Question for LB: “How Do I Get a Job as a Studio Reader?”

Glad You Asked Department 9/28/17
by Larry Brody

Time now for another of my not-so-regular visits into the TVWriter™ mailbag. I chose this particular question to answer because I figured I could keep this article short and sweet. So, hoping I don’t once again let myself get carried away, here’s my latest “Glad You Asked,” erm, Question & Answer:

Question from O.M.:

Hi Larry,

I’m getting ready to make the move to L.A. and get into writing for television, and I’m hoping to broaden my contacts there before I go.  I’ve heard that being a reader is a good way to meet people and get into the Industry. I’ve also heard that it’s pretty competitive, so while I would certainly like to make some money if I can, if push comes to shove I am happy to do it even for free.

Do you know anybody who is looking for a reader? Or how I can get in touch with somebody who does?

Answer from Yours Truly:

Nice to hear from you, O.M.

Delighted that you’re planning on taking that all-important first step of living in L.A. It isn’t half as bad as you’ve probably heard. I lived there for 40 years, on and off, and really enjoyed the first seven of them.

Or maybe it was eight. Yeah, I think eight. Then I got a wee bit tired of working with people who couldn’t understand why I took what I was doing so seriously when, “After all, we’re not exactly working on the cure for cancer” while smiling smugly and bragging about how much they made.

(Favorite overheard side of a Very Big Deal Writer-Producer’s phone conversation with a guy who wanted to sell him a sports car. “No. $40,000 is an absolute no sale. I’ve got to pay at least fifty grand. Anything less and I could never tell my friends.”)

And there I go, digressing before I even begin. Time to start over with my take on the Hollywood reader gig situation. Let’s see if I can make myself cut to the chase:

I’d love to have a stack of names of people I could refer you to, O.M. But most of those I’m close to in showbiz are TV writers, and TV writers, even showrunners, just plain don’t have a need for readers.

When a busy TV writer-producer gets sent an outside script, s/he has a wide variety of options for handling it. The easiest way is just to ignore it. The next easiest way is to have an assistant send a standard “Sorry, but we don’t read outside scripts here for legal/company policy reasons” reply.

On the off-chance that the writer-producer actually cares about knowing whether the script or its writing (not necessarily the same thing, after all) is any good – because of studio or show policy, or because there’s an immediate, emergency need for new material – what usually happens is that the screenplay or teleplay gets handed off to the lowest ranking member of the writing staff, or that self same assistant I mentioned earlier, and things move on (or not) from there.

On the other hand, readers are pretty much a necessary part of life for executives and, even more so, agents, and my kind, gentle, loving attitude toward those folk, well known to regular TVWriter™ visitors means that I no longer know, or deal with, or even talk to such folk. If I wanted the pleasure of their company, I’d still be living out in Hidden Valley, hanging with the Live Oaks there instead of the Cedars here in the Pacific Northwest.

I also – and I believe that this is important for you to understand and accept – probably wouldn’t be very good at putting you together with someone who needs a reader anyway because, let’s face it, I don’t know you nearly well enough to be able to vouch for your expertise or potential for the gig. Not only that, but a good reader, as in one who is a genuine help to the executive or agent boss, is one who understands exactly what the boss likes and needs. Readers who recommend a submission that the boss hates or pass on one that the boss would have loved, have very short joblife. And the friends or business associates who helped them get hired can almost as quickly find themselves ex-friends-and-associates. For, I think, good reason.

My advice for anyone who wants to get in the Hollywood Writer door is, forget the reader thing and concentrate instead on doing what it takes to get an assistant job. Preferably on a TV series. And not just any assistant job. What you want is to be a writers assistant because that way you have the chance to ingratiate yourself with the showrunner and other writers and also the various execs and agents who are in and out of the office every day. Let them see how kind, sweet, respectful, intelligent, and helpful you are and decide that they absolutely can’t live without you to yell at and abuse.

Hmm, looks like I didn’t keep this nearly short enough. I’ll try harder next time…. What’s that? You want to know what it takes to get that kind of assistant gig? Write in and ask me, and I promise I’ll answer, or at the very least, point you to the answer, right here for all to see. And, yes, if you do it soon, I promise so will I.