Our mailbox keeps overflowing with new tales of assistant-dom. Producer Megana Rao reads every one and sorts them for future episodes. She also forwards a handful to me. This one, from a writers room production assistant (WPA), felt like one that should be read in its entirety, so I got the author’s permission to publish it here.
I was in my early 30’s when I finally landed a Writers PA gig on a comedy. We had a toddler so just to take the job, I had to work weekends waiting tables to pay for the childcare during the week. (Which is another issue entirely.)
The WPA job destroyed my soul. I was invisible to the writers except when they needed something or when I wasn’t at their immediate disposal for an errand. They would leave the room at the end of the day with their plates and cups and half-eaten meals on the table for me to clean up after them. One writer even told me when I asked if she would please throw out her food that “it was my job to clean things.”
I took it in all in stride. Lunch was brutal. (ed: Most TV writers rooms order in lunch. It’s a big part of a WPA’s job.) They were incredulous about the studio-imposed dollar limit, and at me for trying to enforce it. If they went over, some paid, others refused. It’s only a few bucks — who would notice – be creative with the numbers they’d say. They would become so enraged when I’d let them know they went over that I simply stopped asking to be paid back.
A few writers sent me on special snack runs and told me to charge it through. When accounting told me I had to get reimbursed by the writers, these writers would instruct me to tell accounting where they could shove it. Accounting would get angry and respond in kind. This would go back and forth and the whole time, the lunch overages and snack-run tab grew and grew. Eventually [the show] got cancelled and everybody split. Accounting told me I would be blacklisted if I didn’t pay the tab. So… I paid. It was almost $500. And I never told anyone.
If you’re wondering why I paid or why I I didn’t stand up for myself, then you don’t understand what it’s like to be a writer trying to break in. How working writers see you — writers who might be in a position to hire you one day — is critical. And I know this because one time I did stand up for myself and it came back to bite me.
Towards the end of our run, one writer who would often tell me how he had “paid his dues the hard way and that’s just how it is when you’re an assistant,” told me to go on a bakery run and charge it through. I told him that accounting had reprimanded me that morning for the millionth time regarding yet another sketchy charge for the writing staff and I simply couldn’t do it.
This was a mid-level writer who I could tell was on his way up…but I’d had enough and said no. I was respectful. Later that day after an all-writing-staff meeting, the higher ups left and this writer turned to me and very publicly kicked me out of the room making it clear I was no longer welcome when it wasn’t food-related.
When you’re support staff and you speak up, regardless of the reason or how polite you are, there are consequences.
I could have told the showrunner about this. I could have told him about the $500 tab. He would have paid. He would have brought me back in the room to be a fly in the wall —- but he was a kind and sweet person who was in over his head running his first show and I wanted to get staffed one day.
I’m no longer a PA or an assistant and I’d never do it again. I believe that forgiveness, of others and yourself, along with letting things go. It’s an essential part of being a healthy person. But for some reason, these experiences still upset me to this day.
I deeply appreciate you shining a light in this issue. It means a lot to all of us.