What are the best day jobs for aspiring screenwriters? Without a one-size-fits-all answer, you have to pick what’s best for you. Everyone does it differently, so what are your options? We all want to sell our scripts, live in a mansion, and never worry about money again, but on the off chance it might take a little longer than next week, consider what kind of foundation you want to build for yourself. Since, there are two ways to go – industry and non-industry – let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Best Day Jobs for Aspiring Screenwriters: Non-Industry
Non-industry jobs are anything and everything from baristas to defense contractors. Operating outside of the industry has its benefits and drawbacks. It definitely helps if you have a strong alumni association or are active in the filmmaking community. Overall, there’s a reason that so many people move to Los Angeles and wait tables – to be in or around a city full of industry people and make connections.
- Money – Working outside of the entertainment industry, you have the potential to make money. Real money. I consider assistant money as being fake money because I was an assistant, and the local barista makes more.
- Time – Working regular hours gives you time to write. If you live in L.A., you can take classes at UCB, Groundlings, or Improv Olympic. You also might have more time for meetings or for making video projects.
- Networking can be challenging without an industry “in.”
- You could get stuck working somewhere that you don’t want to be for a long time.
- Your family might constantly ask you what you’re doing with your life.
Best Day Jobs for Aspiring Screenwriters: Industry
Being an industry assistant is an invaluable tool. It was probably also one of the most mentally grating times in my life, even though I was fortunate enough to have great bosses. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you want to do it, I say give it a shot, especially if you’re fresh out of school.
To back up for a minute, an assistant is an entry-level Hollywood position. If you’re lucky, you had or have an internship, which will give you a better idea of what is required of you. A rough map of options includes:
- Representation (Agency or Management assistant)
- Development (Production company assistant)
- Production (On set PA or office PA)
- Post Production (VFX assistant or Post PA)
- Personal (Personal assistant to an actor, writer, producer, director, etc…)
- Networking– You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s all about who you know. Saying it feels ugly, but it’s L.A., man. Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word. If you stay authentic, focused, and actually invest in other people, it pays off.
- Experience– Working in the industry means that you learn how the wheel works and what to expect. It all becomes second nature through experience.
- Access – You’ll have access to organizations, materials, and people. A highlight for me was access to any script I wanted to read. I also love JHRTS for their speaker panels.
- Back Up Plan – Like networking, this doesn’t have to sound ugly. A job in the industry means that you’re still in the industry if writing doesn’t work out. A lot of writers, directors, and actors, end up working in representation, development, etc… Sometimes you find out that you’re good at something you didn’t even know was an option.
- Industry jobs eat up your time and soul, leaving you exhausted creatively. Think about a 10-hour day plus the commute. It’s hard to do that then write at night or when you wake up in the morning.
- Assistants make jack salary-wise. I’ve heard of some making as little as $450 a week and maybe as much as $750. A base is generally around $600 plus benefits if you work at a company with more than 5 people. While this would be a lot of money in Kansas, if you live in LA, your rent + utilities + food + student loans + networking expenses + etc… add the fuck up. Your take home after California taxes is not stellar. And if your ten-year-old car craps out on you, there goes your savings. For the amount of stress and hours, you have to really love what you’re doing at the end of the day. Higher ups like to call all this “paying your dues,” but really it’s just that they don’t want to pay you more- because they don’t have to – because there are about 100 resumes in queue for your position.
Don’t worry so much about choosing the “right” thing. There aren’t any wrong choices. You can get just as stuck in an industry job that you hate as a non-industry job that you hate. I say hate, but what I really mean is that soul-crushing feeling; the one that comes from exhaustion after pouring your entire day into something that doesn’t pour anything back into you except juuusst enough money to afford the food and housing that you need in order to return to work the next day.
Yep, I went there. Because in choosing a job, we’re trying to choose something that will make us happy – but you can’t really know until you try. So, don’t think of the outcome in terms of how you might feel, but rather, what is the best position you can put yourself in now in order to reach your writing goals later?
What we want to do isn’t easy; it isn’t always understood. Honestly, you might end up feeling stagnant and jaded no matter what day job you pick. Everything is a learning experience with the right attitude, which sounds so trite, but don’t be a bitter asshole – there are just too many, and no one wants to talk, interact, or work with them. And that’s not you. You’re going to make shit happen.
It’s going to be a challenge. Make it a good challenge. One where you’re learning, growing and writing all of the time.