positions, can give ambitious workers who have completed high school but do not have a professional degree an opportunity.
Top Paying States for Writers’ Assistants
Most writers’ assistants jobs will be based in California, and specifically Los Angeles, given that this is where the major production studios are concentrated.
What Exactly Does a Writers’ Assistant Do?
The main duty of a writers’ assistant is to take meticulous notes in the writers’ room as the head writer, writers, and other members of the production team brainstorm, pitch, discuss ideas, and make important decisions. They subsequently distribute these notes to all relevant members of the team, following instructions very closely.
The true scope of a writers’ assistant’s responsibilities far extends this narrow job description, however — and as supportive personnel, writers’ assistants should be ready to do whatever is asked of them. Other activities writers’ assistants in TV and film production can reasonably expect to engage in include typing scripts, performing clerical tasks that may include photocopying and printing, and serving as a runner (including getting lunch and coffee).
While the role of a writers’ assistant is an entry-level position, and many of the tasks writers’ assistants are called to perform are relatively straightforward, writers’ assistants need to be extremely versatile masters of multi-tasking who are always ready to respond to emerging and urgent needs. That fact represents one of the most exciting aspects of this role. Many people first aim to become writers’ assistants with the clear ambition of gaining the experience to one day become a writer, however, and indeed, documented experience as a writers’ assistant goes a long way toward making this possible.
Qualifications to Become a Writers’ Assistant
Applicants who possess a Bachelor’s degree in a related field — including, but not limited to, TV, drama, film, English, journalism, media studies, and communications — will have a clear edge. However, requirements for formal qualifications vary widely, and some writers’ assistants were previously very successful personal assistants. Due to the varied demands of the role, which often include running errands, writers’ assistants will nearly inevitably be required to possess a clean driver’s license.
Skills Needed to Be a Writers’ Assistant
While the precise expectations placed upon a writers’ assistant will vary greatly, all writers’ assistants will benefit from having the following skills:
- Being an excellent typist with an incredible average speed of around 75 words per minute.
- Always being “on”; able to pay superior attention to detail for the entirety of your (often very long) workday. Amazing listening skills are an absolute must.
- Having excellent interpersonal and communication skills that allow you to anticipate needs before other members of the team express them.
- Intimate knowledge of the production industry will help.
- Enthusiasm, dedication, and humility (you’ll be asked to do menial tasks when you’d probably love to pitch your own ideas, instead — and you may get that chance, but in the meantime you have to do your part to ensure the production unfolds as smoothly as possible).
- Above-average computer skills, including being proficient in the latest note-taking software.
In addition, writers’ assistants have to crave variety. Are you the kind of person who thrives under pressure? Are you a team player who doesn’t mind being told what to do all the time? Should you tick “yes” on all these proverbial boxes, you may have the potential to be a great writers’ assistant.
Can You Be a Writers’ Assistant Without a Degree?
In many cases, yes, positions as writers’ assistants may be open to strong, talented, and ambitious people who have a deep dedication to the TV and film industry, excel at note-taking and are familiar with the latest software applications, and who are willing to assist wherever their skills (or simply an extra pair of hands) are required. Having industry connections also unquestionably helps those who would like to land a job as a writers’ assistant.
How to Become a Writers’ Assistant?
After — ideally, but not necessarily — completing a relevant degree in a field such as film or communications, many people initially become assistants at agencies or production companies, or they may serve as personal assistants to writers or actors. These steps offer them industry exposure and experience, which may ultimately serve as a path toward their dream job of writers’ assistant. Those who have worked in these positions, or are still doing so, generally report that networking is of immense importance.
Writers’ assistant job openings do not typically fall into the category of “search the popular job boards, find openings you want to apply for, and submit the best iteration of your resume possible”. You’ll likely have to catch the attention of someone with influence in the entertainment position to land a role as a writers’ assistant.
Outlook for Writers’ Assistants Jobs
Although the position of writers’ assistant is a much sought-after one in TV production, the fact that this role pays modestly and requires extremely long hours is undeniable. Why do so many pursue these opportunities with such drive, then? The answer is simple. While many writers’ assistants absolutely love their jobs and the role they have the privilege of playing on the production team, almost all will have deeper long-term ambitions. Writers’ assistants will ultimately want to become writers and believe they will be given freelance opportunities. They may achieve their dream of being writers by being noticed in the production team they currently work with and being asked to pitch their ideas, or they may make staff on other shows after building the relevant experience.