From Industry Assistant to Staff Writer: Interview with Lauren Muir

In this week’s interview, television writer Lauren Muir shares her experience working from industry assistant to staff writer on the CW’s THE 100. A graduate of Boston University, Lauren shares the path to her success including how she got a manager, the trials & tribulations of assistant life, and her first official episode of THE 100.

Check out season 3, episode 14, “Red Sky at Morning” written by Lauren Muir and Kira Snyder.

What was the process leading up your first episode of THE 100 as a writer?

I’ve been on the show since season one, and I have a good relationship with everyone there. They’ve all been incredibly supportive of me. I knew that the possibility of an episode was on the table when I first got the job of writers’ assistant. We didn’t know how many episodes we had at the beginning of the season. And so the whole year, as soon as we got the back three, I just tried to work really hard and keep proving myself so that I was in the best position to make it happen. I’m so grateful that I have [the showrunner] Jason’s support — and a lot of the writers also had my back, as far as wanting it to happen for me. And that was generous on their part. I was very lucky.

How was the co-writing experience?

That was amazing. First of all, Kira is an awesome and incredibly talented human being who had been on the show since season one. Only four of us total, including me as an assistant, had been on the show since season one. So I know her very, very well. And she was one of the voices that spoke up for me.

The room as a whole maps out where every episode is going to go. We were excited to get this one. (Spoiler alert!) It featured a character, Luna, who had been mentioned on-screen for two seasons, but never seen. And I had a strange obsession with her. I kept trying to push her into the show—it became a running joke in the room and with Jason. And when it was clear that this was finally going to happen, Kira and I were both really excited to have the opportunity to write for her.  We worked as a room together to pitch ideas and formulate the story. 

How did you get your job on the show?

This was the first show I’ve ever worked on that’s had multiple seasons. Every other show I worked on got cancelled the year I worked on it. Either it was their first season and it just never got off the ground, or in the case of one show, it was in the second season and we died.

So, most jobs I’ve gotten have been from a friend or connection I made on a show, who then recommended me. And this was slightly different in that, a friend I made on a job that I interviewed for but didn’t get, is the person who recommended me. When I interviewed, the showrunner was running 45 minutes late and this person was their current assistant. We sat and talked for 45 minutes before the interview. And I didn’t end up getting that job, but she and I kept seeing each other at mixers and we realized we had mutual friends, and she’s awesome, so we started hanging out after that. And so she put me up for THE 100.

You moved out to Los Angeles from Boston, where you went to Boston University. Did you do their intern program out here?

I did the B.U. in LA program during the last semester of my senior year.

Did that help jumpstart your career?

It did. What really helped was that I moved out right after I graduated, which was great. I could say I had a place here. I had been here for a few months. So I had the experience of being in the city, but, also, I had internships. One of my internships was on Mad Men doing research for them, which ultimately helped me get, not my first job, but my second one. My second job involved doing research on a show, and I had that experience, which was huge.

Also, the first job I got out here was as a personal assistant to an actor, Michael Chiklis, who is a Boston University graduate. Amazingly, he reached out to the school and asked for a list of graduates that they would recommend. And I made that list thanks to a professor that I love dearly. So B.U. was obviously a big part of getting my foot in the door on a TV show.

Did you always know you wanted to be a TV writer?

I knew I was going to be a TV writer in college. I actually went to school thinking I’d major in journalism, because when you’re from South Jersey and you like to write, that’s what they tell you to do. So I went to B.U., to their College of Communications, because they have killer programs across the board. And three weeks in, I was like, “Wait, no. I want to do that. Journalism is cool and all, but you can write TV? That’s a job?” I didn’t even really fully understand that was something you could do starting out.

And as soon as I realized that that was an option and a major, it was an immediate change… everything clicked for me. I was also lucky enough that B.U.’s program back then had two separate courses, so I majored in Television.

How big of a part has your B.U. alumni network played in helping you navigate LA and getting jobs?

For getting jobs, it’s definitely helped. I mean, as I said earlier, my B.U. connections got my foot in the door. And as alumni, we all try to look out for each other in a big way. But I would say, even more helpful than the job stuff – which I don’t want to underplay, because it’s hugely helpful to have a group of people to look out for you – but in moving across the country to a place I had never been, I had a group of friends here already, thanks to Bay State [the B.U. soap opera]. All the friends I met there are also TV and film-minded people. Many of them also moved out.

So, it was wonderful to move out here and have that. Some of them had graduated before me and had been out here for a while, and could give me advice or tell me about cool places to go. That alone – it’s like having a family out here already.

How diligent are you about writing?

I wish I were better at it. There are some people who subscribe to the philosophy of “write every single day.” I can’t. I’m one of those people that needs to think about something for 3 days straight, and then sit down for five hours and write all of it down. And then leave and think about it again.

But also, jobs out here are all-consuming. They take all your time and energy. A lot of them require weekend work. So I wish I could say that I set aside three days a week where I religiously write for several hours, but I definitely haven’t done that. Sometimes you’re too exhausted. But I’ve always made sure to have a project and to work on it as much as I possibly can. And it’s hard sometimes. Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations of what you’re going to have the energy to do.

How many pilots have you written so far? How long did it take you to get into a place where you were ready to show your writing to other people?  

The total pilots I have written? Four or five. Pilots I’ve loved? Two. And one of them is a sample that probably wouldn’t help me much. It’s a half-hour dramedy and weird in tone. It was a personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I actually love it. But because I want to be a drama writer, it’s not a perfect sample for me. I have one one-hour drama that’s my favorite thing I’ve written. I’m really proud of it. I found the perfect sci-fi representation I wanted. I’m a sci-fi minded person. That was the hardest thing to find – finding your voice in a genre. And this one represents me as a writer. 

Why is it hard to find your voice in a genre? 

There’s conflicting advice. Like, some people say you can write something sci-fi, but then you should write a courtroom procedural. Or, “don’t get too weird because you want it to be appealing to everybody.” There are also different kinds of genre. You can write fantasy or sci-fi or magical realism, or combine them. There are different levels of what you want to do. I finally embraced pure sci-fi genre on this one. It was the best one I’ve written.

Who’s the first person that you showed something to?

The first person I showed something to was my former boss– I was assistant to the co-executive producer on a (now-canceled) show — one of the best guys in the whole world. I showed him the half-hour dramedy, and he loved it. He was kind enough — he’s really supportive of young writers — that he sent it to his manager.  And then that manager wanted a second piece, so I sent my one-hour script. That’s how I got a manager.

On THE 100, the first person I gave a script to was Jason. He read that same one-hour drama — all of this happened at around the same time, because I’d moved onto my job with Jason by the time my manager called. For Jason, reading me was a prerequisite to getting the position of writers’ assistant.

What are your typical duties as a writers’ assistant? 

I took notes in the room all day. Everyone has a different style of notes. My style is very detailed. At the end of the day, after taking my very detailed notes, I would reorganize them. Because, you know, conversation in the room flows, but it doesn’t necessarily follow a set track. I would reorganize them by category. So, for instance, “here’s everything we said about this character.” “Here’s what we talked about on the A story.” And I wrote down the final beats of the story that were on the board, so everyone can see where we finished and what we landed on at the top of the document, and then how we got there through the notes. It was a very time consuming process. But ultimately, it was helpful for what we’re doing, because the show is so detailed in its mythology. And sometimes we would have to split rooms, so you would want to read about whatever the other side was doing. You could get 15-20 pages of notes, but if you only had one question, you could hopefully look through and find the answer.

That’s part of it. I also did some generic writers’ room social media, and also was in charge of keeping track of continuity for some things. Our script coordinator kept track of in-episode or in-world continuity. In season two, for example, we had Mount Weather, which had seven or eight floors. The writers didn’t always remember which rooms were on each floor. It was our script coordinator’s job to say, “That room is on level seven.” So, if the characters are on level five, they would have to go up two floors, which may seem inconsequential, but is actually important to track.

My continuity tracking was focused on who was in what episode, and how many episodes they were going to be in. I had a chart for what their arcs were in every episode, and which episodes they were resting in. For example, in 13 episodes, we could only use some characters 10 times.

We’re an ensemble show. We have a really big cast. So you have to be aware of how much you use a certain character, so that they are available for any big episodes we need them in, and to find balance. It’s hard.

I also have a long memory for the show, since I’ve been here from the beginning. We would have new writers who would ask, “Who is this person and when did we meet them?” And I would be able to say, “Oh, episode 7 of last season when…” That’s something I’d recommend all writers’ assistants doing, especially on a serialized show. Try to know all the episodes as best as you can.

Have a lot of the writers in the room been writers’ assistants previously?

Everybody does it differently. Some have, some have not. Two of the writers were previously the writers’ assistant on this show and moved up. We have a track record for promoting writers’ assistants, which is really nice.

Did you start off as the showrunner’s assistant?

I did. I was the showrunner’s assistant for two seasons, and then I jumped over to the room as a writers’ assistant. They are very different jobs and it was a bit of an adjustment.

Being in the room is great, it’s where you want to end up. That alone is an enormous positive to that job. I’m good with administrative things, so I never found the showrunners’ assistant job to be impossible, even though it’s extremely high-stress. If there are a hundred things to do on a busy day, I kind of thrive on that because it keeps my mind going. On our show in particular, our showrunner, Jason, is very inclusive, so I would always know what was going on. It was cool to be in the loop like that. The biggest change was going from being on Jason’s desk 24/7, but being alone in the office a lot, to being around people all of the time in the room. I have to say, that was nice.

Do you record the writers’ room during the day, so you don’t miss anything while note-taking?

No, actually, I had heard stories of a writers’ assistant who recorded, and the room didn’t know it, and they got in trouble for it.

I type really fast, so it wasn’t an issue for me. I enjoy that kind of thing. The stressful part came from wanting to be good, and wanting to prove myself. When I started feeling more comfortable, and the writers were encouraging me by saying, “You can pitch ideas,” that starts to feel like, “Great, but what if I pitch a bad idea?” That saying that there are no bad ideas? That’s true, but, if you’re talking in the room and you are a person that doesn’t need to talk, you want to be valuable. That was the stressful part more than everything else.

Has having a manager so far influenced your career?

Even outside of sending me on meetings, he’s been great about helping to pick my next project to write. Once he became my manager, he had me send him my next four ideas. And then he picked one, and we talked about what it would be like. It’s really helpful to have somebody there to bounce ideas off of and tell you what they think is most valuable. It’s great career advice, essentially.

You got to pick someone who’s going to help with the longevity of your career.

He’s in it for the long run. I really trust my former boss who connected me to my manager. Getting representation is really hard, because as far as agencies go, they’ve actually said to people I know: “We don’t pick clients up unless they are going to get staffed or have a job.” So you have to be already working in order to get the agent, but the agent is supposed to help you get work… it’s a weird situation.

And so the way I did it, somebody having my back and supporting me that way, was sheer benevolence on part of my former boss. It blows my mind to this day. I’m so grateful to him. But it’s crazy backwards how the system works in normal circumstances.

Do you have any advice for writers who want to be doing what you’re doing?

I definitely suggest thinking long-term. At least where I’m coming from, everyone has a different track.  I went from personal assistant, to befriending the assistants at that show, and they helped me get writers’ PA on a different show, and I worked up to co-executive assistant, and then I was the showrunner’s assistant.  And then I was the writers’ assistant. As hard and as many steps as that sounds like, being a writers’ PA first and knowing how the room works was so, so important. I think jumping into a higher role without having done that… Writers’ offices are so specific in how they operate. It would have been a lot of catch-up.

So I think it’s important not to look down on jobs that seem like, “Oh, I’m just going to be getting coffee.” You’re going to be getting coffee, but you’re going to be learning so much in the process, and all the people you work with are valuable. I’ve made life-long friends from jobs like that, but also, mentors. And like I said, one of my bosses connected me to my manager. And everybody at THE 100 was supportive of me because I was working really hard there.

Basically, do a good job at the job you’re doing. Don’t look down on the job because it seems like it might not be important, because if you do it well, most people will respect you and want to help you. And some of the advice people have given me is: be your own advocate, because you don’t have an agent or manager right away. You have no one advocating for you except yourself, so you have to be okay with asking for what you want. But I think there is a “read the room” aspect to that. If you’re working yourself to the bone and people are telling you how much they appreciate you, and you’re investing so much into the job, and they love you, that’s when you can be an advocate for yourself. But you shouldn’t, on day one, walk in and say, “I want to be a writer, let me pitch you some things.” You have to earn it. So there’s a balance between being your own advocate, and also working hard and earning respect, and building relationships.

To keep up with Lauren, follow her on Twitter here.